Signs Your Snake Is Getting Ready to Shed

When a snake’s eyes glaze over milky-white with a blue hue is the most obvious sign that your snake will shed soon. Other signs your pet snake is going to shed include increased defensiveness, loss of appetite and being less active. It’s important to leave your snake alone while it goes through its shed.

Why snakes shed their skin

A snake sheds out of its old skin as part of the growing process. Snakes continue to grow throughout their entire lives but grow most during the first two years. Nevertheless, a snake continues to shed into old age and until death.

This bullsnake will soon shed.
Glazed over eyes is a prime indicator that a snake will soon shed.

How a snake sheds its skin

Under the right conditions, a snake sheds its entire skin in one or two pieces. Note that I said, “under the right conditions” (more on that later). Sometimes a snake successfully sheds out of its old skin in several pieces. In nature, a snake usually uses a branch or something similar to hook on to and pull itself out of its old skin.

Pet snakes might also use a branch or the side of the water bowl to assist them in the shedding process. I actually don’t leave branches in my snake’s enclosures. Out of forty snakes, all but one has a chronic problem when it comes to shedding. The rest are able to easily pull out of their old skin using the water bowls or crumpled paper towels.

How long it takes a snake to shed

From the time the snake’s eyes glaze over to when they finally pull out of their old skin can take seven to ten days.

Signs your pet snake is getting ready to shed

  • The snake’s eyes: The first is the most obvious, the snake’s eyes glaze over white with a blueish hue. During this time the snake is virtually blind so don’t attempt to handle it. You might get a bite.
  • Increased defensiveness: Another sign is increased defensiveness which goes along with their eyes being glazed over.
  • Soaking in its water bowl: It’s good practice to have a water bowl big enough for the entire snake to fit in.
  • Loss of appetite: Yet another sign is a loss of appetite. It’s important not to confuse an oncoming shed with illness.

Be wary of a snake directly after a shed. They’re often cranky at this time.

Bullsnake shedding
I suggest not handling your snake before a shed. They may display defensive behavior and are more likely to bite.

I’ve had many snakes over the years. In my experience, I’ve found that some snakes continue eating when going through the shedding process. Even when blind. Still, it’s best to wait until after your snake sheds to begin feeding it again.

In my experience, I’ve also had snakes that didn’t bite me while handling them during a shed. Don’t count on this. I’ve seen very docile snakes become beasts during the time they’re blind from an oncoming shed.

Fasting during a shed

Many of my snakes fast throughout the shed period. In fact, I have a few that stop feeding a week or two before their eyes glaze over. Just remember that a snake shedding is perfectly normal and the less you interact with your snake during this time, the better.

Still, there are times when a snake does need our help with shedding because they’re either unable or even unwilling to do it on their own.

Snake shedding problem

Poor shedding in snakes is a common health ailment the most snake keepers face. There are many reasons why a snake suffers from poor shedding. I have an entire page dedicated to shedding hacks on this website. It lists the reasons for poor shedding and several hacks to fix the problem.

Find out why your snake can’t shed on its own

It’s important to find out why your snake is having a hard time shedding. It could be a one-time incident or chronic. Some reasons include improper humidity levels. This is when the humidity levels in the snake’s enclosure are too low.

I run into this problem during the winter when the heat is on regularly. I have forced-air electric heat which is extremely dry. Good for my sinuses but not so much for my snakes. Luckily, raising the humidity is easy. Just take a spray bottle with water and spray a little over the snakes heating source. Don’t over-saturate the area or leave standing water. Instead, spray just enough for some water droplets to form on the sides of the enclosure.

Beware of drafts, especially during winter

Don’t do this if the enclosure is exposed to drafts. It could cause your snake to get an upper respiratory infection which is often deadly. It’s not a good idea to have an enclosure in the way of drafts anyway.

Solve snake shedding probelms
Here's an example of a snake shed with both eye-caps successfully discarded. Sometimes, eye-caps get stuck and need our intervention.

A snakes eye-caps

A snakes eye-caps remaining after a retained shed is the most worrisome result of poor shedding. If the caps build-up, the snake could lose its eye. Some suggest waiting for the snakes next shed to see if they both pop off together. This method isn’t very good and often yields poor results.

Sometimes a snake will shed all of its skin except for its eye-caps. It’s important to remove retained eye-caps as soon as you notice them. There are many effective ways of doing this while some are downright dangerous. I’m referring to psychically removing an eye-cap with tweezers.

If you’re skilled and careful this might work. Alternatively, you might pull the snake’s entire eye out. I have my method for this that works every time. I’d like to share it with you.

Remove retained eye-caps with all-natural mineral oil

I’ve found that the safest and most effective way of removing retained eye-caps is to simply take a q-tip, dip it in all-natural mineral oil and gently apply it on and around the snake’s eye. Don’t worry, you won’t damage the eye with the q-tip if you’re gentle. That’s the purpose of the scale that you’re trying to remove, to protect the snake’s eye. Yes, a snake’s eye-cap is actually a modified scale that protects it from damage.

Apply the mineral oil once a day, then leave it alone. It’ll pop off by itself or the snake will rub up against the side of the enclosure to remove it. I’ve seen both instances. At the most, I had to apply the mineral oil treatment for three days to remove a stubborn eye-cap. One treatment usually does the trick.

Before and after a retained snake skin
Before and after photo of a snake stuck in shed. The after photo shows the snake clean of its shed thanks to a simple humidity box.

Humidity Chamber Video

The tip of the snakes tail

Another area to watch after a failed shed is the snakes tail. When the retained skin stays on the tip of the tail for too long, the blood circulation gets cut off. When that happens, the snakes tail eventually falls off and doesn’t grow back.

Sometimes it’s hard to notice when a snake sheds out of its skin except for its tail. This is why I recommend checking the old skin itself. Look to see that the tip of the tail came off and that both eye-caps are within the shed skin as well.

Create a humidity chamber

My favorite way of helping a snake shed out of its old skin is with a humidity chamber. Check out my video on the subject. I simply take a plastic shoebox and place several layers of paper towels inside it. I then wet the paper towels down but not to the point of having standing water in the shoebox. I then place the snake inside and close the lid. Now, for the most important part of this hack.

Place a quarter of the shoebox over a heating element such as a heat mat.

This warms up the water and raises the humidity. If you don’t use a heating element and leave the snake in the shoebox with cold, wet paper towels, it’s not going to work. Be patient and wait an hour or so before checking on the snake. It might take a couple of hours for the snake to finally get working on removing its old skin.

Note that this hack might not work if the snake is suffering from an underlying illness. Such illnesses include bacterial and viral infections, parasites, and snake mites. These issues need to be diagnosed and treated separately.

Conclusion

Snake shedding issues can affect just about any snake for a great number of reasons. It’s important to figure out what’s causing the retained shed. I have one snake that’s suffered from chronic poor shedding since he was a hatchling.

He’s now three years old and otherwise outwardly healthy. I’m not sure exactly why this one snake refuses to shed on its own. Nevertheless, I’m always ready to help him out when he needs it.

Be careful with the snake’s eyes and tails. These are the two greatest areas of concern when it comes to a retained shed. The damage caused by not properly fixing the problem results in permanent deformity.

Are you having a problem with a snake shedding on its own? Let us know in the comments section below and tell us about it!

Signs Your Snake Is Getting Ready to Shed

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