Leopard geckos are one of the easiest lizards to care for as pets. They’re low maintenance and have interesting personalities and movements.
However, when it comes to shedding, you have to step up your game as a pet owner to provide everything needed for your lizard to shed successfully.
And if you’re a new leopard gecko owner, you might be surprised the first time you see your pet shed. You might even feel grossed out by the sight of seeing your gecko eat their shed skin.
In this post, we’ll shed light on everything you need to know about leopard geckos shedding and answer the question, “Why do leopard geckos eat their skin?”
Seeing your gecko shedding for the first time might be surprising for you. And it’s even more surprising when you see him eat his skin.
This habit is very normal and healthy. You’ll actually be fascinated by this habit when you know the reason why your gecko eats his shed skin.
The main reason why geckos eat their shed skin is to gain back nutrients. Geckos usually don’t eat much during the shedding process, which can be quite demanding.
Your gecko loses many nutrients and minerals while producing the fluid to loosen the skin. So by eating his shed skin, he reabsorbs some of those lost nutrients and minerals.
This also kickstarts his digestive system again after the fasting period that took place during the shedding process.
Geckos also eat their skin according to their survival instinct. By eating their shed, they leave no trace behind them for predators. Their skin will have some of their scents, and predators may be able to pick up on the geckos’ scent and lead them to their place.
Instead of risking their lives by just leaving their shed available for predators, they eat it. Pretty smart, right?
Leopard geckos, like most burrowing animals, care about keeping their environment clean. Eating their skin is the most efficient way to get rid of it while giving their body the necessary nutrients.
The shedding phenomenon is common and important in all reptiles. Shedding is, in fact, a sign of a healthy reptile.
Reptiles shed their skin for various reasons. The most important of all of them is to make room for new skin.
The outer layer of a leopard gecko’s skin is tough and non-elastic, just like with all reptiles. So, the outer layer doesn’t stretch or grow with their bodies.
The only way for your gecko to solve this problem is by shedding this outer layer completely to expose a new layer of skin that now fits him. The new skin is also tough and acts as a protective layer until it’s time to shed again.
Humans actually shed their skin, too, but not in the same way as reptiles. You may notice tiny flakes of dead skin on your face or body. This is our way of shedding and renewing our outer layer of skin.
Another reason why geckos shed their skin is to remove any parasites like mites and ticks that can cause illnesses.
So by removing the outer layer of skin, your gecko is keeping himself clean and healthy. Reptiles also shed their skin to replenish any damaged skin and heal any scratches, bites, or any other injuries. Note that shedding isn’t limited to wild geckos.
Pet leopard geckos also shed their skin to allow growth, renew their skins, and change their skin color. So the next time you see your pet shedding, don’t be alarmed. It’s a sign that he’s growing healthy.
Leopard geckos’ bodies produce a fluid between the old, outer layer of the skin and the layer beneath it that will become the new outer layer. This happens about a week before the shedding starts.
The secreted fluid acts as a lubricant to make the shedding process easier on the gecko. It loosens the outer layer and makes it peel and glide off easily of your gecko’s body.
You might notice your gecko moving his limbs in weird ways to bite and eat his shedding skin. Don’t worry, it’s normal for him to do that.
Lizards usually shed their skin in large patches, including geckos. However, your gecko might shed his skin in one piece like a snake.
You can tell that your gecko is starting his shedding process by the physical changes that appear on him as well as the behavioral changes.
You’ll notice that your leopard is becoming pale and less vibrant. His skin color will look milky and his pattern will become less visible.
These changes will start about a day or two before shedding, so you’ll probably be able to tell in advance.
Besides the physical changes, geckos go through some behavioral changes as well throughout the entire shedding process.
You might notice that your leopard is spending more time in his moist hide. The shedding process requires moisture and humidity, and the moist hide environment is ideal for that. Also, Geckos like hiding in general during the shedding process.
Your lizard will be eating less or maybe not at all during the shedding process. This will happen about a week before shedding.
Don’t be alarmed, it’s a normal habit. As soon as the process is done, he’ll start eating normally again.
Other behavioral changes may include lethargy and irritability.
Lizards in general might experience what is called retained or stuck skin. The scientific term for this condition is Dysecdysis.
There are various causes for stuck skin:
- Poor diet and vitamin deficiency, especially vitamin A
- External parasites
- Bad environmental conditions, such as low moisture and humidity
However, poor shedding isn’t always caused by a problem. Sometimes some lizards are just poor shedders.
