Seeing your leopard gecko licking their behind might catch you off guard at first, but don’t panic!
Thankfully, most of the reasons why your gecko engages in this admittedly gross-looking behavior are entirely normal.
Leopard geckos lick their vents mainly to clean themselves, usually either during shedding or after defecating. It’s also common for males to lick their vents after marking their territory or females to do so after laying eggs. In rarer cases, geckos will lick their vent to ease impaction pain.
To learn more about the reasons why leopard geckos occasionally lick their vents, keep reading.
We’ll cover all of the potential reasons, from the more normal and mundane to the few that might cause concern.
What Causes A Leopard Gecko To Lick Its Vent?
If you’ve ever seen your leopard gecko licking their vent, it’s pretty normal for you as a reptile owner to recoil in disgust at first and wonder if your pet is physically (or mentally!) unhealthy.
However, don’t rush your gecko to the nearest reptile vet just yet; the majority of the causes for vent licking in leopard geckos are entirely normal and harmless!
The main reason leopard geckos lick their vents is to clean themselves, either after shedding or defecating.
Many animals engage in this behavior, so it isn’t limited to geckos or even reptiles; many mammals will also lick the area around their anus to clean themselves after defecating or giving birth.
Hey, it’s not like they have opposable thumbs as humans do!
It’s a lot harder for an animal to reliably and consistently keep themselves clean, so they will often get a bit creative with how they bathe.
So while it looks revolting, it’s normal, and a lot more common than you probably imagined.
Additionally, female geckos will often lick their vents after laying a clutch of eggs to ease pain and clean their vent of any leftover secretions.
On the other hand, males will sometimes lick their vents after marking their territory with a liquid or slightly wax-like secretion to signal to females they are ready to mate, even if they live alone!
The only reason which would be a cause for concern is constipation or impaction.
If your gecko has become constipated or impacted, they will often lick their vent to ease their pain or lubricate the area and help them defecate.
If you’ve ruled out any of the above possible reasons and have noticed your gecko hasn’t had a bowel movement in a few days, it might be time to give them a warm bath and some olive oil by mouth to get things moving normally again.
If those treatments don’t help and are still licking their vent, veterinary intervention will likely be necessary.
Other than this, though, vent licking is to be expected if you own a leopard gecko, whether they’re male or female.
If it bothers you, just look away when they’re doing it and give them some privacy while they clean themselves!
One of the most common causes of vent licking occurs during a shed or immediately after your gecko has finished shedding.
Shedding for leopard geckos isn’t exactly painful, though it often is quite uncomfortable and usually lasts hours or even all day to fully shed their skin.
Leopard geckos tend to shed their skin in one large piece rather than in messy patchwork like other reptiles like bearded dragons.
Usually, they will begin shedding around their head and neck and pulling at the skin with their feet or rubbing themselves against surfaces in their enclosure to get the skin to start coming off.
Slowly, the skin will peel off in one large, thin sheath.
Usually, their back limbs, tail, and vent area are the last part of their body to shed.
At this point, most geckos are pretty anxious to remove the remainder of their old skin entirely, so they will start to more aggressively tug at or rub the skin to help the process along.
In addition, your gecko might lick around their vent to loosen the skin and ease the discomfort, as their vent is very sensitive.
Once they have fully removed the skin from their body, they will likely eat the skin (this, too, is completely normal, though it looks pretty gross!).
After shedding, they will likely lick their vent to soothe any remaining itchiness or discomfort.
Thankfully, this will usually require no additional care or intervention from you unless the shed around their vent or limbs gets “stuck.”
In this case, simply give them a warm bath and gently massage the skin to help loosen it.
Causes: Cleaning Post-Defecation
Another reasonably typical reason your gecko will lick their vent is to clean themselves after defecating.
While looking revolting at times, this is also just another normal part of owning a gecko.
Remember, other animals as cats and dogs do it, too!
Most leopard geckos tend to defecate in the same spot in their enclosure and will move to a quiet and isolated spot nearby to sit and lick their vent afterward for anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes.
This behavior is fairly similar to vent licking post-shedding.
It is intended to clean the gecko’s vent area to prevent infection and keep anything from sticking to it.
At the same time, they go about their daily activities.
So, even if your gecko does this every day after defecating, it’s to be expected.
Your gecko will likely not require any additional help or intervention from you or your vet; just leave them be and let them do their thing.
While most of the reasons why geckos lick their vents are normal and healthy, there is one you will need to keep an eye out for as a responsible reptile keeper: constipation and impaction.
If your gecko becomes constipated, they will likely lick the area around their vent to lubricate it and soothe their pain while attempting to pass their stool.
Impaction is like advanced constipation; it is defined as a blockage of the digestive tract, usually the intestines.
If your gecko has eaten some of their substrates or eaten something too large to pass through their digestive tract with ease, they will become impacted and be unable to defecate.
As a result, they will continue to lick their vent in hopes of easing their pain and lubricating their vent, so they can have a normal bowel movement.
