Leopard geckos are one of the easiest lizards to keep, making them ideal pets for anybody new to reptile care. Popular for their beautiful mottled skin and docile nature, they don’t need as much space as many other lizards and can live for 20 years or more.
Leopard geckos as pets
Leopard geckos are considered one of the easiest lizards to keep and make great pets for older children and adults. Essentially, they live on the ground and although they can climb, their ability is limited. Being nocturnal, they become most active when the vivarium lights are turned of f in the evening. Smaller geckos can be delicate, so younger children must be super vised when handling them. However, once they get to know you they are easy to handle. Leopard geckos can live for about 20 years or more. They do not need a great deal of space, and their needs can be met ver y easily in any modern home. If cared for properly, they can grow between 20 to 25cm.
Do I like company?
Leopard geckos do not have the same needs for company as mammals, and will be happy living on their own. It is usually difficult to sex them when they are small. Adult males will fight and will need to be separated, whereas females will live happily together with or without a single male. A male with one or two females will form a natural social group if they have enough space, although breeding is almost inevitable. Leopard geckos lay eggs which need to be incubated at the correct temperature and when hatched these need to be raised away from their parents for several weeks before they are allowed to go to new homes. It is important to note that it is often very difficult to find homes for babies.
Creating a home for your leopard gecko
Where do I like to live?
Leopard geckos originally came from hot dry areas in India. They hide underground for the hottest part of the day and become active at night. Like most reptiles they are normally housed in an enclosed cage with glass doors called a vivarium. This needs to be monitored carefully to ensure that the environment is correct and has plenty of hiding places so the gecko can rest whilst the vivarium light is on.
Being nocturnal means they are not felt to need the same special lighting requirements as many desert reptiles. Some keepers feel that low levels of UV lighting is beneficial during the day to create a natural day and night regime. Heat however, is very important and can be provided by a heat rock or heat mat. It is very impor tant that if a mat is used, this covers less than 50% of the total floor area. Your geckos can then choose an area in their enclosure that they feel most comfor table in, and do not over heat. There should be areas in the vivarium where the temperature is about 30ºC, with cooler areas that can fall to about 20ºC at night.
Lighting from above is desirable but not essential. An ideal set up will have light creating a distinct day and night regime. At night a blue or red ‘night light’ can allow you to watch your geckos as they investigate their environment and look for food. This can be provided by incandescent lighting or using LED lights that are available for aquariums.
A Leopard gecko vivarium be made to look very attractive and has a place in any room. A substrate of sand can be used on the base for adults with stones, rocks and other décor to provide an interesting habitat. As baby gecko’s can sometimes eat sand by mistake, an artificial substrate like reptile carpet is recommended; many keepers prefer this as a more hygienic option for adults as well. Artificial ornaments and plants are also easier to clean than natural ones so less likely to harbour bugs. There should also be areas of shelter where the lizards can hide and feel secure. There should also be at least one hiding place for each gecko, ideally more, and these should be available in both the warm and cooler areas of the vivarium. Without access to hiding places, your pets will feel much more nervous.
Feeding your leopard gecko
What do I like to eat?
Leopard geckos are easy to feed, as they only eat insects. Try to avoid feeding the same insects all the time, and vary their diet between crickets, small locusts, waxworms and mealworms and waxworms should be fed in moderation.
The insects that you feed your gecko should also be in good condition and fed well in advance of being given to your geckos. There are several foods available for insects that ensure they are nutritious and ‘gut loaded’. At least once a week, dust the insects with a good quality vitamin supplement. Feed in the evening when your gecko will be more active, with mealworms fed in a dish to stop them escaping. Providing a small dish of calcium powder can be beneficial to a gecko, as it ensures healthy growth and bone development.
As a guide feed juveniles every other day, whereas adults should be fed every two or three days.
Although they don’t drink water as often as other animals, fresh water should be available at all times in a small bowl. Spraying babies with water is also useful until they learn to visit the water bowl. They will drink the small droplets in just the same way as they would drink morning dew in the wild.
Caring for your leopard gecko
How to handle me
Once leopard geckos get to know their owner, they do not mind being handled. They rarely bite or scratch but they will struggle if they are frightened. They are more at risk from you dropping or hurting them, than you are from them. Gentle, regular handling of juveniles is essential, although baby geckos are delicate so children must always be super vised. Hold your pets around their shoulders gently, but firmly. When they are lifted you should support the weight of their body with your other hand.
Keeping me clean
Leopard geckos do not have an odour if they are looked after properly. Always ensure they have eaten the food they have been given, before providing any more. Get to know your pet’s diet, as giving them more than they can eat can present problems. Food and water dishes should ideally be washed daily.
Their droppings are small and dry and should be removed as soon as you notice them. They do not produce urine, so if their home is spot cleaned regularly, it will not need to be cleaned as often as a small animal home. It is a good idea to empty and disinfect their home regularly, using a reptile-safe disinfectant but under normal circumstances you will only need to do this once a month.
Health & Hygiene
Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water immediately after feeding or handling your leopard gecko. Also wash after contact with any of their equipment. Always supervise children to ensure they do not put the leopard gecko, (or objects that the leopard gecko has been in contact with) near their mouths. Ensure children wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water immediately after handling the pet. Do not kiss your leopard gecko.
Keeping your leopard gecko fit and healthy
Keeping me fit and healthy
As long as they are given the correct food, care, attention and environment, leopard geckos are normally problem free. Providing heat, food and vitamins are the most important aspects of their care if long-term problems are to be avoided.
A healthy leopard gecko will be bright eyed, have a fat tail, strong legs, and will be active in searching for food during the night.
In the past, it has been suggested that reptiles can carry diseases that can infect humans. This is true for all animals including dogs and cats and this is no higher with well cared for reptiles. Personal hygiene is as important for reptiles as it is with all other types of pets. Pet owners should always wash their hands after contact and pet food dishes should be washed separately.
It is natural for all lizards to shed their skin which comes off in small pieces rather than all in one like snakes, it is often eaten so is not normally seen. To help them shed their skin, it sometimes helps for them to have access to a damp area. This can be provided in a hide with damp moss which will help them shed the old skin. This is particularly important if you see skin stuck around eyes or feet.
All vets have a basic understanding of reptiles, but those with a specialist interest are worth seeking out. If your pet shows any signs of being unwell contact your vet as soon as possible.