A healthy bearded dragon will shed many times throughout their lifetime. This is normal and a part of their growth and development. Frequent shedding especially in the young dragon is a good indication that they are eating well and generally healthy. Healthy eating dragons will grow whereas dragons that are either sick or not eating well will shed less frequently due to the impact these factors will have on their growth speed. You should expect to see your bearded dragon shed at least 1-2 times a month for babies. Every 2-3 months for juveniles and 1 – 2 times a years for an adult.
Why do bearded dragons shed?
Every so often bearded dragons, like all reptiles go through a process called ecdysis derived from Greek meaning “put off” more commonly referred to as shedding.
The outermost layer (epidermis) of a reptile’s skin is covered with small rigid plates called scales or scutes. These scales provide protection against predators and the elements.
The scales are made from alpha and beta keratin proteins. We too produce alpha keratin which is found in our epidermis, hair and nails; but its predominantly the beta keratin reptiles produce which is responsible for the development of scales also horns and claws. Beta keratin adds rigidity and is a relatively inflexible substance and once formed will not continue to grow as the reptile does. This is where the process of shedding comes in…… as the new scales form the old scaly skin lifts away.
Different species will shed differently for example snakes tend to shed their skin in one leaving a replica of their former self behind. This is not the case for bearded dragons they shed in patches with varying sizes of skin flakes. In the wild shedding has the added benefit of helping to remove unwelcome parasites such as ticks and mites.
Most bearded dragons will go through the shedding process without incident it is still a good idea that you keep an extra close eye on your bearded dragon just to ensure that they have shed all his/her skin. Repeated incomplete shedding could be or lead to health issues for your bearded dragon e.g: tail rot. See shedding problems
Signs your bearded dragon is shedding or about to shed.
You may have already noticed signs that your dragon is beginning to shed. Common signs include a dullness to their skin and it will look flaky or patchy. They may be puffing out their throat and body and “yawning” more frequently in an effort to stretch and loosen the old skin. More obvious signs are large areas of their skin is hanging off or scattered around the tank. Your bearded dragon may also temporarily go off their food. This is no cause for concern because their lack of eating is due to shedding. Shedding can be distracting and often downright annoying for your beardie during this time.
Ways to help your bearded dragon whilst they are shedding
Ensure that their enclosure has decor items that can assist them to slough off those dead scales. This can be anything with a rough (not sharp) texture including branches, logs and rocks.
Soak your bearded dragon. If your not already doing so bearded dragons should be bathed regularly the benefits of doing this are;
- It’s a good way to keep them clean.
- It helps with bowel movement. (see impaction)
- It’s a great social interaction for you and your beardie.
Increase the frequency of bathing your dragon during shedding, it will help to soften stubborn areas which can also be restrictive and uncomfortable. Bathing will provide some relief for your bearded dragon as they can get itchy. Using a soft toothbrush or something similar can prove helpful to help lift the old skin away. Never attempt to pull off flakes that are still fairly well attached. This is because the skin new underneath will be slightly permeable and susceptible to damage.
Apologies for the focus quality at the beginning of this video. This is Lil my female bearded dragon soaking whilst she is shedding.
If you notice that your bearded dragon is experiencing difficulties there are things you can do to help. I myself have experienced this issue with one of my bearded dragons failing to shed the tip of his tail. George was young and frequently shedding and at the time I was relatively inexperienced and didn’t realize the implications failure to shed would have. I first noticed the end of his tail was much darker than the rest of his tail it was hard and thickened and had begun to bend up slightly. He also didn’t like me examining the area either it was probably painful for him 😢.
I knew that something was not right because this had not happened to my other beardies. So I did the obligatory google search for answers and none of the search results really answered my question. At that time my nearest reptile vet was 20 miles away and I was not able to get an appointment quickly so I took matters in my own hands during that time……..
George was well in every other respect. I knew that bathing alone was not going to shift this build up of dead skin the skin needed to be softened to have a fighting chance of removing it. This was something I learnt the hard way! The method I used was to soak cotton wool in vegetable oil and secure it to his tail the soaked cotton wool would remain on for several hours at a time. It didn’t seem to phase George. I continued to do this daily for over a week in conjunction I would also soak just his tail in a jam jar with warm water and gently massage the tip with more vegetable oil while he sat on my lap. It did soften and bits began to flake off and eventually it all came off. Even though the skin had come off I kept the appointment and took George primarily for a welfare check and reassurance all was well. Fortunately there was no permanent damage.
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Shedding problems for bearded dragons
As mentioned it is important to keep a close eye on your beardie to ensure they have completely shed. Areas that have not shed can become thickened and as the next layer of skin starts to shed it too is also unable to fully shed because the previous layer is stuck. If this continues that area will become thickened unable to grow, it can be uncomfortable and painful for your dragon.
What to look out for
The affected area of skin can crack or blister and become infected. Common areas to pay special attention to are the feet around the eyes and mouth and tail especially the tip. In severe cases where the extremities are affected (feet and tail tip) the area will lose its blood supply (due to the thickened unshed skin restricting growth), become necrotic and will require amputation.
Tail rot is a bacterial infection affecting the distal section of the tail. Which if left untreated the tail will “rot” away (this can also affect the toes). Common causes of tail rot are trauma and recurrent incomplete shedding. There are numerous ways that trauma can occur. Anything from a fall, or the tail getting trapped on/in something, or even from a bite of another bearded dragon if housed with others. If the latter is the case separation may be required.
If the area has an open wound and/or as the blood flow becomes compromised in the damaged area infection will set in. Eventually the tail tip will have no blood supply, become necrotic and may require the end of the tail to be amputated. Bearded dragon tails do not grow back unlike some other reptiles.
Continuous failure to shed the old skin on the tail end can also result in tail rot; Due to the restrictive nature of the old scales not allowing the tail to grow. (Which is the purpose for shedding). It will eventually act as a tourniquet cutting of the tail’s distal circulation.
The distal end of the bearded dragons tail will become darkened and remain dark even after shedding. As mentioned the most common cause of tail rot is recurring incomplete shedding and trauma. The darkening due to the diminishing blood supply.
Signs of infection, open sores and the tail starting to separate or falling completely off where it has rotted away. Any of these signs will need treatment.
Your beardie will require an appointment to the herpetologist or specialist vet who will advise you of the best course of action depending on the severity of the tail rot. If infection is present this will need treatment with antibiotics, and a topical antibacterial ointment. Left untreated the infection will track up the tail and most likely lead to a systemic infection resulting in multi organ failure. If the tail has irreparable damage the vet may advise that that section be amputated.
Any other issues
If you notice that your bearded dragon is either shedding more frequently than what is considered to be normal. Or they have or are developing thicker harder scaly patches your bearded dragon could have a health issue. This could be down to the husbandry of the bearded dragon but could also be an infection such as yellow fungus ; immediate advice from a herpetologist will be required.
If you have any concerns about the shedding of your bearded dragon always seek professional advice from a herpetologist or a specialist reptile vet.