Leopard Gecko Care

Leopard Geckos (Eublepharis macularius) originate from Asian dessert and grassland habitats, where they typically spend the day in burrows or under rocks emerging in the evening to hunt live insects and spiders.

The Leopard Gecko, given the correct care, is among the most easily maintained and hardy reptiles, and is a species well suited to captivity. Cared for properly, your pet can live up to 25 years, and it is the intention of this care sheet to help you provide the conditions necessary for a happy, health pet. Don't stop here though, read around and consider all aspects of care before purchasing a leopard gecko.

Choosing a Healthy Leopard Gecko

Leopard geckos are available from the majority of exotic pet shops, and many breeders will sell their livestock over the internet (though leopard geckos, like all reptiles, should never be sent by post or purchased without seeing the animal first). UK prices range from around £15-£50 for the natural or "normal" pattern gecko, and some colour forms (known as 'morphs') of leopard gecko can sell for anything up to a few thousand.

When choosing your gecko, shop around. Look at the overall conditions of the shop, the enclosure in which the geckos are kept, and most importantly, the gecko itself. If you are concerned about the condition of the shop or any of the livestock, move on.

Some of us, with the best intentions, are tempted to "rescue" sick or poorly cared for animals, however this only encourages poor husbandry - the shop will have no reason to improve if animals are selling, and simply restock and mistreat another animal in its place, and you will be left with a sick animal. If you are concerned about an animal in any pet shop (exotic or otherwise), contact the RSPCA.

A leopard gecko should be alert and active, and have a plump tail, which acts as an energy store and is a good indication the gecko has been well fed. Occasionally, a startled gecko will drop its tail. This is best avoided by minimising handling when geckos are young or new to human contact. Leopard Geckos can regrow their tails with time, though the regrown tail will never look like the original. Geckos without tails should ideally be avoided, as this may be an indication of stress or poor handling.

The eyes and nose should be clear with no sign of discharge (which may indicate infection).

Avoid geckos which appear thinner than their tank mates, or appear to have a swollen abdomen - this may indicate impaction (when items such as gravel or wood chippings become lodged in the gecko's gut and cannot pass - this may be fatal). Ideally the gecko should be seen feeding before buying.

Another sign to look out for is deformity affecting the limbs, which can be a sign of MBD. If the limbs appear malformed or the gecko appears to be dragging its back legs, it is best avoided.

When looking to purchase a gecko, visit a few different dealers so that you become accustomed with what is normal leopard gecko appearance and behaviour. Visiting a range of dealers will also help you to identify which appear to be selling the healthiest and best cared for geckos.

Finally, some breeders have been known to sell leopard geckos at only a few weeks old. This is too soon to put a leopard gecko through the stress of a new home, and it is more difficult to gauge the health of such a young gecko. Never buy a gecko under 6 weeks old.

Housing Your Leopard Gecko

Lepard geckos can be housed in an aquarium with a well ventilated lid, however a wooden vivarium (an enclosure specifically built for keeping reptiles and other exotics) is prefferable.

For geckos up to 4 months it's best to use newspaper or kitchen towel to line the floor and not a substrate (sand, bark, etc). This reduces the risk of the gecko swallowing the substrate, which can lead to impaction.

Adults can be kept on fine sand (such as calci-sand) or LARGE wood chips, with no pieces smaller than the gecko's head (to ensure they are not ingested). Do not use commercial reptile bedding made of small wood chips or sawdust - this can lead to impaction in all age groups.

The enclosure should also include at least two hides, a dry hide which can be a piece of cork bark or similar, and a wet hide, which should contain wet moss or towelling and will be used by the gecko when it sheds its skin. The wet hide can be as simple as an ice cream tub with a hole cut in the side to allow entry. A few logs, stones, etc will also help your gecko feel more at home, the more places to hide and explore, the more secure your gecko will feel, which will have a bearing on its overall health.

Always set the vivarium up and check temperatures, etc for a few days BEFORE buying your gecko.

Finally, while leopard geckos can be housed in groups, never house males together, they are likely to fight. It is advisable to stick to females only unless you want to breed them. If you are unsure of the sex of your gecko (this can be particularly difficult to tell with younger geckos, and shops/breeders don't always get it right) be vigilant to ensure there are no signs of agression.

Heating, Lighting and Humidity

Heat mats and/or bulbs should be used to maintain a warm end of the vivarium in the region of 90'F during the day, allowing a drop to around 70' at night (when all lights should be off). The cooler end of the vivarium should be around room temperature. How you achieve this will depend on the size and materials of the vivarium and the heating appliances available - ask your reptile stockist for advice and ensure the required temperatures are being recahed and maintained in the finished setup.

