In this guide to bearded dragon shedding, you’re going to learn:
- What shedding actually is
- Why your beardie is shedding and shed frequency during their life-cycle
- 6 signs to look out for that let you know your bearded dragon is shedding
- How long the shedding process lasts
- How to best care for your beardie during the shedding process
- How to handle a stuck shed
Bearded dragon shedding, also known as ecdysis may sound exotic but is a natural process with all animals even we humans shed off dead skin cells every day.
When it comes to bearded dragons though, shedding (molting or sloughing) is much more obvious and is when your dragon casts off its old skin leaving a fresh, new epidermis (outer skin) underneath.
During this time your bearded dragon may become a little more irritable so it is best to give them more space (assisting where possible) so they can move through the process as stress-free as possible.
Don’t be concerned if your beardie is only shedding in patches, this is also normal, unlike snakes who will leave behind a full cast, your little guy or gal will shed in patches much like when you get a sunburn and start to peel.
Why Is My Bearded Dragon Shedding?
The two main reasons your beardie will begin to start the shedding process will be due to either growth or some form of damage typically getting snagged on something inside the enclosure.
Since bearded dragon skin is made from a keratin-based protein (some stuff that makes hair, nails, claws, hoofs, etc.) it is not elastic (like our skin) and so will fall away.
Think of it like out-growing your favorite pair of denim jeans after a while it would get incredibly uncomfortable and it’s time to switch them out for a new pair.
0 – 6 months
During the early months (0 – 6 months of age) your beardie will be eating a lot and as a result (if everything else is ideal) growing a lot so expect to see your beardie shedding weekly.
Alternatively, adult beardies will typically go through an overall shed and will be a lot less frequent for example every few months whereas hatchies will do partial sheds at a higher frequency.
6 – 12 months
From 6 months beardies will shed roughly every few weeks and once they hit 12 months it will reduce even more to about every few months.
During the adult cycle (18+ months) a bearded dragon will shed a couple of times per year.
Bearded dragon shedding can be triggered by the skin being damaged (scraped, punctured or scratched) and your beardie will need to replace it with a new shed.
Bearded Dragon Shedding Signs
The most typical signs of a bearded dragon who is about to shed will be things like the skin looking very tight and most commonly you’ll notice skin discoloration.
The skin will appear duller in appearance this is called the pre-shed stage. The cool thing about watching your beardie going through this process is watching the bright new colors of the skin underneath coming through once they have completed their shed.
Here are some other telltale bearded dragon shedding signs:
- Lethargy (lack of energy)
- Loss of appetite
- Nervous behavior
- Irritable and not wanting to be handled
- Raised patches of skin
- Bulging eyes
Beardies will often bulge out their eyes to loosen the skin around that area.
How Long Does The Shedding Process Last?
For baby dragons, the shed will last a couple of days.
For juveniles, it may last for 2 to 3 weeks and will generally come off in body parts (head one week, legs the next, etc)
For adults, the final growth stage has been completed and molting will be quite random for example, one week the head may shed and then a few weeks later the tail might begin – there is no real schedule.
Under normal conditions shedding can take a few days to a few weeks, monitor closely shedding that seems to take longer than 3 weeks because it could indicate something else.
During this time it is essential that their diet, UV, lighting, and temperatures are at optimal levels since this can be problematic during a shed.
What To Do For A Shedding Bearded Dragon?
During this time your bearded dragon will be quite uncomfortable so the best thing you can do is to leave them alone to complete their shedding.
That said, I’ll offer you a few tips to make your beardie’s life a little more comfortable.
Inside your enclosure, you try to provide items like:
- Substrate (not tiles, paper, etc.)
- Plenty of water
These will actually help your beardie loosen the shedding skin.
As always quality UVB, lighting and the correct heating gradient will be essential during this time.
Some bearded dragon owners will give their dragon a bath to help further wash away loose shed but most owners will allow their dragon to move through the process as naturally as possible but making sure all of the above (UVB, Rocks, Heating, etc.) are in place.
Increase Tank Humidity
Normally humidity is something you need to keep under control (relative humidity inside the enclosure should be kept between 35 to 40 percent) too much can lead to respiratory problems but during a shed, this added humidity actually helps to soften the skin.
In the wild bearded dragons will burrow and inside these burrows, the humidity levels can be around 80%.
To increase the humidity levels inside the enclosure you can do things like:
- Move the water dish to the hot zone (change the water frequently to avoid bacterial growth)
- Mist the branches and other items inside the tank
- Add a fogger with a timer to come on at specific intervals during the day.
- Misting your bearded dragon – the water will run down their head and into their mouth keeping them hydrated.
There are also products on the market that claim to help with bearded dragon shedding but as I said in earlier it’s best to make sure they have enough water and everything in the enclosure is optimal and just let them go through the shedding process.
