Leopard Gecko Shedding 101: Symptoms, Problems & Behavior

Leopard gecko shedding the skin on their head

Leopard geckos are fun and interesting reptiles that have some fascinating behaviors. One of these behaviors is shedding, a process that repairs their skin and allows for growth. During the shed, they slough off their entire outer layer of skin. As strange as it may seem, shedding happens frequently throughout their life. The weird part? They eat their skin after shedding it!

There are certain clues that help you know if your leopard gecko is about to shed. There are also some common behaviors and problems that keepers should know about. Let’s continue by diving a bit deeper into leopard gecko shedding.

Leopard Gecko Shedding

Adult leopard gecko that has started shedding

Leopard geckos regularly shed their skin because the cells at the surface of their skin are slowly being damaged. When a leopard gecko sheds, the dead or damaged cells are peeled off the body, leaving just the new skin cells behind.

Shedding (ecdysis) is simply the process of sloughing off old and damaged skin.

This cycle of shedding helps to repair wounds and supports a leopard gecko’s growth.

It can happen as frequently as once a week for babies, or around once a month when they are adults.

This process is similar to how humans lose their old skin cells as they grow. The main difference is that human skin is shed constantly, often in tiny pieces.

Leopard geckos prepare to shed for up to 2 weeks in advance. The earliest signs they are about to shed include changes to their behavior, such as defensive biting, or spending more time hiding. A shedding leopard gecko may also refuse food for a short period of time pre-shed.

The most obvious sign is that their skin will gradually turn pale around a week before shedding. A few days prior, the skin might become so pale it looks almost ghostly white.

Shedding starts from the moment the skin starts to peel. The skin around the face is usually the first to begin rubbing off, and the rest will follow shortly. The shed can take anywhere from less than an hour to a full day or two.

Reptiles can feel vulnerable when they are shedding and will not want much interaction during this time.

When shedding begins, most will want to find a safe, private place with higher humidity.

This safe place should be a humid hide with a damp sphagnum moss substrate. They will likely stay inside their hide until shedding is finished. It is best to not interrupt them during this process.

Don’t worry too much if you never see any shed skin. To regain nutrients, leopard geckos will actually eat their shed skin.

How Often Do Leopard Geckos Shed?

Leopard geckos grow at different rates depending on their age. This means that the frequency at which they shed changes with their age. It is common for hatchlings to shed weekly, while adult leopard geckos shed every 4-8 weeks.

Hatchlings shed much more often because of their rapid growth. Some hatchlings shed weekly as they gain up to 10 grams every month until they reach their juvenile phase.

Adult leopard geckos do not need to shed as regularly as hatchlings or juveniles.

There are three main stages of a leopard gecko’s life which include:

Stage of Life Age Shedding Frequency
Baby/hatchling 0-2 months 1-2 weeks
Juvenile 3 months to 1 year 2-4 weeks
Adult 1+ year 4-8 weeks

In general, baby leopard gecko shedding is very common. They should shed once every week or two. Juveniles will still be shedding a lot, but not as frequently. Expect them to shed once every 2-4 weeks. Adults will shed once every 4-8 weeks. They reduce the speed at which they grow, become less active and require less food.

Before Shedding (Pre-Shed)

Before shedding a leopard gecko will start to prepare their skin. The old top layer of dead skin will be separated from the new layer by a thin layer of fluid. While the old layer of skin is primed to be shed, your leopard gecko will likely become paler and short-tempered.

A tell-tale sign that a leopard gecko is about to shed is the whitish skin color that develops.

This pale skin is obvious less than a week before shedding.

It is thought that they are more vulnerable and have sensitive skin during this time.

Hatchlings and juveniles are naturally flightier than adults, but they may be even flightier than normal and more likely to bite. Adults are known for being calmer, so this change in behavior will be much more noticeable in them.

Adults spend up to 2 weeks in this pre-shed phase. During this time, tank humidity must be increased to prevent stuck shed.

Normally low humidity (ideally about 30-40%) is best for leopard geckos, but during this time, you can increase the whole tank’s humidity to around 50-60%. To prevent a respiratory infection you do not want it to rise higher than 60%, and it will need to be lowered once shedding is over.

You can also make a humid hide, which can have a humidity up to 70%.

Having a humidity gradient between the tank and the humid hide will allow your leopard gecko to choose the level of humidity it wants.

