A Beginners Guide to Owning/Caring for a Leopard Gecko

Updated on April 17, 2020
RyleighOU profile image

Morgan has been an animal enthusiast and owner for quite some time, owning different types of reptiles and mammals over time.

The Basics

As a leopard gecko mama myself, I know that a lot of research needs to go into owning these little guys! To start, here are some of the most basic things you need to know.

  • Leopard geckos are solitary creatures, and having more than one in the same enclosure will end badly—no matter how well you think they are doing together.
  • A loose substrate is one of the worst things you can put in with your gecko! It can be ingested and cause impaction, which is incredibly harmful and can cause death if not treated.
  • Lamps are a definite no. Pet stores may tell you they are necessary for temperature management, but they will do nothing but harm your gecko.

Fun Fact

Leopard geckos are one of the few kinds of geckos with movable eyelids!

Things to Remember Before Getting a Leopard Gecko

Do
Don't
Never
Keep only one per tank.
Use lamps/extra lights.
Cohabitate!
Get at least a 20 gal. tank for adults
Buy pre-made starter kits.
Use loose substrate
Use flat substrate.
Use reptile carpet.
 
Learn what not to do before purchasing supplies: Not all pet stores give accurate info!

Items Needed for a Terrarium

  • 20 gallon long tank, for adults
  • 10 gallon tank, for babies
  • 3 hides, 1 moist, 1 hot, 1 cool
  • 1 under tank heater (uth), on hot end of tank
  • Extra decor, for clutter/climbing
  • 1 thermostat, for uth, to keep hot spot between 88-92 degrees
  • 1 water dish
  • 1 calcium dish
  • Flat substrate
Leopard geckos need plenty of hides! A minimum of 3 is required.
Leopard geckos need plenty of hides! A minimum of 3 is required.

Fun Fact

Leopard geckos do not have toe pads like other geckos, and therefore, are unable to climb smooth surfaces.

How to Set Up a Terrarium

  • A minimum of three hides are required, but the more present, the happier your gecko will be.
  • Geckos require a hot side of their terrarium and a cool side. They need at least one hide on each of these sides, as well as a moist hide somewhere in the tank to aid in shedding.
  • The "hot spot", or hot side, of your gecko's terrarium must be between 88-92 degrees. An under tank heat mat will achieve this, but it is necessary to have a thermostat attached to ensure the heat mat will not get too hot and burn their bellies.
  • Lamps are an absolute no. If you have the under tank heat mat on a thermostat, the tank's hot spot will be warm enough to ensure that the ambient temperature of the tank remains at a stable temperature of above 70 degrees. Lamps can be very harmful to geckos; they can cause burns and vision problems, as leopard geckos' eyes are already sensitive. This one I can personally attest to: I was told by a chain pet store that I would need a lamp to regulate heat instead of a thermostat. When I did this on each of my geckos' tanks, it seriously harmed the vision of both of them. One already had vision problems, and this lamp made her almost blind. I now have to feed her with tongs directly in front of her, or else she will not see her food.
  • Loose substrates and reptile carpet are to be avoided. Loose substrates (sand especially!) can cause impaction, while reptile carpet can catch on claws and teeth as well as harbor bacteria. Good options for a substrate includes paper towels, non-adhesive shelf liner, and tile.

How to Care for Your Gecko

  • Regardless of gender, geckos cannot be kept together. Many will testify that they have had their geckos together for a significant amount of time without issues, but no matter how long they have been together, problems will occur. One gecko will take the dominant role, even if it takes several fights to achieve this, and begin to bully the other gecko. This will cause the other one to have trouble getting enough food and heat. They will also fight sometimes so violently that one gecko will end up seriously injured or dead.
  • Leopard geckos are 100% insectivores. They will not eat fruit, Pangea, etc. unlike other types of geckos. A base diet should include crickets, mealworms, and super worms. All must be gut-loaded before feeding (I use baby carrots and potato slices). Insects such as waxworms and hornworms are considered treats and should only be given sparingly, as they are likely to become addicted and refuse to eat anything else. If your gecko does not seem to be eating, do not resort to feeding treats. Always consult a veterinarian first.
  • As babies, you should allow your gecko to eat as much as they are able to in a span of 10 minutes, either daily or every other day. As they get older, their feedings can be spread out to every 3-5 days.
  • Always dust their food with a calcium + D3 supplement, along with keeping a small dish full of some calcium (with or without D3). This ensures that they have their calcium needs in order to prevent cryptosporidiosis. This disease can be deadly, and if not treated in time, will soon become irreversible. This disease causes extreme weight loss and bone damage.
  • When handling your gecko, be slow to approach the topic. First, slowly place your hand near them in their tank. This gives them the opportunity to approach you themselves when they are comfortable, and get used to your scent. After a few weeks—yes, weeks of this—it is safer to very carefully attempt to pick theme up. It is important to know that if they bite or hiss, the worst thing to do is drop, yell, or in any way hurt them for this. They just need more time!

While leopard geckos shed like all other reptiles, their sheds are inconsistently timed. They also eat their shed, so you may notice your gecko not eating during or after a shed.
While leopard geckos shed like all other reptiles, their sheds are inconsistently timed. They also eat their shed, so you may notice your gecko not eating during or after a shed.

Final Reminder

The most important part of owning a leopard gecko is to make sure you are prepared to give your gecko the life they deserve. As they can live over 15 years, they'll be in your life for a long time if you care for them right and you need to make it worth your while, and theirs as well.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

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    • profile image

      Vv 

      5 weeks ago

      What is a flat substrate? I don't know what to put in it's cage HELP

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