Leopard Gecko Care Sheet

Leopard Gecko Care Sheet

 

Introduction

Leopard Geckos (Eublepharis macularius) are 7-10” long, nocturnal geckos native to Pakistan, Afghanistan, and surrounding countries. They prefer semi-desert and arid grassland habitats, and are primarily terrestrial (ground-dwelling).

Leopard geckos are stout lizards with a large, blunt head, large eyes, a robust body, segmented tail, and long toes. Unlike most other geckos, they have eyelids, and they do not have sticky feet. Their pattern is typically mustard yellow with small black spots, although thanks to captive breeding, they are now available in a wide variety of colors and patterns (morphs).

Leopard geckos generally make good pets due to their docile temperament and high tolerance of humans. With good care, a pet leopard gecko can live 20+ years.

Enclosure

Minimum terrarium size for leopard geckos

The minimum terrarium size for a leopard gecko is 36”L x 18”W x 18”H, or a 40 gallon breeder tank. Of course, larger is always better — if you provide, they will use it!

Can you keep two leopard geckos together?

Multiple leopard geckos should not be housed in one enclosure. They can be territorial, and may fight and injure each other. This is especially the case when males are housed together, or when geckos are housed in an enclosure that doesn’t have enough space for them to get away from each other.

Are tubs good enclosures for leopard geckos?

You’ve probably seen videos on YouTube and posts on platforms like Instagram of people who keep their leopard geckos in plastic tubs arranged on shelves. At first glance, this seems like an ideal arrangement: a way to keep more reptiles in less space! The geckos seem happy and healthy enough in these posts, which further suggests tubs and racks as the ideal for leopard gecko housing. However, this is not the case.

Plastic tubs are simply not large enough to fulfill an adult leopard gecko’s needs for space according to animal welfare guidelines. Furthermore, tub-based housing is generally deficient in temperature gradient, ventilation, and lighting. Leopard geckos that are housed in tubs over the long-term are more likely to suffer from health problems such as muscle weakness, obesity, etc.

How to quarantine a leopard gecko

When you bring home a new pet reptile, it’s best practice to quarantine it first, especially if you own other reptiles. It is especially important if you plan on housing your leopard gecko in a bioactive vivarium. Quarantine is the practice of isolating animals that have arrived from elsewhere or been exposed to infectious or contagious disease. 

Even if you don’t have other reptiles, quarantine is still important because it allows you to closely monitor your pet for signs of illness and administer treatment. Leopard geckos should be quarantined for a period of 3-6 months. You can use your gecko’s long-term enclosure for quarantine, or you can use a large plastic tub. Although not ideal for long-term housing, tubs are inexpensive, easy to clean, and make an excellent short-term option for quarantine purposes.

Here are some rules for quarantining your leopard gecko:

  • Keep the gecko in a separate room from other reptiles.
  • Do not use the same equipment for the new gecko as for your other reptiles.
  • Fully disinfect the enclosure weekly.
  • Get the gecko checked by an experienced reptile veterinarian and treated for parasites if needed.
  • Observe for symptoms of disease or illness.

After the quarantine period is over, if your pet is completely healthy, you can transfer the leopard gecko to its long-term enclosure.

Lighting

Do leopard geckos need UVB?

Technically they can survive without it, but they are healthier when it is provided. UVB lighting helps provide a clear day/night cycle, provides all of the vitamin D that your gecko needs, strengthens the immune system, facilitates better digestion, and other benefits. 

The best UVB bulbs for leopard geckos in a 36x18x16 enclosure are:

  • Arcadia Forest 6%, 18”
  • Zoo Med Reptisun T5 HO 5.0, 12”

For best results, house the UVB bulbs in a reflective fixture. Position the lamp on the same side of the terrarium as the heat lamp, 12-14” above the basking area. If your basking area is closer to the top, the Arcadia ShadeDweller UVB kit is likely to be a better fit for UVB provision.

UVB is blocked by glass and plastic, so placing the terrarium in front of a window isn’t “free UVB” — in fact it can make your terrarium too hot due to the greenhouse effect. Don’t forget to replace your bulb every 12 months!

Lights should be on for 14 hours/day during summer and 10 hours/day during winter. This should be done gradually to simulate seasonal changes in day length, and helps regulate your gecko’s hormonal rhythm for better health.

How to measure UVI

The strength of a lamp’s UVB output is measured in UV Index, or UVI. Coincidentally, this is the same measurement that the World Health Organization uses to measure risk of skin damage from exposure to solar radiation. The best way to measure UVI in your gecko’s enclosure is with a Solarmeter 6.5. 

