We love our leopard geckos for everything that they are, and try to provide everything we can. But sometimes that's not enough. And dreadful diseases can encroach on their habitats. Here's a list of common leopard gecko diseases, and what you can do to prevent them.
We've put together a comprehensive care guide to ensure the health and happiness of your leopard gecko. It discusses how to maintain a clean and healthy reptile tank for your beloved pet. This includes common cleanings, monitored humidity with reptile foggers, and a plethora of other techniques. But sometimes our best efforts are not enough, and common gecko ailments can be caused by poor husbandry that stem from viral, bacterial and fungal problems.
And although this is a comprehensive list, this is not an exhaustive list of potential problems. Always pay close attention to your pet's behavior. And if anything seems off, then consider calling the closest leopard gecko veterinarian near you to schedule an examination.
According to Dr. Thomas Boyer and colleagues at the Zoo/Exotic Pathology Service in Sacramento, California (2013), health issues can include the following:
- hepatic lipidosis
- hypovitaminosis A (including ocular problems, subcutaneous abscesses, and hemipenal casts)
- nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism
- phalangeal dysecydsis
- tail autotomy
- intestinal impactions
It is not the purpose of this blog to explore every possible ailment that a Leo might suffer from. Instead, this is just to give the reader a sense of what’s at stake when not adhering to a regular and thorough house cleaning, (daily, weekly, and monthly), for your fascinating and beloved Leos.
Tackling Leopard Gecko Viruses
We will start this discussion with the smallest and most troublesome, viruses. Atadenovirus (ADV) is a highly contagious viral disease to which Leopard geckos are somewhat susceptible. Many reptile fanciers call ADV "wasting disease" or "star gazing disease" due to the obvious symptoms. Although animals other than reptiles are victims of this illness, it is not the same wasting disease as that which infects deer and elk.
Fortunately, this disease is not extremely common in leopard geckos, and is found much more commonly in bearded dragons. However, Leos can get it, especially if housed with Beardies who are ADV positive. Transmission is through exposure to contaminated feces, so once again, the clean habitat advice is trotted out for your enjoyment.
Unfortunately, when infected, the symptoms can be sub-clinical and non-specific. A general failure to thrive, particularly in juveniles, is often the first and only sign of infection. Leos with ADV have a compromised immune system, making them prone to secondary infections such as coccidiosis, which tends to add insult to injury. Treating for the coccidiosis is warranted, but if the root cause of wasting is ADV, then the Leo will still not thrive.
Sometimes symptoms are more pronounced, making it easier to identify, yes, but this also means that the disease is more advanced. Neurological symptoms are the most noticeable, and your gecko may be seen arching his/her neck upward frequently, the symptom known as ‘star gazing’.
When star gazing is observed, the Leo is almost certainly experiencing some or all of the following:
- Meningitis/encephalitis (the cause of star-gazing)
- Enteritis (gut trouble that leads to wasting)
- Hepatitis (can lead to liver failure)
- Nephritis (can lead to kidney failure)
- Bone marrow suppression (will lead to immunosuppression)
Some bearded dragons can be completely asymptomatic and are therefore lifelong carriers, sort of the Typhoid Marys of ADV. The prudent course of action, if introducing Beardies to Leos, or visa versa, is to have already presented a cloacal swab or fecal sample to your friendly local reptile vet for analysis. If they have a clean bill of health, then you should be good to go. As always, before combining new individuals/species together in your carefully designed habitat, the full cleaning recommended in the earlier blogs is a must. Please note, that as is true for all viruses, they are a lot tougher to destroy than to prevent. This viral disease is typical in that there is no cure for this sickness. Palliative care may be an option for you if you are willing to invest the time, otherwise euthanasia is often the final result of a bad ADV infection.
Keep Your Leopard Gecko Habitat Clear from These Bacterial Infections
The next largest microscopic critter on the illness hit parade is, of course, bacteria. While geckos are not extremely susceptible to very many viruses, a common bacterial infection known as mouth rot, or bacterial stomatitis, is quite common and if left untreated, can become very serious.
Dirty living conditions and inappropriately low temperatures can facilitate this disorder, as can a mouth cut or abrasion. So if you're a new owner, be sure to follow these critical steps to ensuring your leopard gecko's habitat is clean and sanitary.
If your Leo has lost his/her appetite and you can see bleeding gums, black appearing teeth, or cheesy deposits between the teeth, there is a good chance that mouth rot is already well underway. If the underlying problem is bacteria, which it almost always is, it is quite treatable if caught soon enough. If left too long, the bacteria may spread via the blood stream to internal organs, and then the prospects for the Leo are not as cheery.
Also, if the mouth ulcers are too pronounced by the time antibiotics are administered, scar tissue may result that is not only disfiguring for your friend, but discourages eating of hard foods (insects with exoskeletons such as crickets may be off the menu).
As sheepmen like to say, ‘the shepherd’s eye is the best medicine’. A clean habitat and a daily examination of your pet, even if it’s just to really observe him/her for 5-10 minutes, can be the most efficient way to head off mouth rot before its gets a foothold (or a tooth hold!). In general, with Leo’s it’s best to head off any bacterial infection early, as they are particularly prone to systemic blood contamination of bacteria, via a sore, a cut, or dirty conditions while shedding.
Fungal Infections Can Cause Harm For Our Beloved Pets
A skin fungus common to Beardies with an incredibly long name shortened to the acronym CANV can also be transmitted to Leos. Stress and overcrowding have been shown to result in outbreaks of this ‘yellow fungus’ among breeding colonies of Leos.
There are other fungal infectious agents that can result in dermatitis as well. Collectively, any fungal infection usually begins on the skin and is referred to as ‘mycosis’. Poor sanitation, stress, and other illnesses can make it difficult for your Leo to fight off incursions into subcutaneous (below the skin) tissues.
If the hyphae of the fungal body are able to penetrate very deeply into the subcutaneous tissue, the gecko’s immune response may attempt to wall of the invading tendrils in cysts called granulomatas. These cysts can be effective in halting further spread of the illness, but can also repel antifungal agents introduced. Give the medication anyway, but do not assume that all will be well. Some fungal infections are self-limiting, some are not, some individual animals can fight the infection effectively, while others can’t. With fungal infections, as with the other ailments discussed, early detection and treatment is best, and is usually quite effective if caught before granulomatas are formed.
The moral of all of these stories is that good husbandry, like the shepherd’s eye, is the best medicine. Thorough sanitation of all surfaces and careful selection and introduction of new reptile family members can save a great deal of time, expense, and heartache down the line.