Shedding is a natural process in all reptiles. The process is also referred to as moulting, peeling, or sloughing, and is when your bearded dragon casts off its old skin.
After your beardie sheds, the skin underneath is brand new and you’ll notice the colours are more vivid in the first few days, even more so in colour morphs.
Shedding is scientifically known as ecdysis and is a complex process. Your bearded dragon will replicate its skin underneath the existing one, creating a brand new epidermis (outer skin) underneath that will be revealed during shedding.
On completion of the new skin, enzymes are released to aid the separation between the new skin and the outer skin. Unlike snakes, who leave a full cast behind, your bearded dragon will shed and flake in various areas and will look patchy for a short while.
Your Bearded Dragon and the Shedding Process
It is believed that ecdysis is caused by hormones solely to regenerate the skin. Unlike invertebrates, it is not due to growth. However, body growth and change can be an initiator of the shedding process as well as environmental changes such as humidity.
Inevitably, in baby dragons, shedding occurs due to growth. In their first year of life, baby bearded dragons can shed several times as their bodies develop.
As your beardie matures, you will notice that the frequency of skin sloughing slows down in conjunction with their body growth. In their adult years, skin replenishment will occur for a handful of reasons such as grooming or low levels of calcium.
Your bearded dragon will not follow any regular pattern when it comes to shedding and it can depend on factors such as diet, health, growth, and habitat.
As with every animal, each skin cell will die and need to be replaced. As humans, we are constantly shedding thousands of skin cells whereas reptiles do this as a whole body process at one juncture. During this process, bearded dragons moult entire sections of their skin.
For many bearded dragons, the new skin is more efficient at absorbing UVB and manufacturing vitamin D3. Furthermore, do not be too worried if your beardie eats its old skin as it is loaded with calcium. However, this could also be a sign that they made not be receiving adequate calcium in their diet.
Shedding can also be a way of removing parasites from the skin. If your bearded dragon is suffering from mites and is receiving medication, it may be best to reduce the usage during shedding. During the moulting phase, the skin is much more permeable, so any toxins in the medication used are likely to be absorbed through the skin.
For your bearded dragon to have a healthy and comfortable shed, ensure they are receiving a good diet and their home is at the correct temperature and humidity. Also, having the correct UVB percentage is imperative and all these husbandry factors will deter dysecdysis (improper shedding).
How Often Do Bearded Dragons Shed Their Skin?
How often a bearded dragon sheds is completely unique to each creature and is linked to hormonal changes. Despite bearded dragons not shedding their skin in direct correlation to growth, moulting in babies and juveniles can be more frequent.
As a general guide, as they develop and grow, moulting will happen every 6 to 8 weeks until they are over a year old.
During adulthood, shedding happens sporadically and there is no pattern to follow. However, it could be stimulated by conditions and behaviours such as UVB levels, diet, breeding, and stress, to name a few examples. Most beardie owners agree that there is no pattern as to what will trigger a shed and while some bearded dragons do a whole body shed a few times a year, others will shed off different patches now and again.
Signs of Shedding
With bearded dragons, the initial signs of an upcoming shed are:
- Loss of appetite
- Skittish behaviour
- Not wanting to be handled
- Raised patches of skin
- Eye inflation – bearded dragons bulge out their eyes to loosen the skin around them as this is often the first area to moult
During the ecdysis (the shed) bearded dragons will indulge in the following to remove skin:
- Reptitive scratching of their bodies with their legs
- Rubbing their bodies across rough surfaces
- Rubbing themselves against rocks, branches or bark to loosen skin
Many bearded dragon owners like to place slabs of sandstone and shallow baths into their pet’s enclosure to help the process along. It must be remembered that under no circumstances should you remove or pick the old skin from your lizard. This can result in injury and infection.
How Long Does It Take A Bearded Dragon To Shed?
Typically, a fully body shed will take a bearded dragon around 2 to 3 weeks, but this time is much shorter when they are young.
For those dragons which shed portions as opposed to the whole body, it can take a week or so to complete.
If you have a young bearded dragon, keep your eyes peeled for old skin that hasn’t shed. This can restrict blood flow to the extremities and potentially cause issues such as tail rot to set in.
How to Help Your Bearded Dragon Shed Their Skin
As previously mentioned, never pick at or try to remove skin from your bearded dragon. You can damage the new skin underneath and cause pain and discomfort.
There are a lot of shredding products available on the market, but these should be at the bottom of your list. Water is the best tool for skin hydration and frequent baths will help keep beardies happy and comfortable.
Maintaining correct temperature gradients in the vivarium is always important, but keep a closer eye during shedding; habitat can be the cause of incomplete shedding.
Having a set-up that is rich in different textures is ideal, as your bearded dragon can then scratch and rub their skin to their heart’s content. Providing a flat and shallow dish is great for bearded bath time. However, change the water daily and keep it free of any excrement.
If your bearded dragon still has skin attached after 2 weeks, try rubbing it with a soft toothbrush during a bath, or blotting it with damp kitchen paper. Remember to be very gentle.
Dysecdysis in Bearded Dragons
Dysecdysis, also known as improper or incomplete shedding can be due to a multitude of husbandry factors. If you think your beardie isn’t shedding correctly, check all aspects of the vivarium and their diet to see if anything can be changed.
Incomplete shedding can become a severe issue when skin is retrained in the extremities: tail, spikes, toes and nails. The old skin can restrict nerves and blood supply to these areas as it shrinks when it dries. This can make bearded dragons susceptible to infection and necrosis. If you are worried, check your bearded dragon for signs of pain or discomfort in those areas.
Dysecdysis can also be caused by damage to the skin by parasites or tumours, but will most likely be due to skin being peeled off when it wasn’t naturally ready to do so.
The bearded dragon shedding process is completely natural and unique to each creature. If you have any worries or concerns, it is always best to consult your vet.