Basic Care: Leopard Gecko

Lizards

Leopard geckos popularity as pets is easy to understand. They are small, cute, typically friendly and easy to handle. They come in a variety of color morphs are require less space than many larger reptiles. They're relatively long lived, many living into their late teens and early twenties. They breed easily in captivity. However, they are prone to problems with their eyes, skin, and skeleton if not cared for properly. 

 

Caging

An adult leopard gecko needs a cage at least 18 inches long, 10 inches wide, and 12 inches tall (about the size of a 10 gallon aquarium).  “Sweater boxes” are often used by breeders to keep up to one male and three females together.  Males should never be housed together as they will fight and cause injury to each other. 

Substrate

Because of a very high risk of serious intestinal impaction and blockage, we recommend avoiding sand, calcium sand, and walnut shell substrates. These substrates also tend to be dusty which contributes to eye problems and retained shed skin. Recommended substrate choices include newspaper, paper towels, cage carpet, tiles, or vinyl floor.

Cage Furnishings

Leopard geckos are nocturnal and will spend the majority of the day retreating into caves and hides. Provide at least one hide on both the warm and the cool side of your gecko's enclosure. More hides will be necessary if you have multiple geckos living together. 
 
A "humid hide" should be provided to help with shedding. This can be sometimes as simple as a lidded storage container just big enough for your reptile to climb into with a small door cut into the side. For a more natural look you can use Zoo Med's Repti Shelter or Exo Terra's Gecko or Snake Caves. What is important is that the hide is relatively enclosed so it will maintain humidity. Fill the hide box with moist sphagnum moss and place it on the warmer end of the cage, but not directly under a heat lamp. Check the box regulary to assure the moss is still moist and change the moss if it becomes soiled. Sphagnum moss is available in our retail area. 

Heating

Heating should be provided with an appropriately sized under tank heater. Cage temperature should be 80-90 on the warm side and no lower than 75 on the cool side. A warm spot of around 90 should be provided. Monitor temperatures using a digital thermometer with a probe or an infrared laser thermometer. We also recommend using a reptile thermostat to allow for better, more accurate and safer control of cage temperatures. A heat lamp can be added if the heat pad isn't keeping the cage warm enough. 
 
Heat rocks should be avoided as they pose a very real risk of causing severe burns to your animal. 

Lighting

While leopard geckos have been raised for generations without UVB lighting, recent studies do show that they are able to utilize it to synthesize vitamin D3. Since naturally synthesized vitamin D3 is always safer than synthetic, it is not a bad idea to provide 12-14 hours of UVB lighting with a 5.0 fluorescant bulb daily. For more information on UVB lighting, click here

Diet

Leopard geckos are insectivores. Their diet should consist of live feeder insects. Freeze dried insects are not recommended. It is extremely important to provide your gecko with both a calcium and multivitmin supplement. For more information on supplements, click here.

Leopard geckos will lick up powdered supplements regularly if provided with an appropriate small, shallow dish. Provide a fresh mixture of 50% calcium powder and 50% Reptivite in this dish. 
 

Water

Fresh water should always be available.  Disinfect the bowl with a solution of 1 tablespoon bleach to 1 cup of water at least once a week and rinse thoroughly with fresh water before refilling it for your leopard gecko. 

In Arizona, leopard geckos benefit from  twice weekly soaks in shallow water. This is especially important when they are shedding as the skin on the tips of the toes may not come off on its own if the humidity is too low.  


This leopard gecko did not have access to a humidity chamber and is having difficulty shedding.


Leopard geckos often need help getting the old skin off of their toes.  A bath in shallow warm water for 30 minutes will soften the skin so its peels off easier as you gently rub the toes. Sometimes you may need to do this several days in a row in order to remove all the skin stuck on the toes.

Handling Tips

Small leopard geckoes under 6 inches long may be skittish and may not like being handled at first. With time and patience, many will learn to like being held. Start by handling your gecko in it cage, low to the ground in case it jumps. Adults should assist young children as baby geckos hve fragile skeletons. 

Due to the risk of salmonellosis, wash hands thoroughly with warm water and soap after handling your leopard gecko. For more information, click here

Preventive Medicine

Regular fecal parasites examinations are essential to detect parasites that can impact your leopard gecko’s health.  If you don’t plan to breed your female leopard gecko, it should be spayed to avoid problems such as retained eggs.  An annual check-up is recommended to monitor your leopard gecko’s health.

Common Problems Requiring Veterinary Attention

Beside the examination, we may order certain diagnostic procedures to identify what is causing your leopard gecko to be ill.  The following list is not intended to be a complete list of what may go wrong with a leopard gecko, but a general guide to some of the common problems we diagnose.

  • Lumps and Bumps: Abscesses, broken bones, and tumors.
  • Poor Appetite: Dehydration wrong size of prey, calcium deficiency, gastrointestinal parasites, impaction or constipation, stress, breeding behavior, kidney failure
  • Weight Loss (a.k.a. "Stick Tail"): dehydration, wrong size of prey, calcium deficiency, gastrointestinal parasites (especially Cryptosporidium), kidney failure
  • Diarrhea: Parasites, Infection; Inappropriate Food; Stress
  • Lack of Feces: Sand Impaction; Poor Appetite (see above); Parasites; Infection; Kidney Failure; Internal Masses; Dystocia (retained eggs)
  • Eye Problems:  One of the most common causes of eye problems in leopard geckoes is substrate!  Fine sand, dusty mulch, and peat moss can all get beneath the eyelids of leopard geckoes and be very irritating.  The gecko may squint a lot and develop a watery to crusty discharge from its eyes.  Another common problem is impaction of unshed skin and pus beneath the eyelid.  The leopard gecko may need to have its eyes flushed and cleaned under anesthesia and started on antibiotic eye drops and a pain reliever and anti-inflammatory medication.  In severe cases, the eye may die and need to be surgically removed.
  • Shedding Difficulty (especially on the tips of the toes): Insufficient Humidity (the #1 cause!); Infection; Nutritional Seconday Hyperparathyroidism (also known as metabolic bone disease or calcium deficiency); Kidney Failure
  • Trembling: calcium deficiency, kidney failure, infection, trauma
  • Reluctance to Move: calcium deficiency, kidney failure, infection, trauma
  • Abnormal Shape or Posture: Nutritional Seconday Hyperparathyroidism (also known as metabolic bone disease or calcium deficiency).  Legs may appear bent and swollen. The jay may be turned under or not close properly.  The spine may appear crooked.  The gecko may be unable to lift its belly off the floor of its cage.  This may be caused by calcium deficiency, lack of vitamin D3, or kidney failure.