The retained or stuck skin, if left on the skin for too long, dries and becomes hard which can cause serious problems. Here are some places to check for any stuck skin:
When the shed skin gets stuck on or around the eyes, it can prevent the poor gecko from opening his eyes. It’s easy to notice stuck skin in this area as it’s pretty visible.
Also, the stuck skin around the eyes can cause infection or injuries if left for a long period.
It’s crucial to check the toes of a gecko after shedding. Geckos’ toes are small and it’s easy for the skin to stick to them, and if that isn’t taken care of right away, the stuck skin can cut off the blood circulation from the gecko’s toe. This can result in the toe falling off.
Just like the toes, shedding skin can stick to the tail tip.
Sometimes shed skin can stick to the area near the vent. This can cause hygiene problems. So, it’s a good idea to pay attention to this area after the shedding while being careful not to hurt the gecko.
Most of the time, leopard geckos don’t need any help with their shedding process if they’re provided with a suitable environment.
With pet geckos, shedding can be harder for them as they’re not living in their natural habitat. Luckily, there are some things that you can do to help your gecko through his shedding process:
Leopards need specific environmental conditions to be able to shed completely. They prefer dry habitats with high humidity. Failing to provide this habitat can cause problems with shedding.
The ideal humidity percentage for a leopard gecko is 40%. Humidity levels that are below 30% will cause non-complete shedding. So, be sure to provide a shed or hide box for your leopard.
It’s best to provide a hide box with sphagnum moss or coconut fiber to allow the hide to remain damp. There should be condensation on the wall of the box, but it shouldn’t be dripping wet.
Shedding can feel itchy on leopard geckos and they might need to scratch off the skin by rubbing against a rough surface. This helps them with the shedding process.
You can provide your gecko with rough rocks, branches, sticks, or even a plastic hide. Make sure that the decor is rough and not sharp so it won’t hurt or injure your gecko.
A proper diet is crucial for successful and healthy shedding. Malnutrition and vitamin deficiency are causes for stuck or retained skin.
Geckos like to feed on insects, such as crickets, super worms, cockroaches, and mealworms with a little bit of vitamin powder supplement.
Lighting is also another important factor that plays a role in the shedding process. Geckos need UVB light for vitamin D.
UVB light prevents vitamin deficiencies in geckos and allows them to properly metabolize their food. These are crucial for successful shedding.
There are a few simple ways to help your gecko get rid of his stuck shed skin:
Soaking your gecko in a bowl of warm water is the safest way to get the stuck skin off of your gecko’s body. The water shouldn’t be above chin level.
Leave your gecko in warm water for 10 to 20 minutes. The shed skin should absorb the warm water and start peeling off more easily.
Shedding aid is another way to help your gecko with his stuck skin. Soak a Q-tip with the shedding aid solution, then rub it on the dried skin gently.
This should be your last option. If all the above-listed methods failed, then you can try and pull off the dried, stuck skin gently.
Make sure to moisturize the skin first to make it easier to peel off. Spray lukewarm water on the dried skin or maybe even use some olive oil. Then, gently peel off the skin.
You can also try rubbing it with a paper towel. If the skin isn’t coming off easily, stop right away and make an appointment with your vet just to be safe and not to hurt the gecko.
It’s better not to. Geckos get cranky and aggressive during shedding. Holding them might stress them out and the shedding process is already stressful for them.
Once you start noticing that your gecko is entering the shedding process, he’ll be already far ahead in the cycle. So, it means that it will take him about a day to three days to complete the process.
Geckos usually take about an hour to actually peel off the shedding skin. Some geckos may take up to 24 hours.
Shedding is a regularly repeated process for a healthy leopard gecko. It’s an important part of every lizard’s life.
The shedding frequency will differ from one gecko to another depending on their age, health, and stress levels. If you own a young leopard gecko, expect that he’ll be shedding every week or two.
On the other hand, adult leopards shed less frequently. On average, they shed every month or two.
You shouldn’t worry about the frequency of your gecko’s shedding cycle as long as he looks and acts healthy.
Normally, geckos don’t eat before the shedding and even after the shedding is complete within one or two days. However, some geckos may eat during this period.
You can offer food like you usually do, but don’t insist on feeding him. And don’t be alarmed if your gecko is eating less than he usually does.
Areas like the toes, tail, and eyes can be difficult to peel off the skin correctly. Try any of the above-listed methods and make sure to be careful.
If none of these methods is helping, then it’s best to call your vet.
Shedding is a natural phenomenon in many reptiles and is an important part of their lives. When it comes to leopard geckos, the shedding process might be a bit alarming to you, as they tend to eat their skin to gain back nutrients.
By providing a suitable environment and proper nutrition, your leopard gecko shouldn’t have any problem with the shedding process.