Leopard geckos are not hard animals to care for, but there are basic things that every owner, or soon-to-be owner, should know before or while they’re in our possession. Having this knowledge will not only make you a better owner but could potentially prevent you from making any mistakes that could be detrimental to your leopard gecko’s health as well. In short, here’s what you’ll need to do, and have, in order to properly care for them.
- Have The Right Tank Size
- Choose Safe Substrate
- Handle With Care
- Give Them Space
- Maintain A Clean Tank
- Use Harmless Equipment
- Gain Trust And Respect
- Maintain A Healthy Diet
- Regulate Tank Temperatures
- Keep Them Safe
- Have Plenty Of Hides
- Provide Proper Supplementation
- Avoid Improper Cohabiting
If you’ve never owned a leopard gecko before and plan on getting one soon, then the list may be a little intimidating. But, don’t worry. Most of us who have been owners of leopard geckos for a while know that with enough time, properly caring for them becomes a breeze and deciphering between what’s right and what’s wrong gets easier and easier the more experience you have with them. With that said, though, let’s take a deeper look at what exactly it takes to care for a leopard gecko.
Having the Right Tank Size
For stress and health-related purposes, getting the right tank size for your leopard gecko is probably one of the most important things you can do when it comes to properly caring for them. You can’t really go too big when it comes to the size of the tank, but you can definitely go too small.
If you have one or two baby geckos that are under the age of 2 months, then having them in a tank that is 10 gallons will work great. But, anything over this age will require something a little bit bigger.
Although 10 gallons is adequate for babies, most people who know anything about leopard geckos will rarely recommend a tank this size simply for the fact that they will outgrow it very quickly. And in my opinion, I think buying a tank just to turn around and buy another one two months later is a huge waste of money.
If you’d like to know what I recommend, check out this 20-gallon. It’s one that I personally use and LOVE and feel that it’s the perfect tank for beginners. Keep in mind that 20 gallons is the minimum for any leopard gecko over 2 months old, but you can go larger if you’d like if you want to have the ability to add more equipment, geckos, etc.
If you have a baby gecko, then feel free to check out this article that I wrote right here to give you a little more in-depth knowledge about how many geckos can fit in a 10-gallon tank along with the consequences as well. Since you now already know how many you can fit in one, there might be some other information in that article that might help you make a better decision on which tank to actually get.
Choosing Safe Substrate
There are MANY different substrates to choose from, but not all that are available or recommended are safe for your leopard gecko. The most common issue that many people have when buying a bad substrate is impaction. If you don’t know what impaction is, then I suggest taking a look at this article here. It tells you about the main substrate that causes it along with other safer alternatives as well.
But, whenever you’re picking out a substrate, you’ll want something that doesn’t cause any harm when ingested, is aesthetically pleasing (because this matters a lot to leopard gecko owners), and something that won’t cause any scrapes, skin irritation, or bad reaction when exposed to your gecko.
You could always go with something like tile, slate rock, or paper towels, but what I’ve seen work the best with not only my gecko but many others as well is Eco Earth Loose Coconut Fiber substrate.
Keep in mind, though, that all of the other substrates that I mentioned work just as great, it’s just that this one seems to be a favorite amongst the reptile community. Whatever you do, though, just make sure you don’t get sand. This is a highly suggested substrate, but when it comes to this stuff, you’re taking a risk of your leopard gecko swallowing it, and you definitely don’t want that to happen.
To help make sure you’re not picking anything else out that may be bad for your leopard gecko as well, click on the link in the first paragraph so that you can avoid some of the other harmful substrates.
Handling with Care
It may be a little hard to do this at first, but because leopard geckos are so tiny and fragile compared to us, it is very important to make sure that we’re handling them with the utmost care whenever they are crawling and wiggling around in our hands.
Improper handling can easily lead to broken bones or a tail falling off, so it’s always best to practice this whenever they’re in your possession. Also, it’s important to make sure other people who have no experience with them aren’t handling them unmonitored as well.
