Dysecdysis - Shedding Problems
Dysecdysis, pronounced dis-ek-dih-sis, is a term used to encompass shedding issues with reptiles.
Reptiles shed their skin throughout their lives. Lizards typically shed their skin in pieces and healthy snakes shed their skin in a single piece. Dysecdysis, pronounced dis-ek-dih-sis, is a term used to encompass shedding issues with reptiles.
What Causes Dysecdysis
There are many things that can cause shedding problems with reptiles. The most common issues that cause dysecdysis involve improper husbandry or illness.
When dealing with snakes or lizards from tropical locales, the primary culprit is humidity and hydration. Moisture in the body and air help create a layer between old skin and the new skin below it. Through rubbing, the old skin will typically let free of the new skin and a shed occurs. When a reptiles humidity needs aren't met adequately or the reptile is dehydrated from lack of access to water for drinking and soaking, the shed can become stuck.
Other causes include, but are not limited to:
Inadequate Temperature (Excessively High Temperatures Which Dry The Ambient Air)
Improper Diet (Malnutrition)
No Enclosure Furniture For Rubbing
Old injuries or dermatitis
What Are the Signs of Dysecdysis
When viewing snakes it will be apparent that issues are present. A healthy snake with proper husbandry will shed in a single piece. If your snake is shedding in pieces, something isn't right. Lizards may have patches of skin that are stuck on throughout the body. They may be seen vigorously rubbing the affected areas. On occasion you may hear respiratory sounds during the shed cycle. This should not be confused with symptoms of respiratory disease. Skin sometimes "flaps" around the nostrils and mouth causing a wheezing or whistle sound. If you are unsure whether or not your reptile is shedding, seek medical advice. If you are certain your reptile is shedding you can wait until the shed has completed and see if the sound still exists, which would then require a vet visit.
How Is Dysecdysis Diagnosed
A visual inspection of the your reptile is typically all that is needed to identify shedding issues. The reptile will have visible signs that include flaking shed skin or dry retained shed adhered to their bodies.
What Is the Treatment for Dysecdysis
The treatment for dysecdysis will depend on the amount of shed retention that has occurred and the underlying cause for its presence. Most cases of retained shed can be taken care of at home. Soaking your reptile for 30-60 minutes in tepid water (around 80°) will often be enough to help release the retained shed. A mild abrasive, such as a towel, can be used to wipe the reptile down after the soaking. This will help remove any shed that didn't come during the soaking.
Snakes can be placed within a pillowcase with a damp towel. The towel should be wet enough that water can be wrung out from it but it shouldn't be so wet that it puddles when placed on a solid surface. Once the snake and towel have been placed in the pillowcase it should be tied closed and placed in the enclosure near the heat source. Several hours in this environment will loosen the shed skin and the towel will act as a mild abrasive for the snake to rub against as it moves around. In some cases it is easiest to keep the snake in the pillowcase overnight. In the morning you simply open the case and release the snake back into its enclosure. The retained shed should no longer be visible.
On occasion your snake will have retained eye caps. You can sometimes get the eye caps to remove themselves by applying the pillowcase trick above. You may require medical assistance from a vet though if you can not get them off using this trick. There are methods for removing eye caps from snakes but each of them pose a threat of injury to your snakes corneas and it is my belief that this should be left to them professionals. Eye caps that are not removed can cause eye infections and blindness, so do not procrastinate.
How Is Dysecdysis Prevented
Knowledge of your reptiles husbandry is the first step in preventing shedding issues. You must provide your reptile with the proper humidity it requires in order to shed successfully. In order to know if you are supplying the proper humidity you need to invest in a hygrometer to measure it. A good digital hygrometer, not those cheap radial ones, will allow you to monitor the levels and adjust them as needed.
Hydration of your reptile is also very important. It is your responsibility to provide your reptiles with proper access to clean water for drinking and soaking, depending on the species. Dehydrated reptiles will have a lowered immune response which makes them susceptible to other ailments.
Behavioral monitoring can also help you identify issues with your reptile. Reptiles are experts at hiding health issues. In the wild this is how they do not become a larger predators prey. If you can identify behavior changes you will be able to notice health issues before they become too serious. You will also be able to identify impending sheds which will allow you to increase the humidity, depending on the species.
Some species benefit greatly from the use of moist hide. Providing a moist hide for your reptile will allow it the ability to choose what humidity level it requires.
Author: Richard Brooks
Barnard, Susan. Reptile Keeper's Handbook. Krieger Publishing Company, 1996.
Messonnier, Shawn. Common Reptile Diseases and Treatment. Blackwell Science, Inc., 1996.
Mader, Douglas. Reptile Medicine and Surgery SE. Saunders, 2005.