Leopard Gecko Care Sheet
Leopard geckos can be housed in a vivarium, aquarium or terrarium. Leopard geckos are terrestrial so will required a long enclosure as opposed to a tall one, providing more floor space to walk around in. Being a somewhat active species, leopard geckos appreciate a larger enclosure, allowing them space to sufficiently move, explore and exercise. A 2.5ft (approx. 30inch) vivarium or a 20 gallon long aquarium (30”x12”x12” - LxWxH) or medium/short terrarium (24”x18”x12”) should be adequate for an adult leopard gecko. A screen top for the aquarium should also be purchased. Ideally you’ll want a height of at least 18” if using a heat lamp.
The larger the enclosure you can provide, the better, as more space provides greater opportunities for the animal, a larger enclosure is especially important when housing multiple leopard geckos together (this refers to female only groupings or one male per social grouping – males should not be housed together). It should be noted that if you are housing multiple animals together you may need to invest in a second smaller enclosure just incase separation is required (due to in-fighting, injury or requiring quarantining for other reasons, over pestering for breeding, over bullying. disease, etc). This secondary enclosure can be a simple RUB, inexpensive but useful. Leopard geckos are naturally solitary so a large enclosure when housing animals in groups is particularly important, allowing the animals room to sufficiently leave each others company and prevent in-fighting. When housed together, animals should also be approximately the same size, and males should only be housed with a female when she is fully mature to prevent attempted breedings by the male when the female is not yet an adequate size or weight (50g minimum).
HIDES AND FURNISHINGS
The geckos set-up can mimic that of a desert, with the incorporation of rocks, caves, logs and faux plants, allowing the gecko opportunities to hide, explore, climb and exercise. Anything introduced into the enclosure from outside, such as rocks or branches will need to be thoroughly disinfected before being introduced into the geckos’ enclosure. Reptile hammocks or ledges can also be placed within the enclosure to encourage exercise and make better use of the enclosures space for enrichment.
Providing multiple hides is especially important when housing multiple animals, allowing them the ability to escape each-others company while still seeking out the security of a hide. Hides don’t necessarily need to be shop bought, you can make your own from old plant pots, coconut shells or plastic tubs. Be sure that any hides you make are safe and easily cleaned or replaced. Live plants may also be added but caution should be taken, as some plants may be harmful to the gecko and unsuitable for purpose.
Hides are a necessity for the animals’ psychological security and should be placed strategically within the enclosure (at least one on the warm side of the enclosure and one on the cool side), although more hides may be provided if there is space. This placement allows the gecko to regulate its body temperature while still remaining hidden and secure. It is important to provide a moist hide for the leopard gecko, this replicates humid micro-climates found in crevices in their wild habitat. A moist hide is particularly important when the gecko is due to shed to help soften and remove the old skin.
Leopard Geckos are naturally inquisitive animals and like to explore new surroundings. Altering the layout of your enclosure every now and again can be enriching for the gecko and encourages those natural, explorative behaviours.
HEATING AND LIGHTING
Leopard Geckos, like all other reptiles, use their environment to maintain their body temperature, because of this it is important to establish an appropriate temperature gradient which will allow the animal to warm up or cool down when necessary.
An under-tank heater is most suited to their thermoregulatory behaviour; thigmothermy (heat gain from conductance). An appropriately sized heat mat must be selected, it should cover approximately 1/3 the length of the enclosure and must be controlled by a thermostat and monitored using a digital thermometer with the heat sensing probe positioned fairly close to the heat mat. The mat must be placed towards one end of the enclosure to create a thermal gradient.
An infrared thermometer laser can also be useful for quick checks of various points in the enclosure to assess the temperature gradient, and decide if adjustments are required. Ideally you'll want to conduct these checks every 2 weeks. The gradient required for leopard geckos is 25-30ºC (77-86ºF) (cool end to warm end respectively), with an optional basking spot of around 32ºC (90ºF).
A thermometer is necessary for checking that the temperatures are safe and correct. Dial-type thermometers are not recommended as they often yield an inaccurate reading and registers the temperature of the air rather than of the basking spot. A digital thermometer is preferred as the probe can specifically determine surface temperature, allowing you to make corrections to the basking area. A thermostat will keep the temperature constant and allow you make easy adjustments.
