Hydration is important for all animals, but reptiles are particularly dependent upon water. Your leopard gecko needs water for drinking, soaking, regulating body temperature, and skin shedding. Without drinking water and proper enclosure humidity, geckos can become dehydrated and suffer serious health consequences.
Providing water to your gecko is non-negotiable. But there’s more to it. The type of water you choose can also play a role in your pet’s health and even your maintenance routine. Keep reading to learn about the different types of water and their pros and cons for your pet. This information might come in handy!
Types of Water for Leopard Geckos
Before deciding which water to choose for your gecko, let’s go over the most common sources. The list includes tap, distilled, RO, DI, rainwater, and bottled spring water. Let’s see how these types of water differ. Here they are, in no particular order:
Let’s start with the obvious— tap water. It’s safe, readily available, and one of the cheapest options. It doesn’t get any easier. However, the drawback of tap water is that you never know if it’s high quality or not. This isn’t a foolproof way to tell, but you can test the water with a pH strip.
Depending on where you live, the pH of tap water can range between 4.5-8.5; this reflects a huge discrepancy in the water’s mineral content. The higher pH means the tap water is rich in calcium and magnesium. Lower pH, then, indicates the water has a low nutrient concentration.
Another potential downside of tap water is the bad taste. Tap water is treated with chlorine to kill bacteria. This makes the water fit for consumption but also gives the water a bitter or metallic taste. From what we know, chlorinated water is not dangerous for geckos to drink. However, your gecko might avoid it because of the off-putting taste.
Distilled water is the purest, cleanest type of water you can find. It contains no bacteria, no chlorine, and 99% of other salts and minerals have been removed. The result is a completely tasteless, odorless, and colorless liquid. You can find distilled water in most grocery stores.
Leopard geckos will readily accept distilled water thanks to its neutral taste. And since distilled water contains virtually nothing, it’s 100% safe for your gecko to consume. Many gecko owners give their pets distilled water exclusively.
Some people bring up concerns about nutrient deficiencies. Distilled water doesn’t give your gecko calcium, magnesium, potassium, or other minerals. Drinking too much distilled water might flush out some of your gecko’s electrolytes. However, as long as your gecko gets a nutrient-rich diet with good supplementation, the mineral loss should be minimal and not life-threatening.
By the way, one huge bonus of distilled water is easier cleaning. If you ever misted your gecko’s enclosure (like you should), you might notice white residue left on the glass. That’s leftover calcium and magnesium from the water. It’s annoying, and it looks plain ugly, I know. Well, since distilled water has no minerals, it won’t stain the enclosure. It’s a game-changer!
Reverse Osmosis and De-Ionized Water
Reverse osmosis and de-ionized water go through different filtration processes but achieve similar results.
RO filters use high pressure to push water through a semipermeable membrane. This membrane catches and separates all molecules heavier than water, including sodium, chloride, heavy metals, and other minerals. The result is similar to distilled water— a liquid with 90-99% of its contaminants and minerals removed.
DI filters rely on chemical reactions to exchange and remove dissolved ion-charged particles in the water. Basically, this means that the water has all its salts, metals, and other minerals removed. Bacteria and viruses are unaffected, so DI water must first undergo sterilization. Sterilization, combined with DI filtration, results in a pure liquid free of chemical contaminants; it’s virtually the same as distilled and RO water.
Reverse osmosis and de-ionized water aren’t as popular in the hobby. Also, it’s highly unlikely you’ll find such water in local stores. You’ll either have to buy it online or use a reverse osmosis or de-ionizing filter at home.
Unless you already have a filter, I wouldn’t recommend investing in one, especially since tap water and distilled water are safe, cheap, and readily available. But if you have one, you can safely give the filtered water to your gecko. RO and DI water have the same benefits and drawbacks as distilled water.
Right off the bat, one downside of rainwater is its limited availability. You can’t exclusively use rainwater for your gecko because you don’t have a continuous supply of the stuff on demand. But let’s see how rainwater compares to other options.
Rainwater contains various minerals, including sodium, magnesium, potassium, chloride, and calcium. But it also has less beneficial compounds such as nitrates and ammonia. Depending on where you collect the rainwater, it could also come into contact with bacteria and other microorganisms.
So, rainwater could be potentially contaminated and needs to undergo a filtration process. And bacteria isn’t the only issue here. As rainwater falls from the atmosphere, it collects impurities like suspended dust, carbon dioxide, and sulfur dioxide.
If you live in an urban or polluted environment, there’s a high chance the rainwater you’ll get is acidic due to pollution. The average pH of rainwater is around 5, which is slightly acidic, despite the alkaline minerals naturally present in the rain.
That being said, you can still boil and filter rainwater to eliminate microorganisms and pollutants. In that case, rainwater could be a safe option for your gecko. But at this rate, you’re better off using tap or distilled water from the store. Unfiltered rainwater can still make a decent option for watering vivarium plants, though. There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence of plants thriving on rainwater.
Spring water is a popular choice for gecko owners. Not only is this water all-natural, but it’s also safe, high in nutrients, and readily available in the bottled water section in most stores.
Spring water occurs naturally in underground aquifers. There, the water is naturally filtered and enriched with minerals when it passes through porous rocks on its way to the spring. Bottled spring water is clean and safe for drinking, even for your gecko.
Before arriving on supermarket shelves, the water undergoes additional filtration to remove impurities and potential bacterial contamination. However, unlike distilled water, spring water maintains its mineral content.
Spring water is full of goodness, including calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium, iron, and many trace minerals. The high mineral concentration gives spring water a high pH and a slightly bitter or salty flavor, so keep that in mind, as your gecko might not like it. But most leo geckos do enjoy spring water.
