Do Leopard Geckos Hibernate?

When we think about hibernation, we tend to think about animals like bears, bats, groundhogs, and maybe even certain species of insects.  But, when it comes to reptiles, especially leopard geckos, hibernation might not be a thing that we would expect for them to go through.  Because this is such an interesting question, though, I just had to answer it for those who are wondering.

Do leopard geckos hibernate?  Yes, they do.  But, because they’re not completely dormant like bears, for example, the more suiting term for what leopard geckos experience is actually called brumation.  This is when they are in a state of semi-dormancy instead.

Brumation is something that would happen naturally in the wild as the temperatures dropped during the colder months of the year.  And because of these temperature drops, the leopard geckos digestive tract would slow down, food would become scarce, and they would have to stop moving as much to conserve energy as well.  That said, though, let’s take a deeper look at what brumation is like for leopard geckos who aren’t in the wild.

Involuntary Brumation

Although some people choose to put their leopard gecko in a state of brumation, others don’t, and will often be confused as to why they start acting the way they do when they’re transitioning into it.  To give you an idea of what to expect, though, so you’re not as thrown off guard when it happens, anticipate some of the signs here:

  • Staying On The Hot Side Of The Tank
  • Lethargy
  • Moving Slow
  • Not Moving At All
  • Not Eating
  • Sleeping A Lot
  • Not Pooping
  • Hiding For Weeks

Leopard geckos can and will show signs and symptoms of one thing that are very similar to another, so it can be quite worrying and stressful to see if you’re someone who has never had a leopard gecko who has gone through this before.

One of the main and only contributing factors as to why they go into this state of semi-hibernation if it’s not forced by the owner is because of changes in either the temperature outside or if there are air pressure changes as the weather begins to switch seasons.

In areas of the world where the weather changes frequently such as in the midwest part of the United State or where it’s frequently cold, you can expect your leopard gecko to have periods where they will enter brumation even if you don’t want them to.  It’s a natural instinct that they all have and will display it slightly differently depending on the leopard gecko.

In other areas of the world that don’t experience winters, some owners might find that their leopard geckos won’t brumate at all.  From what I’ve seen though, most leopard geckos who live in the United States will definitely experience some form of brumation, but at the same time, a lot of other won’t as well.

Keep in mind that even if you have your tank’s temperatures set right, they might still go into brumation because of their ability to sense the temperature changes outside.  This means that even if it’s still warm outside, but the seasons are changing to one that’s a little colder, they can detect this change before it happens because of the shift in pressure and will respond to it accordingly.

Voluntary Brumation

Even though leopard geckos aren’t subjected to the same types of living conditions as they once were while out in the wild while in captivity, they will still enter a state of brumation when they feel like it’s necessary for them to.

The triggers that cause them to enter this state are usually due to voluntary temperature changes by owners for personal reasons or because of a change in weather depending on where you live, as stated above.  Most people from what I’ve seen who voluntarily put their leopard gecko into brumation will usually do it for either money-saving purposes or maybe even just to go on a long vacation trip.

Because brumating is something that they do naturally in the wild, I honestly don’t see any harm in forcing your gecko into it so long as you do it during the colder months of the year where most states experience winter and properly take the steps necessary beforehand so that you don’t run the risk of putting them in any kind of harm.

Unlike full-on hibernation like some animals go into, leopard geckos are still alert and active during this time and will still need to be fed with the right supplements in order to ensure that they’re staying healthy, not losing a ton of weight, and getting what they need in their body in order to stay alive.

When in this particular state, you might even find that they are a lot less enthusiastic in catching their food when it’s placed in the tank unless the food that’s being fed to them is an easy catch.  Feeder insects like crickets will be too much work for them and even though they might grab a few, you might find that there will be a lot left that they won’t even touch because of their lack of energy.

In that case, you’ll want to feed them something that they can catch more easily so that you can ensure that they’re not dropping too much weight.  What I recommend for that is Dubia Roaches, which you can get here on Amazon, and the occasional wax worm and silkworm which also can be found there as well.

For their calcium, you’ll want to make sure there is a full container of it in their tank at all times and without the D3.  I say that because it can be very hard to try and get your leopard gecko to eat during brumation, and therefore, be a little tempting to put D3 in their calcium dish out of disparity.  But, by doing this, you can actually harm them more than you think.  So, instead of taking a risk, it’s better to introduce new foods that they’re not used to instead so that maybe they will be more inclined to eat and get their proper amount of D3 through feeding.

If they’re not wanting to eat at all, then you may have a bit of a problem seeing as at that point they won’t be getting the right amount of D3 to properly absorb calcium even if they are licking from their bowl in the tank.

And although they’re known to eat a lot less during this time, they’re not known for not eating at all unless there is something else wrong with them, so seek professional advice if you find that this is the case with your leopard gecko while they’re brumating.

From what I’ve seen, many people have neglected to make sure their leopard gecko is eating and as a result, will have their gecko come down with metabolic bone disease as a result.  They can lick all of the calcium in the world, but if they have nothing to help their bodies absorb it, it has absolutely no value.  To get a better understanding of what MBD is, then I suggest clicking here and taking a look at the article I wrote about it.  It’s a serious disease that occurs when a leopard gecko isn’t getting the right amount of calcium or when they lack D3 and as a result, their bodies slowly shut down.

