Read This Before Getting A Leopard Gecko

Leopard gecko care isn’t difficult if you know what you need (and stick to a simple, yet essential, routine).

A lot of people hear “starter reptile” or “beginner reptile” and assume there is no work or money behind caring for these little buddies. That’s not true.

Their care is easier if you are willing to put in the time and the money, but it’s not so easy that you can get away with doing absolutely nothing. That being said don’t be intimidated. If you’re reading this article you’re already on the right track. Doing proper research is key to being a good pet owner.

I’ve had my Leo Ángel for about a year and a half now and I just got my second Leo Sybil this week. She has pretty serious Metabolic Bone Disease and her care is a little different because of her condition. If you’ve never heard of this, it’s important to do a little research and understand the condition and how to prevent it. It’s not a rare condition and it’s common in “starter reptiles”, because people miss simple and essential steps in care out of negligence or ignorance.

When it comes to Leo’s this usually comes from not providing Calcium supplement, multivitamins, and proper amounts of food.

There’s a few things you absolutely need to learn and understand for your gecko. Though you should note that there are many ways to do them. Just because I use paper towel as a substrate with slate tiles doesn’t mean you need to, but you should do research to understand the dangers of loose substrate (research impaction to learn more). I’ll highlight each section of care and give as much advice as I have in the subject, and what I avoid and why, but don’t take my word as the only truth and way to do things. Do more research, tons more, and figure things out for yourself! This is just a good place to start, but it shouldn’t be a one stop shop.

I’ll provide links to reptile owners I learned from online so you can start doing more fun research after this.

Terrarium

Your gecko needs to live somewhere. And while there’s lots of debate on tubs or tanks, the most important thing is that you get a home that is the right size and can hold everything your gecko needs. That’s why I think tanks are best. A baby leopard gecko can live in a 10 gallon, but note that they will grow of out of it quickly. An adult should be in a 20 gallon minimum.

I stick to a nice Exo-terra Terrarium. They are expensive homes, but they’re worth it. You can of course go with a different brand that is less expensive, and it’ll work just as well. I only like Exo-terra because they are front opening, sturdy, and have lots of holes and spaces for wires to go through. You’ll need that for your heat mat, thermostat, ect.,

The front opening is nice because it makes handling you Leo much easier. Coming from overhead may put your gecko on the defensive side and they’ll run and hide from you. Since I moved Ángel into his Exo-terra, he stopped running from me and I got more handling time with him since he wasn’t so scared of me. He was already a few months older, but it still made a huge difference.

Sybil’s new home

Heating

You’re leopard gecko needs a terrarium big enough to split into two temperatures: a warm side and a cool side. The warm side is usually around 85-90 degrees F and the cool side is about 75-80 degrees F. In order to achieve this temperature gradient, you’ll need a heat source on the hot side. A heat mat is the best way to go.

Leopard gecko’s need heat for their bellies in order to digest food, so having that under tank heating makes it easy for them to spread their tummies on the floor and get that heat. Heat lamps alone won’t be enough for this need and heat rocks can be dangerous. They have been known to burn geckos.

You should also make sure you have the right size for your terrarium. A good rule of thumb is that the heat mat should be 1/3 the size of the tank.

Lastly, you need a thermostat for your heat mat. This part confused me a lot when I first got Ángel, so don’t feel bad if it confuses you too, but it is important. Heat mat’s alone do not have anything on them to set temperatures, so they just heat up as high as they can. If you want your hot side to be 90 and your heat mat heats up to 110 then you need find a way to lower that temperature. The only way to do that is to buy a thermostat.

I’ll link the best thermostat I’ve found here. When you get it all you have to do is plug your heat mat into the thermostat (instead of the wall), put the probe over the heat mat in a place where it is secure and won’t move (if it moves the temperature reading will not work right!), and plug it into the wall.

Humidity

Leo’s are a desert species so they generally require low humidity.

However, when a gecko is in shed they need higher humidity to shed properly. This is why you should always have one humid hide for your gecko. You never know when your gecko is going to shed, so you should keep this one hide humid as much as possible. I usually spray the humid hide once or twice a day since my gecko has a very sealed hide and it stays humid for several hours. But some hides won’t hold humidity as well and need to be sprayed often.

Your humid hide should be filled with paper towel or another viable substrate that holds humidity and won’t be harmful to your gecko. The hide I use for my older gecko can be found here.

Anny in shed

Hides and Bowls

Every gecko should have at least 3 hides. One on the hot side, one on the cool side, and the humid hide that goes in the middle of the two sides. Gecko’s love hides, it makes them feel secure, and they’ll spend a lot of time in them so make sure to get hides that fit them and are fun for them to climb and explore.

