Have you ever seen your leopard gecko open their mouth wide in a yawn?
Witnessing this adorable behavior is quite common among reptile owners, but some wonder what it means.
They worry this behavior could be a symptom of a larger issue that needs to be treated or seen by a veterinarian.
The good news is not all yawning is a problem, but it helps to be aware of all the potential reasons this behavior shows up.
Leopard Gecko yawning is usually harmless. Leopard Geckos yawn as a way to dislodge crickets in their throat, to wake up, or to warm up the body. If yawning is accompanied by other symptoms such as regurgitation, lethargy, or breathing issues you should see a veterinarian.
The key to managing your leopard gecko’s health is to be aware of all signs and symptoms they display.
This guide to their yawning can help you narrow down when to be concerned and trust your gecko is healthy and happy.
Reasons Leopard Geckos Yawn
Leopard gecko owners often wonder when they should start to be concerned about the yawning behavior they see.
If you notice many yawning going on or repeated yawns happening all in a row, you might want to be concerned about digestive upset.
Frequent yawning in a short period could be your gecko’s way of telling you they need to regurgitate those feeder insects you just fed them.
When you notice this behavior, take a closer look at their enclosure.
Inspect it for any signs of previous vomit, and keep a close eye on your gecko to ensure they do not vomit right this moment either.
If your leopard gecko does vomit, be sure to keep them hydrated.
Provide them with fresh water and some electrolytes to balance out what they lost through regurgitation.
Regurgitating once is worrisome, but it may just be caused by overeating.
Sometimes, you will notice they vomit multiple times, perhaps over several days.
This is a clear sign they need to be examined by a veterinarian.
Frequent regurgitation is caused by several major health concerns, including:
- Obstruction by a foreign body such as cage substrate
- Internal parasites
- Bacterial gastritis
These leopard gecko health issues should be taken extremely seriously.
These are not issues that can resolve themselves at home without proper care.
Your gecko needs to be seen by a veterinarian who specializes in exotics and reptiles.
They can make sure your gecko receives the proper medical attention necessary to heal.
You may also want to read about other leopard gecko mouth open and gaping issues.
One of the most common reasons your leopard gecko may yawn is due to an obstruction in its throat.
This could be feeder insects who got caught in their throat.
It might be something they ate from their enclosure, even if it wasn’t an item meant for consumption.
Yawning is their attempt to dislodge the item from their throat and encourage it to make its way down to their stomach.
Not only does it help the object to pass from their throat to their stomach, but yawning also opens up their airways.
If something is stuck in their throat, they may have a hard time breathing.
Their air passages can expand by opening wide, giving them a better opportunity to take in more oxygen.
This often happens directly after feeding feeder insects where they may have a cricket leg stuck in their throat.
It is relatively harmless, but there are a few things that can help.
What do you do if you think there may be an obstruction in your gecko’s throat?
There are a few different ways to approach this.
First, attempt to dislodge it by rinsing it down the throat.
Take a dropper full of water and squeeze it into your reptile’s throat.
This freshwater may help to lubricate it and allow the item to pass down into the stomach.
Unfortunately, this may not be the best solution.
If your gecko is having difficulty getting it to its stomach, it may have an equally difficult time digesting it.
In turn, this can lead to impaction and more medical issues.
If using a water dropper doesn’t work, consider whether you are able to see the object lodged in their throat.
When you see the object, you may have a better chance of removing it with long tweezers or forceps.
Do not attempt this if you don’t see the object when you look into your gecko’s mouth.
If yawning continues, but you don’t see the object to remove it, you need to take your gecko to a local veterinarian who can help figure out how to remove the object from their throat.
Consider the timing of when your leopard gecko yawns.
If they open their mouth wide and leave it open for a few seconds, it could be a sign of aggression.
This is particularly true if you are not well-versed in correct leopard gecko handling, and they frequently exhibit this behavior during or shortly after being handled.
A yawn like this could be their way of expressing their displeasure for how you handle them.
Many geckos will do this right before biting.
In many ways, the yawn is a warning sign they do not like what is happening.
If you have multiple female leopard geckos in one enclosure and you see this behavior regularly, it could be a sign they aren’t getting along well with their tank mates.
This can lead to stress and illness.
Frequent yawning in the presence of new tank mates may be the precursor to fights and injuries.
Be sure to take this behavior seriously and adjust your enclosure conditions as necessary to prevent damage to one or more of your geckos.
Does your enclosure have an adequate warm spot for your leopard gecko to bask in?
It is a bit less common, but some geckos will yawn in an attempt to warm themselves.