People without knowledge of leopard geckos can easily be a little too rough, so before letting anyone else hold them, it’s always best to brief them on how they should do it and what not to do so that your gecko doesn’t become too stressed out or possibly even injured.
Two types of people who are most likely to put your leopard gecko in the most harm are people who are a little bit older in age or children. Nothing against children or elderly people, but they sometimes tend to be just a little more accident-prone than people of other age groups.
Does that mean that all children and elderly people are like this? Absolutely not. But, it’s something to keep in mind and take into consideration. It’s nothing personal, it’s just that we want to make sure that we’re not putting our leopard gecko in any unneeded danger.
Giving Them Space
Sometimes giving a leopard gecko space can be quite the challenge whenever we’re in the mood to hold and play with them, but sometimes it’s just something that they need and should be respected so that we, again, don’t stress them out too much.
Your leopard gecko loves you, but whenever they’re going through certain things, they love to have their space until they’re feeling better. Wanting and needing space is something that could happen whenever they’re shedding, about to lay eggs, or even if they’re feeling a little bit under the weather.
Giving them space from too much handling is also a very important thing to keep in mind. They enjoy the attention that you give them and will even interact with you whenever they’re in the mood, but too much handling can cause them to become a little too stressed out and maybe even a little bit aggressive as well.
It’s so serious that I even included it in this article that I wrote here specifically about aggression. It’s not uncommon for a beginner leopard gecko owner to be a little bit antsy and want to hold their gecko all the time, but we have to remember that despite how cute and adorable they are, we have to let them have their time and space to relax and do what they’re used to doing naturally in the wild.
Not giving them enough space might make them trust you less and could even lead to attacks if they start to get a little too irritated by it. This is one of the reasons why it is not advised for smaller children to own leopard geckos.
Maintaining a Clean Tank
Having a clean tank will not only make your leopard gecko feel better, but it will also make you feel better by not stinking up the whole room as well. Leopard geckos don’t stink and they do enjoy staying clean (that’s why they poop in one spot), but, if their poop piles up and the tank isn’t clean on a regular basis, then things can start to get a little smelly.
Living in too much of their poop might even cause them to stress out a bit because like stated above, they like to stay as clean as possible. Maintaining a clean tank will not only require you to pick up poop, but it will also require you to change their substrate and clean their equipment off from time to time as well.
I pick up my leopard geckos poop every single day, but when it comes to his substrate, I’ll change that once a month. But before I put any new substrate back in the tank, I’ll set my leopard gecko in a plastic carrier and then proceed to clean the whole tank out.
That’s how I personally do it, but how often you change your tank will depend on how much your leopard gecko poops and how many leopard geckos you actually have in the tank because more leopard geckos obviously means more poop and pee.
If you only have one leopard gecko, though, and they’re housed within a 20-gallon tank, then you shouldn’t have to clean out your tank any more than once a month like me. Like stated, though, this will depend on your leopard gecko and how often they urinate and make bowel movements.
Using Harmless Equipment
Most items that I’ve seen that are sold for leopard geckos aren’t very harmful, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some pieces of equipment out there that aren’t. For example, it has been said that certain tank equipment, such as heat rocks, have been known to cause sores, blisters, and dry skin to leopard geckos who fall asleep and bask on them.
On top of that, they have also been known to malfunction, so that’s why I never recommend them. Besides heat rocks, though, certain pieces of decor or homemade equipment can also be very harmful to them.
Some people may feel inclined to spray paint the inside of their tank or decorations to make them look better but because of the fumes, this can actually be very harmful for your leopard gecko to be around.
Anything that gives off a funny smell can greatly irritate them and can even cause them to fall ill if they happen to lick whatever is carrying the smell. That’s why whenever you place anything in their tank, it’s best that you’re getting it from a trusted source and are not attempting to create equipment that could potentially be harmful to them.
