What to do when your bearded dragon sheds

In Care by Tim Steward

Last updated on May 10th, 2021 at 01:11 pm

One of the most interesting things about owning a bearded dragon is watching them shed their skin. This will happen many times over their lifespan, and it never gets tiring to watch the transformation!

Off comes the old skin, and in grows the new, soft, and often more colorful skin. The fascinating part isn’t that they shed, though. Believe it or not, all of us shed. We lose countless dead skin cells every day! But not all of us lose large swaths of skin regularly only to reveal a brand new layer underneath.

For humans, regular exfoliation or even daily bathing is all it takes for us to slough off our old skin cells. For bearded dragons, it’s a bit different. And that leads many bearded dragon owners to ask what they should do when their bearded dragon is shedding?

Healthy bearded dragons will shed their skin naturally with no help from their owner. Proper tank set up (lighting, temps, humidity, and plenty of rough surfaces to rub against) and a nutritious diet also play a role in healthy shedding. Extra baths and an occasional soft brushing can help too.

If you are a responsible bearded dragon owner following basic care and feeding guidelines, your dragon will shed on its own with no help from you. All you have to do is sit back and enjoy the show!

This all came off in one day!

But that show is a lot more interesting if you have an understanding of what is going on. And sometimes, even the best cared for beardies need a little help from their owners in the shedding process. And that’s why we wrote this article.

Why bearded dragons shed

While shedding does correspond with a bearded dragon’s growth, there are other reasons that they shed their skin. Skin is organic and dies, naturally needing to be replaced. Shedding can also help heal damaged or unhealthy skin. The new skin is also more efficient at converting UVB light to vitamin D.

Bearded dragon skin is non-porous and inelastic. Non-porous means that things on the outside can’t get past the skin to the inside. It’s not only waterproof but protects them from many other harmful elements.

Yep, beardies are pretty much water proof!

Inelastic means that it can’t stretch or grow. It is a set size. This is a big part of the reason that they shed. While it’s a myth that the only reason reptiles shed is to allow growth, it is undoubtedly one of the main reasons.

But even as adults, when they have stopped growing, beardies will continue to shed several times a year. This is a sign of health, completely normal, and expected.

Their new skin is not only softer and more colorful (our favorite part of a post shed beardie!), but it is free from defects and damage that may have accumulated on the old skin. The new skin is also more sensitive to UVB light, which helps maintain healthy calcium levels.

Occasionally, shedding can be a sign of low calcium levels, but it shouldn’t ever be a concern unless they exhibit other symptoms. We wrote a thorough article on this very topic that you can read here if you are interested.

How Bearded Dragons Shed

When it’s time for your beardie to shed, they start to grow a new layer of skin cells beneath the old one. While their skin is made of multiple layers, you only see the top one.

There is a softer layer under the hard top layer of scales very similar to the cuticle you have on your nails. It’s under this that the new scales and layer of beardie skin grows.

When it’s close to the old skin’s time to slough off, fluid secretes between the new and soft, cuticle-like layers. That fluid contains enzymes that break down the soft layer between old and new scales.

Here you can see the outer skin has started to come away and separate from the new skin underneath.

Once that soft layer has dissolved, their old skin comes off in sheets that are very high in calcium. Nature doesn’t like to waste things, so it’s not uncommon for the beardie to eat their old skin to make use of that calcium!

See, we told you it was fascinating!

How often will your bearded dragon shed?

Shedding frequency in bearded dragons varies by age. Young beardies up to 6 months old will shed weekly. From 6-12 months, they will shed about once per month. After that, bearded dragons tend to shed their skin every 3-4 months, but there is no set schedule or frequency. 

In other words, the faster they are growing, the more often they will shed. Young beardies tend to shed their entire skin at once. As they get older, they will begin to shed in patches depending on which part of their body is due for a new layer of skin at the time.

If your bearded dragon doesn’t shed at all, especially if they are young, it may be best to consult your vet. Some conditions can cause them not to shed or grow, and it’s crucial to catch these early if you can.

How you can tell if your bearded dragon is about to shed

Many behavioral changes can coincide with a shedding dragon, but those changes on their own won’t tell you if your beardie is about to shed. There are only a few cues that tell you with any certainty that shedding is about to take place.

When your bearded dragon is ready to shed, their skin will get a very dull look to it. It will also take on a translucent whitish color. This is the old skin drying out, leaving a high amount of calcium behind and separating from the skin underneath. These dull, white areas can be patchy or cover the entire body.

Here you can clearly see the lighter, milky color on her forearm where the skin has started to come away from the new skin underneath.

