Like many animals, it is no surprise leopard geckos lick their lips while eating and drinking.
If you own a leopard gecko, you are likely familiar with this behavior and may even find it endearing.
Although lip-licking is often an innocuous natural behavior in geckos, it is occasionally a sign of an underlying health issue.
Leopard geckos lick their lips in association with many natural behaviors. However, lip-licking occasionally signifies an underlying health problem. Other abnormalities, such as decreased appetite or mouth lesions, can help distinguish between natural behavior and something more serious.
Familiarizing yourself with normal lip-licking behaviors in leopard geckos will help you recognize when it is suggestive of an underlying health issue.
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Leopard Gecko Lip-Licking: The Jacobson’s Organ
Let us first review its underlying anatomy to better understand why your leopard gecko licks its lips.
Leopard geckos have an olfactory sense organ called the Jacobson’s Organ.
It is also known as the vomeronasal organ and opens into the roof of their mouths.
This chemoreceptive organ processes particles from the air brought into a leopard gecko’s mouth.
This provides sensory information about the taste and smell of its environment.
Therefore, when a leopard gecko licks its lips, it is inevitably gathering information to help it investigate a new environment or hunt for prey.
Reasons Leopard Geckos Lick Their Lips As A Normal Behavior
There are certain scenarios when you are more likely to observe a healthy leopard gecko licking its lips.
Scientific studies noted increased lip-licking immediately after eating, suggesting its potential role in grooming.
Research suggests lip-licking may aid hunting and prey detection and enhance a leopard gecko’s overall sensory experience of taste.
Owners may also observe their gecko licking its lips during shedding.
Proper shedding requires adequate humidity and moisture.
Your gecko may lick its lips to supply moisture to its face and mechanically remove pieces of skin during shedding.
These are a few other natural licking behaviors leopard geckos may display:
- Licking their eyes to keep them clean and moist
- Licking their femoral pores clean after marking their territory
- Licking water droplets off of themselves or their owner to hydrate
- Female geckos licking their vent following mating or before laying eggs
Lip-Licking as a Sign of Leopard Gecko Health Issues
Is your leopard gecko exhibiting natural behavior, or is it constant lip-licking due to an underlying health problem?
To determine whether lip-licking indicates something more sinister, consider whether your leopard gecko exhibits any other symptoms.
For example, relevant things to evaluate include your gecko’s appetite, thirst, and energy level.
I also recommend inspecting your gecko’s mouth and watching for changes in its food handling.
For example, has your gecko recently started to grasp food more gingerly or drop food more frequently?
If additional changes are present, your leopard gecko may be licking its lips because of a health condition.
Please consult a veterinarian if you have questions or concerns about your leopard gecko’s health.
Oral Disease in Leopard Geckos
If you are concerned your leopard gecko is licking its lips more frequently, I recommend taking a closer look at its mouth for signs of oral disease.
You may discover evidence of traumatic injury, inflammation, or infection.
Like other reptiles, leopard geckos may suffer from “mouth rot,” also known as infectious or ulcerative stomatitis.
Mouth rot is a mouth infection potentially caused by bacteria, viruses, fungus, or parasites.
Trauma, such as from thermal burns or live prey, may also precipitate these oral infections.
In severe cases, mouth rot can progress to bone infection or abscesses in leopard geckos.
How to Prevent Oral Disease
With many common leopard gecko health issues, improper animal husbandry is often at the core.
Decreasing the risk of oral injury is important, especially since it may progress to an oral infection.
To minimize the potential for traumatic injuries, your leopard gecko’s habitat should be free from abrasive materials.
Heat rocks and other direct heat sources should be avoided as these commonly cause thermal burns.
There should not be more than one male in each habitat because aggressiveness in leopard geckos will predispose them to injury.
Mouth rot is often caused by infectious organisms such as bacteria and fungus.
Therefore, maintaining an appropriate temperature gradient and humidity level in your gecko’s habitat is crucial in minimizing the development of harmful infectious organisms.
Metabolic Bone Disease in Leopard Geckos
Excessive lip-licking may signal metabolic bone disease in your leopard gecko.
Metabolic bone disease, or secondary nutritional hyperparathyroidism, “is the most common bone disease seen in reptile practice.”
This condition occurs due to calcium deficiency, inadequate vitamin D3, or lack of UVB light.
This causes the bones, including those of the face, to soften and distort.
This is why metabolic bone disease is also referred to as “rubber jaw.”
Although a soft jaw may cause your leopard gecko to lick its lips more frequently, reptiles with metabolic bone disease usually have additional symptoms.
Other common signs of illness associated with this condition in geckos include difficulty walking and decreased appetite and energy.
How to Prevent Metabolic Bone Disease
As with oral disease, proper nutrition and housing comprise the main focus in preventing metabolic bone disease in leopard geckos.
Leopard geckos’ prey items mostly consist of insects.
While crickets and mealworms may be your gecko’s favorite foods, they are usually deficient in calcium.
To address this, I advise reptile owners to gut load or dust insects in calcium before meal time.
Although healthy geckos require vitamin D3, be advised vitamin D toxicity is also possible.
For this reason, I recommend using a calcium supplement without vitamin D, like this one on Amazon.
Reptiles also get vitamin D3 through UVB light.
As nocturnal species, leopard geckos are unique because they absorb vitamin D more rapidly and thus, require less UV light supplementation.
Further Reading: Reasons a leopard gecko licks its vent