Make sure you’re checking the reviews on anything you buy and not taking risks by putting things in that could possibly malfunction or make them ill. That may sound like common sense to some, but you would be surprised at how many bad and harmful things I’ve seen be recommended over the years. So, always make sure you’re doing your research when it comes to equipment and don’t use any toxic substances for decorative or personal reasons.
Gaining Trust and Respect
Another huge part of properly caring for a leopard gecko is gaining their trust and respect. The reason for this is because, without it, you might find yourself having a very hard time trying to care for them because they won’t want to be around you if they don’t trust that you’re not something that won’t potentially cause harm to them.
Of course, you know that you won’t, but because reptiles go by instinct, they see everything as a threat until proven otherwise. That’s why when first bringing them home, it’s very important to start bonding with them straight away.
Having a close bond will make feeding them, handling them, and just overall taking care of them a lot easier so that they won’t be so scared and skittish whenever you try interacting with them. It has been said that people who fail to bond with their geckos at the very beginning might end up having more trouble with them in the future, so it’s important to get this right so that this doesn’t happen to you.
Gaining their trust and respect isn’t hard, it just takes a little time and patience. It may take up to a month or a little longer to fully get comfortable being around you, but considering how long leopard geckos are able to live, that is nothing compared to the 15-30 years that you could potentially be owning them.
Make sure to give them adequate time to warm up to you and move at their pace so that the process is most likely to work the first time around. There have been times where it takes a little longer than a month or so for them to get used to their owner, but that’s okay because the more the process is repeated, the more it will work overtime.
If you’d like to know how to properly bond with them to gain that trust and respect, then I recommend checking out my article on that here.
Maintaining a Healthy Diet
When it comes to leopard geckos, it’s good to always keep them on a nice, clean diet that will provide them with tons of nutrients and isn’t too hard for them to chew, digest, and swallow. I’ve mentioned it before, but many people recommend the ” mealworm and cricket ” diet. And although this is okay, it’s always best to give your leopard gecko a variety of foods to choose from.
If you click on this article here that I wrote, you can see the many different ” alternatives ” that leopard geckos love to eat. Some serve more as treats while others can be served more as staples, so check it out if you’d like to switch your gecko’s diet up a bit from time to time and make sure you’re giving them the right balance for each.
Maintaining a healthy diet doesn’t just mean giving them variety, but it also means giving them balance. Too much of one thing can be just as bad as too little of one thing, and depending on the type of feeder insect, everything will need to be balanced out so that they’re staying healthy at all times.
Fruit flies, for example, are great snacks for leopard geckos, but they are far too small to provide them with the nutrients they need unless they eat them in extremely large quantities during each meal. The same goes for wax worms. Too much of those can cause weight gain and even obesity. So, with that said, it’s best to make sure we’re not giving them too much or too little of what they need in order to avoid malnutrition and overnutrition.
Regulating Tank Temperatures
This is a big one because I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen someone having issues with their tanks temperatures. It’s either they’re too high or too low, but usually, in most cases, the temperature is way too high.
Without the right temperature regulations throughout the tank, living for your leopard gecko will become very difficult because they depend on the temperature for a few different reasons. The first reason is an obvious one and that’s to stay warm when it gets a little too cold for them, and the second reason is so that they can digest their food properly.
It’s not safer for a tank to be overly cold compared to when it’s overly hot, but if I had to choose which one is the most deadly, then it’s definitely when it’s overly hot. High temperatures can cause them to overheat and potentially even die if they can’t find a way to escape.
They are from a natural habitat in which it is very hot, but that doesn’t mean that they can tolerate too much heat. That’s why they burrow themselves underground in order to stay cool whenever they’re out in the desert.
Unfortunately, there’s no substitute when it comes to keeping temperatures low, so if you ever plan on getting a leopard gecko, you will need a thermostat one at some point.
