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Caring For Your Pet Leopard Gecko

A Leopard Gecko on a Branch

Basic Husbandry

General Information

Vital Statistics

  • Body Weight:

    • Females 50-70g

    • Males 60-80g

  • Life Span: 6-10 years on average, but some male geckos live greater than 20 years with the proper care.

  • Sexual Maturity: 9-18 months of age.

Behavior and Handling

  • Leopard geckos are generally friendly, however, excessive handling can be stressful to young geckos.

  • We recommend only handling leopard geckos after than are 5-6 inches in total length.

  • NEVER grab or hold the gecko’s tail, or it might be dropped. The tail will regenerate, and the process generally takes 30-40 days and can be very taxing on the animal’s body.

  • **IMPORTANT**: All reptiles, even animals that are perfectly healthy, may potentially be carrying salmonella.

    • It is safest to assume that your gecko is always shedding salmonella and take the appropriate precautions.

    • Children and immunosuppressed individuals are more at risk of serious illness resulting from salmonella exposure.

    • Be sure to wash your hands after handling your gecko.

Housing

  • A 15-20 gallon aquarium houses one or two leopard geckos from hatchling to adult size.

    • Incompatible tank mates can lead to fighting and stress. If housing in pairs be sure to only house similarly sized leopard geckos together, and do not mix species.

    • Multiple female leopard geckos may be housed together (if approximately the same size, but sexually mature males are territorial and will fight.

  • The cage should be at least 1-foot-tall with a screen top to support a light fixture and provide good ventilation.

  • A humid hide should be placed on the hot side of the enclosure to allow it to shed its skin properly.

  • Your leopard gecko enclosure should have plenty of space and include branches to climb and places to hide.

  • Provide non-toxic plants and caves for your gecko to hide under as well as sloped branches for them to climb and exercise.

    • Some examples include logs, rocks, plants, and branches.

    • Hides should be available on both the hot and cool sides of the enclosure.

Substrate

  • Young leopard geckos should be kept on paper towels or reptile carpet until they are 5-6 inches long. Note: Sand is never appropriate for leopard geckos.

  • Adult leopard geckos can be housed on calcium based sand, however it is IMPORTANT to feed them in a separate area so that you can be sure your leopard gecko is not consuming any of the sand.

    • GI impactions are much more common in younger leopard geckos, but can be observed in all ages if fed/housed inappropriately

  • Adult leopard geckos can also be housed similarly to young leopard geckos on paper towels or reptile carpet.

  • Corncob, wood shavings, rock sand, newspaper, and gravel are not recommended substrate.

Lighting and Heating

  • Appropriate heat is essential for the survival of your leopard gecko.

  • Warm and cool areas in the enclosure is important because it allows for the proper regulation of body temperature.

  • Under tank heaters are a good way to heat your leopard gecko enclosure. Heat only one side of the enclosure to allow for variation in temperature.

  • Heat rocks tend to become too hot for leopard geckos and should be avoided due to the risk of burns.

  • A blue, red, or ceramic heat bulb can also be used in combination with the under tank heating

    • This is important for larger cages where achieving and maintaining an ideal temperature can be difficult.

  • The following POTZ (Preferred Optimum Temperature Zone)is very important for leopard geckos.

    • Hot side: 80-85 F

    • Cold Side: 70-75 F

    • Humid Hide/Basking Area: 88-90 F

    • Ambient air temperature of the room should be above 68 F

  • An infrared thermometer with a laser pointer is a great tool to assess the temperature gradient of different areas of the enclosure.

  • UVA/UVB light is not required for leopard geckos, but it is strongly recommended. 2.5% is the ideal UVB bulb type for Leopard Geckos due to their thin skin.

    • The lighting should be on during normal daylight hours all year long.

    • Leopard geckos that do not get the amount of UV light they need can lose bone density, which can lead to bone disease and fractures.

    • UV bulbs will stop emitting UV light after 6-12 months of use. It is recommended that the bulb be changed generally every 6 months for strip/tube lights and 12 months for coil lights.

    • UV light is invisible, so just because your light is producing visible light does not mean that there is UV light being produced by the bulb.

    • UV lights DO NOT produce heat and must be used in addition to a heat source.

    • Natural sunlight, when available, is also beneficial. You can place the cage or aquarium with a screen top by an opened window for a portion of the day during warm weather only. There should always be a shaded area available.

    • Glass is filters most of the UV light out, but the light will pass through the mesh top of the cage.

Cleaning

  • Regular cleaning is very important.

  • Uneaten food should be removed daily.

  • The cage and all items in the cage should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected at least every other week.

    • A mild soap solution can be used as well as disinfection with 1 capful of Clorox bleach to 1 gallon of water.

    • Cage cleaning solutions may also be available at the local pet store (Betadine and Nolvasan are also acceptable)

    • Make sure to rinse the habitat well and dry it thoroughly before returning the leopard gecko.

Diet

  • Leopard geckos are insectivores (they eat bugs!)

  • Live insects are a must; they will not eat plants or veggies. The best items to use are mealworms, crickets, or dubia roaches, but you can treat your pet to waxworms or superworms once a week if you wish

  • All insects should be given a nutritious powdered diet for at least 1 hours before being fed to your leopard gecko. This is called gut loading (see below).

  • Offer juvenile geckos a constant supply of worms as well as live crickets twice daily.

    • The best way to ensure your young leopard gecko is getting enough nutrients is to weigh and/or measure them every week. There should be a measurable gain in weight and body length over time.

    • Look for approximately 1-inch increase in length every month for the first 8 months.

    • A leopard gecko that is not growing this quickly is either sick or not getting enough nutrients.

  • Adult geckos should be offered crickets and worms 3-4 times weekly.