UV light is sometimes recommended. As leopard geckos are normally nocturnam in their natural setting, spending the day hidden from the sun, this would not seem to be necessary. There is no evidence this is required, and many leopard geckos live long healthy lives without UV.

There is no need to mist or otherwise increase humidity in the enclosure, though a humid shedding hide as described above whould always be available.

Feeding Your Leopard Gecko

Leopard Geckos will eat just about any of the commonly sold livefood and it is best to offer as much variety as possible. Crickets make up the majourity of most leopard gecko's diets in captivity, and should be supplemented with occasional waxworms (maximum 3 a week) and small locusts.

Size should be determined by the size of the gecko's head - if the prey item is more than half as long as the gecko's head, it's probably too big.

Quantity will depend on a number of factors - feed your gecko daily as much as she will eat in a few hours. Avoid leaving crickets in the enclosure for extended periods, as they have been known to bite leopard geckos.

Food should be dusted once or twice a week with Neutrobal or a similar calcium supplement.

Water should always be available, and should ideally be changed daily to avoid infection. Use a reptile safe vivarium cleaner to clean the water bowl and be sure to rinse well after use.

Breeding Leopard Geckos

Breeding leopard geckos is relatively straightforward, however this has resulted in an a large number of leopard geckos being available in recent years, to the point it can be difficult to find homes for the young. Only breed leopard geckos if you are sure you have homes lined up for the young, and can care for them long term should you find yourself unable to rehome them.

Many hobbyists wrongly assume that breeding leopard geckos is a lucrative opportunity, but the truth is very different. Increases in live food and heating bills will inevitably exceed the sale price of young geckos (unless you are breeding a rare morph) and a lot of work is involved in caring for laying females and young geckos.

If you decide to breed leopard geckos, you will of course need an adult pair (at least 1 year old and weighing 45g or more) or group, an incubator for the eggs and housing for the young.

The following is a suggested schedule based on the leopard gecko's natural seasonal cycle, but can be altered to breed your geckos at any time of year.

November/December - starting with healthy geckos (45g or heavier), gradually decrease food availability, temperature (by about 10') and day length (to a minimum of 6hours daylight).

January/February - gradually increase food supply, temperature and day length to pre-November levels.

February - introduce the male to the female(s). the male should now be left with the female(s) throughout the breeding season (until early September).

2-3 weeks after introducing the male, the female will begin to put on weight, and eggs may be visible developing around the tail end of the gecko's abdomen (visible from underneath). It is vital at this time to offer as much food as your gecko will eat, and regularly supplement her diet with Neutrobal or similar supplement.

If the female stops eating this is usually a sign laying is imminent. She may also be seen digging in the corners of the vivarium.

As soon as egg formation can be seen, or the female starts digging, provide a moist box (such as an ice cream container with a hole in the side for access) with moss and vermiculite for egg laying.

Eggs should follow, and should be very carefully removed from the laying box to a container of moist vermiculite or perlite which should then be placed in the incubator. Take care to keep the eggs in the same position they were laid in, transferring them very carefully with a spoon.

Incubation is at 82'F for mostly females, 85'F for a mixture of sexes, and 88'F for mostly males. Ensure the vermiculite/perlite is kept moist, and monitor temperatures regularly. Hatching is after 45-60 days incubation.

Hatchlings will not feed for the first day or two, and can be fed on micro crickets or fruitflies initially, increasing prey size as they grow. Supplementation is, as always, essential.

Health Problems

Impaction is perhaps the most common health problem, and is usually the result of swallowing the substrate. This is easily avoided by choosing substrates the gecko cannot swallow or soluble sand substrates such as calci-sand.

Respiratory infections are common where required temperatures are not met, or humidity is too high. Following the guidelines above will greatly reduce the risk of respiratory infections. Respiratory infections may present with a discharge from the nose, weight loss, or abnormal breathing (a late sign).

Metabolic bone disease is another popular illness among captive reptiles, and occurs when insufficient calcium exists in the diet to meet demands, particularly when a female is producing eggs. This is easily avoided by ensuring ample supplementation using neutrobal or simlar as above. Signs of MBD include leg deformity and "leg dragging".

If your gecko shows signs of ill health the best course of action is to locate (ideally in advance) a vet competent in dealing with reptiles (not all vets have experience in this area) and arrange a consultation. In the meantime, experienced keeprs on forums such as BugNation and Reptile Forums UK may offer advice.

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