Is It Okay To Handle A Snake Before Or While Shedding?

can you handle a snake before it sheds?

You might know that it’s natural and healthy for your snake to shed its skin. But can you safely handle it before the process starts happening? And how are you supposed to know when your snake is about to shed its skin?

You should avoid handling your snake before it sheds because, for most snakes, this time is more stressful than usual. Handling your snake has the potential to delay or affect the shed negatively. Also, your snake’s vision can become impaired due to the loosening of the eye cap, which can cause it to feel stressed. 

Snakes shed because they’re growing, and the old skin no longer fits them. According to Dr Pippa Elliot, BVMS, MRCVS, when snakes shed, they build up a lubricating layer of moisture between the old and the new skin, and it’s not a painful experience.

In fact, normal shedding is an important part of a healthy snake’s life. The shedding process is also sometimes referred to as molting.

Keep reading to find out what you should know about why you need to give your snake its space to shed on its own, as well as how and when this happens. 

This is why you should stop handling your snake when it sheds

Snakes usually dislike being handled while they are shedding

Snakes tend to be more solitary in nature, and when they shed, they need more alone time than usual. Furthermore, if you handle your snake too often while it’s shedding, it may learn to consider you a predator.

It’s, therefore, best to avoid most forms of contact until the molting process is complete and things are back to normal. You can help your snake have more alone time by keeping enough boxes and caves in its cage where it can hide out during this period. 

Snakes often get anxious and frustrated when shedding 

Snakes do not have eyelids as we have. When they are shedding, their eye caps get loose and fall off as part of their old skin.

So, you want to avoid handling your snake too much when it is shedding, because its vision is becoming more and more cloudy, and as a result, its ability to see properly is temporarily diminished. If you handle it during this phase, it might become aggravated.

With too much contact, your snake might be unable to get out of its skin properly

If you’re handling and harassing your snake during its process of shedding, not only can you cause more stress and anxiety for your pet, but this could result in the shedding taking place in pieces rather than in one sheet, as it’s supposed to.

It’s usually not a good idea to try and peel the patches of skin off your snake if it’s not shedding in one sheet. Don’t try to take things into your own hands, but allow your vet to handle it.

He or she might suggest soaking your snake in lukewarm water, which can help to safely get rid of the leftover patches.

When you should stop handling your snake if it is shedding

It’s best to stop handling your snake once it is starting its shedding process because too much contact can interfere with it. A snake that is about to shed is referred to as being ‘in the blue’. There are various signs you can look out for that indicate your snake is about to shed. 

These are the changes in your snake’s appearance to look out for before its starts to shed

As your snake grows too big for its skin, the outer layer will become increasingly dull and pale. The eyes will also become milky or grey and develop a blue-grey cast as the eye caps start loosening and prepare to come off with the rest of the skin.

Also, while some snakes become very dull before shedding, others become only mildly pale or only lose their shine in certain areas of their body. 

can you handle a snake while shedding?

This ball python is looking dull and its eyes are a bit milky. This means that the snake is about to shed.

These are the changes in your snake’s behavior to look out for before it starts to shed

Your snake should start to spend more time in its hide or water bowl than usual. You might also notice it starting to rub its nose on rocks, branches or other objects in its cage. This is to dislodge the skin and start the molting process.

It further tends to exhibit less interaction and less activity than usual. Don’t be worried if your snake isn’t eating as much as it usually does, this is quite normal.

It may also display more aggression because it’s feeling more stressed and as the eye caps lift from its eyes, its vision starts to become blurred. 

How long should you wait before handling your snake? 

A healthy snake will usually shed the entirety of its skin including the eye caps – so that the shed skin looks like an inverted sock – over a period of around 3 – 5 days. The new skin will be fresh, shiny and looking beautiful.

According to Dr Pippa Elliot, BVMS, MRCVS, once the shedding process is complete, your snake should return to its usual activities, normal diet and the behaviors you have come to know.

When this happens, you can resume handling your snake as normal. It’s also a good idea to remove the shed skin once you can see that it has been shed in its entirety. 

Healthy shedding is very dependent on your snake’s living conditions, which you are largely responsible for. 

You can assist the process by ensuring your snake’s cage has a good level of humidity at between 50-70%. It’s also a good idea to note how much water is in its dish, and to refill it more regularly during this time. Snakes tend to consume more water than usual after they’ve shed. 

Dr Sharman Hoppes, clinical associate professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, recommends putting a thermometer on your snake’s cage in order to maintain an appropriate temperature.

Keep in mind that some breeds require warmer or cooler temperatures than others. Speak to your veterinarian to confirm what temperature your snake needs. 

Check out the video below to see how snakes shed their skin in the wild and how they rub on their environment to initiate the shed.

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