Like a child that outgrows the old clothes, lizards have to shed their old skin to allow their bodies to grow.
Most lizards have their skin fall off in chunks or flakes for several days. However, the leo shedding process is similar to that of a snake – they shed the old skin all at once and nearly in one piece like they are taking off a worn-out suit.
Although shedding is a low-intensity event for experienced hobbyists, it can cause quite a lot of excitement, worry, and anxiety in a novice leo enthusiast. Also, although it is a pretty straightforward process, sometimes problems can occur along the way.
That is why it is worth knowing what to expect when it’s shedding time.
Let’s dig into the hows and whys of leopard gecko shedding!
How Do I Know If My Leo Is Shedding?
There is one tell-tale visual sign of upcoming shedding – your leo will change color. As the date approaches, his coloration will become duller, and he will eventually turn grayish-white. That happens because the old skin is gradually separating from the body.
Note that the phenomenon is not equally visible in all morphs. In Blizzards and many other albinos, the change is subtle. On the other hand, with wild-type and melanistic leos, the color change can be quite dramatic – from dark brown to grayish-white.
Besides the look, your leo’s behavior might also change.
Leos require humidity and moisture for a successful shed, so your pet might spend additional time in his moist hide (or more time hiding in general). He may also lack an appetite for up to a week before shedding.
When the time is due, your leo may start rubbing off of rocks to initiate the shedding. The skin on the head will flake and come off first. During the process, leopard geckos will sway their body, and pull and tug at the old skin using their mouth. I find it especially amusing when they pull off the skin from their front legs, looking like they are taking off a pair of long, posh gloves.
How Often Do Leopard Geckos Shed?
Leopard gecko’s shedding frequency depends on their growth rate.
Young leos who grow vigorously can shed weekly or bi-weekly – definitely more often than older individuals. Mature geckos will shed once a month on average, although there can be longer pauses between sheds.
Is There A Shedding Season For Leopard Geckos?
Generally, there is no season for shedding. However, an adult leo will rarely shed while brumating. Likewise, all the resources in gravid leopard gecko females go towards their eggs, so shedding at this time is also unlikely.
How Long Does Leopard Gecko Shedding Take?
From the moment you notice the dull coloration of your pet, it will be 1-3 days before the shed is complete.
Once the process takes off, it can be mere 10 minutes before it’s over. Still, in some individuals, it can take up to a day to complete.
Can You Hold a Leopard Gecko When It’s Shedding?
Leopard geckos can be cranky while shedding and some may even turn aggressive. Unnecessary handling and stressing out an already stressed gecko can lead to issues like stuck sheds.
Simply provide your leo with the best possible conditions and let nature take its course.
Should I Feed My Leo During The Shedding?
Some leos will eat normally before and after the shedding, but others will avoid food for several days before, and 1-2 days after the completion of the process.
You can offer food as usual – just don’t insist.
Stuck sheds are the most common and pretty much the only problem with leopard gecko shedding. Basically, “stuck shed” is a piece of skin that won’t come off. Potential causes include:
- Lack of moisture and moist hide;
- Vitamin deficiency;
- Illness or stress;
- Bad conditions (e.g., temps too low).
However, not all cases can be attributed to these causes; some healthy leos are simply poor shedders, with no apparent reason.
Over time, the stuck skin will become dry and hard, leading to different problems depending on its location on the body.
The most common body parts where stuck sheds occur are the toes. Accumulation and hardening of these skin “rings” can lead to blood being cut off from a toe, damaging the tissue. If the situation lasts, your leo could lose a toe, or get a nasty infection.
Stuck Shed Around The Eyes
Stuck shed around the eyes is about the worst thing that can happen with stuck sheds. Usually, the affected gecko will not be able to open his eyes and the old skin will be visible all around the eyelids.
Leopard Gecko Shedding Too Often
The main reason for shedding is growth. A young leo in the intensive growing phase will shed much more often than an adult. The shedding will continue throughout leo’s lifetime – it will just become a rarer event.