Rough surfaces for your leopard gecko to rub against are also very helpful to speed up the process and prevent stuck shed. Be sure to keep an eye out for stuck shed around the toes, tail tip or eyes.

Behavior

Some common leopard gecko shedding behaviors include:

  • Biting.
  • Tail wagging.
  • Fleeing.
  • Irritability.
  • Hunger strikes.
  • Hiding in humid hide.

If you notice any of these behaviors, your leopard gecko may be about to shed.

Around this time they will become reclusive and possibly less friendly. It is not uncommon for a hatchling to bite or tail wag if you attempt to handle them.

Most leopard geckos tend to hide themselves away before they shed. It leaves them feeling vulnerable, as they are using most of their energy to shed, rather than to be alert or protect themselves from predators.

During the early stages of shedding a leopard gecko will rub their face and body on rocks and textured surfaces. This rubbing helps to remove the old skin by snagging it on something rough. After some of the skin is pulled back, they should eventually be able to bite at it and take off the rest with their mouth.

Do not worry if you see your leopard gecko eating their own skin, as this is a normal and healthy behavior.

Once all of the skin is gone, they have finished shedding.

A leopard gecko will probably rest now and want to be left alone for at least two hours. Don’t try to rush them if they still seem irritable or not eager to eat. It can take up to a few days for them to revert to their normal behaviors.

How Long Does It Take?

The time it takes a leopard gecko to shed can vary wildly.

Some are capable of removing all of their shed in a matter of minutes, while others may take 1-2 days.

It is normal for a leopard gecko to remove all of their shed within 2-24 hours.

Hatchlings and juveniles are normally much faster than adults. They are prone to going through the process so quickly that their keepers may have never known they were shedding at all.

If a leopard gecko seems to be taking a while, some time left alone, higher humidity and plenty of rough surfaces to rub against can help. Wait at least 24 hours before you attempt to pull off any remaining skin and be sure to do so carefully using tweezers or a cotton swab.

Most of the time a slow shedding process is nothing to worry about.

What To Do When Your Leopard Gecko Is Shedding

Many beginners often want to know how to help a leopard gecko shed. The truth is, most of, if not all of the shedding process will be taken care of by the lizard themselves, without the need for much help.

It is not normal for a leopard gecko to have repeated issues while shedding.

If this does happen it may mean poor husbandry such as low humidity or a bad diet. In this case, reading our Leopard Gecko Care Sheet will help.

The best thing you can do to help is to raise the tank humidity to around 50%. You can do this by occasionally misting the enclosure. You should also have a humid hide in the warm side of the tank to create a ‘microclimate’ with a humidity around 70%.

Most keepers should just watch from a distance and wait for their leopard gecko to finish shedding.

Right as shedding starts, the outer layer of skin will begin to peel, especially around the face. Sometimes this can make for a cute photo, as they may look like they are wearing a ‘hoodie.’ That layer will be completely removed after 2-24 hours.

Leo removing shed skin on its head

A day or so after shedding you can handle them again and inspect them for any stuck shed.

Be sure to pay careful attention to the toes and tip of the tail, as shed is particularly prone to getting stuck in those areas. Stuck shed in those areas can cut off circulation and be a cause for infections or the loss of entire limbs.

What Not To Do

Leopard geckos are easily stressed while they are shedding. It may be tempting to check on them, but for the most part you should avoid doing this. For a healthy shed they need to be safe and undisturbed. To avoid stressing them out further, be sure to not:

  • Pick them up just before or during shedding.
  • Move their hide while they are in it.
  • Pull on any loose skin before they stop shedding.
  • Attempt to force-feed them.

Unless it has been over 24 hours and you are certain your leopard gecko cannot get the shed off, pulling on loose skin is not helpful. You run the risk of damaging the new skin.

It is also normal for a leopard gecko to go on a hunger strike while shedding.

They are often too distracted by the task of shedding to worry about food. Leaving insects to crawl around in the enclosure can irritate them and even cause an injury. Simply wait until they have finished shedding before offering any insects, even if it takes a few days. Within 2 days after shedding, your leopard gecko should resume eating as normal.

Do not be surprised if their first poop after shedding is white. Leopard geckos eat their skin when they shed and this may show up in their poop.