Also, so that you’re not causing any harm to them, it’s best to weigh your gecko as well beforehand.  If brumation is done properly, they won’t lose much weight, but before the process begins, you’ll want them at around 60-65 grams at least just in case there is a chance that they will, in fact, lose a few grams.  Because it’s so important that you’re checking their weight, I recommend this kitchen scale on Amazon that will allow you to weigh them by the gram.  It’ll give you the readings you need to help you know exactly what weight they’re at before, during, and after brumation is over as well.

Having an underweight leopard gecko brumate is not a good idea because it can cause health issues if they lose too much of it during the process, so knowing where they stand as far as that goes is a very important thing to take into consideration before doing so, so that you’re ensuring their safety and well-being.

How Long Does It Last?

Because brumation only occurs when there are climate changes, you can expect it to last from anywhere starting at around September and then end around the time when Spring begins and temperatures outside pick back up.

For the first year of this happening, it may be alarming, but as the years go by, you will usually see that your leopard geckos will repeat this same type of behavior at around the same time every single year.

If you start to see your leopard gecko displaying any of the signs of brumation during the colder months of the year, then jot down the date you saw them make their switch into this semi-hibernation state and also write down when it ends as well. 

Doing this can give you reference for when they start any year after that and will also give you a peace of mind knowing that it’s a normal occurrence and is something that shouldn’t be a cause for concern any time it happens if your gecko is healthy before the process begins.

When Not to Brumate

The reason why this is dangerous is because any time before adulthood, leopard geckos that are babies need to eat every single day while leopard geckos who are juveniles will have to eat every other day. 

So, if in brumation and they’re not eating the right amount of food for proper growth, this can be very detrimental to their well-being.  That is why when in the wild, they don’t brumate until after a year.  They know that they need proper nutrition to grow and won’t risk it.

Another time to absolutely avoid brumating is when your leopard gecko is feeling ill or has a disease.  Some of these illnesses and diseases that they can catch can sometimes be treated depending on what it is and how soon it is caught, but when in brumation, the lack of food and nutrients can make getting over them or the chance of getting any better that much more difficult.

In that case, I would immediately get in contact with a vet so that things don’t get worse.  Even if not forced into brumation, leopard geckos might still enter it despite being ill and might further neglect their body simply from not eating.

The Advantages

As stated above, some people like to brumate their leopard geckos for money-saving reasons, but aside from that, there is another advantage that brumation serves for those who like to breed leopard geckos and that’s that after it’s over, the sudden rise in temperature will initiate the breeding season allowing the breeder to more opportunities for gaining more geckos.

It is said to be stressful for a leopard gecko to be in a state of brumation because of the slowing down of their digestive system, so if you’re not a breeder, I don’t advise brumating unless you live in an area that’s hot year-round and want to do it for your own personal benefit.

Besides those two reasons, though, I don’t see a point in forcing them into brumation while they’re in captivity because they’re not in the wild anymore where food is scarce, but some owners still enjoy doing it because it’s something that happens naturally while in the wild and they want to mimic their natural surroundings as much as possible.

Things like providing them with heat, water, safe substrate, and important supplements are what is more natural because it’s what they need in order to survive, but while they’re in the comfort of our tanks with plenty of food to eat, brumating is something that doesn’t necessarily have to be done.

And while there’s nothing wrong with it, doing it really doesn’t serve much of a purpose unless, as stated above, you are a breeder or want to do it for other various reasons.  If brumating is something that you enjoy doing to save money, then I would suggest checking out this article here that I just wrote.

It tells you about the many food options leopard geckos have to choose from and to be honest, none of them cost much at all.  That list also gives good suggestions such as wax worms and silkworms that are great for brumating leopard geckos that don’t seem to want to eat, as well.

Who Should and Shouldn’t Brumate

Like stated above, brumating is not something that is always in our control because of the location we live in, but because it can be such a complicating process for those who are looking into doing it, it is not ever recommended to try it unless you are fully educated and confident that you know everything about the entire process.

So, if you’re a beginner and you want to do this to save money or if you want to start your journey as a breeder, then soak in as much knowledge as you possibly can beforehand so that you can go in it knowing for a fact that your gecko will come out of the other side just fine.

There are many things that have to take place such as monitoring their weight, making sure they eat a certain amount of food before brumating, making sure they’re receiving the right supplements and nutrients throughout the whole process, and paying close attention to the behavior they’re displaying regularly for months on end.  It’s a lot.

My suggestion is to never try it unless you’ve had at least a year of experience with your gecko so that you know their behaviors and also what they do and don’t like to eat so that feeding them during this time can be a little easier instead of just guessing in hopes that they will eventually consume whatever you’re offering them whenever they decide to become picky eaters.

Lack of knowledge can cause you to make mistakes that may or may not be reversible and can easily cause you to panic a bit if you’re faced with behavior from your gecko that you just don’t know how to handle simply for the fact that it’s something that you’ve never had to deal with.