There should also be two bowls in their home. One for water, which should always be full of fresh water (changed daily usually), and one with a little bit of calcium powder. Just make sure you are using the right one, calcium comes with D3 and without it.

It’s good for them to have access to calcium 24/7 so that if they feel they need more they can go get some. Calcium is essential for their growth so this little step can make a huge difference.

Substrate

Loose substrate, generally, is a no no. Impaction can be deadly and impaction comes from your gecko accidentally eating the substrate. They cannot pass substrate in their stool so their tummies become full of sand (or other loose substrate) and this can cause death if found too late.

The best substrate, in my opinion, is tile. I use slate tile, but there are other kinds you can use. Just make sure it doesn’t have sharp edges, can hold the right temperature, and do some research to find the best fit for you and your gecko.

The simplest option, which is also used for quarantining geckos or caring for sick geckos, is paper towel. It’s simple but effective. It’s easy to change out and holds temperatures. I use a combo of paper towels and slate with my gecko Ángel.

Lighting

You can use lighting for your leo, but with Ángel I’ve always used the lights in my room for him. I turn them on in a 12 hour cycle so he has light hours and dark hours. Just like us, gecko’s like to have light to know when it’s day or night, so mimic the daylight hours with the lights in your house. They’ll be more active at night and in the early hours of the morning. Keep them out of direct sunlight though. If they are in a glass home, direct sunlight runs the risk of over heating their terrarium.

Some people say they need UVB, some say they don’t, this is something you should research and decide for yourself. I never used it on my gecko Ángel, but given Sybil’s MBD, I use it for her recovery.

Night lights are a big no because they’re too bright and disrupt their dark cycle. Red lights also aren’t that good.

Food and Supplements

Leo’s will only eat live insects. You cannot feed freeze dried. Though their are a few options, the main ones are crickets, dubia roaches, meal worms, and wax worms (which are more like gecko junk food). Cricket’s and Dubia’s make good staples, since they have good protein (Dubia’s being the best to me and my personal favorite choice), but you should always feed your gecko more then one insect for variety and nutrients.

Size, amount, and frequency will depend on your gecko’s age and size. Generally food shouldn’t be bigger than a gecko’s head and baby gecko’s eat everyday while adult’s don’t. This is another place where you should do more research.

What’s MOST IMPORTANT is to ALWAYS supplement with Calcium and Multivitamin. You do this by buying calcium powder and multivitamin dust (found here and here), and coating your insects with these powders before feeding your gecko. They should look white or whatever color your multivitamin is, clearly showing they are coated. Some people feed calcium one day, multivitamin another, but I simply mix the two with two parts calcium one part vitamin. Research more about it!

Handling

This is the part everyone’s been waiting for. It is incredibly rewarding, fun, and bonding to handle your gecko. If you’re gecko is a hatchling, it’s also incredibly difficult.

I’m only kidding. But they will be very fast and chaotic in the beginning. This is why you have to handle your gecko often when you first get them. They will only start to calm down once they get build trust for you and your handling.

You should do more research for handling tips and techniques, but as a ground rule make sure you never grab their tail. If you grab them from their tale or tug on it, you run the risk of them dropping their tail. This doesn’t mean instant death, but it does mean a long process of regrowing the tail and being super careful with diet, cleanliness, ect.,

Also, I only handle my gecko’s in the late evening/ night because I want to give them plenty of time to sleep and rest during the day. I also feed at night for this reason. You should also handle before feeding. It’s like swimming, you wouldn’t want to be moved that much either after a meal, so don’t pick up your gecko right after a feeding.

Otherwise, handling is a super fun process and you’ll get to learn how your gecko likes to be handled the more you care for them. Ángel loves to climb up to my head and will climb on my face to do it if he has the chance. His nails are pretty sharp, so it’s a really fun time. For him at least.

Ángel being handled by my fiance.

Switch things up and have fun!

As long as your gecko has everything it needs, you can definitely have fun and switch things up from time to time. Try new insects, get new hides, move current hides, change substrates, build play pens, ect., It’ll keep things fun for you and your Leo!

I hope this information can be useful. I watched a lot of videos and read a lot of guides before and when I first got Ángel so just know you’re doing the right thing by getting in your research!

Like I said a lot in this article, there is a ton you can learn on these topics (and on other topics I didn’t even mention), but this is a great place to start. Some great places to go next are Leopard Gecko YouTube, GoHerping aka the owner of Emerald Scales, and Wickens Wicked Reptiles. These are some of the most highly trusted sources of reptile information on YouTube.

Let me know in the comments below if you have a Leopard Gecko or if you are getting one!

Sybil seems very happy in her home and I’m very excited to spend more time with her and get her even happier, healthier, and in love with handling!

Until Next Time,

Stay Psyched

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