How Do I Care for Leopard Geckos?

Cynde Gregory

Leopard geckos are fascinating pets, and properly cared for, they can remain your friend for a quarter of a century. While they aren’t particularly difficult to tend, certain things, such as providing live insects and a proper cage, are nonnegotiable. Lizard pet aficionados abound; there are more who keep leopard geckos than any other type, which is a tribute to just how manageable they are.

Leopard geckos need a box with moss inside it to hide in.
Leopard geckos need a box with moss inside it to hide in.

Your bug-eyed buddy needs a house that is up to a gecko’s idea of home sweet home. Too small and it will go stir crazy; too large and it might wander to the ends of its own little world and far away from the all-important heat lamp. Plan on about 10 gallons (about 38 liters) of aquarium for each gecko in the tribe, and supply a hideout into which vermiculite or natural moss has been installed. Be sure the screen atop the aquarium is secure enough to keep little-people hands and cat’s paws out and the gecko in. Screening the top also allows the flow of fresh air.

Crickets are a staple of the leopard gecko's diet.
Crickets are a staple of the leopard gecko's diet.

Whether it costs a few bucks or several thousand, gecko owners bear the responsibility of keeping their little lizard friends in tip-top shape. It’s true that human bodies thrive on veggies and whole grains, but that kind of food just makes a gecko roll its eyes in disgust. Not only do geckos demand crunchy, live crickets or wriggling mealworms on the dinner plate, they really need those insects to be well fed, or gut loaded, with super-healthy hog mash.

This might make lizard owners hungry, but many leopard geckos find a snack of their own skin irresistible, at least once they’ve stepped out of it. A saucer of water that is refreshed daily and topped off with vitamin drops is an absolute necessity. The bottom of the bowl must be flat and the sides deep because spilled water could cause mildew, mold, or other icky problems. Next to the water, it’s a good idea to place a small container of nutritional supplements in the form of a powder that can be purchased at a pet store.

Keep the habitat floor free of sand or other substrates that contain tiny bits. While mature, healthy geckos are tough guys who can handle it, youngsters and sick or aging geckos might, for reasons of their own, ingest the matter and end up with bellyaches bad enough to kill. Safer bets are stones, pea gravel, or several layers of newspaper.

Leopard geckos don’t like getting the cold shoulder either. One way to make sure they’ve got a good substitute for desert heat is with a heat lamp, but this can be dangerous if someone isn’t available to check it often and turn it off when it gets overly warm. A safer bet is heat tape or an undertank-style heating pad tucked beneath the cage flooring. This will provide steady heat in a limited location so the gecko can find cooler spots elsewhere in the habitat.

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