What should you know about leopard gecko husbandry before adopting or buying one?
We know it’s best to do your homework before taking on a reptile pet.
You want any animal in your care to have the best chance at a full and healthy life.
You may still have some questions about their enclosure, diet, heating, lighting, and potential health issues, which you want to be answered fully before committing.
What Is Good Leopard Gecko Husbandry?
With their relatively easy care and husbandry requirements, leopard geckoes are highly recommended for beginning reptile keepers. They also have the benefit of being friendly and tolerating handling very well.
In the wild, leopard geckoes live in arid and semiarid environments through Iran, Iraq, India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
They do normally stick to warmer habitats.
Common morphs have yellowish to tan skin with black spots, inspiring their name.
However, breeders have produced a wide array of color and pattern morphs in captive-bred leopard geckos.
The upfront cost of an individual will depend on what color morph you select.
These lizards are more of a commitment, as their life expectancy stretches to over 20 years with good husbandry and care.
They also tend to be more active in darker periods of the day, either falling into nocturnal or crepuscular categories.
They tend to be more vocal and produce more sounds than most lizards or reptilian pets.
Unlike arboreal gecko pets, leopard geckos are terrestrial and do not have adhesive toe pads for tree climbing.
Floor space is more important in a leopard gecko enclosure.
Make sure a vivarium has a minimum of 200″ square inches (508 sq. cm) of floor space per leopard gecko.
However, you may still want to keep it small as a larger tank size may interfere with getting the right ambient temperature.
We generally recommend against cohabitating leopard geckos even with a large-size tank.
Most popular husbandry will claim leopard geckos may be housed together as long as you don’t have multiple males in the same enclosure.
However, the likelihood of infighting, injury, aggression, and even death is significantly increased in leopard gecko groups.
Leopard geckos are generally solitary lizards and are likely to get territorial.
Your enclosure will need at least three hides.
One, between the hot and cool sides, should be a humid or moist hide.
A substrate of frequently-misted sphagnum moss underneath the hide should help in keeping it humid.
Put another cool hide on the cool side of the tank.
You should include a hot hide on the hot side of the enclosure near the basking spot.
These hides will help in skin shedding and allow your leopard gecko to thermoregulate.
Substrates for reptile vivariums come in two varieties: particle or loose and non-particle.
Each has its advantages and disadvantages.
There are substrates in both categories that are not okay under any circumstances for your leopard gecko.
If you are using a loose substrate, make sure to create a layer 3″ inches (7.5 cm) deep or more.
Loose substrates, like dirt and clays, have the advantage of being easy to spot-clean and facilitating natural digging and burrowing behavior in your pet.
They are also necessary if you are interested in creating a bioactive environment for your leopard gecko.
Sand as a substrate is often controversial for impaction concerns.
While it is true some under-nourished animals may eat their substrates to get missing minerals, many keepers have housed their leopard geckos on the sand with no problem.
However, we recommend only using silica-free pre-washed play sand with low dust and no dyes if you use it at all because of the controversy.
Mixing it with untreated organic topsoil will reduce impaction concerns.
We advise against using a loose substrate for juvenile and baby leopard geckos, as they tend to be messier eaters than adult leopard geckos.
A loose substrate is also inappropriate for injured or ill animals.
Paper towels make a good substrate for babies or an animal in quarantine.
Non-particle substrates do not come in loose mixes and are a good option if you are concerned about impaction.
However, they do not have the same digging benefits provided by loose substrates.
Non-particle substrates good for leopard geckos include paper towels, slate tile, reptile sand mats, and excavator clay.
Products you should avoid as leopard gecko substrates include:
- Anything made from pine, fir, or cedar
- Linoleum tiles
- Shelf liners
- Calcium sands
- Reptile carpet
- Aspen shavings
- Coconut fibers
- Ground Walnut Shell
These substrates may be advertised as okay for leopard gecko housing when they aren’t.
Leopard geckoes are nocturnal to crepuscular.
It is best to mimic their natural circadian rhythms by putting their day-night lighting on a 12-hour cycle.
Your leopard gecko will need a strong UVB light like this one.
Regular UVB radiation, which your pet would get from sunlight in the wild, is necessary to promote good metabolism and calcium absorption.
