If you own a bearded dragon, you may want to familiarize yourself with the process of shedding.
Bearded dragons are a type of reptile that require periodic shedding of their skin in order to grow. This is a completely normal and natural process for your reptilian friend.
This article will take a deep dive into the process, signs, and proper care of bearded dragon shedding.
Understanding the process
As previously mentioned, bearded dragons periodically shed the outer layer of their skin in order to grow. This is a common biological process among all reptiles because their skin does not stretch. The scientific term for this process is called ecdysis.
How often and how long should my bearded dragon shed?
The process of shedding may depend on several factors such as age, environment, and diet. Shedding can take anywhere from a few days to two weeks. The following is a quick reference for shed frequency at certain ages.
- 0-6 months: weekly
- 6-12 months: every other week
- 12 months: every other month
- 18 months: once or twice a year
Keep in mind that a baby dragon’s shed may only take a couple of days while an older dragon’s shed can last up to two weeks. An adult dragon may also shed patches here and there so don’t be alarmed if they don’t always complete a full-body shed at once.
Signs of shedding
Your dragon may exhibit a number of distinct physical and behavioral changes when shedding.
It’s important to know these signs and discuss with your veterinarian if anything seems abnormal for your particular dragon. Knowing your dragon’s baseline behavior will help determine if they are having any problems in the future.
Since the process of shedding has to do with losing the outer layer of skin, you might assume that this will change the physical appearance of your dragon. And you would be right!
Prior to shedding, you may notice an overall darkening of your dragon.
When your dragon is shedding, you may notice their skin becoming very patchy with areas of dull, flaky skin sloughing off and areas of glossy, brighter skin where the new layer is being exposed.
You might also notice a slightly more alarming sign of shedding in your dragon, eye bulging. Again, don’t worry, this is a normal symptom of the shedding process. Your dragon’s eyes may appear to be bulging to help shed the skin in such a tricky area.
Again, this process may take anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks, depending on the age of your dragon. At the end of this process, your dragon should display a bright, shiny new layer of skin.
Shedding is an energy-costly process for your dragon. Because of this, you might notice some behavioral changes while your dragon is going through the stages of shedding.
Your dragon may exhibit a loss of appetite before, after, and during shedding. This is completely normal, as many reptiles tend to lose their appetite during shedding, possibly for energy conservation.
However, your dragon may eat their shed. This may be an evolutionary trait as food is scarce in the wild, so they are making use of the nutrients and organic matter from their own shed.
You should still offer your dragon food during shedding as it won’t cause any harm to offer them the option. Make sure to remove any old, uneaten food regularly to ensure a clean environment.
You may also take note that your dragon is not presenting their normal level of energy.
This change in behavior is also very typical for reptiles going through a shed. As we mentioned before, shedding is energetically costly, and even uncomfortable, on the body so it is normal to notice a decrease in activity.
During shedding, you might find your dragon rubbing on objects in their environment, like a rock or a dish. This is perfectly normal and their way of helping the shedding process move along or even scratching an itch!
Proper care during shedding
While shedding is a natural process for all reptiles, it can still be an uncomfortable experience for your bearded friend. Luckily, there are ways to help your dragon move through the process comfortably.
Providing the proper environment for your dragon may be one of the most important steps in ensuring a successful and healthy shed. This involves making sure that their habitat has the proper lighting, temperature, and humidity.
Being a cold-blooded animal, a bearded dragon uses UV rays from the sun to warm its body. Living indoors means that your dragon will need a source of artificial UVB light. This is important for the general well-being of your dragon, and especially important for a successful shed. You will also want to provide your dragon with an infrared basking bulb.
The optimum basking temperature for a beardy should be 100-106 degrees Fahrenheit, while the cool end of the tank may sit around 75 Fahrenheit.
The humidity, or moisture in the air, should be around 30-40%. Having the correct humidity in the tank will ensure a proper and complete shed.
Keep in mind that bearded dragons are native to desert climates, so think about replicating that environment within their habitat.
During shedding, you may want to provide your dragon with a little assistance in the form of shed aids.
In the wild, a dragon may have things like branches and rocks to rub against to encourage the skin to slough off. There is certainly no harm in providing your dragon with these things while in your care.
Make sure that the items you’re using as shed aids aren’t necessarily sharp, but sturdy and rough. You might place a variety of branches and rocks in the environment. You can also find reptile carpets and other artificial aids at pet stores.
While shedding is a natural process for any reptile, it may lead to uncomfortable and itchy patches of skin on the body, so it’s always best to reduce handling during shedding.
This is an energy-costly process that might make your dragon lethargic and not in the mood for interaction. This will help strengthen the relationship with your dragon, as you respect their boundaries during a tiring time.
Also, take care not to pull the shed. Even if a piece looks like it’s ready to go, not only will pulling damage the new skin underneath, it can cause injury to your dragon that may lead to infection. Your dragon’s body knows what it’s doing. But when should you intervene?
Stuck shed may happen because of a lack of nutrients or incorrect habitat variables (as stated above).
The first step in helping your dragon shed is ensuring that they are receiving the proper nutrients. You may add a calcium and vitamin D3 supplement to their diet.
If you notice that your dragon has completed their shed but still has some stuck patches, there are various ways that you can encourage this old skin to slough off, still, without pulling directly on the old skin.
You might try making a shallow bath for your dragon.
Fill a dish with lukewarm water, only fill the dish so high that your dragon’s head will never be underwater, and let them soak for 10-15 minutes. Make sure that the area of stuck skin is submerged. Then you may gently brush the area with a soft-bristled toothbrush to help dislodge stuck skin.
You can do this every few days towards the end of the shed. Keep in mind that as dragons age, it will take longer for a shed to complete. They may be more prone to tricky areas experiencing stuck shed (i.e. around the eyes, belly, feet, tip of tail).
You might also try simply gently misting your dragon where they are having stuck shed. This will help keep the skin moist and may slightly increase the humidity in the tank. You may mist daily towards the end of the shed.
If bathing or misting aren’t working, you can find a variety of shed oils online or at your local pet store. These oils can be placed in the trouble areas and provide ultra-moisturizing properties. Always follow the directions on the bottle of oil that you have purchased.
As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, the shedding process is natural and helps your dragon grow.
It’s important to monitor your dragon throughout the shedding process to make sure it’s progressing smoothly and that they finish with no stuck shed, as stuck shed can lead to necrosis.
This article represents a comprehensive guide to caring for your dragon during a shed, however, if you suspect any medical issues or concerns with your dragon, you should always consult your veterinarian.
As usual, always be observant of your pet’s normal behavior and note any significant changes.