  • The crickets you purchase should not be larger than the distance between your pet’s eyes.

  • Remove any crickets that are not eaten within 10-15 minutes, but live meal worms can stay in the enclosure for up to 24 hours.

  • DO NOT offer dead insects, insects that have been in contact with chemicals such as insecticides, herbicides, or pesticides, or insects that have been contaminated with mold. This can lead to serious health problems such as bacterial or fungal infections.

  • DO NOT feed wild insects.

Gut Loading

  • Most commercially sold insects are not nutritious enough to be fed alone as they are lacking essential vitamins and minerals.

  • Some commercial products are available at pet stores, or you can feed small pieces (a food grater works well for this) of apples, dark leafy greens (mustard and collard greens, kale, and spinach), squash, sweet potato, carrots, oranges, alfalfa, baby rice cereal, oatmeal, or wheat germ to the insect prey items.

  • Home-prepared gut loading setups may be more cost-effective, but they may spoil quickly

    • Remove desiccated foods as soon as possible and reduce amount offered at the next feeding.

  • Commercial products are easy to obtain and don’t spoil quickly, but they may lack the full range of nutrition needed for some reptiles (chameleons)

Dietary Supplements

  • Calcium must be regularly supplemented 2-3 times weekly for your leopard gecko’s health.

    • If you are using a UVB source, this calcium should NOT contain Vitamin D3 as this will mess with the calcium and phosphorus balance.

  • Multivitamins also should be supplemented weekly. Many commercial products are available.

  • Dusting the prey items is a good way to deliver these supplements.

Water

  • A shallow water dish with fresh water must be available at all times.

  • This should be stable so it cannot be spilled.

    • The cage substrate should be kept dry, so be careful about spillage.

  • Make sure that young and adult leopard geckos can easily climb out of the dish you use.

  • Vitamin drops SHOULD NOT be added to the water.

Common Medical Conditions

Conditions Requiring Veterinary Attention

Anorexia (not eating for a prolonged period of time)

  • Anorexia is NOT specific to any one disease process and it is a symptom of many leopard gecko diseases. Some common diseases that may cause anorexia in leopard geckos include intestinal parasites, substrate impactions, reproductive development/disease, and inadequate setup/husbandry among others.

Dysecdysis (Retained Shed)

  • This is commonly observed in animals with inappropriate humidity.

  • Common areas affected include tips of the toes/feet, eye caps, ears, and tail. Retained shed in the eyes can cause infection and inability to hunt.

  • If left unattended, this may cause tissue damage under the retained shed which may make them vulnerable to bacterial/fungal infections.

Bacterial Infections (“scale/skin rot”, “mouth rot”, “tail rot”)

  • If the temperature is not appropriate, reptile metabolic processes are interrupted. This means they have a delayed or impaired response to infection.

  • Please notify your veterinarian if you notice any discolored spots, swelling, bleeding, or discharge.

  • If untreated, these infections can become systemic and life threatening.

Metabolic Bone Disease

  • Insufficient calcium supplementation causes a deficiency in calcium in many reptile species. When calcium is insufficient, some animals mobilize calcium from bone to replenish what is lost.

  • This causes the bone to become brittle and prone to fractures. These bone changes may not be reversible once identified.

  • Young reptiles have a higher demand for calcium and are more vulnerable to this condition.

Trauma

  • Trauma, including bite wounds from dogs and cats, or getting stuck/scratched on sharp areas in the enclosure, are common and potentially fatal injuries for leopard geckos.

  • Leopard geckos can also be injured through handling, falling from heights, or being stepped on.

  • Leopard geckos have tails that will “drop” or fall off if stuck. This will grow back with time, but the tail will be shorter and may look different.

Reproductive Disease

  • Females

    • Egg binding/dystocia - the egg is too large or misshapen and is unable to be delivered appropriately

    • Coelomitis - a ruptured egg releases yolk into the body cavity resulting in a severe bacterial infection

    • Follicular stasis - the egg development stops and follicles take up space in the body cavity

  • Males

    • Hemipene plugs - dehydrated, waxy material around the hemipenes becomes impacted around the hemipenes causing swelling, tissue damage, and infection

Prolapse

  • This is the everting of the cloacal, GI, or reproductive structures through the cloacal opening.

  • Some of the many causes of prolapse include GI parasites, reproductive disease, and tumors.

  • If noticed, we recommend applying a dilute sugar solution to help reduce swelling, and contacting your veterinarian right away.

  • If untreated, this can cause damage to the exposed tissue where surgical intervention or quality of life may need to be assessed.

Obesity

  • Obesity is common in many captive leopard geckos fed a diet too high in fat or those not provided sufficient space for exercise.

  • Obesity can lead to diseases of the heart, liver and joints.

  • Treatment consists of increasing exercise and change in diet.

Emergency / Critical Care

  • There are few true emergencies in reptiles, however reptiles often hide illness until it may be too late.

  • All emergencies require veterinary assistance. If you are unsure whether this may be an emergency, we recommend contacting your veterinarian to get the best recommendations on when to have your pet examined.

Health Recommendations

Annual Physical

  • Always have an initial physical exam performed on any newly acquired leopard gecko. During the exam, the doctor will check the teeth, eyes, ears, heart, lungs, and body cavity (coelom). The doctor will also check the skin for shedding problems or evidence of infection.

  • You should have your pet’s fecal sample checked for internal parasites.

  • Your leopard gecko should have an annual physical done by a veterinarian every year.

Over-the-Counter Medication

  • Over-the-counter topical triple antibiotic ointments or any other types of over-the-counter medications are not recommended without first consulting your veterinarian.

  • Productions such as triple antibiotic ointment (for the use of minor skin injuries) can cause digestive problems if ingested and can cause digestive problems if ingested and can potentially become toxic over time.