Geckos shed their skin as they grow. They shed when they are young and when they are adults.
Most of the time, the shed goes very well. Sometimes though, it doesn't. It is tempting to 'help' the gecko when you see it still has shed skin hanging on its body.
The best thing to do when a gecko doesn't completely finish shedding its old skin is determine if this is a problem or not. Geckos tend to eat their own shed. I know this sounds gross but that is nature. If you see shed on your gecko, either it is just starting to shed or it might have a problem. Generally, if you mist their enclosure during the evening, the animal completes their shed by the next day.
If by the next day however, you still notice that the gecko has only partially shed, additional steps should be taken to help them finish the process. Excess shed on their feet can cause crested geckos to be unable to climb glass. Shed left on legs could bind and actually restrict blood flow. Shed on a geckos mouth may cause them to be reluctant to feed. It is important that this problem is addressed as soon as it is identified.
Let me take a moment to point out that it is far better to prevent shed problems than it is to fix them after they are noticed. An important addition to any gecko enclosure is a 'Humid Hide'. This is a place the gecko can visit to gain seclusion from other geckos and that can provide extra hydration when they need it. See the article later in this Newsletter on building a Humid Hide. By adding medium to the hide (vermiculite, spagnum moss, etc.) and keeping it moist (NOT WET), shed issues will nearly always be eliminated.
In addition, many geckos benefit from being misted at least once a day. A spray bottle can be purchased at many of the 'dollar' stores. Gently mist the enclosure. I do this in the evening, before the lights go off. This provides additional humidity that aids in shedding and also, provides a water source for the gecko.
If you've taken the preventative steps listed above and still have a gecko with a shed problem, you will need to assist the gecko with its shedding. First, DO NOT attempt to help the gecko by pulling off the shed. If the dry skin is not ready to come off, you could do serious damage to the gecko. I have seen a leopard gecko that had damage to its mouth due to the owner pulling dry shed from its mouth region when it was not ready to come off. The leopard had a very difficult time eating after this.
The best thing you can do for the gecko is to provide it with a temporary confinement of high humidity. With crested geckos, this can be done by adding a moistened paper towel to a deli cup (with air holes of course) then putting the crested gecko in the cup. Securely put the top on the cup and allow the gecko to stay in the deli cup for a couple of hours. I've done this up to 3 times one day when one of my crested geckos had a problem with some shed on one of its feet that was not coming off.
With leopard geckos, I take the same approach but use a sweater box with a top that has many drilled holes for ventilation. Warm water (NOT HOT and NOT COLD) is added to less than a half inch- depending on the size of the animal (just to their underbelly). They are kept in this 'bath' for a couple of hours. Every 15 minutes replacing some of the water with warmer water to maintain the temperatures. During this time, I also dip handfuls of water out and pour it over their bodies. Avoid however, getting any water in their eyes.
Another method is to deal directly with one small areas of unshed skin. Hold the gecko gently but firmly with one hand. With the other, use a moistened Q-Tip to gently dab at the area where the dry skin is remaining. This can continue for 3 or 4 minutes, and can be repeated throughout the day until the shed is removed. Realize this puts quite a bit of stress on your gecko so be as gentle with your pet as you can be.
Finally, you may be confronted with the same situation I was earlier this year. One young crested gecko seemed to go through a most difficult shed in the Spring. I followed the 'deli cup' treatment described above and it seemed to work to perfection. When feeding a few weeks later I noticed the gecko seemed to have a pinching of skin at the top of its front left leg. Looking closer, I found the problem, a ring of remaining shed that was constricting the leg- not so much to do any damage but certainly irritating to the gecko. Well, back in the deli cup it went again.... 3 times. The dry skin would not come off. I finally resorted to a mini-operation of sorts. I gently, but firmly held the 5 month old crested gecko and precisely sliced the dry skin off the leg. This was done using a new razor blade, positioning the tip under the ring of dry shed, and slowly pulling AWAY from the body. With 6 or 7 slices, the ring was removed with no harm to the gecko.
I don't recommend this as anything other than a last resort. If you do this, start with a new razor, plenty of light, a load of patience, and very steady hands!
photo by Laura Foster