It almost looks like your beardie is covered in dried milk when this happens. On more than one occasion, we’ve thought that maybe something was growing on our beardie’s skin even though we knew she was simply starting to shed.

As we mentioned, several other behavioral changes can take place while your bearded dragon sheds. But seeing these symptoms alone does not mean they are about to lose their skin.

Beardies can be moody little creatures, and any of these signs could mean a variety of things, including that they just want to be left alone! The behaviors that can accompany shedding are:

  • Low energy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Don’t like being handled
  • Seem like they are tender to your touch
  • Excess scratching
  • Rubbing themselves against rough surfaces more than normal
  • Acting stressed (black-bearded)

If you see these things, it’s always a good idea to keep an eye on your scaly little friend, but there are so many reasons (important and/or meaningless) they could occur, we wouldn’t relate them to shedding alone. 

What to do when your bearded dragon starts to shed

The best way to help your beardie shed is to be a good beardie owner in the first place.

 Bearded dragons have been shedding unassisted for thousands of years in the wild. They really shouldn’t need your help in any way.

What they do need from you are proper care and feeding. Having the right tank set up with correct lighting, temps, and humidity is a big start. Having plenty of rough surfaces for them to crawl and climb on is important too.

Surfaces like this log are great rough areas for your beardie to rub against.

Diet and hydration are also critical not only to shedding but in keeping them in good overall health to begin with. 

A dehydrated dragon cannot shed properly. A dragon who is calcium deficient cannot shed properly. A malnourished dragon who only gets fed freeze-dried crickets (not a good idea!) cannot shed properly.

Make sure your little friend is well cared for, well-fed, and well hydrated. Make sure they have a regular bathing schedule. In other words, be a good beardie mom or dad, and you’ll be in great shape when they start to shed!

Should you mist your bearded dragon when it’s shedding?

Some people will tell you to mist your bearded dragon regularly to assist in the shedding process. We don’t like that advice for two reasons.

First, excess humidity in their tank can be a problem. It can promote bacteria and mold. It is conducive to respiratory issues too. It’s just not a great idea, especially when regular baths are so much more effective.

Second, remember that their skin is waterproof. Until the skin starts to crack and peel, getting it wet doesn’t do anything. The real reason to continue on a regular bath schedule is to allow them the opportunity to drink and stay hydrated.

It’s the water that makes it inside their bodies that matters at the beginning of a shed, not water you spray on the outside!

What to do during a shed? 

Again, we want to remind you that Mother Nature knows what she is doing. Your beardie most likely won’t need your help here. But there are a couple of things to pay attention to.

First, make sure your baths are at least 15 minutes. The water should start at around 100 ℉. 

Second, it’s helpful to take a soft-bristled toothbrush to the areas of loose skin. Don’t scrub like you’re trying to give them a deep clean; just brush them in gentle circles. This will help remove the pieces that are ready to detach.

Brush brush!

You’ll see a lot of people harshly warn against pulling on the loose skin. We agree… kind of.

Ever have a hangnail? They start as this innocent little piece of skin that you pull on, and before you know it, you have a painful bleeding groove of missing skin on your finger.

That’s precisely what will happen if you pull on your beardie’s loose skin, and it’s not ready to come off. It’s not a good idea to pull with much force at all if there is loose skin.

We know it’s tempting! So here’s what you can do. You can lightly tug on that loose skin. Just a little bit. If it comes off, great. If not, leave it. But sometimes it helps to give just a very gentle tug.

Again, remember those hangnails! Imagine having a giant one running down your body! Yikes! That’s what you’ll do to your beardie if you pull hard. So don’t!

We also want to give a quick word on shedding aids (products sold to help your beardie shed). We aren’t fans. We are 90% sure it’s just marketing and that they don’t do anything a nice long soak in warm water won’t also do.

If your beardie has trouble shedding, it won’t hurt to try one; they aren’t harmful. But as we mentioned, Mother Nature has been doing this for centuries, and I can pretty much guarantee she’s never jumped on Amazon and ordered some reptile shedding aid for her bearded dragon!

Post shed care

This one is easy. Enjoy your new, softer, and more colorful bearded dragon! That’s it. Business as usual. Same tank, same food, same bath schedule they had before they were shedding.

Some people ask us how long it takes to get to this point, and the answer varies by beardie. Young beardies will complete their shed in a day or two. The older they get, the longer it takes.

Adult beardies can take up to two weeks to shed their loose skin. So get used to them walking around looking all flaky and weird for a week or two!

Things to watch for 

We know we’ve made a big deal about not really needing to do anything if your beardie is shedding, but it’s still a good idea to keep an eye out for a few things. There are the occasional problems that can occur, and you want to keep a close watch just in case.

