Nobody wants their pet to die, but it will happen eventually. The impact of the animal’s death is arguably even more devastating in the case of geckos due to their long lifespan. These lizards can reach 20 years or more in captivity, essentially becoming members of your family over the years.
Today, we will discuss leopard gecko death from a more unusual perspective – how can you tell your gecko is dying? This seems like a weird question since they pretty much know what dying looks like. The problem is that things can be misleading when it comes to reptiles, and I’ll explain why shortly.
Physical Signs of Dying Leopard Gecko
Leopard geckos spend around 10-12 hours a day resting and sleeping. When they are active, during nighttime, they showcase low-to-moderate energy levels, which is normal for them. After all, these are ambush predators, relying on surprise to hunt their prey; this makes them naturally slow.
As a result, you might have difficulties identifying a dying gecko if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Here are some taletelling signs to consider:
Loss of Appetite
Leopard geckos typically require one full meal every 2-3 days, depending on the gecko’s age, size, physical health, and overall appetite. Baby geckos and juveniles eat every day, but the feeding frequency drops as they age, and their metabolism slows down. You will eventually become more accustomed to your gecko’s feeding habits, allowing you to spot any unusual behavior in this sense.
Consider it a bad omen if your leopard gecko refuses food when it shouldn’t. Leopard geckos should have healthy appetites and display excitement during their meals. A gecko that refuses food usually suggests a health problem, but you can’t determine its illness or its severity based on that metric alone.
More in-depth research is necessary to figure out the case and find a reliable solution.
Not all instances of weight loss suggest that your gecko is on the brink of death. Geckos can lose weight for a variety of reasons, which may not always be as severe as one may think. These include improperly-sized meals, intestinal parasites, undergoing a more strenuous shedding period, reproductive season, etc.
However, you should never take your gecko’s weight changes lightly. Leopard geckos should maintain a healthy weight; any sudden weight loss is a reason for concern and demands more in-depth clinical assessment. You should get concerned If you can see your gecko’s ribs through the skin, often paired with sluggish movement, lethargy, and lack of appetite.
Geckos who are terminally ill refuse to drink water or don’t have the energy to do so. This can cause quick dehydration, worsening their state and causing an array of additional problems. Contrary to what you may think, geckos can become dehydrated before you even realize the issue.
On average, geckos won’t survive more than 72 hours without water in an environment with low humidity. Despite being better adapted to arid environments with high temperatures and low humidity (only 30-40%, which is low compared to other geckos,) these lizards still require constant access to a fresh and clean water source.
Dehydration is that much more dangerous for geckos that are already sick. Severe dehydration is deadly and can exacerbate other health problems, which is why geckos will never dehydrate themselves on purpose. If they do, something’s terribly wrong, and you should contact your vet immediately. The expert may need to resort to forceful rehydration via intravenous fluid administration.
The typical signs of dehydration in leopard geckos include dry skin that lacks elasticity, sunken eyes, dry and stringy saliva, extreme lethargy, weak movement and balance, etc. You should act at the first sign of dehydration, before the condition aggravates, as severe dehydration is deadly; in the best-case scenario, it leads to irreversible organ damage and organ failure.
Changes in Behavior
You should be able to differentiate between normal and abnormal gecko behaviors after caring for your lizard pet for a while. Not all geckos function the same, as they all have different personalities and temperaments. Look for anything out of the ordinary. Maybe your gecko used to become active at dusk but now sleeps longer into the night. Maybe it is more lethargic than usual, doesn’t eat as much, and avoids human contact.
All these behavioral shifts are red flags, pointing that something’s not right with your gecko. Make sure you eliminate more mundane explanations like shedding, mating, or simply experiencing stress for various reasons. For instance, leopard geckos are known to exhibit stress in the following circumstances:
- When placed in a new home that they’re not familiar with
- If the enclosure layout isn’t right (not enough open spaces, lacking hiding areas, not enough room)
- Environmental parameters are either unstable or improper
- Too many loud noises or lights in the room, disrupting your gecko’s vibe, etc.
