Has your blue-tongue lost any toes? If so, there is usually a simple reason why. The bad news is the toe is gone forever, but the good news, it’s preventable!
If you own or are thinking about owning a blue-tongue skink, sooner or later you’ll probably come across problematic toes.
It’s super common.
There are a variety of reasons that blue-tongue skinks end up with toes that fall off:
- *poor substrate
- *shedding that gets stuck to their toes
- poor humidity/temperature
- being kept in a terrarium that is too small
- poor circulation due to long nails
In my experience, the two biggest reasons by far are due to shedding and bad substrate.
I have also noticed that the gigas species of blue-tongue (the Indonesian species) tend to be prone to losing their toes a lot more often than the Australian types. It’s fairly easy to speculate why this is the case; Indonesians tend to be exported, imported and sold in bad conditions, and the countries they are sold too have quite different climates than their native land.
I’m going to go through each of these different reasons one by one, but I’ll be spending a bit more time with the two most likely reasons above, as that’s probably going to more applicable to your case.
Poor Substrate Can Lead to Lost Toes
Your skink walking around, sleeping and living on improper substrate can negatively affect its mental as well as physical health. And one of the first ways this can manifest itself physically is through your skink’s toes.
Poor substrate generally leads to lost toes for one of these 2 reasons:
- either the substrate sucks all of the moisture out of your skink’s toes or
- the substrate gets wrapped around your skink’s toes
Most of the time, if the culprit is bad substrate, it’s going to be the first one.
I wrote an article on the best substrates for blue-tongue skinks, which you can read here, but to basically sum it up; you want to use one of the following beddings, depending whether you own an Australian or Indonesian species.
- aspen chips
- sani chips
- cypress mulch
- sphagnum moss
- cypress mulch
- sphagnum moss
- fir bark
- coco-fibre or coco-husk
And you should always avoid:
- sand, calcisand or gravel
- pine or cedar
- corn or walnut shell
- cat litter
Essentially, if you are using one of the above mentioned bad substrates, you should swap it out ASAP for something better.
Substrates like sand do a good job of pulling moisture out of the air. Unfortunately, it also easily pulls moisture out of your skink’s toes. As less and less blood starts to flow through your skink’s toes, eventually they fall off.
Likewise, with things such as corn or walnut shell, the big danger is getting pieces stuck in your skink’s eye, nose and even their toes, again, potentially causing damage and toe loss.
Your Skink’s Shedding Gets Stuck to His or Her Toes
Of all the reasons for toe loss, this one in my estimation is probably the most common.
Here’s what happens.
Your skink sheds its skin. Some of the shed doesn’t come off cleanly around your skink’s toe and instead gets trapped, cutting off circulation and eventually leading to a lost toe.
Despite shedding being natural to skinks, this can occur a lot more often than you’d think.
An adult blue-tongue will shed every few months. Younger blue-tongues more often.
Here’s what you’ll need to do:
- about 3 to 5 days after your blue-tongue skink begins to shed, you should do a thorough check of his or her entire body
- make sure to pick him or her up, and let the little guy move around, going through your hands
- as your blue-tongue rubs up against your hands, feel for any loose bits of dead skin and shedding
- when you do come across this, give the shedding a quick rub and it should quickly fall off
- for the toes, try rubbing in a downward position, from the top of their foot down to their toenail, very gently, never pulling or yanking the dead skin off
Remember, a blue-tongue skink’s toes are incredibly delicate. They can be broken off quite easily.
If you aren’t confident about your ability to gently rub off any skin, a lot of owners will put their skink in a tub of shallow, luke-warm water for 15 to 20 minutes. This will help loosen up the dead shedding a bit more.
You can also consider rubbing olive or emu oil onto their feet to help aid in the process of removing the shed skin.
But whatever you do, be gentle and don’t pull or yank. Let the skin fall off by itself as much as you can.
All that being said, prevention is the key here.
If your blue-tongue has toe problems on a recurring basis, there is more than likely something wrong with your set-up.
Be vigilent and notice any constriction as soon as it happens. Some tell-tale signs are:
- toes turning different colors, usually dark shades of purple, red or black
- twisted or limp toes
The Humidity is Wrong
One of the reasons why lost toes seems to afflict Indonesian more than Australian species relates to humidity.
