If you’ve ever choked or have seen someone else choking on food, then you know how much of a panicking experience it can be. Whenever it happens, your mind goes all over the place and you start to freak out until you’re able to get it down or cough it back up. Thankfully, we humans can rely on a very effective method called the Heimlich Maneuver to help us dislodge any food that is stuck in the throat. And although I can say I’ve never seen or heard of a lizard choking, I still did some research to see if it has ever happened, and this is what I found.
Can leopard geckos choke? Yes, there’s a possibility that they could choke. But from what I’ve seen, it’s rare. In order to avoid choking in leopard geckos, it’s best to not feed them anything that’s larger than the width between their eyes.
Although yes, there is a very slim possibility that it could happen, I have not seen many cases of people reporting their leopard gecko choking and, therefore, shouldn’t be anything that should cause much concern. Leopard geckos have teeth and will usually have no problem swallowing their food as long as it’s not too big for them to handle. But, if your leopard gecko does happen to ever choke (which I hope doesn’t ever happen) here’s what you should do and how you can identify if your gecko is, in fact, choking or not.
If your leopard gecko is choking, you’ll know. If you see that they’re struggling to swallow their food, start gagging, coughing a lot, or pointing their head towards the ceiling in an attempt to make the food go down, then more than likely you will need to assist them in either removing it or getting it to slide down their throat.
Like stated above, it seems to be unlikely for a leopard gecko to choke on their food just simply based on the fact that they have teeth and are good at chewing their food up before they swallow it, but if one were to choke, then it would likely be a baby or juvenile gecko.
Obviously, babies have a more narrow passageway in their throats compared to adults because they have not yet fully developed. So because of this, swallowing larger insects can be very challenging and maybe even time-consuming to chew up if the gecko is just too small to handle its size.
If you notice any of these behaviors, then what you should do next is see if you can remove the lodged food yourself before doing anything else.
Removing the Obstruction
If your leopard gecko is, in fact, choking, you should now see what you can do to get the bug unstuck. Using a small tool to grab with, such as tweezers, force your leopard geckos mouth open and then see if the bug is in within reach for you to grab and then try to estimate how far down it is.
If you think that the bug is in reach, slowly take your grabbing tool and work your way back to your gecko’s throat where you will then try to grab onto whatever you see sticking out and then carefully remove it with extreme caution so that you can avoid poking your gecko’s mouth, cause pain from pulling the insect out too fast, or potentially breaking off whatever you have ahold of and losing the chance of getting it out yourself without medical assistance.
At this point, whether there’s nothing left to grab on to or if the bug is not within reach, get a syringe filled with lukewarm warm and squeeze a few drops into the back of your gecko’s throat in hopes that this will either lubricate your leopard geckos throat temporarily or soften the bug up enough to swallow.
If this doesn’t work, you’ll likely need to get medical attention for your gecko so that it will have a chance of surviving.
Go to a Vet
After you’ve tried everything you could and you still haven’t had much success with dislodging the bug, then it’s time to go to the veterinarian. Because time is limited, we’ll need to move fast, but not too fast to the point where we’re putting ourselves at risk of getting into an accident. Our gecko’s life is important, but not important enough to put our own life on the line.
And I know that vets can be costly, but if money is an issue, they always have payment plans that you can choose from and will work with you the best they can so that you won’t lose your pet. Veterinarians are trained professionals when it comes to the care of not only reptiles, but plenty of other household pets as well, and will greatly increase your gecko’s chances of surviving in the horrific incident in which it may have accidentally ended up choking on its food.
Hopefully, the insect that it was fed is small enough to allow at least a little air through so that your vet will have enough time to do what they need to do in order to safely get the food out of your gecko’s throat.
Suffocation from choking doesn’t take that long, so when it happens and you’re unable to remove the object yourself, do not hesitate to get professional help. The faster you’re able to get there, the better. And unlike us, reptiles don’t have access to ambulances. So, you’ll have to either drive there or have someone else take you if it comes down to it.
Feed According to Size
When feeding your geckos, it’s important to know that not all ages can eat the same sized food. Because the smaller your gecko is, the greater your gecko will be at risk of potentially choking on food that is larger in size.
For example, a baby shouldn’t be fed superworms, they should only eat insects that are more fit to their size like baby roaches or crickets. As they get older, they’ll have no trouble swallowing those big worms, but for now, it’s not a good idea to feed them food that large. Even if they do manage to get it down, they’ll likely show signs of struggling with digestion by sliding their necks back and forth so that the food goes down more smoothly.
Aside from baby roaches and crickets, another smaller food baby leopard geckos can eat are mealworms as well. Mealworms are soft, tiny, and easily digestible, which makes for a great feeder insect for geckos that have not fully developed yet.
If you have an adult leopard gecko, then you shouldn’t worry about feeding them large foods. Their body has grown and can handle chewing up and swallowing all of the insects that they’re able to eat. But, keep in mind that choking in adult geckos is unlikely and not something I would imagine happens a lot unless it’s on something in the cage that shouldn’t have been in there, like substrate that can cause impaction or any other small foreign object.
To get a better idea of what size food you should feed your leopard gecko as far as crickets and mealworms go, then I suggest checking out this page. It’ll help you make sure you’re not feeding them anything that’s too big for their size and age.
Within that page is a link to where I get my live mealworms at as well.
I know this is easier said than done, but the worst thing you can do in a situation like this is panic. Panicking can cause you to think irrationally, make bad decisions, and might even put you at risk of getting into an accident while driving to the vet in the case that you need professional assistance with your gecko.
The best thing you can do is keep a clear mind, figure out what you need to do next as your gecko is choking, and pay attention to your surroundings so you’re not putting yourself in danger. People make quick and illogical decisions while in a panic, so in order to keep your gecko alive, it’s best to stay calm and tend to him or her so that things don’t get worse.
Panicking can cause your leopard gecko to stress out and when it’s choking, that’s the last thing you want it to be going through.
The chances of your leopard gecko choking are very unlikely, but it’s still always good to know what to do just in case something ever does end up happening. Don’t feed your gecko more than it can handle and go by the rule of not feeding it anything that is wider than the space between their eyes.
If you ever find yourself tending to a choking gecko, then remember to stay calm, find a sterile, small and safe tool that can be used to grab small objects, and then try to take the food out of its throat.
If that doesn’t work, then going to the vet immediately is your best option. It’s not the first option because sometimes issues like these can be resolved at home, and also because the bill can sometimes be a little costly. But when it comes to our geckos, it’s worth it.
If you or the vet is able to dislodge the food, remember to never feed your gecko the same type of food that caused it to choke until it gets older. They never usually have a problem swallowing any type of food, so if you find that your gecko does after feeding it, then you should know by then that it might be a little too much for them to handle at this stage in their growing process and will need to wait until they get a little older in order for them to tackle those bigger bugs.