Basic Care: Leopard Gecko
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.