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Can I Help My Salamander When It Is Shedding?

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While many keepers never notice, salamanders shed their skin just as lizards and snakes do. As long as your salamander is in good health and you provide him with the proper environment, he should not require assistance getting his old skin off. If he retains some of his old skin, it is best to use moisture to remove it whenever possible, but if this doesn't work, you can pull it off with your fingers.

Shedding: The Process

Like all other animals, salamanders must periodically replace skin cells as they die. Salamanders tend to replace them all at the same time, in a process called shedding or molting. Often, as shedding time approaches, salamanders spend more time than usual hiding, especially in damp substrates. Some salamanders refuse food prior to or shortly after shedding, which is normal and not cause for concern. When they are ready to jettison the old skin, they peel it off rapidly – usually in a matter of minutes. Salamanders push their old skin forward by using their rear legs. So as not to waste any nutrients, salamanders usually eat their shed skins.

Sneaky Shedding

Do not be worried if you never catch your salamander shedding -- many hobbyists never witness the act. This is because salamanders are often secretive, nocturnal or both; additionally, because they eat their old skin, there is no evidence of the event left behind. You are more likely to witness shedding in aquatic species – such as fire belly newts (Cynops pyrrhogaster) – than fossorial species, such as spotted salamanders (Ambystoma maculatum).

Hands Off Pets

In general, you should consider salamanders to be “hands off” pets. Salamanders have very permeable skin, which readily absorbs oils and other substances from your hands; some species breathe through their skin as well. (Reference 2) Accordingly, you should avoid contact with them as much as possible. (Reference 2) However, when it is absolutely necessary to handle him, use latex gloves, lubricated with dechlorinated water. (Reference 1 and Reference 3) Always be very gentle when holding your salamander, and return it to the cage as quickly as possible.

The Rehydration Remedy

Most shedding difficulties are due to dehydration – address this by providing your salamander with somewhere damp to hide. If your salamander experiences a bad shed, place him in a plastic container containing moist soil or moss and review your husbandry practices. Give your pet about two or three hours in the damp moss and see if he has removed his old skin. If he has not, you can remove it manually, but be sure to do so as quickly and gently as possible. The old skin will be quite soft, and can usually be broken easily with your fingers.