Keep Your Leopard Gecko Safe and Happy

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Comforts To Provide; Dangers To Avoid

My wife, Pam, and I have only owned 2 leopard geckos, but we have learned a LOT about what to do for them…as well as what NOT to do. In general terms, we recommend a truly outstanding leopard gecko website for study. It would take far more than a single Hub Page to cover the excellent material they have there. We won’t try.

What we will do is share some specific insights we’ve picked up along the way. Important insights, one of which can prevent fatal injury to your pet. THAT is crucial; nothing produces guilt like accidental harm to a small creature that trusts you for affection, food, shelter, and basic security. We want to avoid that at all costs.

Pam acquired our first gecko, Buddy, when she was living in Hereford, Arizona. A teenager owned the little thing, and it was nearly starved to death. The kid just didn’t pay attention to the needs of the animal. Fortunately, when Pam’s adult son, Zach, rescued the scrawny reptile and brought it to his Mom, the previous owner didn’t mind at all. In fact, he was simply relieved that people would no longer have reason to get on him about his severe negligence.

Animals have always been drawn to me, but even more to my wife. She is a Little Mother Of The Universe, and she took VERY good care of Buddy. He had a glass cage with a heated cave rock, good sand for substrate, [which we now realize–the sand part–is NOT a good plan; see Comments below] and all the crickets he could eat. Buddy (who turned out to be a girl) appreciated it. She would climb on Pam’s hand and rest there, secure in the knowledge that THIS was a safe place. Before long, she began to fill out and grow. Her tail went from skinny to fat. Over the months, she developed into a big, healthy adult leopard gecko, beautifully colored and patterned through her frequent molts.

Two moves later, we were settled in the town of Parachute, Colorado. Our home is modest, but big enough for us. Buddy, on the other hand, had outgrown her cage for sure. We went shopping and got a bigger, beautiful cage with front-opening doors and a nice, tall storage-and-stand pedestal. She got a grand new home with beautiful, specialty sand, an extra climbing-and-cave rock…and a special hard-foam backdrop that was patterned to resemble natural rock.

Buddy went happy-nuts. She climbed and climbed and climbed. HOWEVER, she also fell and fell and fell. Only later did we figure out two things:

1. She had grown so large and heavy that her little sticky-pad-feet could not hold her indefinitely. If she had been a quarter of her massive size, she would probably never have had a problem. But she was what she was, and she fell.

2. At least one of the falls resulted in a terrible injury. We did NOT realize it at the time, even though we saw it happen: The side of her abdomen impacted the rounded but very hard edge of her ceramic water dish. She began to bleed internally, slowly but steadily.

As a result, within a couple of days she had stopped eating. Geckos do NOT always need to eat daily, but as the days began to add up, we began to worry. Then we saw her abdomen was becoming distended. It was evening. We did what we could: Gave her a warm-water bath, which she loved. After that, she moved agilely around her cage, in and out of her bath water dish, head high, as if to say, “Look, Mommy, nothing wrong with me!”

But there was. In the end, we had take her to our veterinarian to have her euthanized. It was one of the harder things we’ve had to do. So, as the saying goes, “I done said all that to say all this”:

Never give your leopard gecko a place to climb high unless any fall will be short, with a soft place to land.

We should not still feel guilty. How could we have known? Wild geckos climb high all the time, with total safety. But “guilt” does not depend on “should”, as we’re sure all of you know.

Enter Missy, a baby leopard gecko our favorite pet store operator had saved especially for us when she heard Buddy was in trouble. Missy is now about 8 months old, seems to be fully grown, even bigger and more beautiful than when we took her photos a few months back. She lives in that big, roomy cage Buddy used to have, but very much WITHOUT that fake climbing rock foam that turned out to be so deadly. Instead, we replaced that with a landscape print, taped on the outside of the glass of course, which looks climbable but of course is not.

Missy The Leopard Gecko, December 2007.

Missy The Leopard Gecko, December 2007.

Now, about food: The geckos need a good calcium supplement, available water, a good substrate (we switched to paper towels after reading that the edible sand sometimes becomes impacted). For food, they CAN eat certain meal worms and such, but all they really need is a steady diet of live crickets. They will not touch road kill, so to speak. If the cricket does not move, it will not be eaten. The predatory instinct needs to be triggered. So when Missy was tiny, we fed her only tiny crickets. Now she can and does munch down fully grown six-leggeds and does very well.

For the longest time, we bought commercial cricket food from Fluker’s, and they ARE good…but such expense turns out to be totally unnecessary. We now use halves of citrus fruits,either oranges or (when I purchased them by accident) ruby red grapefruit–which the little buggies also love. When I’m moving a few crickets from our cricket-farm cage to Missy’s cage, I ask the crickets, “Who wants to be lunch?” Amazingly, quite often a number of them will scurry right out to see what the experience of being crunched in gecko jaws is like.

Not that she eats them beyond her capacity. If she is full, she is NOT a glutton. We’ve read that it can be possible to overfeed a gecko, but thankfully that has not thus far been the case with ours. So, often she goes a number of days with crickets running loose around her cage, chirping cheerfully, the whole bit.

Then, just a few days ago, I came home to discover that the pieces of egg carton which serve as cricket-hiders in Missy’s cage…had been moved. The two bigger ones were actually propped up against her heated cave-rock. I asked Pam about it. She told me she WATCHED Missy decide to redecorate and take action. The little lizard moved those chunks of cardboard over to her rock by herself! Nudge, push, until she had them where she wanted them.

Quite amazing. Enough, and more than enough, to make it worth the effort of keeping your leopard gecko safe, warm, well fed…and off those dangerous climbing surfaces.

In a cage or on the prowl, a leopard gecko is a delight to behold…as this video shows.

Update Christmas Eve, Dec. 4, 2011:

CAUTION: Just got a comment from Kim regarding her gecko, Scamper. The little fellow got himself stuck in an exit hole that came as part of his hide rock. Fortunately, Chris and his associate (Sarah) of PetSmart were able to help free Scamper and there’s a very Merry Christmas in Scamper Town this year.

But as Kim recommended: Especially if you have a growing leopard gecko, please be sure he or she is not at risk of outgrowing any of the hides and holes in the habitat. Frankly, I didn’t even know they made “bad toys” like that; I’ve never seen one. Our Missy’s cave rock is a pass-through, solid overhead and no threat to it.

Kim threw away the offending rock.

Note: This post was published on another site (which I did not own, as I do this one) for more than five years. When it was moved over here to Ghost32writer (which I do own), 570 comments were left behind. Those included quite a bit of solid information about leopard geckos. However, I can remember most of it–so if you have questions, please do feel free to ask in a comment. I should be able to reply with 24 hours in most cases.

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