A healthy growing snake will shed its skin about once a month and a complete shed can take as long as two weeks. A snake that is about to shed is often quieter than normal and may eat less. The skin becomes dull looking and a whitish film forms over the eyes. A novice snake owner sometimes takes this as a sign of ill health, but in fact it is perfectly normal.
Your Snake during a Shed
A snake which is about to shed its skin will start to rub against items in its environment to loosen the skin in the first place. It will shed its skin in one continuous piece, inside out, like taking off a stocking. Don’t try to ‘help’ your snake at this point; in fact, pulling at the shedding skin can cause serious injury. Also, it is not a good idea to handle a snake at this time because not only is the ‘new’ skin relatively fragile, but the snake is likely to be rather grumpy and irritable and may well strike even if normally docile.
Causes of Dysecdysis (abnormal shedding)
Dysecdysis is not a disease in itself but it may be the sign of another underlying condition such as poor nutrition or low humidity. In some cases it can be as simple as a lack of items in the environment for the snake to rub against to start the shed. These are all easily remedied and should mean that, once put right, the next shed will go smoothly. It is very important not to handle a snake during a shed, as this can cause skin disruption which may make sheds difficult in the future. If the snake has a sore nose, shredding skin not coming off in one piece or retained eye caps, you should consult a vet.
Helping your Snake through an Abnormal Shed
Preventative measures as outlined will hopefully help with shedding problems in the future, but while the snake is exhibiting signs of Dysecdysis it will need help. Soaking the snake in water can help or, in the case of a larger snake, wrapping it in a wet towel. This has the double effect that the snake can use the rough surface of the towel to help remove the skin when it has got damp enough. If you are soaking a snake in warm water, stay with it; the snake is not feeling very well and in too much water may drown. A proper shedding of the eye caps is very important, because if this doesn’t happen properly the snake may go blind. If you look carefully at the shed skin, they should be easy to spot. If not present, check the snake’s eyes. If the eye caps are still there they could possibly be removed by pressing lightly with the sticky side of some Sellotape, but this may be something you would prefer to leave to your vet.
Preventing Future Abnormal Shedding
If you have made sure that your snake is not suffering from any other underlying condition, you should be able to make the next shed normal by addressing the basics, such as humidity, nutrition and taking care when handling the snake. If the next shed is also abnormal, it would be a good idea to take the snake to the vet while the problem is obvious and it may be that a night or two under observation may find the problem.