If you’ve never owned a reptile, now is your opportunity to get acquainted with these animals’ physiology. Today, we will discuss leopard geckos, given that these are some of the most appreciated pet reptiles you can get. They’re docile, easygoing, adaptable, and can live decades in captivity with proper care.
When it comes to general care, leopard geckos aren’t too far apart from regular pets, with some exceptions. They need proper temperature, food, peace, and comfort to remain healthy over the years. But there’s one metric of vital importance worth mentioning – hydration. As reptiles, leopard geckos are vulnerable to dehydration, which can occur for a handful of reasons.
Today, we’ll look into the symptoms, causes, and solutions for dehydration, so buckle up!
10 Signs Leopard Gecko is Dehydrated
Fortunately, leopard geckos showcase numerous signs of dehydration, depending on the condition’s severity. These include:
- Sunken eyes – Leopard geckos usually have slightly protruding and clear eyes, which indicate a normal, healthy specimen. However, if the gecko’s eyes seem flat or even slightly sunken in, dehydration is most likely the cause. That being said, dehydration isn’t the only reason for this change. Geckos can also suck their eyes in when eating and sleeping to protect them from injuries and dryness. So, you shouldn’t rely on this symptom alone.
- Skin problems – Healthy leopard geckos, display humid, elastic, and shiny skin. If your lizard has dry skin that lacks elasticity, that’s most likely related to dehydration.
- Sticky mucus membranes – Check the leopard gecko’s mouth interior. The side membranes should be wet. If they appear sticky, causing strings whenever the reptile opens its mouth, dehydration is the likeliest cause.
- Constipation – Geckos have slow metabolisms, which is a reptile-specific characteristic. The effectiveness of their digestive system depends on environmental factors as well, like humidity and heat. If your gecko is constipated, one of the causes may be a lack of sufficient water or environmental humidity. This can lead to the fecal matter to dry out, leading to constipation and even impaction. Impaction is a severe form of intestinal clogging that may even require surgical intervention.
- ‘Dry’ saliva – If your gecko showcases thick and ropy saliva, it needs to drink. Ideally, it should never reach that point.
- Behavioral changes – The gecko will showcase signs of discomfort, which include lethargy, generalized weakness, and difficulties moving around. You can tell that your lizard is weak by assessing its movement when climbing and traversing its habitat.
- Generalized stress – Geckos showcase specific signs of stress under certain circumstances, dehydration being one of them. Stress is the most plausible explanation if your gecko appears lethargic, displays duller colors, and appears irritable or hides too much.
- Problems during shedding – I rank this one as the most dangerous side-effect relating to dehydration. The shedding process makes for a delicate time in your gecko’s life, during which the reptile requires the highest environmental humidity, preferably around 80%. If humidity is too low, the reptile’s skin may harden and get stuck, preventing the lizard from shedding it. This can lead to infections and even necrosis, as the stuck skin cuts blood circulation towards limbs.
- Wrinkled appearance – This is the first natural sign of dehydration. The reptile’s skin will become wrinkled due to losing its elasticity. The good news is that this is fairly easy to notice; the bad one is that it signifies severe dehydration. So, you need to act fast.
- Visible ribs – This is a tricky one because underfed and skinny geckos can also exhibit protruding ribs. The difference is that this symptom becomes visible fast in the case of dehydration. It doesn’t take weeks for geckos’ ribs to pop out, because lizards can’t last that long without water anyway. The effect is due to the skin and muscles losing water and becoming thinner, allowing the bones to become more visible.
As a general rule, you should always assess your gecko’s hydration levels more intensely compared to the diet. The reason is that geckos can only survive approximately 24 hours without water, maybe slightly more. And even if they do survive, severe dehydration can lead to organ failure and irreversible damages that could spell your pet’s death.
Causes of Dehydration in Leopard Gecko
The main cause seems obvious enough: lack of sufficient drinking water. This is most likely the case, but it isn’t the only reason leopard geckos can experience dehydration. Other potential causes include:
- Excessive temperatures – Leopard geckos demand a temperature gradient of 75-90 F. The higher temperatures should only cover approximately 30% of the tank, which represents the lizard’s basking spot. Your gecko will go there for short warming-up sessions to regulate its body temperature. The problems begin with poor temperature regulation, causing the basking spot to occupy more than 30% of the tank. This can cause the reptile to overheat and consume more water than it can drink. The result: severe dehydration.
- Insufficient enclosure spraying – Lizards need both drinking water and high environmental humidity. You must spray your leopard gecko’s enclosure at least 3 times per day to ensure environmental humidity remains stable. Invest in a good hygrometer to monitor humidity levels constantly for better results and a plus of control.
- Illness – Some diseases can cause your gecko to become dehydrated due to constant vomiting and diarrhea. Severe diarrhea can cause dehydration within hours, worsening the lizard’s state and aggravating its problems.
Treating a Dehydrated Leopard Gecko
The treatment depends on how severe your gecko’s dehydration is. Mild dehydration is easier to treat but more difficult to diagnose, given that the symptoms aren’t as obvious. On the other hand, severe dehydration is more easily noticeable but more difficult to treat.
Here’s an attack plan to consider:
- Mild dehydration – If your leopard gecko is only mildly dehydrated (slightly sunken eyes, dry skin, thick saliva) replenishing its water source and spraying the habitat should reverse the problem soon. Monitor your lizard for several hours to ensure it’s recovering smoothly.
- Moderate dehydration – In this case, your gecko may exhibit more serious signs of dehydration, like lethargy, wrinkled skin, severely sunken eyes, etc. You may need to offer your gecko fluids orally and soak it in a lukewarm bath to rehydrate the skin. If your gecko doesn’t get better within several hours, contact your vet for some recommendations.
- Severe dehydration – At this point, the gecko is completely lethargic, has difficulties moving, and displays a visible rib cage. At this point, there’s nothing you can do yourself. Contact your vet immediately for professional assistance. That’s because the lack of water is the least of your concerns. A severely dehydrated gecko requires electrolytes and minerals to recover, and only the vet can do that. Some of the common treatment procedures in this sense include orogastric hydration and IO fluid administration.
Ideally, your gecko should never reach to the point of becoming severely dehydrated. But this doesn’t mean it can’t happen, especially since lizards require constant and high humidity levels and can only survive without water between 24 and 72 hours, depending on the specimen.
Most cases of dehydrated reptiles occur due to people leaving their homes for several days and forgetting that their geckos demand water daily.
Prevention of Leopard Gecko Dehydration
Leopard geckos are more demanding of water and humidity than other species. Here are some general recommendations to remember in terms of preventing dehydration:
- Ensure sufficient drinking water – Leopard geckos can drink water from their water bowl and from the surrounding vegetation. Replenish their water regularly to keep it clean and fresh. A water bowl will provide your gecko with proper hydration and increase environmental humidity via evaporation.
- Control environmental humidity and temperature – Keep the temperature gradient within the recommended limits (70-90 F, depending on the time of day) and humidity between 30 and 40%. Depending on your gecko’s needs, you can do so via regular spraying and misting.
- Have a soaking bowl available – Leopard geckos like to bathe occasionally to remove dirt and rehydrate their skin. Have a larger water bowl around with lukewarm water for this purpose. Make sure the water level is low, so your gecko won’t risk drowning.
You can also soak your gecko’s feeder insects in water before feeding them to your lizard. This isn’t necessary in normal conditions, but it’s a good option to have in mind.
Leopard geckos demand stable environmental humidity and sufficient water to support their physiological needs. Always keep an eye out for signs of dehydration and consider my recommendations regarding prevention and treatment.