But remember, nutrient-rich water will leave mineral deposits in the enclosure. Spring and tap water are similar in this case. You’ll still have to clean the white residue off the gecko’s water bowl and the enclosure glass.
Choosing the Right Type of Water for Your Leopard Gecko
So, you have five main options. But which one should you choose? Tap water, spring water, and distilled water— all have pros and cons. It makes sense to weigh your options to make an informed decision. Here’s what you should keep in mind:
You need water for plenty of things. Your leo gecko will drink it directly, but it must also soak its body from time to time, especially before shedding. You also need water to mist the enclosure periodically if the humidity levels drop below 40%.
So, it’s best to have a constant supply of said water. Your gecko won’t consume much water, but it’s also a bonus if the water is cheap. Right off the bat, you can eliminate rainwater, reverse osmosis, and de-ionized water from your list. Rainwater is self-explanatory. RO and DI water are also not commonly sold in local stores.
That leaves us with tap, distilled, and spring water. All these types of water are readily available and cheap to boot! It doesn’t get any cheaper than tap water. Spring water is close behind; you’ll find it in virtually any store for $1.17 per gallon on average. Distilled water is available in some local stores and pharmacies. However, the cheapest brands sell for $2 per gallon on average.
Quality water should be safe to drink, free of contaminants, and rich in nutrients. In this case, bottled spring water is the best choice. Spring water sold in stores is free of bacteria and pollutants but maintains its salt and trace mineral content. It provides optimal hydration and helps balance your gecko’s electrolytes.
Fun fact! Believe it or not, different bottled water brands have different nutrient profiles. This might be because of where the spring water is sourced and how the mineral content is lab-tested. Next time you shop for water, turn the bottle over and compare the mineral contents listed on the labels. You might be surprised!
Tap water is a close second. In theory, tap water is safe to drink and high in minerals. Unfortunately, the water can get contaminated along the way, especially due to old and rusty plumbing systems. Distilled, RO, and DI water are free of contaminants but also lack electrolytes and trace minerals.
Benefits & Risks
All types of water have benefits and risks. Distilled, RO, and DI water are the purest and free of minerals and other trace elements. This means the water is safe to drink and won’t cause mineral deposits in the vivarium. On the other hand, your gecko could develop an electrolyte imbalance from drinking too much purified water, especially if its diet is low in minerals.
Rainwater, tap water, and spring water are rich in electrolytes. They’ll dirty the vivarium because of calcium deposits. But they also provide optimal hydration for your pet. Electrolyte-rich water passes through the body slower, replenishing tissue moisture more effectively.
Rainwater and tap water could be contaminated, though. Depending on your location, these water sources might be unsafe. Tap water in the US must meet strict safety guidelines set by the EPA.
However, if you’re not connected to the public water system and use a private well instead, this safety guarantee doesn’t apply. Untreated tap water can be contaminated with bacteria and heavy metals, both of which you don’t want anywhere near your gecko.
Minimize Water Contamination in Gecko Tank
Clean water is a must for your gecko. But even if your source is pristine, the water can still become contaminated in the tank. Remember, the water is only as clean as the bowl you use! Adding clean water to a dirty dish kind of defeats the purpose.
So, the first thing you should do is thoroughly clean the gecko’s water bowl. I recommend using a reptile-safe disinfectant and letting the bowl soak for a few minutes before rinsing. You should disinfect the bowl every time you change the water to be safe.
Once in the vivarium, the water comes into contact with bacteria from live insects, the gecko’s skin, and bodily fluids. Leopard geckos might occasionally soak into the water. They also have the annoying habit of pooping in there. If the water is dirty, or you see your gecko lying in it, you know it’s time to replace it because it’s no longer safe to drink.
If the gecko keeps soiling the water, there are a few things you can do to help. Typically, leopard geckos soak in the water to cool down or ease constipation and shedding. Check the temperature and humidity levels in the vivarium.
If the temperature is too hot, try turning it down or adding more shaded hideouts for your pet. Also, remember the humidity for leos should be 30-40%! The gecko will have trouble shedding or passing stool if the humidity is too low.
Try moving the water dish to the warmer side of the enclosure. This helps raise humidity levels and prevents your pet from sitting in the water to cool down.
Finally, stagnant water is just going to get dirty over time. Even if your gecko is on its best behavior, the water will nevertheless gather dust and dirt particles. So, you should still replace old water, even if it appears clean and odorless. Changing the water periodically is the best way to ensure your pet gets clean, high-quality hydration.
How Often Should You Change Your Reptile’s Drinking Water?
If it’s just drinking water we’re talking about, it’s best to change it every 1-2 days. Leopard geckos don’t drink a lot of water; they also get moisture from insects, the air, and water droplets after you mist the enclosure. So, providing fresh water every other day is fine under ideal conditions.
Of course, if the water gets dirty, you’ll have to change it sooner. Replace the water as soon as you notice your gecko soaking or urinating in there. Changing the drinking water is also a good idea if you see drowned insects in the bowl. And remember to clean the dish between water changes to kill any leftover bacteria!
There are a few types of water you could give your gecko. Most of them are interchangeable. At the end of the day, the most important thing is that the water is free of bacteria, viruses, or contaminants. Whether you choose tap, distilled, RO, DI, or spring water, it’s up to you.
Tap and spring water have the added benefit of extra electrolytes, but they also leave mineral deposits in the vivarium, which are bothersome to clean. Whichever type of water you choose for your gecko, remember that vivarium hygiene is important. You should change your gecko’s water every 1-2 days to get rid of bacteria, dust, and dirt in the water dish.