To use the Solarmeter, hold the device vertically at the height of the basking surface, with the lens pointing directly up at the lamp. Leopard geckos should have a basking UVI between 1.0-2.0, with UVI everywhere else in the enclosure being lower. Although there is a basking distance recommended in the previous section, note that factors such as the density of your terrarium mesh as well as the exact hood you’re using for your UVB lamp will affect the exact distance needed.

Can lights make your leopard gecko go blind?

There’s a common myth that using lights in a leopard gecko’s terrarium will eventually make it go blind. This myth likely originated from decades earlier in the hobby, when certain types of UVB lighting technology were known to cause eye damage. However, technology has improved since then, and although leopard geckos’ eyes are more sensitive to light because they are nocturnal, they can still tolerate sunlight. Sunlight is much brighter than any terrarium lighting.

What about leopard geckos with red eyes? These albino-type geckos are the most sensitive to light, but UVB and heat lamps are still unlikely to be a problem as long as they are installed correctly and plenty of shade is provided for the gecko to regulate its light exposure.

Heating

Best temperature for leopard geckos

Leopard geckos should have a basking surface temperature of 94-97°F, warm hide temperature of 90°F, cool side temperature between 70-77°F, and nighttime temps no lower than 60°F. Heat sources should be turned off at night.

You can provide heat for your gecko with a heat mat (no larger than 1/3 of the floor space) or halogen heat bulb. Halogen heat bulbs are better at imitating sunlight, and considered to be a superior form of reptile heating by experts. Do not use ceramic heat emitters (CHEs), red bulbs, or blue bulbs, as these are not as effective.

Measure temperatures with a digital probe thermometer, with the probe placed inside the warm hide. 

How to create a warm hide for your leopard gecko

Because leopard geckos are crepuscular, they generally prefer to sleep in a hidden location during the day and then do their hunting at night. This means that, while they are known to occasionally bask either fully or partly in the open, they gather most of their heat energy by sleeping in a warm burrow. By providing a warm hide in addition to your basking surface, you can accommodate both behaviors.

The warm hide should be placed directly underneath the heat lamps. If for any reason the heat lamps are unable to warm the hide to the right temperature, then you will need a heat mat to supplement. This must be connected to a thermostat to control the warm hide’s temperature. The heat mat should be slightly smaller than the hide itself, buried under 1-2” of substrate to prevent direct contact, with the thermostat probe placed inside the hide.

Are heat mats better than heat lamps?

Heat mats have been used for years for heating leopard geckos, but as our understanding of reptile housing has evolved, so has our understanding of reptile heating. While heat mats can be sufficient in a small tank or tub, they are not enough to create both appropriate basking and air temperatures in a larger enclosure. However, as outlined in the previous section, heat mats can be very effective for maintaining a warm hide.

Heat lamps produce a higher-intensity form of infrared that allows reptiles to bask more efficiently. Plus, they are able to heat the surfaces beneath them (creating “belly heat”) while also warming the air inside the enclosure. 

Of course, because they produce light, heat lamps are not suitable for use at night. If you are having trouble maintaining appropriate nighttime temperatures for your gecko, it’s best to use a ceramic heat emitter or radiant heat panel to warm the enclosure.

Humidity

Best humidity levels for leopard geckos

Leopard geckos do best in an environment with 30-40% average humidity, as measured by a digital probe hygrometer with the probe in the middle of the terrarium. However, they also need access to a humid hideout lined with moist substrate or sphagnum moss to give them a place to go when they need more moisture, such as when they’re shedding.

How to create a humid hide for your leopard gecko

In addition to a warm hide, your gecko should also have a humid hide available in the middle to cool end of the enclosure. This hide functions like a humid burrow to which leopard geckos can retreat when they feel the need for a bit of extra moisture. Having access to a humid hide is essential to maintaining a well-hydrated gecko that consistently sheds well.

You can either purchase a humid hide or make your own. There are several attractive commercial options for humid hides, such as the Zilla Rock Lair and the Exo Terra Gecko Cave. These products are fully-enclosed and easy to clean. To DIY your own humid hide, use a tupperware container with a hole cut out for an entrance. Either way, line the hide with moistened paper towel or sphagnum moss. Paper towel must be replaced every 1-3 days to stay clean, while sphagnum moss must be replaced every 2-4 weeks.

Do leopard geckos get respiratory infections from humidity?

Leopard geckos are widely thought of as desert lizards, but there are many different types of desert, and just because an animal is from the desert doesn’t mean that exposure to water will immediately harm them. This is a common myth in the leopard gecko community: that any kind of water or humidity in their environment will immediately cause a respiratory infection.

