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How Long Do Leopard Gecko's Live?
Leopard geckos, in captivity, can live as long as 20 years. And it doesn't take a lot of work to reach this full. But they do have certain requirements, which if not met, will cause an early demise.
Correct temperature, humidity, diet, and exercise are key components. Incorrect temperatures, either too hot or too cold, can cause stress, which in turn suppresses the animal’s immune system. Stressed geckos may become anorexic and dehydrated. This leaves the animal open to secondary infections that can be difficult to treat effectively, making a low maintenance pet very high maintenance, at least for several weeks.
Let’s look at the some of the ailments that can be seen on a stressed leo if the habitat parameters and diet aren’t properly maintained:
Heat & Temperatures
Proper heating may be one of the most critical elements for perfect health. A tank which gets above 93 degrees F throughout will cause heat stress. One that is consistently below 80 degrees F will cause chilling. Both of these scenarios will cause your leopard gecko to lose its appetite.
A chilled reptile will experience a need to shut down body functioning for survival, and that includes eating and drinking. A depleted and starving gecko reduces its activity level even further, thus creating a vicious cycle. Therefore, a correct temperature regime can prevent this in the first place, making it unnecessary to have to break this cycle in the future by force feeding or stomach tubing of liquids (not a fun task for an animal this small). If the leo seems to be refusing food on a regular basis, a thorough check of the environment’s temps is called for.
Humidity is almost as important temperature. These reptiles are most comfortable at a humidity that is quite comfortable for humans (20% - 40%). If their water bowl is clean, shallow, and full, then humidity can be dismissed as a cause of stress and immune suppression.
However, a humidity level that is too high, upwards 80% constantly, is asking for respiratory infections. Although not a direct effect of environmental stress, the high humidity can turn your pet’s habitat into a petri-dish that propagates pathogens normally found in tropical regions and not the desert climate that leopard geckos evolved in. Your pet will not have natural resistance to these germs, so they may become infected.
Daily fluctuations in humidity are not a problem, so keepers in humid climates don’t need to be too concerned, but they should not mist the enclosure, and should supply artificial plants for hides and not real ones that need to be watered regularly.
Let's Imagine This Scenario...
Let’s assume that the environmental parameters inside your pet's enclosures are ideal, and that the set up has a toasty area that never gets above 92 and the cooler side that never gets below 80. Humidity fluctuates daily between 10% and 55%, which is perfectly fine.
But you suddenly realize that your male leo hasn’t eaten for a whole week. In fact, on close inspection, his tail seems thinner than it did last week. You recall that you had your new female in with him for breeding purposes last month. Now she is in her own habitat and hopefully getting ready to lay. You check her enclosure and all of the environmental parameters are ideal, but she too is looking thin and you realize she is also not eating like she should be. Could these events be connected?
Several days later and your geckos are still not eating well, you go on the internet to try and get a clue. You notice an ailment referred to as stick-tail. You examine your pets again and you see that their tails are even thinner indicating consumption fat storage. Ah-ha, now you know what’s happening and exactly what to do, right? Not so fast.
It turns out that this is a catchall term for the condition that the geckos are expressing and not a discrete disease. A stick-tailed leo may be suffering from Crypto, the slang term for a protozoal parasite that affects the gastrointestinal system, resulting in inappetence (loss of appetite), diarrhea, and a loss of body condition.
There is specific test for detecting crypto in a fresh fecal stool sample called PCR testing, which is only available at some animal hospitals and may need to be sent off to a lab for diagnosis. If this disease is suspected, the sooner the results come back and treatment can be administered, the better.
OK, you think this is probably what it is. Then low and behold, you find that a Salmonella bacterial infection can cause similar signs of weight loss leading to sick tail. Salmonella is very concerning as it is easily spread to other reptiles and can even affect humans, so proper hand and tank disinfection is critical to prevention and treatment.
There is even a chance that it is impaction from ingestion of substrate or other indigestible materials. You eliminate that as the cause, because your leos are housed on slate tiles topped with small round aquarium cobbles, so that at least can be eliminated. So back to considering disease it is.
How did your male leo come down with any diseases? A bit more reading makes you aware of the fact that you were so anxious to get your new beautiful female in the family way that you put her in with him right after purchase with no quarantine period. You see online that it is highly recommended by all professionals that new acquisitions should be quarantined from your other reptiles for a minimum of 30-60 days. This achieves a number of things:
- time to acclimate itself to its new environment
- reduce stress before engaging in mating behaviors with a strange mate
- manifestation of symptoms of incipient diseases and
- trip to the vet for a checkup before being exposed to any other herps in your home
Too late now, and if crypto turns out to be the cause, specific medications will be needed. These are limited in effectiveness (although there are some promising new drugs which you can read about elsewhere in this blog). Even if ‘cured’ it’s wise to consider these animals to be perpetually contagious. Conscientious breeders with Crypto-positive animals should never breed them or resell them to other keepers.
So you hope very much that the illness turns out to be salmonella. Then you find out about an outbreak of salmonella in humans in 2015 linked to handling of pet geckos, causing their handlers to experience fever, chills, and diarrhea, and you begin to sure hope it isn’t!
You quickly collect stool samples from both animals (while they can still poop) and rush those to the vet, who fortunately has the ability to perform the analysis within 24 hours. The results are mixed. Your beautiful little new female is a carrier of Salmonella. But your vet advises you that it is unlikely to be sole cause of her condition and that she will just need to be handled with gloves for human safety, but not treated for salmonellosis. The vet then asks to see the animal herself in the office. It is there that a radiograph reveals a serious case of sand impaction in the lower gut. Turns out that this was the substrate that she was kept on before purchase. The vet advises that aggressive treatment is needed in order to save her. An enema is performed right then and there as well as fluids under the skin administered to treat her dehydration. Then she is sent home with you with a specially formulated liquid diet for you to administer to her orally by syringe twice daily. In addition to this, you are instructed also soak her in a warm water bath for 15-20 minutes every day to further combat dehydration. Sheeeesh! What a pain, and all because caution wasn’t observed when purchasing her and introducing her to her new mate.
And your male leo? Examination of the animal himself and his stools reveal no problems. Puzzled, you take him home and carefully examine his enclosure. You discover that the undertank heater you had provided for nighttime warmth on one side of his vivarium has burned out and that the bottom of the tank is consistently 65-70 degrees all night long. Poor guy, he’s been cold, and a chilled reptile often copes with this sort of stress by beginning brumation (a type reptile hibernation). You replace his mat that same day, and within two days he seems to be perking up a little. Between being cold and being subjected to a blind date at the same time, your little male was really stressed out. In the wild, these animals are quite solitary, coming together to mate only once a year. Like almost all reptiles, this species is capable of oviductal sperm storage for up to one year. So the frequent dating scene is really not their thing.
A follow up examination of your little female one week later revealed that the sand is moving through. The cleansing routine is recommended for one additional week and then normal feeding can resume, beginning with one dusted waxworm every day for 10 days, and careful observation. And finally, a bit of good news, the radiography showed the shadow of 2 little eggs forming. She is with child! You promise your pets to be better ‘wing-man’ from now on in hopes of encouraging your little gal to live long and prosper and produce up to 100 young in the course of her lifetime.