Table of Contents
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.
Minimum terrarium size for leopard geckos
Although there are many popular housing options for leopard geckos, we recommend a 36”L x 18”W x 18”H enclosure. It is worth noting that leopard geckos are naturally curious and enjoy exploring their surroundings, therefore opting for a larger enclosure can also be a viable option. Ultimately, the best living conditions for leopard geckos will depend on a variety of factors, including their individual needs and preferences.
Can you keep two leopard geckos together?
It is not recommended to keep leopard geckos together. 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.
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 keeping an animal isolated and under sterile conditions in order to reduce the potential spread of disease.
Even if you don’t have other reptiles, quarantine is still important because it allows you to closely monitor your lizard for signs of illness and administer treatment. You can use your leopard gecko’s long-term enclosure for quarantine, or you can use a large plastic tub. Tubs are inexpensive and easy to clean, making them the go-to option for quarantine.
Here are some rules for quarantining your leopard gecko:
- Keep the gecko in a separate room from other reptiles, if possible.
- We suggest using separate equipment solely for your new leopard gecko and washing your hands thoroughly between handling different animals.
- Fully disinfect the enclosure often, we suggest doing this about one time per week.
- Get the gecko checked by an experienced reptile veterinarian and treated for parasites if needed.
- Observe for symptoms of disease or illness.
- Check your lizard and its water bowl closely for mites, especially if the lizard is soaking. If you do find mites, treat them accordingly.
Do leopard geckos need UVB?
While leopard geckos can survive without UVB lighting, we recommend providing it for them if possible. UVB lighting helps provide a clear day/night cycle, provides all of the vitamin D that your pet needs, strengthens the immune system, facilitates better digestion, and other benefits.
The UVB bulbs that we recommend 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!
We suggest leaving lights on for about 8-12 hours a day to follow a natural day to night cycle. It is good practice to gradually change the amount of light exposure to simulate seasonal changes in day length. All lights should be off at night. A CHE can be used just at night if temperatures fall below 65F.
Please keep in mind that certain morphs of leopard geckos, such as albinos, can be more 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.
It is still essential to research your specific animal and determine the best set-up for them.
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
Best temperature for leopard geckos
Like other reptiles, leopard geckos are cold-blooded, which means that they rely on external temperatures to manage their own body temperature and metabolism. A reptile’s enclosure should offer a range of temperatures to allow them to thermoregulate effectively. To ensure that your leopard gecko is healthy and comfortable, it is important to provide them with an enclosure that offers a range of temperatures for effective thermoregulation. In particular, we find that the enclosure should have a warm side and a cool side, with a temperature range of 90-95°F for the warm side and 72-78°F for the cool side. We do also suggest placing hides on both sides of the enclosure.
There are several methods of heating that are available. Most people recommend using over head heating, such as halogen bulbs. Radiant heat panels, ceramic heat emitters, and under tank heating are also popular choices.
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.
It is essential to regulate and monitor the temperature of the heating method chosen. This can be done by using a thermostat or dimmer switch to control the heat output. Regular temperature checks should also be conducted to ensure that everything is functioning correctly. We recommend using an infrared thermometer and a digital thermometer to monitor enclosure temperatures accurately.
By providing your leopard gecko with the appropriate temperature range, you will ensure that your pet is healthy, comfortable, and able to carry out necessary biological processes effectively.
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, or over the under tank heating. We suggest using under tank heaters that are slightly smaller than the hide itself, buried under 1-2” of substrate to prevent direct contact, with the thermostat probe placed inside the hide to ensure it does not overheat.
Best humidity levels for leopard geckos
Leopard geckos do best in an environment with 30-40% average humidity, as measured by a digital hygrometer with the probe in the middle of the terrarium. However, we suggest adding a third, humid hideout to their enclosure. This can be 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. It is important to check their toes for stuck shed often. They're pretty good at removing (and even eating) their own shed, but sometimes leave some on their toes.
How to create a humid hide for your leopard gecko
We suggest adding a third humid hide in addition to the warm and cool hides, which should be placed towards the middle to cool end of the enclosure. Providing your leopard gecko with access to a humid hide is a great way to ensure your leopard gecko will be able to stay well-hydrated and shed more easily. This hide should function as a humid burrow to which your leopard gecko can retreat whenever it needs a bit of extra moisture.
There are various options for purchasing a humid hide, such as the Zilla Rock Lair or the Exo Terra Snake Cave. These products are fully-enclosed and easy to clean. Alternatively, you can make your own humid hide using a Tupperware container with a hole cut out for an entrance. Regardless of whether you choose to purchase or make your own humid hide, it should be lined with moistened paper towel or sphagnum moss.
If you use paper towel, it should be replaced every 1-3 days to ensure it stays clean. If you use sphagnum moss, it should be replaced every 2-4 weeks. By providing your leopard gecko with a humid hide and regularly maintaining it, you can help ensure that your pet stays healthy and comfortable.
Do leopard geckos get respiratory infections from humidity?