It doesn’t matter if your leopard gecko is a baby or an adult, you should always take the time necessary to educate yourself on the topic so that you will be fully armed with information and will be able to tackle any issues you may run into with ease once you decide to start brumating.

Unfortunately, those of us who can’t control whether or not out leopard geckos brumate have to learn the hard way.  In that case, I would educate yourself before buying your leopard gecko so when that inevitable time comes, you’ll be prepared for when it happens and for many years after that as well.

The Fix for Geckos That Don’t Want to Eat

Firstly, if you don’t know about the importance of the supplement D3, then I highly suggest taking a look at this article here that I wrote to know exactly what role it plays in your leopard geckos diet and how critical it is for them to get it during each feed.

But, with that said, in these cases where you might find your leopard gecko eating very little or just won’t accept too much of the foods that you’re offering them despite switching up their diet, then I recommend a UVB light for the time being until they are completely done brumating.

Leopard geckos over a year old don’t eat as much as geckos who are under this age, but they do still need D3 in their system in order to absorb calcium.  But, because it can be hard to get them to eat as much as you’d like them to, it can be hard to provide them with it because most people who supplement their leopard gecko with D3 use powder that actually goes on the insects that they’re feeding them.

To avoid having your leopard gecko be insufficient in this very important supplement, I highly suggest getting a UVB light so that instead of absorbing it through their food, they’ll be absorbing it through their skin instead.  This will not only make sure they’re getting what they need but will also take a ton of stress off of you as well.

If you’d like to know what bulb I always recommend for a source of UVB, then check it out here on Amazon.  Assuming you have a 20-gallon tank, the 18-inch bulb will work just fine for providing your leopard gecko with enough light to comfortably give them what they need.

If you’re not having trouble with them eating, then just keep dusting all of their feeders with a calcium, D3, and a multi-vitamin supplement like they have with the brand Repashy, for example.  It’s what I’ve used since I switched from UVB to synthetic powder and I absolutely love it.

If by chance you want to switch your leopard gecko back to powder after they’re done brumating, then that’s just fine.  But if not, that’s fine, too.  Whichever way you decide to supplement your gecko with D3 from that point on will be totally up to you.

Making Sure It’s Brumation

Because leopard geckos display so many of the same symptoms for various different behaviors, diseases, and illnesses, it can sometimes be hard to spot whether or not what they’re going through is serious or not, and because of that, important issues that need attention may go unnoticed without the right education on this particular topic. 

For example, your leopard gecko not pooping is one of the signs that they can display while in brumation, but it’s also a sign that they display when impacted as well.  Here’s another example.  Weakness, slow-moving, and not eating are, again, signs and symptoms of brumation, but it’s also the sign of pregnancy as well.

So, when determining whether or not they’re brumating, it’s best to always take a few factors into consideration before coming to your conclusion.  These are some things you should ask yourself and look out for:

  • What Time Of Year Is It?
  • Are They Eating At All?
  • Are They Moving In An Odd Manner?
  • Is It Cold Outside?
  • Are They Getting The Proper Supplements?
  • Are They Shaking?
  • And More

In order to really know for a fact that what your leopard gecko is going through is brumation, you’ll have to ask yourself these same types of questions and rule out any other possible reasons for why they’re acting this was as well.

If your leopard gecko starts shaking, losing a ton of weight, having diarrhea, or displaying anything else that seems odd and not closely related to the symptoms of what you can expect from them while they’re in this state, then you should start to get a little worried and consult with a vet.

It’s really easy to mistake one thing for another when dealing with leopard geckos and even people who have owned them for a long time get worried when something unusual happens to even their gecko, so it’s best to always stay educated on the topic, study them, and really make sure they’re not going through something else so that you don’t end up potentially losing your leopard gecko due to a mistake just by simply not knowing enough about them.

Once you identify that what they’re going through is, in fact, brumation, then the stress of watching them display these symptoms won’t be as worrisome in the years to come.

Conclusion

Although brumation is a safe and completely thing that leopard geckos do when temperatures outside get too cold, it can be quite scary and worrying to watch if you don’t know anything about it.  Leopard geckos who brumate will often sleep for long periods of time, not move much, and not eat much at all and might even be mistaken for being dead if you’ve never gone through one with your gecko before.

With the right knowledge and preparation, though, the whole process doesn’t have to be that difficult for neither you or your leopard gecko to go through.  Make sure to rule out any other possible causes for why they’re acting the way they are once it starts to get cold out and care and watch over them just like you would any other time when dealing with your leopard gecko.

If they’re not wanting to eat much, then make sure to stock up on a supply of feeder insects that they enjoy the most like wax worms, silkworms, Mario worms, and Dubia roaches. 

Wax worms along with the other worms listed should be fed to your leopard gecko only when they don’t want to eat their healthier foods such as crickets and mealworms because of how addictive and unhealthy they can be for them if fed regularly.

Lastly, pay close attention to their behavior and weigh them once every week to two weeks to make sure they’re not dropping too much weight while they brumate.