Heat lamps may also be used for leopard geckos (but are not essential). Unlike UTH’s, heat lamps will also warm the ambient air temperature, this is particularly useful if the ambient temperature in the room is too cold. These lights will simulate the sun by providing heat form overhead and simulating daylight. Lamps should be switched off during the night, preferably to coincide with natural sunlight, so a day/night light cycle can be established. The wattage of the bulb is dependent on the size of the enclosure. If a lamp is placed inside the enclosure it must have a guard positioned over it to prevent the gecko from coming into contact with the hot bulb. A dimming thermostat can be used to control the heat bulb or a pulse thermostat with a ceramic bulb. A pulse thermostat should not be used for non-ceramic heating lights as this thermostat will likely blow the bulbs.
Leopard Geckos are not considered to have any special lighting requirements as they are not a diurnal species. However, there are studies which demonstrates the leopard geckos' high sensitivity to UV light, meaning that in the wild they would take advantage of any exposure to ultraviolet rays, regardless of how brief or limited the exposure. Although leopard geckos are not diurnal, it should be considered that many crepuscular and nocturnal species do emerge during daylight hours, albeit for very brief periods, and even while sheltered in rock crevices they would still be exposed to low levels of UV-B from what light is bounced into their hiding place. Therefore in the wild, there is almost always opportunity for a gecko to receive UV-B, meaning it may be beneficial to provide low levels of exposure within captive environments. The exact requirements have not been determined.
The geckos’ water bowl should be positioned on the cool side of the enclosure to reduce the risk of bacterial growth within its water supply.
There are various different substrates available, including sand, wood chips (sani-chips), pebbles, etc, but it is not recommended to use loose substrate as they pose the serious risk of impaction if ingested. This is particularly true for young geckos under 6 inches long as their smaller digestive systems are more easily blocked by loose substrates. Impaction can be painful and deadly so it is recommended to use the safer choices of paper towel, ceramic tile, slate, reptile carpet, astroturf, linoleum or other floor tiles. These choices tend to not only be safer, but also easier to clean, easier to identify the presence of parasites and generally cheaper. Reusable substrates such as carpeting or astroturf must be left to dry thoroughly after washing before being used again. Two pieces on hand can be rotated between cleans.
Gecko enclosures require routine spot-cleans to remove waste as soon as possible. Paper towel can be used to remove the waste matter, or if using paper towel or newspaper as a substrate, this can be replaced completely. Any furnishings which may have been dirtied must be cleaned too. A full clean and disinfect can be carried out every month to prevent the growth of any mold or bacteria. During the full clean-out all the furnishings and hides must be disinfected too, along with the enclosure itself. Reptile friendly disinfectants are available, including F10 disinfectant. Alternatively, warm water and soap can be used but would not be as an effective cleaner against bacteria and other germs as dedicated disinfectants. Make sure that everything is dry before being replaced inside the enclosure again to prevent bacteria or mould growth. Leopard geckos are fairly clean animals and will usually 'do their business' in one particular area of the enclosure, making it easier for the keeper to spot check and clean.
Leopard geckos are insectivorous, therefore they feed on a variety of different insects including; locusts, mealworms, crickets, cockroaches, phoenix worms, horn worms, silk worms and butter worms (crickets, locusts and mealworms being the most common primary feeders). In the wild adult leopard geckos may also feed on small mammals, lizards and birds eggs so the occasional pinky mouse as a treat may be offered (although this food item is much more beneficial to reproductive females). Wax worms may also be fed to adults but only as a treat as they are very high in fat and are notoriously addictive. Some keepers may feed their gecko on exclusively one species of insect, although a varied diet would be much more beneficial to the gecko, not only to make meal times more stimulating but to also increase nutritional gain as different insects have different nutritional values. As a rule of thumb it is advised that the size of the insect should be no longer that the length, and less than half the width of the geckos head, this is because feeding insects too large for the gecko can cause impaction.
To further increase the nutritional value of the feeders, insects should be gut-loaded 24-48 hours before being offered to the gecko. Gut-loading also extends the life of the feeders. To gut-load an insect you can feed it various food items including carrot, apple, dark leafy greens (e.g. spring/collard greens, mustard greens, kale), squash, bran, oats and various other foods. A general list of foods suitable for gut-loading can be seen here. Commercial gut-loading products are also available, but remember that what goes into the insects is ultimately fed to the gecko.
Not only is gut-loading used for nutritional enrichment, correct supplementation is also very important. There are multivitamin mixes available designed specifically to meet the nutritional requirements of leopard geckos, as well as calcium supplements. A reptile's calcium to phosphorus intake ratio is often quoted to be 2:1 respectively, these two minerals work together in the body to maintain strong bones as well as having other important functions. Unfortunately insects are naturally deficient in calcium, necessitating the need to provide the gecko with an alternative source of this important mineral.
