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The Complete Guide to Keeping Geckos (food, habitat, health, care)

Pet Leopard Gecko

What is a gecko?

Geckos live in warm climates and a small to medium-sized lizards. Smaller geckos may good pets as they usually live for 10-20 years.

Did you know that there are over 1600 different species of geckos?

Your gecko’s habitat

Geckos are climbers, so their enclosure will need to include branches as well as places to hide. Geckos can be escape artists, so choose an aquarium with a tight-fitting lid as they can get through small holes. 

10 to 20 gallon vivarium for one adult gecko

When you start out, buy the biggest vivarium you can. Geckos grow quickly and like a large space. Each adult gecko requires a 10 to 20 gallon space, so you will require a vivarium with dimensions of around 70x30x30cm for one animal.

If you house more than one together, they each need 10 gallons of space.  To ensure bacteria doesn’t build up, the setup needs to be easy to clean and well ventilated.

Geckos like to live at a temperature of 21-32 degrees Celsius

Most geckos thrive in temperatures between 21-32C. Some require higher temperatures up to 35C for basking. You can control the temperature in the aquarium by using heat lights and pads. Ideally keep one side of the tank around 21-24C and the other side between 32-35C

Geckos prefer humidity at 30-40%

Many geckos, such as the leopard gecko prefer a relatively dry environment. Aim to keep the humidity between 30-40%. You can achieve this by keeping a water bowl in the tank or by misting the enclosure.

It’s worth getting a device to measure the humidity (called a hygrometer) so you can keep an eye on it and keep it as stable as possible. 

2-5% UVB provides low level lighting

Geckos require low levels of ultraviolet light to enable them to make Vitamin D. A 2-5% UVB bulb is sufficient.

Coconut husk is the best substrate

The best lining for your gecko’s enclosure is coconut husk as this retains moisture and won’t cause digestive issues if your gecko eats a small amount. You can also buy reptile carpet to link the tank. Some people use paper towels or newspapers, but the ink in newspapers and the bleach in paper towels might be harmful to your gecko, so bear that in mind.

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They love to hide in plants, rocks and boxes

Geckos love to hide in plants and under rocks so it’s a good idea to give them a few different options for tucking themselves away. Low sturdy branches are great for climbing. Man made boxes are also a good option for your gecko.

Geckos prefer to live alone

Adult male geckos may be aggressive to each other so it may not be wise to house them together. They prefer to live alone.

Gecko diet and nutrition requirements

Your gecko eats live insects, especially mealworms and crickets. They may also like superworms and waxworms as a treat. Some species also eat fruit. You can buy live insects which have been specially fed to provide the right nutrition to your gecko. 

Depending on the species, adult geckos might require different feeding schedules – check the specific requirements for your species. It may vary from daily to once a week. Young geckos generally require more frequent feeding than adult ones.

Handle geckos with care

Some geckos may not enjoy being handled but how you pick them up is key. You may need to work up to picking them up by putting your hand into their enclosure to get them used to you a bit more first.

Scoop your hand under the chin and front legs encouraging them to move onto your hand. Never pick a gecko up from above – they may think they are being attacked by a bird and never by the tail as they will shed the tail as a defence mechanism. It will grow back but it may be a different shape or colour. 

18 months old before you breed

  1. Do not attempt to breed your gecko before the age of 18 months as they need to reach adult size first.
  2. Best breeding season is December to June, although it is also possible the rest of the year.
  3. Your breeding tank needs to have plenty of places for the female to lay her eggs such as silk or live plants. 
  4. Males need stones on the bottom of the tank on which to deposit their sperm. Once sperm is deposited, the females will pick it up.
  5. Females lay as many as 1,000 eggs per spawning session.
  6. The breeding tank should be kept at around 20C.
  7. Eggs hatch in 2-3 weeks when the gecko larvae emerge.
  8. As the hatchlings begin to grow, keep an eye on the size and separate out any larger ones as these may attempt to eat smaller ones.

Gecko diseases, illness and injury

Tail shedding is natural, but stressful for a gecko

Tail shedding is a common defence mechanism to a threat and although it is a natural process, it could cause stress to the gecko. The tail will eventually grow back, although it is likely to be shorter and blunter than before. It’s possible that loud noises, bright lights or other stressful stimuli, such as an aggressive housemate could cause tail shedding.

Most wounds will self-heal if kept clean

Geckos can be injured by something in their enclosure such as a branch or by another gecko if they have a housemate. Unless the wound is wide or deep, it can be kept clean and allowed to self-heal. More serious wounds should be checked by a vet as there is a higher risk of infection.

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A ‘sauna’ will help with poor shedding

It is normal for healthy geckos to shed their entire skin every so often. Shedding problems may occur which make it difficult for the gecko to remove the shed and this can lead to damage to the limbs due to constriction.

To assist your gecko, you can give them a ‘sauna’ by popping them into a plastic container lined with paper towel and misting them with warm water. This should soften the shed, enabling the gecko to remove it. If this does not work, then you may need to seek your vet’s help.

 

Overfeeding and dehydration can cause impaction

Gecko’s digestive systems can be troublesome; impaction (aka constipation) is a common issue. This is when food cannot pass through the digestive tract and the gecko cannot defecate. This leads to pain, bloating and could cause infection. This can occur if the gecko has ingested a substance that has become lodged.

Overfeeding of large insects, parasitic infection and dehydration can also lead to impaction. The treatment is a warm water bath up to hip level and massage the belly, which can help them to excrete the waste. If this does not work, see your vet.

Treat parasites with a de-wormer

Parasitic infections are fairly common for geckos and most cause few problems. However, if the skin is infected then your gecko may develop red patches or have problems with shedding. If the gut is affected, this could cause issues with the digestive tract. Parasites can be treated with a de-wormer.

Drafts can cause respiratory problems

A draft or low temperature in the enclosure could cause your gecko to develop a respiratory infection which is characterised by wheezing. Your gecko will probably require antibiotics and perhaps a probiotic to help resolve this issue.

Red patches and pus could be stomatitis

Also known as mouth rot, this infection is characterised by red patches and pus around the mouth. If not treated this can be serious – get your gecko some antibiotics from the vet and advice on how to clean your pet’s mouth.

Geckos can be fun to watch as they dart about, although do be aware that many of them are nocturnal. If you are a light sleeper, you may find your pet keeps you awake if they live in your bedroom. Most of the time, they do not make many vocalisations, but sometimes they can make clicking or chirping type noises.