Frequent or improper handling can also cause your gecko to dislike interacting with you. This can influence the lizard’s behavior over time, so you should always respect the lizard’s boundaries to prevent that. If your gecko doesn’t seem fond of petting, give it space and try again later. Most importantly, keep in mind that lizards and reptiles, in general, aren’t really capable of bonding.
Physical Abnormalities or Injuries
Geckos can showcase a variety of physical abnormalities that speak volumes about the reptile’s health status. These include:
- Deformed skeleton – If your gecko has a deformed spine, swollen and deformed legs, or swollen tail, you might be looking at MBD (Metabolic Bone Disease). MBD is the result of severe calcium deficiency, and it is an incurable and deadly condition. Most vets recommend euthanasia as the only ‘treatment’ available. Fortunately, you can decrease the risk of MBD by adjusting your gecko’s diet, including calcium and D3 supplementation, and providing a source of UV light for proper D3 synthesis.
- Limb necrosis – This is another dangerous condition, often the result of dysecdysis. Dysecdysis describes abnormal or incomplete shedding, often resulting from bacterial infections or improper environmental conditions. In short, the old skin gets stuck around the reptile’s tail, mouth, toes, or legs, constricting the blood vessels and leading to tissue death. The localized necrosis will spread and cause septicemia, which is deadly.
- Visible injuries or sores – These can occur for a variety of reasons, including accidents, aggressive mates, or bacterial or fungal infections. Even the most innocuous injuries can grow into life-threatening problems in a humid and warm environment, such as that of geckos.
- Unexpected color changes – Leopard geckos cannot change their color at will the way chameleons can. So, if your gecko changes its coloring, something else is going on. Geckos turning darker is a sign of stress or disease, but not always. Geckos also achieve higher color intensity as they grow older and become darker or milkier as shedding approaches. Either way, there’s always something going on if the gecko exhibits a different color intensity.
As you can see, not all of these physical abnormalities are indicative of a mortal problem. But some of them are. Always contact your reptile vet if you’re unsure what’s going on. The expert’s feedback can make a world of difference.
Leopard Gecko Dying of Old Age
Leopard geckos also die of old age, in which case there’s nothing you can do except ease their suffering as best you can.
I recommend euthanasia if you think your gecko is nearing the end of its reptile life and suffers in any way. Keep in mind that there’s no set lifespan when it comes to leopard geckos. Some may only reach 10 years, while others can jump the 20-year mark.
How to Address a Dying Leopard Gecko?
The answer depends on the gecko’s causes of death and the suffering it may experience along the way. If you have determined that there’s nothing you can do for your gecko, you have 2 options:
- Ease its pain and provide palliative care – It’s pretty difficult to assess whether your gecko is experiencing pain or not. This depends on the condition it’s struggling with because geckos can’t express their suffering the way other animals can. For instance, if your gecko is dying due to MBD, you know the lizard is in pain, even if it’s not looking like it. Speak to your vet to figure out ways to diminish the lizard’s suffering and provide palliative care accordingly.
- Euthanasia – There are several ways to euthanize your gecko humanely with minimal distress and suffering. I’ve already tackled this topic more extensively in another article, so check that one as well. Overall, I recommend speaking to your vet for professional insight into the matter. The vet may even euthanize your gecko for you if you don’t have the heart for it, which would be understandable.
Common Health Issues in Leopard Geckos
Leopard geckos can struggle with a variety of health issues, but there are 4 worth mentioning here. Not because they are more widespread necessarily, but because they are deadly in their advanced stages:
- Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) – I keep coming back to this one for obvious reasons. In essence, MBD is a severe calcium deficiency reaching a pathological state. The afflicted lizards will experience pain, impaired movement, weak jaws, deformed spine and skeletons, etc. The disease has no cure and is lethal in its late stages.
