Don’t be alarmed, its perfectly natural for a Bearded Dragon to shed it’s skin, just remember not to pick at their loose bits of skin.
Shedding is a natural process in all reptiles also known as molting/ moulting, peeling or sloughing where the lizard casts off it’s old skin, leaving a nice shiny new looking Beardie afterwards.
You’ll see much higher contrasts of colours in the new skin for the first few days, even more so in colour morphs. This is one of the reasons why morphs always look more striking when younger because during the juvenile phase they’ll shed far more frequently due to growth of their bodies. When they get to adulthood, they’ll look a bit duller than you remember until they shed that old skin.
Scientifically known as ecdysis, shedding/ molting/ sloughing is a complex process where a brand new outer skin (epidermis) is replicated underneath the existing one. Once the new skin is ready, enzymes are released to aid the detachment/ separation between the new skin and the old outer skin. In Bearded Dragons their molt will flake off in various pieces at different times unlike a snake that generally will leave a complete cast behind.
The Bearded Dragon shedding process
Ecdysis (shedding) is thought to be influenced by hormones as a way to regenerate the skin, it does not prohibit growth in reptiles as it does in invertebrates, however, body growth & change can be a factor that initiates the shedding process as well as environmental changes, most notably humidity.
In babies it primarily happens due to growth, baby bearded dragons moult several times in their first year as their bodies develop. As they reach adulthood the frequency of skin shedding slows down as body growth has also slowed, molting now occurs as a way to replenish the skin for a few possible reasons such as grooming, calcium and other nutrients. There is no set regularity for a lizard to slough it’s skin and depends on many factors such as diet/ nutrition, habitat, growth and health. Below you can see one of my adults doing a full body shed.
Each skin cell eventually dies (as it does in every animal) so it needs to be replaced, unlike humans who shed thousands of individual skin cells every second, reptiles do this in a whole process, although many reptiles do shed individual scales Bearded Dragons molt entire sections of their skin in this process.
For beardies, this newer skin might be more efficient at absorbing UVB and manufacturing Vitamin D3 to metabolise calcium simply because the old dead skin cells are removed that no longer work – it could also be that the UVB is also a stimulant for shedding: Unlike UVA, which penetrates the outer layers of the skin, we know that UVB in high doses or over a long period of time can kill the skin cells in the outer layer – it’s what causes us to go red or our skin to peel when we’ve been in the sun too long.
The old skin is loaded with calcium so don’t be alarmed if you see them eat the skin, although take it as sign that they may not be getting enough calcium in their regular diet.
Shedding can also act as a way to remove any skin parasites, but be careful if you’re using a medication for mites etc… as during the molting phase, the skin is more permeable (allows more water to pass through) so any toxins in the insecticides are more likely to get absorbed and it’s probably best to reduce the usage to be on the safe side during this time.
To ensure a healthy shed maintain a good diet, correct temperatures & humidity and UVB % – remember to change your UVB bulb at least once a year – Improper shedding is known as dysecdysis, this is when the skin fails to detach itself and happens for many reasons, but most commonly due to aforementioned husbandry factors.
How often do Bearded Dragons shed their skin?
This varies for each dragon and it’s linked to hormonal changes, remember a reptile doesn’t need to shed his skin in order to grow, but certainly in the babies and juveniles growth can be a factor for moulting frequency. As they develop and grow they’ll tend to shed every 6-8 weeks up until they’re over a year old. During adulthood shedding happens sporadically and could be stimulated by conditions and other behaviours e.g. UVB, diet, breeding, brumation, stress, seasonal, temperature & humidity. There doesn’t seem to be any pattern as to what will trigger it, sometimes they’ll do a full shed a few times a year but most often they’ll just shed various pieces.
I’ve got an adult female Pogana Vitticeps who hadn’t shed in the past 6 months until a couple of weeks after a bath and she had a whole body shed, normally she just sheds in pieces, she’d had baths frequently as she loves them. However she’s now getting ready to brumate after spending the past year or so laying eggs sporadically.
2 of the male Vitticeps I have, have gone straight to brumation without a recent shedding, despite frequent baths whereas the other male is currently shedding in pieces all are the same age. I have another adult female, leatherback, who seems to do a full shed every couple of months I think she knows she has very nice colours compared to the rest and wants to show off. Finally a Lawsons/ Rankins dragon that sheds roughly twice a year, but frequently sheds individual body parts.
All 6 of these dragons are kept separately in exactly the same conditions, diet etc… just to show that shedding works differently for each individual beardie when they get older, all of them shed at least 6 times in their first year as they developed but since slowed down on full molts and shed individual parts separately.
