Dr. Craig has a strong interest in exotic pets, especially reptiles, so we see quite a few different species of them at Best Friends. Leopard geckos are super cute and touted to be a pet suited for beginners. The importance of proper housing and husbandry cannot be stressed enough for most exotics, but especially the geckos. Please do your homework before buying any pet, but especially the exotics as they truly require specific things unique to each species to ensure the best shot at a healthy life.
Leopard geckos can be found at most pet stores and reptile shops. Obtaining one that is captive bred is important, not one that has been imported from another country. (They are native to Iran, Afghanistan, India and Pakistan.) They tend to reach adult size of 7-9″ within a year and have a maximum lifespan of 20 years. Unlike other geckos they have eyelids, but since they don’t have adhesive lamellae they cannot walk up vertical surfaces. With age, the juvenile striped pattern turns into the typical spotted adult pattern.
An aquarium (10 gallon for one gecko is typical though an even larger tank is even better) is the most typical setup for geckos.
They do prefer to have more space horizontally than vertically, so build the habitat out instead of up. A screen top is essential especially if you have other pets or children! The substrate can be sand, newspaper or even artificial grass carpet. Sand is the most natural, but Dr. Craig prefers the artificial carpet as it is easy to clean & can’t be ingested. If you use the carpet, make sure to have an extra piece cut to make changing it really fast & easy – pull one piece out, clean the tank & put in the extra piece – then the “dirty” piece can be cleaned, disinfected, and dried so it’s ready to go for the next cleaning. A hide box is needed for each lizard, and a couple rocks or logs will allow for climbing. Do not house mature males together as they tend to fight and do not put immature females in with adult males.
Temperature & Lighting:
It’s important to provide your gecko with a range of temperatures so that it can select which is most comfortable at the given time. A spotlight can provide daytime light & heat. A thermometer is essential as you will need to ensure that daytime temperatures reach a maximum around 90 degrees while night time temperatures don’t go below the low 70′s. UV lighting is not needed as leopard geckos are a nocturnal species. That being said, many will choose to spend the day hiding in the hide box.
Feeding & Watering:
The leopard gecko is an insectivore. The routine diet will be crickets with an occasional mealworm and/or waxworm. Waxworms are high in fat so they should be fed only as a treat. Crickets seem to stimulate the geckos and offer more nutrition than mealworms, which is why they should be the staple component of the gecko’s diet. An occasional pinkie mouse can be fed, if desired. Juvenile geckos should be fed every day and adults every other day. Only offer your gecko as many crickets as he/she can eat in 15 minutes, after which you should check on your pet to remove what hasn’t been eaten & spot clean the cage. A vitamin D3 & calcium supplement should be fed, as well as a multivitamin. These should be included with every feeding for juveniles & every other feeding for adults. You can add the supplements to a bag & use the “shake and bake” method to coat your crickets, or feed the crickets a high calcium cricket food several hours before feeding the crickets to the gecko. If you have concerns about how much the gecko is eating, separate him into a separate paper towel lined cage so that you can see how much any particular pet is eating (important if you have more than one in an enclosure) and ensure it’s not consuming any substrate (sand). Put the gecko back immediately into its natural environment to minimize stress and ensure adequate heat. A shallow water dish should be available at all times with clean water.
Because a moist environment is important for a proper shed, you may want to moisten the area under the hide box or mist the cage once or twice a week, especially if the gecko is preparing to shed. You can tell when a shed is coming because the gecko’s colors fade and then turn whitish. Typically the gecko will eat the skin that’s been shed, so don’t be alarmed. Shedding occurs as frequently as needed to support growth so younger, more rapidly growing lizards shed more frequently.
Because they are fairly clean animals, spot cleaning can be done a couple times a week with thorough complete cleaning only done every 1-2 months. This thorough cleaning should include dumping the substrate, cleaning the enclosure with a dilute bleach (1 part bleach, 9 parts water) and providing all new substrate.
If you suspect that your gecko isn’t eating well or there is a change in its demeanor or activity level, please don’t wait. The sooner a pet is examined and treatment started (if needed) the better the outcome! And don’t forget to wash your hands every time you handle your pet and/or its aquarium to minimize the likelihood of picking up Salmonella.
www.anapsid.org - A very reputable website with TONS of information on all things reptile.