Leopard geckos are often considered to be desert lizards, however, it is essential to understand that there are various types of deserts, and exposure to water does not necessarily harm them. It is a common misconception in the leopard gecko community that any form of water or humidity in their surroundings will lead to respiratory infections.
In reality, respiratory infections occur due to persistently wet conditions, inadequate hygiene, poor ventilation, and/or low temperatures, as these factors weaken a reptile's immune system and create a favorable environment for pathogens to thrive within the enclosure. Monitoring humidity levels, keeping the enclosure clean, and frequently changing out water dishes are all great ways to avoid this issue. If you do have concerns regarding respiratory infections, or your gecko is exhibiting signs of being sick, we suggest consulting your local veterinarian.
There is a lot of debate around what substrate to use for leopard geckos. It is important to remember that you should always do additional research and determine what option will be best for you and for your animal’s specific needs.
You may have heard that using loose substrate as bedding for your leopard gecko can lead to impaction, a blockage of the intestine that hinders proper digestion. While this statement does hold some truth, especially for substrates like calcium-based sand, there are safer naturalistic substrates available that can provide enrichment and enhance the appearance of your gecko's enclosure.
When using a loose substrate, it is important to choose the right type and frequently monitor the temperature and humidity in the enclosure. If the environment is too hot or too cold, it can negatively impact your gecko's natural processes and increase the risk of impaction when substrate is ingested. When the gecko is healthy, it can generally ingest small amounts of substrate without any problems. However, it's still important to minimize the amount of substrate that your gecko ingests in order to avoid any potential issues with impaction. By selecting a safe substrate option and feeding your gecko on tongs or in a bowl, you can help ensure that your pet stays healthy and happy.
Here are some commercially available loose substrate options that we recommend:
- Zoo Med ReptiSand: This substrate is made of natural, very fine quartz desert sand. It comes in two colors — white and orange — but is free of dyes and chemicals, and is not the same as calcium sand.
- Jurassic Sands Reptile Substrate: This substrate is pre-washed, natural dune sand. It boasts exceptionally fine particle size, low dust, and reduces risk of impaction and abrasion. It clumps like cat litter for easy removal of waste and helps eliminate odors.
Substrate mixes are also a great option. You can mix several commercial substrates or create your own mixture. We suggest using a mixture of 40% organic topsoil, 40% play sand, and 20% excavator clay.
Loose Substrate Alternatives
As a reptile owner, it's important to carefully consider the type of bedding you use in your gecko's enclosure. While some keepers prefer loose substrate, others opt for alternative options that offer a range of benefits.
Some options to consider are paper towels, non-adhesive shelf liner, or ceramic/slate tiles. These materials make it easy to monitor your gecko's health, as well as clean and maintain their enclosure.
When using materials such as paper towels or non-adhesive shelf liner, it's essential to clean and wipe down your gecko's enclosure more often than with loose substrate. This helps prevent the buildup of bacteria and mold, which can be harmful to your pet's health.
To maintain a clean and healthy environment, we recommend wiping down the enclosure with a reptile-safe disinfectant about once a week, or anytime the animal defecates. Be sure to remove any soiled bedding and replace it with fresh material as needed.
When selecting bedding, it's crucial to avoid options that may harbor bacteria. Instead, choose materials that are easy to clean and maintain. For this reason we advise against using reptile carpet or fabric towels.
In order to promote the health and well-being of your gecko, it's crucial to carefully evaluate all available substrate and bedding options and choose the one that best suits your pet's needs.
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:
- Remove the gecko from the enclosure and put it inside a temporary, escape-proof holding container.
- Remove all substrate and décor.
- Vacuum and wipe down the enclosure to remove leftover particles.
- Apply a reptile-safe disinfectant to the floor and walls of the enclosure and let sit for the disinfectant’s recommended contact time.
- Meanwhile, soak branches, rocks, hides, and other décor in a disinfectant rated for porous materials for the recommended contact time.
- If required, rinse the enclosure and the accessories with clean water to remove disinfectant residue. Allow everything to dry.
- Pour new substrate into the enclosure. Mix in water until uniformly moistened but not wet.
- Arrange décor.
- 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, mealworms, and blue death-feigning beetles.
How to decorate a leopard gecko terrarium
We have found that providing environmental enrichment for your leopard gecko can greatly improve its quality of life by keeping it stimulated and engaged. Adding carefully selected décor items can encourage natural behaviors and exercise, leading to a happy and healthy pet.
As previously mentioned, providing multiple hides is recommended, with one placed on the warm side and one on the cool side of the enclosure, along with a humid hide, if possible. We also recommend adding other items such as fake plants or cork bark can create a more naturalistic and stimulating environment. Be sure to avoid items with sharp edges. Some great options to include in your enclosure are:
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:
- Christmas cactus
- Elephant feed
- Festuca grass
- Jade plant
- Mother of pearl plant
- Opuntia (spineless variety)
Larger, older plants are more expensive to buy, but they are also sturdier and more likely to survive your leopard gecko.
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:
- American roaches
- black soldier fly larvae
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
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.
- Do not grab the gecko by its tail or pull on its tail.
- Do not squeeze the leopard gecko.
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.
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.
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.
*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!