I would recommend pure calcium carbonate to always be accessible from a small dish in the enclosure and to use either calcium with D3 for dusting the insects every other week or liquid D3 to occasionally be added to the drinking water as this vitamin can be overdosed more easily than calcium. Insects will require dusting with the multivitamin powder and pure calcium at least every other feed. Do be aware that it is possible to over-supplement, which can be just as dangerous as a deficiency, which is why dusting every meal is not necessary. Juvenile geckos may be fed daily as they require more nutrients for growth, while adult geckos can be fed every 2-3 days. Several insects can be fed per feeding (or as much as they can eat in a 15 minute feeding session). To dust the insects you can place a small amount of powder in a plastic bag with the insects, then shake the bag until the insects are coated in the powder.
The best time to feed your pet is around dusk when the gecko will be most active. Do not leave live food in with your reptile unattended - insects have been observed biting and feeding off of the reptile and have also been documented perching on the preorbital area and ‘drinking’ fluid from the reptiles eye causing conjunctival or corneal irritation. Loose insects may also ingest the geckos faeces and any infections it may harbour (bacterial, fungal or parasitic) which the gecko may ingest in turn. Once the gecko has had its fill, or after 15-20 minutes, remove any remaining insects from the enclosure. Alternatively you can feed the gecko with plastic feeding tongs to more easily keep track of what your gecko eats. Mealworms can be placed inside a mealworm dish and left in the enclosure for the gecko to eat from. A piece of carrot may also be left in the dish to sustain the mealworms.
A bowl of fresh water must always be available at all times. If left too long the water can stagnate and encourage bacterial growth. Geckos like to drink regularly, increasing the importance of providing fresh water routinely. Furthermore, the dish will need to be properly disinfected at least once a week. It is good practice to provide hatchlings and young geckos with bottled water, as tap water contains elements that may cause gastric issues with young animals. The water must be placed on the cool end of the enclosure away from the heat source. Insects may get stuck inside the geckos water dish and drown, the gecko may also foul inside the dish, contaminating the water. In this case the water will need changing immediately and the dish properly cleaned.
Leopard Geckos are known to be generally docile and easy to handle although the geckos previous handling experience, individual personality and how well the keeper-reptile bond has been developed can mean a difference in how well the gecko will take to handling. The gecko must always be handled with care, especially nervous individuals. Allow the gecko to sit on the palm of your hand and walk from one hand to the other. Try to avoid grasping or restraining the gecko, especially avoid grabbing the tail as this may cause the gecko to instinctively detach its tail from its body.
New geckos are more likely to be nervous, especially when they are not yet settled into their new home. Time should be given for the gecko to settle-in (a few weeks if required) before the gecko can be comfortably handled regularly.
It is advisable to wash your hands both before and after handling your leopard gecko.
Like all reptiles, Leopard Geckos are required to shed their skin as they grow while the old skin becomes tight and worn, a process also known as sloughing. Young geckos will shed much more frequently than their older counterparts as older geckos do not go through growth spurts like hatchlings and juveniles do. Leopard geckos may shed their skin every 3 to 6 weeks depending on their age, and will eat the old skin. They do this to extract any nutrients they can, and as an instinctive anti-predatory measure, so not to make predators aware of their location.
You can identify when a Leopard Gecko is due to shed by its dulled milky colouring as a result of the old skin separating from the new skin underneath. Usually geckos don't need any help with shedding, so long as proper husbandry practices are followed. Shedding issues are commonly caused by not providing the gecko with a humid hide. The ambient air is usually relatively dry in a leopard gecko set-up meaning a humid hide is essential to allow the gecko to access a humid environment to make the shedding process easier. The humid hide can be as simple as a small plastic container with a hole cut in the side or in the top or store bought reptile cave. Peat moss, cypress mulch, sphagnum moss or simply damp paper towel can be used as the bedding in the humid hide. The substrate should be moist but not soaking wet.
If the gecko fails to fully shed, the old skin must be removed manually. You may do this by using a damp cotton bud to gently rub the remaining skin off or bathing the gecko in a shallow bath of luke-warm water for 5-10 minutes. Retained shed may damage the underlying healthy skin by trapping and encouraging the growth of bacteria or may pinch at toes or the tail tip, cutting off circulation and causing death to the aforementioned areas, resulting in these body parts to drop-off.