Reasons for Shedding Problems

As you read earlier, a film of liquid forms between the old layer and the new layer of skin during shedding. This prevents both layers from sticking together, as long as there is a sufficient amount of fluid available to do so.

If the humidity in the enclosure is too low over a long period of time, the fluid reserves of the snake become unbalanced. This then also influences the “film of liquid”, and leads to the animal having a bad shed. The same applies to feeding while in shed. In that case, the digestive process requires fluids in the stomach of the reptile, which are then missing between the layers of skin.

Source of all kinds of problems during shedding are heat cables and heat mats on the floor (we already discussed this in an earlier chapter). If the snake lies on the heat mat, it will dry out - even though the humidity in the enclosure may be more than sufficient!

Another cause for a bad shed can be a severe infestation with mites. You should therefore check your animals regularly. We will elaborate on this later.

Occasionally, it occurs that for no apparent reason, a snake does not shed. The housing conditions are correct, and the snake goes through all the different phases of the shedding cycle, except it does not actually shed its skin, nor does it even attempt to cast its skin. By the time the keeper finally realizes this, the old and the new layer of skin are already hopelessly stuck to one another. Some long-time keepers with large collections are familiar with this phenomenon. The cause of this is unknown. Luckily, these “refusers” usually go through another shed cycle shortly afterwards, which then progresses normally.

Do not ignore a bad shed. The retained skin can damage the tissue that lies underneath it by providing suitable grounds for bacterial infections or fungus growth. Blood circulatory problems may also result from this, which, in the worst-case scenario, can lead to the death of tissue, and the subsequent loss of the tip of the tail. This is actually not rare at all.

Another tip: After every shed, the boa should be examined closely to determine whether any partial pieces of shed were retained.

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Measures for Treating Bad Sheds

First, it is obviously necessary to correct the husbandry error that led to this problem. This means: Get rid of the ground heater and increase the humidity. It is also important to remove the retained pieces of shed. For that purpose, a long bath for the snake is absolutely necessary. Simply fill an appropriately sized plastic container from your local hardware store with lukewarm water, and close the container with a lid to keep the animal from escaping. To prevent a quick cooling of the water, place the box inside of the enclosure. It is important to monitor the behavior of the snake, at least in the beginning. It has occurred that boas have panicked from being locked in and subsequently drowned, even though there was a sufficient amount of space and air to breathe.

The snake may certainly be soaked for 24 hours or more, as many boas occasionally spend several days at a time in the water.

Following the soaking, you have to try to remove the soaked pieces of retained shed by carefully pulling them off with your fingernails. A pair of tweezers can be very helpful in this. Care must be taken to make sure that the spurs and part of the hemipenes are shed in males. This means that all shed particles in and around the cloaca must also be removed.

A part that is especially important is the shedding of the eye caps. The risk of damaging the new eye caps while removing the old ones is apparent, which could permanently injure the eye. It is often times difficult to determine whether the eye cap was shed or not. The shed skin offers some valuable clues to this. When in doubt, it is always better to wait for the next shed cycle rather than to pull on such a sensitive area, simply based on intuition. Snakes have lost an eye, because keepers accidentally removed the new eye cap along with the old one. In a worst-case scenario, the snake is now totally blind, as it had already lost its other eye during a live feeding accident (rat bite). Funny? These things really happen!

For immediate action, you may want to take a trip to the vet, or try to remove the old eye cap with a piece of adhesive tape. However, the best solution for retained sheds in the area of the eyes is to wait for the next shed cycle and to soak the animal daily upon shedding time. The eyes are not harmed by not being shed once. However, this can become a problem if it occurs several times in a row, which can lead to damage to the eye.