Leopard Gecko Not Shedding
As your leo ages, he or she will shed less often. There isn’t a strict rhythm to this change. Older leos might also enter a growth sprout of a sort, and shed a bit more frequently than usual. But just as well, they could stop shedding for a long period of time.
If you have a young leo that is not shedding, it could be a sign of stunted growth. Create a chart that will help you track down your leo’s length and/or weight, as well as dates of shedding.
How to Handle Stuck Sheds in Leos?
- For toes, give your leo a warm soaking bath (water can merely cover his feet, no need for it to be deeper) lasting for 15-30 minutes. Then, while carefully handling him, pull at the now-softened skin with a pair of tweezers, ideally the quality medical kind. Gently brushing with a Q-tip usually doesn’t work for toes, but you can try if the amount of skin is minimal.
- For sheds stuck around the eyes and other parts of the body, create a “sauna” – put a towel soaked (but not dripping) with warm water in a clean plastic container, with a lid and some air holes. Leave the gecko in there for about 30 minutes. When you get him out, try removing the leftover skin with a moist Q-tip.
In general, I do not advise using oil as the first line of treatment in the case of stuck sheds.
You will often read the advice to use olive or coconut oil on stuck sheds. However, the trouble is that if you fail to remove the shed by oiling, the situation might become even more complicated once that stubborn piece of skin is greasy and sticky. Other parts of the body are easier to treat this way, but the eyes are sensitive and vulnerable.
If you can’t remove the skin around leos eyes after a “gecko sauna” treatment, take him to a reptile vet, who will have the right instruments and experience to deal with the alignment properly. The eye infections in reptiles can get really bad, and personally, I would not take any chances.
If you have no options but to try oil, you can lightly coat the old skin with the help of a Q-tip. You will also use a Q-tip to gently rub and try to get the skin off.
Tips: How to Help a Leopard Gecko Shed
The best way to help your leo shed is to ensure:
- That his food is supplemented with all essential vitamins;
- That his moist hide is clean and moist enough;
- That he has a rough (but not sharp or abrasive) piece of decoration that he can rub against.
When you notice that the old skin has started to come off, do not interfere with the process. In the great majority of cases, a healthy leo will shed without any complications.
Some leo owners like to help their leo with the shed. However, there is a risk that the skin will be peeled off too quickly, resulting in damage to the new skin or parts of the old one getting stuck.
Products That Help Shedding
Baths like Zilla Shed-Ease Reptile Bath and sprays like Zoo Med Repti Snake and Lizard Shedding Aid can help with stuck sheds or prevent shedding issues. They can be used regularly and have other benefits besides helping to shed.
Why Do Leopard Geckos Eat Their Shed?
There are at least three good reasons why leos eat their old skin:
- Shedding the entire skin at once is tiresome work for a little gecko. There is a lot of twisting, turning, and pulling included. Eating the skin is a way to recover at least some energy and nutrients quickly, without having to worry about catching prey.
- In their natural environment, leos have quite a few natural enemies who would gladly turn them into a snack. That is why leos had to evolve strategies to cover their traces, and eating their old skin is one of them.
- As all burrowing and territorial creatures, leos care about cleanliness. That is why they go potty in one corner of the terrarium, and that is why they remove their sheds in the most efficient way possible.
As I said priorly, moisture is the key to successful shedding. Since with leos we can’t have a humid and moist terrarium environment, we provide them with a moist hide or a shedding box.
Shedding box is usually a plastic box with a moist substrate such as coco coir or peat moss, and an opening just large enough for a leo to get in and out.
Have you learned something new about leopard gecko shedding? I hope you found the article to be informative and interesting.
In my opinion, the most valuable takeaway is that shedding is a natural process that shouldn’t be disturbed or helped unless there is an obvious need. Fortunately, if something gets stuck (literally!), there are techniques and products that can save your gecko from pain and discomfort.
What are your experiences with leopard gecko shedding? Do you remember how you felt the first time it had occurred? Feel free to share your story in the comments – we’d love to hear it!
Featured image: Courtesy of Yokohama Anettai Chakan