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Anna, Reptile Expert, Biologist
Category: Reptile
Satisfied Customers: 11428
Experience:  Have owned turtles, snakes, amphibians, and lizards. Study and provide habitat for wild herps.
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I have a 14-15 year old Schneider skink who, for the past three

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I have a 14-15 year old Schneider skink who, for the past three weeks or so has not eaten and is burying his head a lot and losing some body weight. When I touch him, he is alert, but I am very worried. Should I soak him? what about electrolytes? UV? force feed?
Hello and welcome. My name is XXXXX XXXXX I'm a biologist with a special interest in reptiles. I'm sorry to hear of this problem. Some additional information will be helpful.

What kinds of lighting and heating are you now using (brands and sizes, if possible) ? Does he now have UVB?

What are the temperatures under the basking light and on the cool side of the enclosure?

Thank you.

Customer: replied 3 years ago.

He has a heat rock, and daylight and night time bulbs overhead. Nothing has changed in the tank. We just bought a new 13W UVB bulb to use. I am not sure of the temperatures and I am not home to check. We have used walnut substrate for his entire life with us.

Thank you for getting back to me. I’m working on your answer and will post it as soon as I have it typed up. (I am not a fast typist). Please don’t respond to this post as that can lock me out of the question. I’ll be back shortly.

I'm sorry for the delay. I had your answer almost ready, when some bug on the JustAnswer site caused the whole thing to disappear. There seem to be a lot of such glitches today. I'll have to start over. I appreciate your patiences.

Thank you for waiting. I suspect you got your original information on care from a pet store or for one of the inaccurate websites out there. Most people do. While we should be able to rely on such information, unfortunately, it is often wrong. They sell people the wrong lighting, advise the wrong foods, and often don't know the correct temperatures for the various reptiles. After months or years of things not being quite right, the animal becomes ill. Much of what you have been told is wrong. Even though you have been trying so hard to keep him healthy, when you didn't have correct information to begin with, things are going wrong. I'm going to give you some measures to take.

First, yes, soaks are very important. Buy some Pedialyte (yes, the kind for human infants). Prepare a shallow bath consisting of 1/2 water and 1/2 Pedialyte. Soak your skink for about 20 to 30 minutes twice a day. Reptiles can absorb the electrolytes and fluids through their vents (where droppings pass out), so make the water deep enough to cover the vent. Be sure to supervise closely.

When you get home, check the temperatures and adjust them if necessary. The temperature gradient in the cage should be 85° - 90° F with a basking spot at 95° - 105° F. At night the temperature can be allowed to drop into the mid-sixties.

I would get rid of the walnut substrate and the heated rock. Both of these products are dangerous. Pet stores often recommend a loose substrate, but it does frequently lead to serious health problems, including impaction. It’s also a leading cause of eye infections, respiratory irritations, and skin problems. Just because it hasn't caused a problem so far, doesn't mean it will not in the future. I compare it to distracted driving. Someone may do it for years without having an accident, but that doesn't mean it's not dangerous. For more information on substrates:

Lizards do not have very good heat sensors on their undersides. That means even if the heated rock is maintaining the temperature it is set on, burns can result. The lizard simply doesn't know when its underside has become too hot. Sometimes a lizard can go for years without a problem, but often it's only a matter of time before a burn occurs. A burn would cause the skin to blacken on the part of the body that was on the rock too long, and of course it would be painful. Pet stores recommend these rocks, and at first glance they seem like a good idea. Pet store staff get their information from literature put out by the manufacturers of heated rocks. Here is a nonprofit site where you can read the truth:

Also, take a look at this video:

If Tango has never had a UVB light before now, he may be suffering from Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD). It takes months to years to develop. With the right care, MBD can be reversed if it's not too advanced. The UVB light must ahve an output of 10%, and should be on for 12 to 14 hours per day. UVB bulbs must be replaced every six months. They may still look fine after that, but don't emit enough UVB rays to do any good. You'll also need to dust Tango's food with plain calcium powder. Calcium is the other factor in preventing MBD.

Don't force feed. More often than not, that leads to aspiration into t he lungs, which is often fatal. Instead, after tango has a couple of long soaks, you can try another method. Buy some plain meat baby food. Drop a small dollop right on the end of his snout. Many times, they'll lick it off.

The above measures may help, but from your description, tango is quite ill, so it would be best to see a reptile vet. This link will take you to a directory of vets:

If you have more questions, just let me know by clicking on REPLY. I hope you'll be able to restore Tango to health.


My goal is to provide you with excellent service – if you feel you have gotten anything less, please reply back, I am happy to address follow-up questions. Please remember to rate my service only after you have all the information you need. Thank you!

Anna and 2 other Reptile Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

He likes to bury - will he just hide then with a different substrate?

You can make or buy him some kind of hide box. It's best to have one on the warm side and one on the cool. They can be made from plastic food containers, but make sure there are no sharp edges when you make a door. Pet stores also sell little 'caves' for small animals that will work. The hide needs to be big enough to get into, but small enough for him to feel secure.

Customer: replied 3 years ago.

Thank you! I will get the pedialyte and baby food on my way home today - is there a difference in terms of beef or chicken for protein or safety?

You're welcome. Beef and chicken are both fine. Just make sure it is plain meat - no onions, which can be toxic.
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

Perfect - thank you - I wil give it a try. He has been such an amazing member of the family - loves being held, even sits on my husband's head! And my cats love to sit and just look at him - they know he is "one of them" as far as not being predatory! Of course, we will try is always possible it is just his age starting. He has been with us for 14-15 years now and we don't know how old he was when we first got him.

It's amazing how much personality they have. Yes, age can be a factor, but they have lived past 20 years in captivity. It certainly doesn't hurt to try. I wish you success.

Customer: replied 3 years ago.

Thank you, Anna, for your responses and your encouragement.

You're very welcome!
Customer: replied 3 years ago.


I wanted to thank you again for all of the kind information you provided to us. We did everything you suggested, and I can only hope it made Tango's last days more comfortable. He died this morning. It is difficult for us - he was with us for a very long time and was truly a part of our family. But knowing we did everything we could made it a bit easier. He did not seem to be in any kind of pain from what we can tell.


Just wanted to let you know and to thank you again for all of your advice. Betsy Dane

You're welcome, Betsy. I'm so sorry to hear that you lost Tango. Life expectancy in captivity averages 13 to 15 years. You truly did everything you could, and you gave him a long, happy life with lots of attention. It always hurts to lose our animal companions. Even when they live to old age, their lives are too short.