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Caring for Your Leopard Gecko
Small PetsReptiles & Amphibians

Caring for Your Leopard Gecko

Critter Culture Staff



They may not be fluffy or furry, but leopard geckos can make great pets just as much as any cat or dog. With their simple care requirements and friendly demeanor, leopard geckos have become a popular reptile for beginner keepers of all ages. Along with their wide range of attractive colors and patterns, these lizards also have natural smile-shaped mouths that any pet-lover will fall for.

As long as you take good care of your gecko, they can live for over 20 years in captivity.


Buy a spacious tank

Leopard gecko on the rock

The ideal enclosure for your pet gecko depends on how many you'll be housing together. If you're only getting one lizard, a tank size of around 10 gallons (20 x 10 inches) will suffice. A pair of leopard geckos shouldn't be kept in anything smaller than 15 gallons (24 x 12 inches). A 20-gallon tank (30 x 12 inches) is perfect for a small colony of 3 or 4 geckos, but keeping too many geckos together isn't recommended for beginner keepers.


Keep the tank warm

Leopard gecko sitting on a rock GK Hart/Vikki Hart / Getty Images

As cold-blooded reptiles, leopard geckos can't regulate their own body temperature. That's why you'll need to provide them with a heating system in their tank. While there are many heating options available, heating pads remain one of the best choices. Unlike ceramic bulbs and heat lamps, heating pads keep a constant temperature and contain it to the one area of the tank. Just make sure your heating pad doesn't cover more than two-thirds of the enclosure, so your gecko has the freedom to cool down if necessary.


Feed a healthy diet

a female leopard gecko in a terrarium, seen from behind Christian Sturzenegger / Getty Images

One reason many pet owners prefer leopard geckos to other reptiles is because of their simple dietary requirements. These lizards do best on a diet of live bugs, typically 2 crickets fed each evening. Once your gecko is one year old, feeding can be reduced to every other day. You can boost your leopard gecko's nutrition by "gut-loading" the crickets — giving them vegetables and whole grains — around 24-hours before feeding time. Dusting the bugs with calcium powder and multivitamins will also go a long way in keeping your gecko healthy.


Spend time with your gecko

A young child holding a leopard gecko. Bronwyn8 / Getty Images

Despite their small size and scaly skin, leopard geckos can make surprisingly friendly companions. While they do have teeth, they're docile and placid by nature, rarely biting even when scared. After giving your leopard gecko two weeks to settle into their tank, you can begin training them with regular handling. A happy and safe gecko will enjoy crawling over your hands or even your entire body. Just be sure to never handle your gecko by their tail, as they are easily injured


Help with shedding

A yellow, black, and white common leopard gecko pulling the loose skin off of his fat tail. P A Collins / Getty Images

Unlike furry pets, leopard geckos don't require any grooming. However, they do self-groom by regularly shedding their skin every four to eight weeks. You'll notice that shedding is about to begin when your gecko's skin appears pale or gray. Once you see this sign, begin spraying the tank with water 2 to 3 times a day. This will raise the humidity levels and keep your gecko's skin soft, preventing any shedding-related injuries. Shedding takes a day or two, and you should remove any dead skin from the tank as soon as you see it.


Look out for health problems

A healthy leopard gecko. Daniel Castillo / Getty Images

Leopard geckos are one of the most durable pet lizards around, which is why they're so good for beginners. However, like any pet, they can still get sick from time to time. Following the correct feeding and housing guidelines will go a long way in keeping your gecko healthy, but make sure to look out for common health problems. Lethargic behavior, weight loss, discoloration, loose stool, a slack jaw, or a bulging stomach can all be signs that your lizard needs veterinary attention.


Keep your gecko active

A leopard gecko in a well-furnished tank. Bsheridan1959 / Getty Images

You don't need to walk your gecko like a dog, but you do need to provide ways for them to stay active. The best way to keep a leopard gecko happy and active is to furnish their tank with plenty of enrichment items. You can buy hides and treat balls in many reptile stores, but making your own is just as easy. Wrapping some waxworms up in an old toilet roll tube with holes poked in it, for example, will keep any leopard gecko busy for hours.


Keep the tank clean

A leopard gecko in a clean tank. Radist / Getty Images

To keep your leopard gecko healthy and happy, make sure their tank stays clean. Change the water in their dish daily and remove any poop as soon as you see it. Once or twice a week, throw out any dirty substrate at the bottom of your gecko's tank and replace it with a fresh covering. You should also wash your gecko's food and water bowls at the same time. This is all you'll need to do for regular maintenance, but don't forget to completely deep clean the tank every two months or so.


Don't bring other pets into the mix

Two leopard geckos. ApuuliWorld / Getty Images

Since leopard geckos live among other animals in the wild, you may think it's okay to house them with other reptiles. However, this can bring unnecessary stress to your gecko, and many reptiles will even fight each other to the death. Leopard geckos should only be housed with other leopard geckos, and you should be careful not to keep too many together until you have the necessary experience. Likewise, keep your leopard gecko away from other pets like cats or dogs, as their small size makes them easy to harm.


Don't worry about the perfect environment

A leopard gecko eating a mealworm. MattiaATH / Getty Images

One of the best things about leopard geckos is that they can adapt well to many pet owners' requirements. For example, if you're squeamish about the possibility of live crickets escaping into your home, your gecko can also live on a diet of mealworms. Likewise, while geckos do prefer quiet environments, they can usually adjust to living in a noisy home with children. Just be sure to keep an eye on your pet's eating and handling habits to ensure they're not showing signs of stress.


Choose the right substrate

Lizard in the terrarium Agentur-kroeger / Getty Images

Selecting the appropriate substrate is crucial for your leopard gecko's well-being. The substrate should be safe, easy to clean, and contribute to maintaining the right humidity level. Paper towels or reptile carpets are excellent choices for beginners, as they minimize the risk of ingestion and related issues.

As you gain experience, you may consider using reptile-safe sand or a bioactive substrate for a more natural look.


Provide a proper lighting setup

lizard in terrarium Roman Choknadiy / Getty Images

While leopard geckos do not require UVB lighting like some other reptiles, providing a low-wattage LED or fluorescent light can help establish a consistent day-night cycle. Set up a timer to turn the light on for 12 hours and then off for 12 hours. This will mimic the gecko's natural environment and promote healthy behaviors.


Understand your gecko's body language

A man holds a friendly juvenile leopard gecko in his hand. A reptile lover, pet owner Michael Edwards / Getty Images

Interpreting your leopard gecko's body language can help you build a stronger bond and meet their needs more effectively. When your gecko is content, they will appear relaxed, with their tail raised slightly. A wiggling tail can signal excitement or curiosity, particularly during feeding time.

If they feel threatened or defensive, they may arch their back, hiss, or even try to bite. Always approach your gecko with gentle, slow movements, and be respectful of their space to build trust and create a positive environment.


Encourage natural hunting behavior

Desert banded gecko (Coleonyx variegatus) Alexandra Jursova / Getty Images

Leopard geckos are natural hunters, and stimulating their instincts will keep them engaged and active. While crickets and mealworms are staple foods, occasionally offer a variety of live insects like waxworms, silkworms, or small roaches. By doing so, you not only provide an enriched diet but also allow your gecko to engage in their natural hunting behaviors.

Always remember to remove any uneaten insects from the enclosure after feeding.



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