Since they are likely to burn any reptile pet very badly, we do not recommend using reptile heat rocks as a heating unit.
You will have many better options when setting up the heating for your leopard gecko, including under tank heaters or mats, heat lamps, and ceramic heat emitters.
If you choose an under-tank heat mat, make sure to only use ones that have thermostat heating controls.
Keep an enclosure’s hot side at 86-90° degrees Fahrenheit (30-32° C) and the cool side at 75-80° degrees Fahrenheit (24-27° C).
Creating a gradient in the ambient space between is ideal since a gradient will better help your leopard gecko thermoregulate.
Make sure you have working and high-quality thermometers on both sides of the enclosure to measure temperatures properly.
Though leopard geckos are often sold as “desert” lizards, some humidity will be beneficial for them, especially during their skin sheds.
Since they are not tropical lizards, they do not need very high humidity levels, but you should keep their vivariums somewhere between 30 and 40% most of the time.
Their enclosures, in general, should not be bone-dry.
Occasional misting with a spray bottle will provide some natural drinking water and mimic a rainfall event.
You should keep a humid hide in their enclosures between the hot side and the cool side.
Sphagnum moss makes a great, moisture-retaining substrate layer for a humid hide.
It will serve as a place where they can go when they need to shed their skins or get some extra moisture.
Make sure you have a hygrometer in your leopard gecko’s vivarium to keep an eye on humidity percentages.
Leopard geckos are insectivorous, meaning they exclusively eat live insects.
Good insects for leopard geckos include:
- Dubia roaches
Make sure to “gut load” any feeder insect with a complete diet before feeding it to your leopard gecko.
We advise you not to feed your leopard gecko wild-caught insects since these may have come in contact with pesticides or insecticides, which could hurt your gecko.
Do not feed your leopard gecko any insects which produce their luminescence, as they contain bioluminescent chemicals, which are very toxic to reptiles.
Your leopard gecko will also need vitamin supplementation.
These usually come in powdered form, especially calcium and multivitamin supplements.
Dust insects with calcium 2-3 times a week and a multivitamin powder once a week.
Vitamin D3 is especially important for preventing calcium deficiencies which could lead to metabolic bone disease.
UVB lighting will also help your leopard gecko produce its vitamin D3, helping bind calcium to bones and aiding in proper metabolism.
Provide a source of freshwater with a shallow water dish and clean it daily.
Make sure to treat it to remove chlorine and other harmful chemicals before giving it to your pet.
Potential Leopard Gecko Health Issues
Leopard geckos can lose and regrow their tails, also known as autotomy.
You should prevent this as much as possible since their tails are a source of fat storage, and losing them will stress your pet.
However, it may happen despite your best efforts.
If your pet drops their tail, make sure to house them independently and on a non-particle substrate like paper towels.
Feed them more than you usually would, as they have to rebuild up the fat store.
Make sure the drop site does not get infected.
Once the tail regrows, it will not be entirely the same as it was before.
However, with consistent care and monitoring, they will be happy and healthy again.
Here’s our post dedicated to the topic titled what to do when leopard geckos drop there tails.
A stuck skin shed also has the possibility of causing major problems for a leopard gecko.
If not addressed, a stuck shed may cause deformities, especially around their eyes or their limbs.
Stuck shed may be loosened with a warm bath. If this does not work, get in contact with your exotics vet.
A particularly common condition for leopard geckos, other reptilian pets, is metabolic bone disease, or MBD.
MBD is caused by a calcium deficiency, and in extreme cases, causes paralysis and a lot of pain.
Make sure you are supplementing your gecko’s insect diet with a powdered calcium supplement.
Give them sufficient UVB lighting, which will aid in proper metabolism and the production of vitamin D3, which is essential for calcium absorption.
Make sure their temperatures are high enough, as they need ambient heat to properly digest their food.
Taking care of a healthy leopard gecko may seem intimidating, especially if you have not cared for reptile pets before.
However, they have relatively easy care requirements and are rewarding pets.
Leopard gecko owners may prevent many potential health issues through a suitable enclosure with enough heat, light, humidity, good substrate, and a proper diet.