The relative humidity of Indonesia, on average, is between 70 to 90%. I’ve been to Indonesia, and it’s like a sauna there!
A lot of places in the United States, particularly in the middle of the country, in places like Idaho and Colorado, have an average humidity which rarely tops 50%.
Thus, if your humidity is all wrong, you can potentially be putting your blue-tongue in an environment which is a lot different from where they came from.
If the humidity is too low, there won’t be enough moisture inside the terrarium, and if that happens, the lack of moisture will cause poor circulation inside your skink’s very thin toes. Eventually, they will fall off.
Make sure if you keep Indonesian species, that the humidity inside your terrarium is at least 40%. A lot of blue-tongue owners keep them even higher, at 60% or even 70%.
Making sure the terrarium is moist (at least part of the day) and humid will go a long way in preventing toe loss.
The Terrarium Is Too Small
If the terrarium is too small, your skink won’t get enough exercise, and his or her movement will be restricted.
When their movement gets restricted, this can potentially lead to poor blood flow, particularly to their extremities. And their toes, being quite tiny, are quite fragile to restrictions in blood flow.
The best way to prevent this is to simply get the largest tank you can get to house them.
However, you shouldn’t be looking at total number of gallons, but floor space.
It’s often the case that a 55 gallon tank is not that much bigger in terms of floor space than a 36, simply because the 55 gallon makes the difference up in height.
Look at floor space first and foremost.
Personally, I wouldn’t recommend housing blue-tongues in anything less than 36″ by 18″ minimum.
If you can get something with more space than that, even better!
Long Toenails Can Lead to Toe Loss
This is something that might not be so evident, but it can definitely lead to your blue-tongue’s toes plopping off one day.
Here’s what happens. In the wild, a blue-tongue’s nails will naturally be filed down from walking over rocks and rough surfaces.
Inside the safety and comfort of nothing but soft, plush bedding however, this can lead to toenails that grow and grow and grow.
Eventually, they can twist your skink’s little toes in awkward directions and restrict blood flow. And when there’s restricted blood flow, there’s a chance for a lost toe.
The easiest, most stress-free way to prevent your blue-tongue’s nails from getting long in the first place is to place a smooth rock or stone in your terrarium. It should be large enough, and in a position where your skink will need to walk over it, or at least rub up against it. You can also use something like a brick.
This will allow your skink’s nails to be continually grind down and trimmed, without ever needing to clip them.
Should I Clean My Blue-Tongue’s Feet After a Lost Toe?
Since I’ve gone through the various reasons why toe loss occurs, it’s probably a good idea to also include a section on what exactly you should do if this happens to your blue-tongue.
Bear in mind, none of this serves to replace qualified medical advice, but it’s rather my opinion through research and quite a bit of experience.
If your blue-tongue has recently lost a toe, here is what you should do:
- keep your blue-tongue inside a clean cage, preferably on something like moist paper towel (no dirty substrate, as your biggest threat here is infection!)
- consider letting your blue-tongue sit in a lukewarm saline solution every few days to ensure that the wound remains clean and free from infection
- make sure your blue-tongue’s feet are kept dry and clean
- after a few weeks, your blue-tongue’s toe should be completely healed
At that point, you can put your blue-tongue back into your terrarium and use your regular substrate. He or she will be missing a toe (or 2), but she will be able to move just as well as without the toe.
Consider using emu oil if you notice that your bluey’s (other) toes keep cracking and are dry.
If your blue-tongue’s toe wound does not heal, then a trip to the vet may be in store, as there is a much higher chance that it was infected. If that happens, he or she will likely need antibiotics and/or further treatment.
Prevention is the Key
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as the saying goes.
And nowhere can that be more true than blue-tongue skink husbandry. Basically, if your husbandy (care for your animal) is on point, the chances of your skink losing a toe is going to be drastically lowered.
Thus, you should try your best to ensure the following:
- your terrarium is large enough
- you are giving your skink good food
- your skink is getting lots of calcium, vitamin D3 and UV
- you have the proper temperature gradient and humidity level
- you use a good substrate
- you are vigilent and thorough after your skink’s sheddings
If you can check off all of these, your chances of coming across even a single lost toe will be significantly lowered.