The truth is that respiratory infections are caused by consistently wet conditions, poor hygiene, poor ventilation, and/or low temperatures. This is because these conditions weaken a reptile’s immune system and encourages pathogen growth within the enclosure.

Substrate

Best substrate for leopard geckos

We recommend the following substrates/beddings for leopard geckos:

“Loose” substrates that mimic a reptile’s natural environment present a low impaction risk, cushion the animal’s joints, and offer a place where they can exercise natural burrowing behaviors.

Substrate should be at least 4” deep and completely replaced every 3-4 months. Remove poop and urates daily, along with contaminated substrate.

Does sand give leopard geckos impaction?

Substrate is a controversial topic when it comes to leopard geckos, because there’s a popular myth that loose substrate will cause gut impaction and potentially kill the lizard. This is why solid substrates like slate tile and terrarium mats are popular with this species. 

The truth is that only unhealthy leopard geckos with inappropriate husbandry are in true danger of substrate impaction. Otherwise, they would be dropping dead left and right in the wild, because their substrate in nature is largely sand or sandy soil. They occasionally ingest the substrate by accident, but a healthy leopard gecko can pass it through their digestive tract with no complications.

If you’re still worried, you can certainly use a solid substrate like slate tile or paper towels, but it’s more consistent with their biology for them to be housed on something that resembles their wild habitat.

However, avoid sand substitutes at all costs! This includes calcium sand, vitamin sand, crushed walnut, etc!

What to know about cleaning a leopard gecko enclosure

Replacing your pet’s substrate is a good time to give the entire enclosure a good cleanout. Here are some general steps to follow: 

  1. Remove the gecko from the enclosure and put it inside a temporary, escape-proof holding container.
  2. Remove all substrate and décor.
  3. Vacuum and wipe down the enclosure to remove leftover particles.
  4. Apply a reptile-safe disinfectant to the floor and walls of the enclosure and let sit for the disinfectant’s recommended contact time.
  5. Meanwhile, soak branches, rocks, hides, and other décor in a disinfectant rated for porous materials for the recommended contact time.
  6. If required, rinse the enclosure and the accessories with clean water to remove disinfectant residue. Allow everything to dry.
  7. Pour new substrate into the enclosure. Mix in water until uniformly moistened but not wet.
  8. Arrange décor.
  9. Reintroduce your gecko to the clean setup.

Some veterinary-grade disinfectant options that work for both porous and nonporous materials are F10SC, CleanBreak, and bleach solution. However, for porous materials, bleach solution should be in a 1:10 dilution, while you should use 1:50 for nonporous.

Can bioactive work for leopard geckos?

Absolutely. Bioactive vivariums can be a good choice of housing for leopard geckos because it gives them plenty of substrate to dig in and it’s generally more attractive than other options. Bioactive vivariums have the additional benefit of eliminating the need for total cleanouts, and a healthy vivarium always has a fresh, earthy aroma.

Some downsides of bioactive for leopard geckos are that they require at least one month to get established before the animal is introduced, which can be inconvenient. The plants that you use need to be sturdy enough to withstand the gecko’s activity, and nontoxic in case feeder insects munch on the plants. CUC (Clean Up Crew) organisms will get occasionally eaten, and maintenance in the form of plant care and occasional partial soil replacements are still necessary. Bioactive is also usually more expensive to set up in the short-term.

If you want to put together a bioactive setup for your leopard gecko, you will need all of the supplies recommended in this article, plus a few more things:

  • bioactive-ready desert substrate mix
  • clean leaf litter
  • drought-tolerant, nontoxic plants
  • 6500K LED or fluorescent grow lamp, spanning most of the enclosure’s length
  • CUC organisms to maintain a semi-arid environment

While it’s possible to mix your own desert bioactive substrate, if this is your first attempt at bioactive, you’re most likely to have success if you use a pre-mixed bioactive substrate available commercially, such as through Bio Dude or Josh’s Frogs. 

Good options for CUC for a bioactive leopard gecko vivarium include: dwarf white isopods, powder orange/blue isopods, springtails, superworms, mealworms, and blue death-feigning beetles.

Décor

How to decorate a leopard gecko terrarium

An empty terrarium leads to a bored gecko. Keep your gecko entertained and engaged with its environment with the strategic use of decor items that encourage it to exercise natural behaviors.

At bare minimum, you will need at least three hides/“caves” for the gecko to use. However, it’s best to include other items, such as:

Live plant options for leopard geckos

Although leopard geckos are insectivorous and highly unlikely to nibble on the plants in their enclosure, their CUC or feeder insects might. This means that you still need to be careful in selecting nontoxic plants. Here are some plants that are robust and do well in a well-lit, low-moisture environment:

  • Aloe
  • Christmas cactus
  • Echeveria
  • Elephant feed
  • Festuca grass
  • Gasteria
  • Haworthia
  • Iceplant
  • Jade plant
  • Mother of pearl plant
  • Opuntia (spineless variety)
  • Sempervivum

Larger, older plants are more expensive to buy, but they are also sturdier and more likely to survive your leopard gecko.

