Here's How To Care For Your Leopard Gecko
Leopard geckos are amazing creatures and popular pets for excellent reasons. They don’t mind frequent, gentle handling and therefore can be a nice reptile for any beginner. They are fairly low maintenance and with proper care, feeding, and cage sanitation, they can live an average of 17 years (and some have lived to be as old as 30!)
Table of Contents
- Leopard Gecko Facts
- How to build a leopard gecko habitat
- How to take care of your leopard gecko’s habitat
- How and when to feed your leopard gecko
Leopard Gecko Facts
Although technically a desert species, they actually inhabit grasslands and rocky shrub-steppe Middle Eastern and Indian ecosystems. The temperatures of their natural habitat in summer can range well over 110 degrees F in the summer. Heat and light are therefore critical to their well being, but they must in the correct proportion.
A steady diet of crickets, supplemented with superworms as an occasional treat (wax worms), will fulfill their dietary needs. And don't forget to give them fresh water daily. And when food, water, temperature, and humidity needs are met, your leopard gecko can dwell happily.
And although caring for a leopard gecko sounds like a golly good time, it requires responsibilities. Such as putting together their habitat, cleaning their habitat, and routine feeding. And here's how you can address each one of those critical steps to ensure the health and safety for your leopard gecko.
How to build a leopard gecko habitat
Leopard geckos are some of the most common household pets in America, and learning how to care for them is a common topic sought on Google and the internet. And when learning how to care for these beloved and curious creatures, the first place to start is building a great habitat.
Here’s a list of your needed supplies:
- 15 gallon reptile tank
- UV/UVB light kit – or- vitamin D3 supplements
- Reptile heating pad
- humidity gauge
- reptile fogger, or sphagnum peat moss
- water dish
Choosing The Leopard Gecko Tank
Leopard geckos are somewhat unusual compared to other geckos. Firstly, they are terrestrial and live on the ground rather than in trees. So, as their new owner, you’ll want to ensure they have plenty of horizontal space. And a 15 gallon fish tank will provide them with plenty of horizontal space. However, if you're looking for some more diversity, here's an article discussing the various reptile tanks available.
They do not climb well, unlike their arboreal cousins, such as the Tokay gecko. This means they won’t climb the glass in their habitat. So when planning and looking for some interior furniture, keep in mind that they won’t be too interested in tree branches.
Even though a leopard gecko doesn’t climb well, it’s still recommended to place a screen above the enclosure. The screen will allow air flow to enter the cage. And it can also prevent intrusive insects and pets from entering.
One recommendation worth mentioning is that new owners should not use mesh cages for Leos. They will not hold heat very well, which is important for cold blooded pets. And not only are they poorly insulated, but they are easy to escape from, which can put your beloved pet in a painful situation if he gets her claw stuck in the mesh.
Proper Lighting for the Leopard Gecko
Once you have acquired the tank for your solitary gecko, your next consideration will be the lighting.
Leopard geckos are mostly nocturnal (they’re actually cathemeral, meaning that they can be active day or night). They strongly prefer nighttime activity, but do need occasional exposure to UV rays in order to produce Vitamin D. So, just like humans, they do need some limited sun, or a substitute.
Many keepers recommend the Arcadia 8 watt MINI UV light Kit 2.4% UVB. This is an extremely low-level source of UVB and is safe for even very shallow tanks. Since Leopard Geckos can suffer from sunburn, it is best to provide a weak UV source and then let them choose how long to bask, rather than forcing them into the sun.
But lighting isn’t the only method to get your gecko vitamin D. Supplements can be provided, in the same way that they are offered calcium supplements. A supplement will need to be provided daily, and the application will depend on how cooperable your pet is. Some breeders have had better luck with an indoor light source for keeping their herps healthy, while others have noticed no big difference between the two. If it was me, I’d get the light.
The Reptile Heater for Your Leopard Gecko
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As for heating, a reptile heading pad will need to be placed beneath the reptile tank to provide a temperature gradient. The heating pad will work best when it covers only 2/3rds of the bottom of their tank. This will create a warm spot, and a cool spot within the container, which will offer some freedom in choosing a slightly cooler area if one end becomes too warm.