You will probably notice their belly is swollen if they are impacted, as food begins to build up in their digestive tract.
Some cases of impaction resolve naturally, though in many other cases, your gecko will need some help either from you or your vet.
If you’ve noticed your gecko hasn’t defecated in several days, bathe them in warm water and very gently massage the area around their belly and vent to help, them pass whatever has blocked their digestive tract.
Additionally, offer them a few drops of olive oil by mouth, as it is a natural laxative and is known to help significantly with constipated and impacted reptiles.
If another couple of days pass with no results and your gecko is still obsessively licking its vent, it’s probably time to get your reptile vet involved.
They will either need to prescribe additional medications or, in rare cases, surgery will be necessary to eliminate the blockage.
To prevent impaction, avoid using loose substrates around their feeding area and only give them feeder insects smaller than the width of the space between their eyes.
This way, they will be able to fully chew and digest their food properly, and they won’t become impacted later.
Causes: Cleaning After Marking Territory (Males)
Another admittedly pretty stomach-churning yet normal reason male leopard geckos lick their vents is to clean them after marking their territory.
Sexually mature male geckos will often secrete a liquid or wax-like substance from the tiny pores surrounding their vent to mark their territory.
This behavior is commonly known as scent-marking, and even geckos who are housed alone will often display it.
Most geckos reach sexual maturity at around six to eight months old, so babies and juveniles aren’t mature enough to secrete the substance yet.
Typically, they will gradually secrete the waxy material from their pores and walk around their enclosure, rubbing their legs and vent on any surface they find to spread their scent.
In the wild, this would signal to nearby female geckos they are looking for a partner and are ready to mate, but many captive geckos will do it, too.
If your gecko is displaying this behavior, you’ll also probably notice them wiggling their tail and rear around as they explore their enclosure and spread their secretions throughout.
While it looks strange or even oddly adorable, it’s normal.
After your gecko has deposited their scent on most of the surfaces in their enclosure, they will likely find a comfortable spot to sit and lick their vents clean of any of the substance still clinging to their vent and the pores surrounding it.
Your gecko will not need any assistance from you to clean themselves in this case; just leave them be and look away if it makes you queasy.
Along these lines of territory, a good owner needs to know about leopard gecko cohabitation and tank mates (click to learn more).
Causes: Cleaning Post-Egg Laying (Females)
One of the last and lesser-known reasons your gecko will lick their vent if they are a sexually mature female is to clean themselves after laying eggs or to ease pain and discomfort just before laying eggs.
Remember, even a female leopard gecko who has not been paired with a mate can still produce eggs, though they will all be infertile.
Laying a clutch of eggs is a fairly time and energy-consuming process, so just before she passes her clutch, your gecko might lick her vent both to lubricate the area and comfort themselves.
Additionally, after laying a clutch, she will likely lick her vent again to clean any residue remaining around the area.
In most cases, your gecko won’t need any help from you, and you shouldn’t worry if she licks her vent when she’s gravid.
Causes: Internal Parasites
Finally, leopard geckos will lick their vents to ease pain related to a parasite infestation in rare cases.
Thankfully, if your gecko has intestinal parasites, there’s a wide range of accompanying symptoms to look for, so in most cases, you’ll be able to rule this out pretty quickly.
Leopard geckos are susceptible to a few internal parasites, from pinworms to coccidia to cryptosporidium.
Geckos who have been infected will develop typically the following symptoms in addition to vent licking:
- Sudden weight loss
- Poor or no appetite
- Attempts to vomit or regurgitate food
- Unusually runny stools/diarrhea
- Significant loss of tail fat and other critical fat stores
If you notice any of these symptoms and your gecko is licking their vent often, it’s probably a good idea to get them to a reptile vet as soon as possible.
Your veterinarian will likely need a stool sample to confirm the presence of parasites.
From there, they will prescribe medications to flush out your gecko’s system and eliminate the unwelcome intruders.
Should You Be Worried If Your Gecko Licks Their Vent?
In the majority of cases, no.
Most of the reasons leopard geckos lick their vents are entirely normal, as they’re simply cleaning themselves.
However, if you notice additional troublesome symptoms like those mentioned above, either impaction or parasites are likely causing your gecko to lick their vent more often than usual.
Look for symptoms such as:
- Sudden weight loss
- Inability to defecate
- Loss of appetite
If your gecko displays any unusual symptoms and they don’t resolve independently after a few days, get them to a reptile vet to determine the cause, get an official diagnosis, and a treatment plan moving forward.
Want more info before heading to the vet? Check out our complete guide to leopard gecko common parasites.
Do Leopard Geckos Groom Themselves?
In their way, yes!
Vent licking is part of this grooming regimen.
Your leopard gecko’s body is uniquely designed to be somewhat self-grooming, as they will shed the top layer of their skin entirely every couple of months.
Babies tend to shed more often, or every couple of weeks or so, since they grow very quickly during this stage of life, while juveniles and adults shed less frequently as they age.
In addition to shedding, geckoes will lick around their vent to clean it either during or right after shedding their skin.