What Are Retained Eye Caps? The Causes, Treatment and How to Avoid Them
If you’ve got a snake then you might have noticed they’re really good at staring competitions. This is because they don’t actually have eyelids. They’ve got something else instead that are called eye caps, they are specially adapted transparent scales that go over their eyes to keep them protected, which means that just like their other scales, they’re part of the shedding process.
They’re actually one of the first parts to start shedding and you’ll notice their eyes turn blue a few days before shedding. Sometimes the shed doesn’t go to plan though, sometimes their eye caps don’t shed properly and they’ll stay stuck to their eyes after the shed, this is called retained eye caps.
Retained eye caps most commonly occur with snakes that have bulging eyes, or as a result of low humidity conditions inside the vivarium. There’s a lot of speculation on forums about what the actual treatment for retained eye caps should be, or whether you should even try treating them at all. What is known though is that the condition can cause a whole lot of problems relating to eyesight, duct, and infections down the road, should it continue through multiple sheds.
It’s always good practice to examine the skin every time your snake sheds their skin, also, it’s pretty cool, so you should have a look at it anyway! When you’re inspecting the shed skin, check the head area to identify whether the eyes are still intact. This means that there should be no holes where the eyes are - the caps should come off with the rest of the skin. If you do happen to see holes there where the eye caps should be, then it’s possible they either came off shortly before or after the rest of the skin or that they’re still on your snake and are retained. Inspect your snake’s eyes to check the clarity of them. If they’re clear, there's no eye caps. If one or both eyes look cloudy then the eye caps are retained.
One of the most common causes of retained eye caps is a lack of humidity in your snake’s enclosure, this is why we suggest having a warm hide, a cool hide and a humid hide in between. Humidity is key to a successful shedding. Dehydration either from low humidity or from a sub-par water source can also affect your snakes health in a variety of other ways too, including other shedding issues. Another contributing factor to unsuccessful shedding is malnutrition or a bland diet that’s nutritionally inadequate. Mites or bacterial infections can affect one or both eyes and often needs immediate attention to correct and maintain your pets health. Other causes are trauma or injury in the eyes.
For treatment there’s a lot of mixed opinions on community boards and even advice from general pet stores. Some believe you should leave them alone and allow them to come off in the next shed, other say it’s best to take them to a vet to be removed so that the retained eye caps don’t create likely infection situations. The worsened vision could also lead to behavioural issues as stress and nervousness sets in, as well as a reluctance to feeding. We lean more towards the second option for treatment.
Our first steps if we see this happening in one of our snakes would be to introduce a warm water bath to them and try to get them to soak a few times a day. Make sure the water’s deep enough to cover your snakes body and supervise them to prevent drowning. After a few days the softening of the retained skin might help your snake to complete the shed, if it doesn’t though, you’ll be needing a trip to the vets to remove the eye caps.
In order to prevent an incomplete shedding in snakes, you should be maintaining correct humidity levels constantly in your snakes enclosure - most snakes prefer an environment with around 50% to 70% humidity and misting your snake regularly also helps it to retain the moisture needed for proper shedding. Make sure the enclosure is clean and free of objects that might damage your snakes skin as they’ll rub up against decorations to begin the shedding. If your snake is about to begin shedding, mist them and provide a humid hide with moss of a simple well ventilated box with a damp paper towel will also suffice.