Primarily, you want to make sure the shedding skin is actually falling off over the course of those 1-2 weeks (for adults, but almost right away for very young beardies). Skin that does not come off can end up restricting blood flow and causing severe issues.

This won’t happen on the large surfaces of your beardie like their back, belly, or head. If it happens, it tends to occur on the tip of the tail, at the base of the tail, and at the joints in their legs and feet.

It’s a little hard to see, but if you look at the tip of Bacardi’s tail, you can see where some shedding skin got stuck and constricted blood flow. We got the skin off and she was okay, but the tip is now discolored and you can see the indent where the sking pinched her.

Pay special attention to these areas while bathing your beardie mid shed. A little brushing with a soft-bristled toothbrush will usually be all the help they’ll need. But sometimes, the skin in these areas can be stubborn.

If you notice any discoloration happening in their extremities beyond the point where some skin is stubbornly staying stuck in place, it’s time to take action.

Step one is a long soak (an hour works well), followed by more brushing. If that doesn’t work, try rubbing some aloe or cocoa butter on the stubborn skin. Wait 30-60 minutes (with your beardie out of their tank and not exposed to their basking light – this can cause these substances to heat up and burn your beardie) and then try another soak.

If this still isn’t working, see your vet. This stuck on skin can basically act as a tourniquet, and the resulting loss of blood flow can cause your beardie to lose part of their tail, a toe, or in serious cases, a limb.

This is not common. It rarely happens to a well cared for beardie. But if it does, it’s time to reassess your set up. Check your lighting, substrate, diet, the whole works. Make sure that it’s not an environmental or nutritional deficiency that has caused the problem.

Weird shedding behaviors in bearded dragons

As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, we find shedding fascinating. And along with watching our bearded dragon slough off of an old layer of skin, there are several other weird things we’ve observed and learned along the way.

Eye bulging

Your beardie will do all kinds of things to aid the release of that old skin naturally. One of the weirdest ones is eye bulging. If you look closely, as the skin on their head loosens or starts being ready to shed, your beardie’s eyes may bulge out some.

This is their way of loosening the skin around their eyes. Crazy how Mother Nature works, isn’t it?

Pacing and rubbing

Our bearded dragon, Bacardi, can turn into a little lizardy cat when she sheds. This is especially true when her head is shedding. 

Much like a cat will pace back and forth at your feet, rubbing their heads against your legs, your bearded dragon may start pacing back and forth in their enclosure, stopping quite often to rub their faces and heads against anything convenient.

This is a big part of the reason that we recommend there are plenty of rough surfaces inside your beardie’s home. It will help with things like clearing their femoral pores and help a ton in the shedding process.

Stress

Our beardie has a very distinct “I have to poop” face. She gets a little stressed, and her beard gets pretty dark. She’s not happy she has to poop, and it shows!

Here you can see her stressed face as she tries to get the last little bits of shedding skin from her lip.

She makes this same face when her shedding skin is bothering her. And she’s not alone. It’s common for bearded dragons to be uncomfortable at some point in the shedding process. 

It’s kind of like wearing a pair of uncomfortable shoes for a wedding. You just want the things off at some point, and you get a little cranky because of it. The same is true of your beardie and their uncomfortably tight skin.

Eating their skin

Your beardie may very well eat their own skin once it comes off. Yes, gross. But also very natural. As we mentioned earlier, calcium concentrates in the dried skin before it comes off. Eating the skin is a way for your beardie to reabsorb some of it.

That said, it’s still a good idea to remove dropped skin from your bearded dragon’s enclosure. We wouldn’t encourage them to eat it. But if they do, it’s no problem at all and completely natural.

Shedding in patches

Young beardies will shed their entire skin each time. Adult beardies do not. In fact, it’s not unusual for them to only shed in spots.

This time, she only shed on her head! You can see the colorful new skin on the left and the large patch of peeling skin on the right.

The last three times our beardie dropped some old skin, it was in a different place each time. Once only her tail shed. The next time just the top of her head and around her mouth. Then it was just her rear legs.

We wonder where she will shed next!?

Enjoy the show!

We often get asked, mostly by cat and dog owners, what it is that we do with our bearded dragon. “Doesn’t she just kind of sit there and do nothing?” they ask.

Well, aside from daily snuggles, regular baths, watching her hunt roaches, and a few other things, observing our bearded dragons is the most common thing for beardie owners to do.

And yes, that can get a little boring sometimes.

So when our beardie sheds, we sit up and take notice. We look for where it’s going to happen. We watch as it dries, separates, and comes off in big pieces. We anticipate the color changes that show themselves off as the new skin comes in.

So, what should you do when your beardie is shedding? Enjoy the show!

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