Here's a Great Video Discussing Where To Place The Heating Pad
Heat lamps and ceramic light bulbs are other options. However, they can prove problematic when trying to create a temperature gradient. Heat lamps stay on and continue to radiate heat into the enclosure. With this constant exposure of heat, it can sometimes overheat the entire habitat if the room becomes too warm. And too much heat can distress and cause your beloved pet to become sick. Keep in mind that it is still possible to create a temperature gradient with heating lamps and bulbs. But it is much easier with a reptile heating pad.
Maintain Proper Humidity Levels
Although leopard geckos are natural desert inhabitants, they do require some humidity within their habitats. Their ideal humidity range is between 40-60%. These levels can be easily achieved with a reptile fogger. Reptile foggers are basically humidifiers, with a bendable hose. The humidifiers feed the humidity/fog through the hose and into the enclosure.
The only drawback is that they could create too much humidity. And too much humidity can encourage fungal growth, and even cause respiratory problems. So be sure to find a reptile fogger with control settings.
If a reptile fogger asks for too much maintenance, then damp sphagnum moss is just as acceptable. This is easy to implement, but will need frequent monitoring. Because it should be damp, and not soaking wet. So as long as these actions are feasible, then this might be the better course of action.
And if you want to impress your pet, and go the extra mile, then consider picking up a humidity gauge. A small humidity gage will save the guess work, and will let you know the precise humidity measurements. And alot of humidity guages are synchronized with thermometers. So there’s plenty of dual purpose gadgets available that will help you monitor the proper leopard gecko climate.
Selecting Furniture and Water Bowls
There’s plenty of furniture available. The purpose of the furniture is to add some excitement and uniqueness to their habitat. Leopard geckos are conscience animals, and can display enlightened emotions with new additions.
And these furniture selections can encourage exercise, and places to hide. They like to crawl and climb. And specific pieces can help encourage this movement, which creates a stimulating and enjoyable habitat.
One piece of furniture that we do not recommend is a home made water dish. Too often, these home made water dishes are cut from plastic, which create sharp edges that can harm your pet. And if there’s a hazard in your pet’s home, then your leopard gecko will have a tough time acclimating. Which is why we encourage a purchased water dish.
Choosing a Leopard Gecko’s Substrate
Another aspect of Leo management is substrate. And there are a few options to ensure you’re leopard gecko is happy:
- Reptile carpet
- paper towels
- slate tiles
- wood chips
Each one has its drawbacks and advantages.
Reptile Carpet: The reptile carpet is comfortable for your leopard gecko. And it will allow the gradient temperature from the heating pad to travel through the tank base more easily than it would with denser substrates like tile. But the biggest drawback is that it is difficult to clean. Your leopard gecko will take massive shits, leave cricket remains, and shed his skin all over the place. So although reptile carpet is nice, it’s not the easiest to clean.
Newspapers & Paper Towels: Newspapers and paper towels are much easier to clean. Because all you do is throw away the dirty ones, and replace them with new ones. And these 2 are comfortable. However, newspaper and paper towels are more combustible and can create a fire if they get to be too hot. So there’s a definite need to make sure you’re not creating a fire hazard with the heating pad.
Slate Tiles: As far as cleaning goes, slate tiles are the easiest. However, it’s not as comfortable for your leo, and it doesn’t transfer heat as well as a reptile carpet. And slate tile, in general, is more expensive than paper towels, newspaper, or reptile carpet.
Do Not Use Sand For Substrate
We’ve seen sand being recommended around the internet. But we would like to strongly discourage any type of sand being used. Sand can cause impaction in your Leo’s gut. Impaction is when an animal can’t digest its food, causing the a blockage in the animal’s digestive track. Bearded dragon’s are prone to this as well. And since leopard geckos love eating roaming insects, it’s certain a leopard gecko will get a moth full of sand every now and again when lunging for his prey. So don’t be lazy, and avoid using sand for your leopard gecko’s habitat.
