Safe and effective ways to help a shedding Bearded dragon
There might be times where a pet Bearded dragon will need help with shedding its skin. This article indicates such times and gives owners safe and effective ways to help a shedding Bearded dragon.
Bearded dragons will shed their skins from time to time. It will not always be necessary to help them shed. It is normal for Bearded dragons to shed partially (e.g. only the legs or tail) or completely (e.g. the entire body). Also see how often your Bearded dragon should shed for more information.
Problems might occur when the shedding process takes too long (i.e. more than a couple of days). Because sloughed skin does not come off as one piece, prolonged shedding can often be seen as patches of skin that remain in certain places – typically around the tail, legs, feet/toes, around the eyes and around the spikes. Retained skin can cause constrictions or layers of shedding skin can start to build up. Constricting skin causes a tourniquet effect reducing blood flow to the affected areas.
A note on pulling off dead skin
Before reading further, it is important to note that by removing sloughing or problematic skin from a Bearded dragon can cause significant harm to the Bearded dragon. Non-problematic skin (e.g. large pieces of skin) should preferably never be removed, especially while dry. Problematic pieces of skin (e.g. retained pieces of skin around the extremities, tail or toes) should rather be removed by, or under the guidance of, an experienced herpetologist or reptile friendly veterinarian. Sometimes specialised equipment is necessary to aid in the removal
By incorrectly removing dry pieces of skin, the underlying skin can easily be damaged. Damaged skin can cause additional skin problems in the future. By incorrectly removing constricting pieces of skin can cause unnecessary damage to surrounding parts, e.g. the legs or toes.
A note on the correct husbandry
The first thing to check when a Bearded dragon struggles to shed is the overall husbandry. Health, which is closely dependant on husbandry, plays a vital role in normal skin shedding of Bearded dragons. The major husbandry related aspects include the environmental temperature, humidity and the supply of adequate ultraviolet lighting. By maintaining the correct husbandry, future shedding problems can be reduced or even avoided. Also see Bearded dragon housing requirements for more information.
Misting / spraying and spraying aids
Many Bearded dragon keepers advocate gentle water misting/spraying with lukewarm water during the shedding period. Shedding Bearded dragons are strategically misted once or twice a day as a prevention of shedding problems down the line. It is done by giving one or two gentle sprays trying to cover all sloughing areas of the Bearded dragon.
Instead of using lukewarm water, commercial reptile sprays are also available to aid with the shedding process of Bearded dragons. One such product is Zoo Med’s Repti Shedding Aid. In addition to aiding in the removal of dry skin, it also conditions the skin and helps to keep the skin moist and pliable, even between skin sheds.
Misting is a non-invasive way to help dry skin to separate and loosen faster, leaving less skin to cause problems. While some Bearded dragons might find misting irritable and even stressful, the misting process can be done while the Bearded dragon is still inside its enclosure, reducing additional stress. Misting is considered a safe and effective way to help shedding Bearded dragons.
Adding a moist substrate
Skin shedding problems can also be prevented by adding a temporary container with a moist substrate during the shedding process. During shedding, many Bearded dragons will be drawn to moisture and will start to spend additional time in those areas. A good substrate to use for this purpose is moist vermiculite. The addition of a moist substrate is a non-invasive way to help dry skin to separate and loosen faster, leaving less skin to cause problems. Because the substrate is added to the inside of the container, this method is considered to be a safe, non-stressful and effective way to help shedding Bearded dragons. It will also have a smaller effect on the overall humidity of the enclosure. Also see Bearded dragon substrates for more information.
Adding more water
Instead of adding a moist substrate (see earlier), some Bearded dragon keepers prefer the addition of a large water bowl to the enclosure. Some Bearded dragons will use the water bowl and often go for a splash or two during the shedding process – also referred to as soaking behaviour in Bearded dragons. Even if this is not the case, more water will lead to an increase in humidity which will also aid in the shedding process. In addition to loosening dry skin, soaking in water will have a better rehydrating effect. Unlike bathing (see later), by temporarily using a larger water bowl there will be no significant stress factor. If the water bowl is used by the shedding Bearded dragon, this method is considered safe is an effective way to help skin shedding in Bearded dragons.
Bathing & bathing aids
In the presence of problematic pieces of skin, many Bearded dragon owners resort to bathing. Bathing is done by placing a Bearded dragon in a large enough, shallow layer of lukewarm water for about 10 minutes at a time. It is recommended not to do it more than once a day, typically every second day in less severe cases. Although Bearded dragons are good swimmers, care must be taken not to drown the Bearded dragon in the process by making sure the head is not under the water.
To make the bathing process even more effective, commercial reptile skin shedding aids can be applied to the bathwater. One such product is Zilla’s Shed-Ease Reptile Bath. In addition to aiding in the removal of dry skin, it also promotes the development of healthy skin in reptiles.
Bathing can also be done as a strategic, preventative measure, but because of the additional stress involved, it should rather be reserved for problematic skin.
A note on hygiene when handling Bearded dragons
As a summary, these are good hygiene principles for Bearded dragon owners:
- Do not touch your face while, or directly after, handling a Bearded dragon, the inside of their enclosure, feeder insects or their substrate.
- Protect any open sores or wounds you might have on your hands before touching or handling a Bearded dragon.
- Wash and disinfect your hands (or in-contact skin) directly after handling a Bearded dragon, the inside of their enclosure, their food or their substrate.
- Do not kiss a Bearded dragon or bring it close to your face.
- Do not eat while handling or even close in close proximity with Bearded dragons.
- Use safe, but proven disinfectants to wash, wipe or spray your hands.
For more information, also see our Bearded dragon owner hygiene article.