Remember that it’s healthy to shed, keep an eye on your dragon and if there’s been no shed for a long time it could be a health concern (read further down about problem moults)
What are the signs of shedding in a Bearded Dragon?
In Bearded Dragon precdysis, the initial signs of an upcoming moult are:
- Loss of appetite/lethargy, although mine never seem to let shedding put them off their diets.
- Not pooing, although this is more likely due to them spending less time under their heat source during sloughing. Again mine have yet to stop pooping due to a molt.
- Dimmer, duller/ greyer skin colour
- Become more skittish and object to being held or even touched in some cases hissing or angle their bodies at you.
In the below photo you can see the different colourations of the skin when shedding. On the left is the skin that’s yet to come off which is a dull grey colour, in the middle is the skin that’s peeling off and on the far right is the new skin, note the contrast between each section.
After those initial signs you may then see them inflating their eyes – normally the area around the eyes are one of the first places to shed skin. Beardies frequently bulge out their eyes to loosen the skin, after a few days you’ll see them rubbing or scratching their closed eyes to remove the old skin.
You’ll then notice an uneven look to the skin and it’ll begin to look patchy, some areas will look greyer, almost translucent and this is a sign that the old skin is beginning to detach itself from the newly generated skin underneath. You generally don’t see this around the eyes, but once the eyes have shed you’ll see what looks like raised patches of skin as in the photo below.
Then during ecdysis, you’ll see them do a variety of things to remove their skin such as:
- Repetitive scratching at their bodies with their legs
- Rubbing their bodies across the floor, normally along a rough surface
- Rubbing themselves against branches, rocks, bark to loosen the skin
I find a big piece of cork bark and a rough sandstone slab seem to help the most as well as baths. Under no circumstance remove the old skin yourself, it can lead to damage on the new skin beneath it.
Afterwards, postecdysis, appetite should resume and normal behaviour will revert, there’ll be a few small patches of skin left to come off, normally around the toes in my experience. Otherwise they’ll have a very high contrast colour, especially in the morphs. Remember that this process is a very stressing and an energetic one, so they may have an increase in appetite. If they’ve shed and are still not eating, give them some time to bask under the heat, it may take a couple of days for appetite to resume.
The behaviour of Bearded Dragons when shedding their skin
As well as the signs of them trying to rub their old skin off, you’ll notice they’ll tend to be more agitated and may seem aggressive towards any attempt to pick them up or stroking them. Don’t worry, it’s best to leave them to it and give them plenty of space, but be warned this behaviour can last for a couple of weeks.
Most behaviour will revolve around scratching and rubbing, they’ll tend to avoid the warmer end of the vivarium and will prefer slightly more humid areas – you can add a large, shallow water dish for them to hop in to, or fetch them out and give them a bath depending on how easy they are to handle. Just be careful when handling them, they’ll be more skittish. Alternatively you can also mist the tank/ beardie to aid the shedding, but be careful not to overmist the tank as high humidity can also cause respirative problems.
One thing you may see is a Bearded Dragon eating its dead skin, don’t worry as long as it’s in a clean environment, the old skin is full of calcium and other nutrients. They’re not going to eat all of their dead skin, but this can be a sign that there’s nutrients missing in their diets. If you’re not providing calcium and a balanced diet then this may be more likely to happen, but chances are your beardie isn’t going to be shedding too often for them to eat the skin to get these nutrients back. Eating their old skin could be a trait from the wild where they remove traces of their scent etc.. as a way of avoiding predators.
How long does it take for Bearded Dragons to shed their skin?
Typically a full body shed can take around 2-3 weeks for them to complete, but it can happen much quicker in the young.
Otherwise individual body part/ partial shedding will take little more than a week or so to complete. In the photo below you can see just the toes of my leatherback beginning to shed:
In the young dragons keep an eye out for any old skin that hasn’t shed, especially on the tails and toes if they’re still growing, the old skin can restrict blood flow to the extremities and potentially cause tail rot etc… to set in.
How to help your Bearded Dragon shed their skin
Firstly, do not pick at the skin, you’re not helping them. In fact you could be damaging the new skin underneath.
Save yourselves the cash and avoid shed/molt aid products to start with, the best ingredient in them is water, if you get to bottom of this list and they’ve still got a problem shedding their skin then you may want to try this. Most of them have some vitamin E and various oils in them to aid hydration of the skin and that’s exactly what frequent baths etc… will do too.
Ensure the temperature gradients in the vivarium are correct and that there’s a UVB source, habitat can be one of the primary reasons why dysecdysis can occur (Improper/ incomplete shedding)
In your setup provide some large rough pieces of bark – they love climbing on it most times or hiding under it but during shedding its a great way to help them remove their old skin.