Leopard Gecko Habitat Care
- clean water, dampen the moist sphagnum moss, and clean up feces
- sanitize their hiding area
- relocate the leo to a sick bay, and place the furniture in the dishwasher, and bleach the inside of the reptile tank
You now have a happy leopard gecko, living gracefully in the customized enclosure. But it doesn’t end there. There’s going to be insect body parts, feces and urine, skin flakes, and every other type of remnant from a living creature. And as a caring parent, it’s critical to take husbandry seriously, or else your beloved pet could fall victim to some harmful, or even fatal, illnesses.
Sanitation cannot be over stressed. A dirty habitat is not only smelly but may cause immunosuppression and thereby increase susceptibility to infectious diseases and parasites.
Water dishes, moist hides, and substrate all need to be sterilized regularly. Some daily care is definitely required, such as clean water, food, and removal of feces and unused food items. Monthly sanitation is where your sick bay will come in handy.
First, let’s look at the daily chores...
The daily chores as less taxing, and don’t require you to fully clear out the enclosure. But as the owner, you’ll want to ensure that the water dish is fresh. Even though there might be water in the dish, they’ll need fresh water. This will also help remove those insect body parts that may be dangling from their mouths as they drink.
Another important daily step is to clean up their feces and urine. This refers back to the substrate selection. But if the enclosure is built with tiles, then cleaning the feces will be pretty easy. If using newspaper, paper towels, or even reptile carpet, it’s going to be a bit more challenging. But the challenge shouldn’t discourage you from cleaning their room. Because nothing can live in its own waste.
And one last step for the daily maintenance depends on how you’re supplying humidity. If you’re using a damp sponge or sphagnum moss, then you’ll want to make sure this is damp. But not soaking wet. Humidity promotes good skin shedding. And if it’s too dry, then that can cause some health problems.
Monthly cleanings are important for the sanitation of the enclosure. This will require you to completely remove all the furniture and substrates. But before we do any of that, you’ll need a temporary home for your leopard gecko.
The first tip in reptile keeping is to have a sick bay ready. A sick bay is a temporary home that you’ll place your leopard gecko into while you clean his tank. It doesn’t have to be marvelous, or an exact replica of their enclosure. Instead, a simple Tupperware tub with a piece of furniture and an easy to clean substrate is enough for 2 hour use while cleaning.
If your gecko needs long term isolation due to illness or injury and you have other Leos in the main dwelling, you may want your sick bay to be a little more complete, with a water dish included. But for routine maintenance, place your friend carefully in sick bay. Be cautious when picking him up, and only carry him by the mid-section. Picking them up by their tail can harm them. being careful to pick him/her up by the mid-section, and never the tail.
A moist area is an essential part of your Leo’s habitat. This important little compartment is kept at a higher humidity than the rest of the habitat. And the purpose of this is to aid in proper skin shedding.
Most experienced keepers place damp sphagnum moss inside a commercially available hide (if you make your own from a plastic tub be SURE to sand the edges of the entrance hole to prevent cuts in the geckos skin.) The higher humidity in this area encourages healthy shedding. If the skin becomes too dry, it could stick to the gecko, causing health problems.
For instance, a very common problem is old skin left on the feet, which can shrink and restrict the blood flow to the toes, causing the lizard (especially juveniles) to develop shortened or completely missing toes. In the same manner, drying skin around the eyes that is not properly shed can result in eye damage. Shrinking and tightening skin around the base of the tail can also result in the tail falling off.
When their tail falls off, it’s considered a natural escape mechanism from predators. The result is a raw stump at the fracture line. This stump can’t be ignored, however, and needs to be kept clean so that it can grow back safely without any complications from infection. The tail will seal itself within days of loss, and jump into action after separation has occurred. No interference with this process is necessary, but excellent sanitation is.