Before and After (Pictures)

Leopard Gecko Shedding Before and After

Pre-shed Post-shed
Loose, peeling skin Normal, non-loose skin
Pale milky, whitish colors Bright colors
Biting, tail wagging, and other defensive behaviors Relaxed, calm and resting
Staying in a humid hide More likely to leave the hide
Hunger strikes Normal appetite

The most remarkable difference you might notice after a shed is the change in skin color. These reptiles can go from being almost white to a strong, bright coloration in just a few hours. This is especially noticeable in morphs like the Carrot Tail.

You may notice behavior changes as well.

Sometimes leopard geckos will be more likely to bite or wag their tail to show their distress before they shed. As soon as the shedding is done, they should return to normal, relaxed behaviors.

Leopard Gecko Shedding Problems

Leopard Gecko with stuck shed

1. Not Shedding

A common concern that beginner keepers have is that their leopard gecko is not shedding enough, or shedding too much. Some keepers may go months without seeing any sign of a shed.

One reason for this could be that they are shedding so quickly that the keeper misses it. Younger hatchlings in particular are capable of shedding and eating the shed within a few minutes. They can go from normal coloration, to white, and back to normal within one day!

Hatchlings and juveniles have a much higher growth rate than adults, and therefore they will naturally shed much more often.

Adults will also shed more frequently if they need to heal from wounds, this can be anything from cuts to burns. Of course you will want to address the problem that could be causing the cuts and burns.

Another reason could also be a leopard gecko’s crepuscular lifestyle. They are most likely to shed at dawn or dusk, when most keepers would not be watching.

2. Turning Pale, But Not Shedding

If a leopard gecko is turning pale, but not shedding, this could be a sign of a husbandry issue. One cause could be dehydration. Leopard geckos need a bowl of dechlorinated water in their enclosure, which should be changed every day. You may not see them drink the water often, but it is still important for them.

Vitamin deficiencies can also cause pale skin. You should only feed safe, gut loaded insects that are dusted with calcium. Multivitamins should be used once every 1-2 weeks.

Finally, parasites can strip a leopard gecko of their water and nutrients. In extreme cases this can lead to malnourishment and pale skin. Some parasites are more dangerous than others, but even the least harmful parasites can be deadly if the leopard gecko is turning pale.

When a leopard gecko is pale from parasites, the best course of action is to take them to a vet.

3. Stuck Shed

Stuck or retained shed can happen when tank humidity is too low. This causes the fluid between the old and new skin layers to dry too quickly, leaving the old skin stuck to the new.

Usually, stuck shed is more common on the toes or tip of the tail. In extreme cases stuck shed can tighten around the limb and constrict blood flow. If left long enough, that part of the limb can die and fall off.

Once you are certain your leopard gecko has finished shedding (at least 24 hours after they began), check their toes and other body parts for any skin that might be left behind.

If you catch stuck shed early, you can simply rub it off with a cotton swab or gently pull it off with tweezers after a soak.

Sometimes leopard gecko shedding problems can affect their eyes too. They have moveable eyelids, so there is a risk that old skin can get stuck on the eyelid.

Retained eyelid liners can cause their eyes to turn milky or clouded. This form of stuck shed cannot be easily treated at home and often requires veterinary help.

Final Thoughts

Leopard gecko shedding may seem strange to us, but it is a normal, healthy part of their life. It is simply the process of sloughing off an old and damaged layer of skin to reveal fresh skin cells. Adult leopard geckos shed every 4-8 weeks.

They will likely become paler and short-tempered in the weeks or days before shedding.

Once shedding actually starts, it may be over in a few hours, but some will shed for an entire day or two. After the old skin layer is gone, they will have bright, pristine skin that will be much more vibrant than before.

Shedding can cause some issues, but as long their husbandry and diet is correct, these problems are easily preventable. This is one reason why they are often considered hardy and easy reptiles to keep!

Nigel Robert

Nigel Robert

Nigel is the managing editor at More Reptiles. He is a lifelong reptile lover, biologist and wildlife consultant who brings a decade of experience working in reptile conservation and consultancy. He joined our team in 2020 and when he’s not reviewing reptile care sheets, he’s out looking for reptiles in the wild! Nigel is dedicated to herpetology and conserving wildlife which is why he is a member of the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles, Zoological Association of America, iNaturalist and the Nature Conservancy.

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