Keeping Them Safe
One of the best things you can do when caring for leopard geckos is making sure they’re safe at all times. There are a number of risks that could happen to them but if you stay on your toes, you can prevent most of these things. Just to give you an idea of the potential dangers they face from improper care and little to no safety precautions, take a look at the list below.
- Cat/Dog Attacks
- Injuries From Dropping
- Disease Risks From Calcium Deficiencies
Luckily, there aren’t that many risks that they face, but unfortunately, the ones that they do face will cost them their life. So, it’s always best to make sure you’re taking the right steps when it comes to feeding them, giving them what they need in order to survive as far as supplementation goes, and keeping them away from other household predators that might be on the loose.
Most owners that I’ve seen are really great at avoiding all of the risk factors, but there are still tons of cases out there will people have lost their leopard gecko because of one of the reasons listed above. So when it comes to their life, it’s up to us, the loving and caring owners, to make sure they are never in any type of harm within the tank and outside of the tank as well.
Having Plenty of Hides
When I say plenty of hides I don’t necessarily mean getting all the hides you can, but for one gecko, you will need at least three. One for their cold hide, hot hide, and moist hide. Aside from being a place for them to hide (obviously), the cold and hot hide are used just for comfort and digestion reasons, while the moist hide is mostly used for shedding.
The moisture from the moist hide allows for the skin from their shed to come off a lot easier by softening it up. It plays a very important role in this process because, without it, their shed could get stuck on certain parts of the body and will constrict blood flow or even cause a good amount of pain because of how small their bones are.
Their hot hide is used to warm up and also for helping them digest food properly. And the cold hide is basically just to cool down when too hot from the hotter side of the tank. Each has its own role and are all very important necessities to have in your leopard geckos tank. Without them, they feel exposed to predators, stressed out, and will have trouble shedding.
This is what I use for all three of my hides. I have a large for all three of mine, but the size you get will depend on how old your leopard gecko is.
Providing Proper Supplementation
The type of diet a leopard gecko has is very important, but without the proper supplementation, all of that means nothing. In order for your leopard gecko to survive, they will need two very important supplements called calcium and D3.
These supplements help your leopard geckos body maintain what it needs in order to function properly and without them, it is impossible for them to live. If too low on it, they will develop something called ” metabolic bone disease” which basically deteriorates their bones to the point where they can’t walk, eat, and will eventually pass away because of it.
If you don’t already have a leopard gecko, put this at the top of your list for things to get. These supplements need to be fed to them by dusting the insects that they eat or when talking about D3, through a UVB light or like calcium, through powder form.
Just so you know what I’m talking about, here’s the kind I get to dust all of my feeder insects with. I don’t use UVB in my tank, so I do get the kind with D3. But, if you do have a UVB light, then you will need to get the kind that doesn’t contain D3. The D3 will be already coming from the light.
Avoiding Improper Cohabiting
It has been debated over whether or not you should pair two leopard geckos in a tank together and while some have had plenty of success doing this, a lot of others haven’t. If you want to try it, then only pair a male and a female together, a female and a female together, but don’t pair two males together or an adult gecko with a baby gecko.
The male and female or two females are much more likely to get along than two males. Male leopard geckos are very territorial so the chances of them fighting and injuring each other are almost 100%. As far as not pairing an adult gecko with a baby gecko goes, well, this is because the adult gecko might end up eating the baby gecko for nutritional reasons.
If you want to try cohabitating with two leopard geckos that are most compatible with each other, then I suggest getting a much larger tank to allow plenty of space between the two. This will also mean that you will need 3 extra hides, an extra water bowl, and an extra food and calcium bowl as well. This can get costly, but to stay on the safe side, get a tank that is about this size for tons of space between the two geckos.
If you follow everything listed above, you will be more than ready to care for a leopard gecko. They are amazing to have and will serve as great companions for many years to come so long as you take the right steps to keep them safe and provide them with what they need.