If tail drop occurs, place your Leo in sick bay and sterilize everything. Remove the substrate, water dish, climbing rocks, furniture and even the sphagnum moss. Then either soak in a solution of bleach for 30 minutes or throw it all in a dishwasher and hit the pot scrubber cycle. Even the moss can go in if contained in a mesh bag. The National Sanitation Foundation offers a list of dishwashers that they can certify as capable of providing the sterilization needed.
While the furniture is washing, do the house itself. Spray the sides and bottom (paying special attention to corners), with a bleach solution recommended for hospital use. Do not use scented bleach of any kind.
Let the habitat sit for 30 minutes, wipe it down, and let it dry for another hour. Then put your habitat back together, with your newly sterilized furniture and place your Leo back inside. Leave him or her undisturbed for 48 hours (no handling) because he/she will be feeling a bit low. The tail contains energy reserves needed for fueling a flight response under circumstances where your Leo really needs to hoof it and the tail has stayed attached. When the tail does come off, it’s as if the booster rockets where jettisoned, so let your little friend rest and recover in their newly sanitized digs.
The tail actually comprises nearly 10% of the gecko’s body fat, according to South African gecko researchers Patricia Fleming and others. Dr. Fleming and her colleagues stated that tails seem to be packed with fats specifically dedicated as “fuel for running”. So tail drop will be experienced as a crash diet for a while, and those never make us feel on top of the world.
While critical to proper shedding, it can also be a little bit of a sanitation problem. The moss should be lightly moistened daily, but should never be soaking wet. Overly saturated moss can become a problem in its own right by growing fungi which can affect a gecko’s skin and lungs. Again, removing the hide and its contents and sanitizing weekly in the dishwasher or sink will prevent fungal infections, as will managing the water content of the moss itself.
So to recap, food/water/misting of moss, and feces removal daily, sanitation of hide weekly, and the a full cleaning monthly, or if their tail falls off. These measures will help keep your Leo happy and healthy for the many years of their life with you.
Leopard Gecko Feeding Schedule
Leopard geckos are insectivores, and will need to be offered a steady staple of living insects. Just like bearded dragons, they will not eat dead insects, and should not be offered dead insects. Dead insects can promote bacteria growth within their environment. But they will eat crickets, mealworms, superworms, dubia roaches, and a variety of other insects.
Their feeding schedule can vary depending on their age and health. A young and growing gecko should be fed with 4 to 8 insects every day. While adult geckos can be fed on alternate days with a range of 5 – 10 insects.
It’s also important that you don’t overfeed your gecko. Some can regulate their own diets, and stop eating when they’re full. However, some are gluttons, and can’t stop eating when there’s more food in front of them. So depending on their personality, it’s important to keep an eye on how much you offer them.
Since leopard geckos can be lazy during the day, it’s best to feed them late in the evening, or before bed time. They are nocturnal, and will more active to eat them closer to night time.
Crickets are a good source of food. Crickets are a nice, lean source of protein, and can stimulate your leopard gecko with an exciting hunt. However they do have some drawbacks. Firstly, don’t offer your pet more crickets than they can eat. The problem with crickets is that they will eat anything, and can bite your pet. So make sure you’re only offering them enough crickets that they can eat in a day.
Mealworms are less harmful than crickets, but less nutritional and stimulating. They are also easier to handle for the owner.
Wax worms should be considered when it’s time to plump up your leopard gecko. They are high in fat, and low in protein, and should only be considered once or twice a week as a treat.
Some leopard gecko owners will say that superworms are a better feeder than crickets. But that all depends on whose you're looking through. The crickets are a lean source of protein, making them healthier. And they encourage a stimulating hunt. However, crickets are more difficult for the owner. While superworms are much easier for the owner. But they are a fatty source of food, and are generally eaten from a dish. So a healthy mix will offer the best experience for your leopard gecko.
Leopard geckos are wonderful pets, and are some of the most popular and well taken care of family members in America. And although they do require routine maintenance, their unique personality and nocturnal behavior can solicit wholesome entertainment for everyone.
Although leopard geckos require work, they also prove to be a unique member of the family.