Bath Time for Reptiles

Reptiles can absorb water through their skin. They have permeable skin. Reptiles can stay hydrated by simply soaking in water and absorbing it via their skin.  Reptiles in the wild will bathe themselves, but captive reptiles kept as pets require a little consideration and a proper environment to do this.


Snakes and lizards benefit from regular bathing as it hydrates them and is an activity wild animals do normally. They benefit from bathing as much as we do as it keeps their skin clean and conditioned as well.


There are many ways to bathe a reptile, but these are dependent on the species.


Reptile Bathing Guidelines

ONLY CLEAN FRESH water should be used – without any type of cleanser or soap. Snakes and lizards have no need for soap or bath additives. Always remember that reptiles often defecate in their water dishes after a nice soaking, so it is important that the water in these dishes be changed regularly. Reptiles want bathwater that is lukewarm or tepid water, comfortable to the touch. Keep the water toasty as it is was a nice sunny day and not too hot for their comfort.  Reptiles are homeotherms, meaning they adjust their body temperatures to that of their surroundings. Thus, if they soak in water, it should neither be too hot nor too cold and keep their bath time short- a 10-minute soak is ideal for most reptiles no matter if they are a lizard or a snake. Longer than that may lead to the same pruning we get from soaking longer than we need. Soft fragile skin on a reptile can cause risk of skin infections or injury from abrasive objects in your habitat. Reptiles also like water deep enough to immerse the reptile’s body but not so deep as to prevent it from keeping its head above water.


Care should be taken when bathing sick reptiles who are too weak to raise their heads; these animals should be bathed in very shallow water and monitored carefully when bathing to ensure that they don’t drown.




In general, lizards, regardless of species, should have access to a shallow, wide, open bowl of water into which they can climb and soak if they desire. Most species, even desert ones, enjoy this and will soak from time to time.


If a lizard does not soak on their own, and they are shedding skin, owners can place them in a shallow water bowl to soak, or they can mist their lizard gently with a plant mister 2-3 times per week to encourage shedding. Moisture allows the dead shedding skin to come off easier. Bearded dragons, in particular, often have dried shed skin around their fingers and toes, as well as on their tail tips and around their eyes, and soaking or misting your beardie can help small pieces of clinging skin come off and make your lizard have a nice clean shed and be comfortable.


If clinging shed skin doesn’t come off with repeated soaking, owners should not attempt to pull or brush off the skin, as pulling may damage the underlying muscle or bone. If the lizard cannot shed properly, please consult a veterinarian. Shedding problems can be indicative of a skin infection.





Tortoises live on land normally and species of tortoise naturally live in the dry desert and do not regularly bathe. Regardless, pet tortoises should have an open, shallow bowl of water in their tanks from which they can drink or soak if they choose. Tortoises shell stay dry and clean normally and do not need to be brushed as do those of turtles.




Turtles normally live in water, and are often aquatic so they need a large, deep area in their tanks to swim and dive, as well as an area on to which they can climb to get out of the water. They do not need a separate bowl from which to drink or soak. Turtles intake their fluids through their skin. Water temperature depends on the turtles’ species; for the common red eared slider turtle, water temperature should be maintained with a water heater in the mid- to low-70s°F. A filter is critical to remove discarded food and waste from the water, and the filter should be changed at least monthly, depending on the size of the tank and the number of turtles housed in it.


Occasionally some pet turtles develop a green or brown slimy coating of algae, bacteria, or fungus on their shells that owners can gently brush off using a soft tooth brush and mild, non-medicated unscented soap or a dilute solution of Lugol’s iodine (available at any drug stores and mixed in small amounts with warm water to make a solution that looks like weak tea, several drops to a cup of water for shell-cleaning), as necessary. Discolorations of the shell that do not easily brush off or any warping or cracks that are not normal for your turtle should be checked out by veterinarian with experience in treating reptiles.




Snakes benefit from going to the spa, too. Some absolutely enjoy a nice luxurious soak in a shallow tub of warm water. If their enclosures are large enough, snakes should be offered an open pan of water in which they can submerge themselves if they choose. If not, they can be misted lightly once or twice a week with a plant mister. Never reuse a household cleaner bottle as a reptile mister. Empty bottles can be found at home goods and at pet stores. If a snake is having problems shedding and they are shedding in pieces, soaking or misting them can help them shed retained skin. If they cannot shed properly with a little help from misting friends, they may have an illness or infection and need to see a vet.



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