Never pull at loose shed
I remember watching a YouTube video where a beardie owner actually started pulling off the loose shed on their bearded dragon! Horrifying. The bearded dragon was visibly uncomfortable trying to get away.
The reason why you never want to do this is that loose skin may not be completely detached from the nerve endings on the new skin underneath – pulling this off would be quite painful.
Ever had a sunburn and started pulling off some dead skin only to realize that half of it is still firmly attached to the layer underneath?
Also, pulling off the loose skin can damage the new skin underneath so best to leave it alone.
My Bearded Dragon Is Not Shedding Properly
This is typically referred to as a “stuck shed” or Dysecdysis and shouldn’t happen if everything else is optimal like heating, lighting, UVB, and nutrition.
This stuck shed will typically happen around the:
- Top of the head
- Underside, or belly
Most of the time a stuck shed will be removed on the next shed cycle so don’t worry too much but if it becoming a real problem get them over to the vet.
That said…if you do notice some stuck shed and there appears to be some swelling around that area get them to the vet as soon as you can, don’t wait for the next shed cycle.
Stuck Shed On Bearded Dragons And Lack Of Nutrients
One common reason for bearded dragon shedding problems is improper nutrition.
Some important vitamins and minerals are:
B vitamins are essential for neurological function as well as energy metabolism. Vitamin B is not stored in the body so you can use this supplement without worrying about it building up and becoming toxic.
The great thing about B vitamins is that they’re water soluble meaning that any excess B vitamins will be passed (pooped) out with no problem.
Vitamin D3 and Calcium are the most important vitamins and mineral for your beardie but your D3 should only be coming from your lighting.
Research is showing that bearded dragons may not be digesting much (if any) D3 from supplements so it’s essential that you have the right UV bulbs.
Calcium is needed for bone development and health and is especially important for gravid (pregnant) females.
Calcium requires Vitamin D3 to be properly metabolized so it is best to provide them both together.
Look for a calcium and vitamin D3 supplements that have a calcium to phosphorus ratio of at least 2:1. You want to avoid giving your dragon too much phosphorus.
Again, the most problematic areas for a stuck shed are going to be around the top of the head
Feet, Tail, eyes and belly area so during the shedding process take a close look at these areas to make sure everything is moving along smoothly.
Shedding And Not Eating
A reduced appetite prior to shedding is common so if you notice that your beardie seems a lot less interested or even refusing their food it could approaching pre-shed.
Look for other shedding cues to give you an idea of why they are not eating.
If your dragon is healthy then they can go for weeks without eating since she will have plenty of nutritional reserves inside her body.
Note: If your dragon is refusing food and is also losing weight then it could be a sign of something else like parasites in which case it would be a good idea to get them over to the vet for a checkup.
Continue to offer food and make sure that they are well-hydrated as this will help them during this process.
My Bearded Dragon Eats Its Shed…Is This Bad?
Sometimes a bearded dragon may eat their shed which is basically a feral instinct that reptiles do in the wild to prevent predators from finding them.
While the skin itself isn’t bad, what is stuck to the skin may be including fecal matter, parasites, rotting food particles, etc.
It is best to remove any dead skin lying around the enclosure.
Why Is My Bearded Dragon Not Shedding?
If you have an adult bearded dragon then it’s really a big deal since they will have already reached full size (bones have stopped growing, etc.).
Just make sure you have optimal heating, UVB, correct lighting, they’re well hydrated and they’re getting all of their dietary requirements met.
If you have everything in order then there’s no need to worry.
If your beardie is inside that 0 – 12 month age spectrum then you need to absolutely need to make sure you have all of the above needs met failing that get them to the vet as there are likely to be other underlying issues present (parasites, etc.)
#1. Increase hydration through food
Hydration is very important during the shedding cycle so feeding your dragon a little lettuce will actually become beneficial, usually, I avoid feeding lettuce due to its low nutritional value.
#2. Try Hydrating Your Beardie With Baths
If you want to give baths a try they can be an excellent way to soothe your beardie as well as give them an opportunity to rehydrate through drinking the water.
Place your beardie in the bath 1 – 2 times per day for 10 – 15 minutes, if your beardie hates the bath then pencil it in for every other day.
#3. Tank Shedding Aids
Bearded dragons will rub themselves up against rocks, rough edges, etc. to help loosen the dry skin.
So your enclosure should have things like:
Having these fixtures will help your dragon shed a little faster.
#4. Increase Tank Humidity
I touched on this earlier, but in the wild dragons will burrow into the earth, inside these burrows the humidity can reach 80% which helps to soften shedding skin.
#5. Do not pull of shedding skin
The new skin underneath is still forming that means the scales may not be fully formed and the nerve endings may not have completely separated making it painful for your beardie if you start peeling off the skin.
Fight the urge to pick that loose bit of skin that’s been there all day long, let it come off once it’s ready.