Food

What to feed to a leopard gecko

Leopard geckos are insectivores, which means that they need to eat a variety of insects to get the right nutrition. Juvenile leopard geckos should be fed every day, young adults should be fed every 2-3 days, and adults should be fed every 3-5 days depending on body condition.

Offer 2 insects per 1 inch of your gecko’s length, or however much they will eat in 15 minutes. Insects should be roughly the size of the space between the gecko’s eyes.

What are the best feeder insects for leopard geckos?

Use a rotation of at least three different kinds of feeders to meet your gecko’s nutrition needs. Here are some good options:

For best results, gutload your feeders with a high-quality gutload formula and water crystals for hydration for at least 24 hours before feeding.

Do leopard geckos need vitamins?

You will also need calcium and vitamin supplements to help keep your gecko healthy. We recommend Repashy Calcium Plus LoD or the Arcadia Earthpro supplement program, lightly dusted on all of your gecko’s feeder insects. It’s okay to occasionally skip a dusting.

Providing drinking water for leopard geckos

Of course, don’t forget a small water bowl for your gecko to drink from! Change the water daily and scrub the bowl with a reptile-safe disinfectant weekly, or whenever it becomes soiled.

Handling

How to handle your leopard gecko

Reptiles generally don’t appreciate petting and handling in the same way that dogs and cats do. That being said, leopard geckos tend to tolerate human interaction well. Here are some tips for success:

  • Don’t grab the gecko from above. Instead, scoop from below.
  • Support as much of its body as possible, especially the feet.
  • Start with short handling sessions at first, then gradually make them longer.
  • Put the gecko back in its enclosure only when it’s calm.

Taming tips for leopard geckos

Leopard geckos are perceived as calm and gentle, so they’re often also perceived as easy to tame. However, this isn’t always the case. Leopard gecko can be defensive when they’re in an unfamiliar environment, especially when they’re young. Even if you have a calm gecko, you still have to work to gain their trust, and be especially careful to create a positive association with yourself in their mind. It’s best to encourage the gecko to come out of the enclosure and climb onto you on their own, rather than simply grabbing them whenever you’re in the mood for handling. Never grab a reptile out from its hiding place, as this is a very effective way to make it feel unsafe.

Treats and hand-feeding are very effective for teaching your gecko that you are not something to be feared, since hunger can motivate your pet to move outside of its comfort zone. Use soft-tipped feeding tongs to prevent getting bitten by accident.

How to provide enrichment for a leopard gecko

Enrichment is the practice of strategically providing items and activities to encourage a captive animal to exercise natural behaviors. This also helps increase activity, reduce stress, and generally increase the animal’s welfare. 

Some argue that reptiles are “too dumb” to benefit from enrichment, but this is false. All reptiles can absolutely benefit from enrichment when it is provided in appropriate ways. Here are some ways to provide enrichment for leopard geckos:

  • Rearrange the enclosure. If total overhauls are too stressful for your gecko, move one thing every so often at your pet’s pace. For some individuals, that may be once a month, for others they might like once a week.
  • Puzzle feeders. Try putting a bug in a puzzle ball, or hanging a bunch of greens from the ceiling at head height.
  • Scatter feeding. Instead of offering all their food in a bowl, make them work for it by putting it in multiple places all around the enclosure. Or, let the feeders loose and let your gecko hunt!
  • Supervised explore time outside of the enclosure. Make sure to keep them away from situations that you can’t get them out of. If you take them outside, it’s best to enclose them in a pen so they don’t run off.

Health

When should you take a leopard gecko to the vet?

Dogs and cats aren’t the only pets who need veterinary care — lizards get sick and need professional help the same as any other pet. If you notice that your gecko has any of the following symptoms, make an appointment with an experienced reptile vet right away:

  • Noisy breathing
  • Mucus discharge from the mouth/nose/eyes
  • Persistent lethargy
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Persistent lack of appetite
  • Straining/inability to defecate
  • Large patches of missing scales
  • Open wounds
  • Swelling or bumps anywhere on the body
  • Sudden, unusually aggressive behavior

You can find a reputable reptile vet near you with the ARAV Find a Vet tool.

Resources

This care sheet contains only very basic information. Although it’s a good introduction, please further your research with high-quality sources. The more you know, the better you will be able to care for your pet! Here are some great sources we recommend:

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