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Caring for Your Leopard Gecko
Small PetsReptiles & Amphibians

Caring for Your Leopard Gecko

Critter Culture Staff

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Leopard geckos may lack the fluffiness of traditional pets, but they are equally captivating and make excellent companions. Their straightforward care requirements and amiable nature have made them a favorite among novice reptile enthusiasts. These lizards, with their diverse color palette and patterns, also boast a charming, smile-like mouth that endears them to pet lovers. They are a perfect choice for those seeking a low-maintenance but unique pet. With proper care, leopard geckos can thrive for over two decades in captivity, making them a long-term commitment. This longevity is a testament to their resilience and adaptability in a well-maintained captive environment.

1

Buy a spacious tank

Leopard gecko on the rock

The size of your gecko's habitat is contingent on the number of geckos you plan to keep. For a single gecko, a 10-gallon tank (20 x 10 inches) is adequate. A duo of geckos requires at least a 15-gallon space (24 x 12 inches). For a small group of 3 or 4, a 20-gallon tank (30 x 12 inches) is ideal. However, housing too many geckos together is not advisable for beginners, as it can lead to stress and territorial disputes. The tank should also be equipped with hiding spots and climbing structures to mimic their natural habitat.

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2

Keep the tank warm

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

Being ectothermic, leopard geckos rely on external sources to regulate their body temperature. Therefore, a heating system in their enclosure is essential. Among various heating options, heating pads are highly recommended. They maintain a steady temperature and focus heat in a specific tank area. Ensure the heating pad covers no more than two-thirds of the tank, allowing your gecko to cool off as needed. The temperature gradient created by the heating pad enables the gecko to thermoregulate effectively, ensuring their comfort and health.

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3

Feed a healthy diet

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

Leopard geckos are favored for their uncomplicated dietary needs. They thrive on a diet of live insects, with 2 crickets each night being the norm. After the first year, you can reduce feeding to every other day. Enhance their nutrition by feeding the crickets vegetables and whole grains 24 hours before mealtime. Supplementing with calcium powder and multivitamins is also beneficial for your gecko's health. This diet replicates their natural feeding habits and ensures they receive all necessary nutrients.

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4

Spend time with your gecko

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

Despite their diminutive size and scaly exterior, leopard geckos are surprisingly sociable. They are generally non-aggressive, seldom biting even when frightened. After a two-week acclimation period, you can start to gently handle your gecko. A content gecko will happily explore your hands and body. Remember, never grasp a gecko by its tail, as it's prone to injury. Regular interaction not only strengthens your bond with the gecko but also helps in monitoring their health and well-being.

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5

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

Leopard geckos self-groom by shedding their skin every 4 to 8 weeks. You'll know shedding is imminent when their skin turns pale or gray. To facilitate this process, mist the tank several times daily to increase humidity, which helps soften the skin and prevent injuries. Shedding is usually complete in a day or two, and it's important to remove shed skin from the enclosure promptly. Assisting in this natural process is crucial, as retained shed can lead to health issues, particularly around the toes and tail.

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6

Look out for health problems

A healthy leopard gecko. Daniel Castillo / Getty Images

Leopard geckos are robust, making them ideal for first-time owners. Nonetheless, they can fall ill. Adhering to proper feeding and housing practices is key to their health. Be vigilant for signs of illness such as lethargy, weight loss, discoloration, loose stools, a slack jaw, or a swollen abdomen, and seek veterinary care if needed. Regular health checks and prompt attention to any changes in behavior or appearance can prevent many common health issues.

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7

Keep your gecko active

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

While geckos don't require walks, they do need stimulation. Enrich their environment with items like hides and treat balls, which are available in pet stores or can be homemade. For instance, a toilet roll tube with waxworms inside can provide hours of engagement. This enrichment mimics their natural foraging behavior and keeps them mentally and physically stimulated, which is essential for their overall well-being.

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8

Keep the tank clean

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

A clean habitat is essential for your gecko's well-being. Refresh their water daily and promptly remove waste. Regularly replace the substrate and clean their food and water dishes. Regular maintenance is crucial, but also remember to thoroughly clean the entire tank every couple of months. A hygienic environment prevents the spread of diseases and parasites, ensuring a healthy life for your gecko.

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9

Don't bring other pets into the mix

Two leopard geckos. ApuuliWorld / Getty Images

Despite their coexistence with other species in the wild, leopard geckos should not be housed with different reptiles, as this can cause stress and aggression. They should only live with other leopard geckos, and even then, avoid overcrowding. Also, keep them away from larger pets like cats or dogs to prevent accidental harm. It's important to understand the unique needs and behaviors of leopard geckos to avoid stressful or dangerous interactions with other animals.

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10

Don't worry about the perfect environment

A leopard gecko eating a mealworm. MattiaATH / Getty Images

Leopard geckos are adaptable to various living conditions. If live crickets are a concern, mealworms are an acceptable alternative. Although they prefer quiet, they can adjust to noisier households. Monitor their eating and handling behaviors to ensure they are not stressed. This adaptability makes them suitable for a range of owners, from those living in quiet, controlled environments to busier, more dynamic households.

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11

Choose the right substrate

Lizard in the terrarium Agentur-kroeger / Getty Images

The right substrate is vital for your gecko's habitat. It should be safe, easy to clean, and help maintain proper humidity. Beginners should opt for paper towels or reptile carpets to minimize ingestion risks. More experienced owners might consider reptile-safe sand or bioactive substrates for a naturalistic look. The substrate plays a crucial role in maintaining the tank's cleanliness and the gecko's comfort, so choosing the right type is essential.

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12

Provide a proper lighting setup

lizard in terrarium Roman Choknadiy / Getty Images

While UVB lighting isn't necessary for leopard geckos, a low-wattage LED or fluorescent light can help establish a regular day-night cycle. Use a timer for 12 hours on and 12 hours off to mimic their natural habitat and encourage healthy behavior. This lighting setup helps regulate their biological rhythms, promoting natural behaviors and enhancing their overall health.

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13

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

Learning to interpret your gecko's body language enhances your bond and enables better care. A content gecko appears relaxed with a slightly raised tail. Tail wiggling can indicate excitement, especially during feeding. If threatened, they may arch their back, hiss, or bite. Approach them calmly and respectfully to foster trust. Recognizing these signals can greatly improve your interactions and the quality of care you provide.

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14

Encourage natural hunting behavior

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

Leopard geckos are innate hunters. Offering a variety of live insects like waxworms, silkworms, or small roaches stimulates their hunting instincts and provides dietary enrichment. Remove any uneaten insects after feeding to maintain a clean environment. This practice not only satisfies their natural predation instincts but also ensures a varied and nutritionally balanced diet, contributing to their overall health and vitality.

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