Provide a large piece of flat stone to allow them to rub their bellies along it, sandstone is the best for this.
Give them a flat, shallow water bowl that they can fit in to, there doesn’t need to be too much water in there, just enough so that they soak. Generally when confronted with a bowl of water, most beardies will also poop in it, so keep an eye on the water and change it each day.
An old video from a few years back of our Lawsons/ Rankins dragon dipping in and out of the water and then rubbing herself on the floor to help her shed, as you can see it can be a fairly energetic routine and also you can see a bit of poo in there – they’re not fussy, they’ll rub themselves through anything, but unlike below always try to remove the poo.
If you don’t frequently bathe your Bearded Dragon, try giving them a bath in some shallow warm water, deep enough for them to swim in, but still able to stand in. Alternatively you can try misting them but remember that high constant air humidity can cause respiratory issues, so personally I always go with the bathing option.
If they’ve still got old skin attached after a couple of weeks try rubbing it with a soft toothbrush during a bath to help remove it.
The most common shedding problem after habitat & diet is a lack of humidity, in the wild humidity helps the them generate the oils between their old and new skin to keep the older skin softer and supple to help it flake off.
Do Bearded Dragons eat less when shedding?
It really depends on the dragon, the only time mine have ever shown a loss in appetite is during semi-hibernation (brumation). I’ve yet to see my beardies refuse food during a shed, however there are a couple of factors that can lead to them eating less or not at all. A loss of appetite is most likely due to occur during a full body shed.
My Bearded Dragon is shedding and won’t eat
This is far more likely to occur during a full body shed – should be easy to spot as everything is peeling an flaking off and full body sheds will always occur in the young. If your beardie is only having a partial shed and is not eating, then this could be due to other factors.
Firstly, they’ll be using the warmer end/ basking spot less often, simply because there won’t be any humidity there. This is the heat that they use to metabolise and digest their food, by not basking then they’re not digesting. This can lead to the lack of appetite they demonstrate.
Secondly, any energy they do have from basking, they’ll be using it on molting their skin rather than digestion. Again a slower gut may mean a lack of appetite.
But like I said, this doesn’t stop mine from eating, if this does happen don’t panic, as long as they’re healthy and have some fat reserves it’ll all be fine. It’s better to focus on if they’re not eating and have recently gone through a shed.
Ideally the babies and juvenile Bearded Dragons will still continue to eat while shedding to maintain their growth and development, but they may skip a couple of days due to shedding. Whereas adults may not eat for a longer period of time, possibly the entire duration of the full body moult.
Why isn’t my Bearded Dragon shedding any more?
When they reach adulthood, hormone changes and growth declines and they’ll do a less frequent full body shed. Inspect your beardie regularly and you may notice that they’re shedding the odd body part now and then and keep a note of each time they shed.
If you are positive that they’re not shedding, then this may be a health concern, notably linked to habitat, diet and humidity, but typically in adults you should expect them to shed less.
If the beardie in question is a baby/ juvenile and hasn’t shed for more than 8 weeks this is a bigger cause for concern and is an indicator of definite health problems.
Improper shedding (Dysecdysis) in Bearded Dragons
Improper shedding isn’t a cause, it’s a symptom of a problem and can be due to heating, lighting, diet etc… if you think your beardie is having a problem shed, check and fix all aspects of your husbundry first. In the below photo you can see an example of an incomplete shed, around the upper jaw, you can see the discolouration of the old skin (lacking colour).
Dysecdysis can be particularly problematic when the skin is retained in the extremities: toes, nails, spikes, tails. The old skin can restrict nerve and blood supply to these areas as it shrinks when it dries and cause them to degrade making them susceptible to infection and necrosis. Check them for signs of pain or discomfort in those areas – old skin will look a much different colour to the healthy new skin.
Take a look at the prior section on how to help a Bearded Dragon shed it’s skin – start with baths and hydration.
As well as humidity, dysecdysis may be caused by damage to the skin, possibly due to external parasites or tumors but more likely when skin has been peeled off that wasn’t ready to naturally do so.
Can peeling the skin off cause mites?
In a word, no. However, if you peel off the old skin and expose the new immature skin it will be more susceptible to infection and mites – mites have to already be present in the environment, they won’t magically appear just because you peeled off the old skin, but if they’re present, then you’ve just made it easier to get through your dragons tough skin by exposing the soft under developed skin.
The biggest concern with peeling off the skin is damaging the skin underneath, which can lead to infection and problems with shedding the next time (Dysecdysis).