- Respiratory infections – These are usually the result of improper environmental parameters and poor husbandry practices, among other causes. High humidity can lead to pneumonia, for instance, which can be fatal. Bacteria can also lead to similar problems if the gecko’s habitat is dirty.
- Internal parasites – Parasitic infections can be of multiple types and affect the gecko’s digestive system, respiratory system, or various organs, depending on the pathogen. These parasites can also transmit to other geckos, so urgent treatment is necessary to contain the spread and eliminate the pathogens. The treatment depends on the parasites’ nature and the severity of the infection, so contact your vet to determine these metrics.
- Egg binding – This condition is known as dystocia and describes the female gecko’s inability to pass on the eggs anymore. Mature female geckos can produce eggs even without any male present, which means that the eggs will remain unfertilized. The problem is that geckos subjected to stress, bacterial or parasitic infections, or poor care and maintenance can experience dystocia. The lizard cannot eliminate the eggs anymore, which can be fatal.
As you can see, all of these problems are either preventable or treatable, but only depending on severity, among other factors. The gecko’s age, health state, and various aggravating factors can also influence the treatment’s effectiveness.
Factors That Can Affect a Leopard Gecko’s Lifespan
As I’ve already mentioned, not all geckos have the same lifespan. Some geckos live twice as long as others, or more, despite belonging to the same species. Some of the factors that influence your gecko’s lifespan include:
This is one element you can’t control. Your gecko will only live as much as its genetic makeup allows it to, no matter the overall quality of care. If your gecko only lives half of the expected threshold, despite all your efforts, maybe it was meant to be.
It’s always a good idea to check your gecko’s parents before buying it, provided you have this option. This entails purchasing your gecko from reputed private breeders who can vouch for the lizard’s genetic prowess. It’s not a failproof avenue, but it’s worth a shot.
Leopard geckos aren’t skittish lizards, but they can become stressed for a variety of reasons. These include:
- Being placed in a new, unfamiliar environment
- Being handled and petted too often or for extended periods
- Not eating enough or struggling with suboptimal diets
- Being subjected to unstable or improper environmental parameters
- Being kept in a small environment with an improper layout
- Falling sick
- Being housed with other geckos in an overcrowded space, etc.
All reptiles are typically solitary animals that enjoy peace, security, and comfort. They don’t like commotion, don’t enjoy sharing space with other animals, and need personalized care to remain healthy and comfy over the years. Leopard geckos will inform you of their mental state via their behavior and appearance.
Stressed geckos may appear darker in color, showcase aggression, and remain in hiding during their active hours when they should go out for hunting and patrolling their habitat. If your gecko is stressed, look for the cause and fix it. Some mild and temporary stress won’t hurt your gecko too much, but prolonged stress will.
It’s not uncommon for stressed geckos to experience a weak immune system and struggle with parasitic or bacterial infections as a result.
Leopard geckos should be housed in a 20-gallon vivarium with several hiding areas and a natural-looking layout. If the living conditions are not ideal, your gecko will live a shorter life. This is especially a problem among gecko keepers who house their reptiles in 10-gallon tanks. Such a setup is more fitting for a baby or a juvenile gecko but not an adult one.
Also, keep in mind that leopard geckos need a horizontal layout since they’re not adept at climbing.
General healthcare, which includes maintenance, diet planning, and medical support, is the most important factor when determining the lizard’s lifespan. Leopard geckos require stable environmental parameters, a nutritious and varied diet, and constant monitoring to detect any health issues in time.
These 3 strategies are essential for prolonging your lizard’s lifespan and quality of life over the years.
Leopard geckos aren’t exactly sensitive since they rank as some of the hardiest and most adaptable reptiles in the trade. This is one of the things that makes them so popular today; that and their melting smile and astounding morph variety.
Fortunately, you can have a meaningful impact on your gecko’s overall quality of life and lifespan. Just keep in mind that geckos are mortal, and there will come a time when they will face death like all creatures do. When that time comes, make sure you’re ready.