They may have been used to the temperature of an old enclosure, such as at the breeder or the pet store.
When you moved them to your home, your new enclosure may not have an adequate source of heat, leaving your gecko to figure out how to warm up on its own.
How do you know if the issue is your enclosure and a lack of heat?
Pay very careful attention to the other signs surrounding your gecko’s yawn.
If it is accompanied by a pumping motion of the skin of the neck, it is frequently a sign your gecko is warming up.
Make sure to take the temperature of your enclosure to make sure it lines up with what was listed on your leopard gecko care sheet.
The warm side should range from 85-90° degrees Fahrenheit (32° C) while the cool side should be a balmy 75-80° degrees Fahrenheit (27° C).
If the temperatures are cooler than this, you may want to get a heat mat.
If you need a heat mat, we recommend this one from Amazon.
It comes in multiple sizes depending on how big your tank is, allowing for manual temperature adjustment.
While we commonly associate yawning with being tired, it could be a sign your leopard gecko is waking up.
Think about what it’s like to pry your eyelids open first thing in the morning.
Chances are you stretch overhead and let out a big yawn before finally pushing back the covers.
Yawning in this way is also common to reptiles rousing themselves from a day of relaxation and rest.
Leopard geckos are nocturnal, so you will likely start to see this yawning behavior take place around your bedtime.
As the sun slips low and their enclosure starts to cool off for the night, you will likely see them start to yawn more.
This is perfectly healthy and is just their way of getting started on their new day.
Yawning or opening the mouth wide could be an early indicator of respiratory infection in your leopard gecko.
This condition can be quite serious and requires immediate medical attention by a skilled veterinarian who is experienced with reptiles.
A regular small animal vet does not have the experience necessary to diagnose and treat reptiles.
How do you know if yawning is a symptom of infection?
It is likely to be accompanied by some other symptoms.
First and foremost, they could be opening their mouth wide in an attempt to get more oxygen into their body.
This signals they are having a hard time breathing, perhaps due to clogged nostrils.
You may also notice a clicking sound when they attempt to breathe.
Both of these are signs of a larger issue.
You may also notice they keep their head rather elevated.
This is another attempt to get fresh air into their bodies.
If you are suffering from an infection, chances are you feel a bit lazy and sluggish.
The same is true for your reptile.
Lethargy and decreased appetite are common symptoms of infection when coupled with their breathing issues.
Other symptoms of a respiratory infection can include weight loss, bubbly saliva, and bloating.
What can cause a respiratory infection in your gecko?
The most common culprit is improper cage conditions.
High humidity levels and low temperatures create a breeding ground for bacteria growth and open the door for infection to set in.
Check out our post on mouth rot in leopard geckos to understand how bacteria can cause several other issues for your pet.
The best thing to do is evaluate your cage conditions and adjust accordingly.
This can ease the symptoms your gecko experiences.
However, they also require medical attention to get the antibiotics necessary to kick the infection.
Difficulty with a Shed
Are you seeing the colors of your leopard gecko start to fade?
Dull colors could be the sign of an imminent shed.
Most of the time, your gecko may have no problems getting its excess skin off without any assistance.
They should shed all of their skin in one piece, leaving behind a shell that can look almost identical to their body shape.
Sometimes, their shed may not come off all in one piece, though.
When this happens, pieces can get stuck, which is known as “stuck shed.”
What connection does this have to yawning?
If they have stuck shed around their head and neck area, it can feel tight and uncomfortable.
They may yawn to stretch the skin and attempt to dislodge the old skin they need to shed off.
Yawning to dislodge stuck shed could indicate you need to help them get rid of loose skin.
Do not simply reach in and attempt to pull the old skin loose.
This can cause damage to your reptile’s sensitive skin and make the problem worse.
Instead, you need to provide them with the proper humidity to loosen up the old skin.
One way to do this is to create a sauna for them.
Take a plastic container with a lid and poke plenty of air holes.
Line the bottom with damp paper towels and add a splash of warm water.
The water should not come up much higher than the level of the paper towels.
Adding too much water can make it difficult for your gecko to keep their head above the surface and lead to drowning.
Allow your gecko to soak in this sauna for fifteen to twenty minutes.
In the end, you may gently attempt to rub off their stuck shed. If it doesn’t come off, do not force it.
You may need to repeat this sauna activity several times throughout a couple of days to convince stubborn skin to leave.
In the meantime, yawning to loosen up this dead skin is harmless.
There is no need to rush to the veterinarian if you notice this behavior.
It is perfectly normal.