Shedding and Tail Loss in Leopard Geckos
How do Leopard Geckos Shed?
All reptiles shed their skin when they grow and leopard geckos are no exception to this rule (even though leopard geckos do shed differently than snakes and other lizards). Leopard geckos periodically she the outer layer of skin called the epithelial skin. When leopard geckos replace the superficial layers of skin, the skin of the leopard gecko goes into what is known as the resting stage. The resting stage ends when the cells that generate the new skin begin to divide from the old layer. When the two layers of skin begin to divide the leopard gecko will become more pale and dull (and sometimes even change color slightly) this is to be expected and one should never worry when this happens. When the old layer of skin is ready to shed from the leopard gecko it will begin to look like a “papery membrane” and then begins to shed off in sheetlike sections which may look similar to a peeling sunburn (leopard geckos do not shed in one piece as snakes do). Leopard gecko pull the skin off of their bodies with their mouth and eats them, possibly to gain the nutrients contained in the skin. Once the leopard gecko has fully shed the coloration and pattern will become very bright again.
Shedding Issues in Leopard Geckos
Some captive bred leopard geckos have a tendency to have shedding problems which can pose danger and even death to the animal, so it is important to be aware how the pet leopard gecko is shedding so the issue can be addressed and fixed immediately so that the leopard gecko can lead a healthy and long life. There are many factors that contribute to shedding problem which include (but are not limited to), low temperatures, a lack or abundance of vitamin A, weakness caused by injury, bacterial infections, viral infections, parasites, metabolic bone disease, and low humidity. Providing a pet leopard gecko with a proper diet and mineral and vitamin supplementation will help reduce possible health issues that may cause a gecko to shed improperly. Providing the pet leopard gecko with a humidity hut in the enclosure will also help the outer layer of skin to shed properly and reduce issues as well as provide adequate humidity that is necessary for proper shedding. Also, close observation of the pet leopard gecko , including fecal matter, level of activity, weight gain, weight loss, will help identify and eliminate possible health problems that may be causing shedding issues. When geckos fail to shed they look very dull and pale and show obvious signs of adhering old skin on the body, eyelids, and toes. Geckos that tend to have shedding issues also become listless and their behaviors change dramatically. If shedding problems are ignored and not quickly addressed it can lead to many complications such as eye problems, loss of digits (toes), infections, and in severe cases, death.
How to Prevent and Treat Shedding Problems
If a leopard gecko has obvious shedding issues there are several ways that one can prevent and treat the problem. The best way to prevent shedding issues (as stated above) is to provide the pet leopard gecko with adequate temperatures and humidity (especially during the shedding process). The basking area of a leopard gecko enclosure should range from 90-95 degree Fahrenheit and the cooler side of the enclosure should range from 85-90 degrees Fahrenheit. For proper humidity, one should provide their leopard gecko with a humidity hut (placed on the cooler side) with a coconut husk substrate or with vermiculite or sphagnum moss substrate (these types of substrate absorb and hold moisture). One should always make sure the humidity hut always contains moisture and that the substrate is damp (but do not add too much water to it to prevent mildew and mold from growing). Providing a humidity hut for the gecko ensure that the reptile will be able to shed properly as well as giving the owner a sense of ease and security (it will also allow the owner to maintain the enclosure less, because with a humidity hut, the owner no longer has to dampen the entire enclosure during shedding periods).
If one provides the proper temperature and a humidity hut in the leopard gecko enclosure and the shedding problem persist, there are several other ways one can help treat the problem. According to The Leopard Gecko Manual one can dip a cotton swab or a q-tip in some hydrogen peroxide and then gently rub it on the pet leopard gecko (being extremely careful not to get it in or around the eyes) to gently remove the adherent skin. It is also stated that one can moisturize the leopard gecko with thalmic (eye) lubricant lotion if the skin is firmly attached and will not come off naturally (or with other treatment options). Once the skin is softened the skin can be gently removed, but one should never force the skin off because it can cause more damage to the reptile.
If a leopard gecko continues to have shedding problems and the gecko is provided with adequate temperatures and humidity and the problem persists, please contact the local reptile veterinarian immediately. Leopard geckos that have shedding problems tend to lose digits, become blind, and some can even die from the restriction it causes.
Leopard Gecko in Humidity Hut
Leopard Gecko Skin Shed Problems (Video)
Tail Loss in Leopard Geckos
Just as most lizards do, leopard geckos will drop their tails if they feel threatened, stressed, or are grabbed by the tail when handled. When the original tail is dropped, it will continue to twitch. The twitching is meant to distract predators while the leopard gecko escapes from the jaws of death. “The caudal (tail) vertebrae of leopard geckos have connective tissue fracture points that allow the tail to automatize (fall off) easily. After the tail has dropped the leopard gecko the leopard geckos body goes into a state of rapid vasoconstriction to minimize blood loss and repair the dropped tail. Even though leopard geckos have the ability to regrow their tails, the new tail that takes the place of the original is a bulbous, cartilaginous structure that is no longer supported by the vertebrae. The regrown tail may look more similar to the geckos head (so if attacked again the predator will go for the tail first). Regrown tails are not aesthetically pleasing and can look odd, but a dropped or regrown tail poses no danger or harm to the reptile. Leopard geckos can drop regrown tails as well if stressed, attacked, or handled improperly.
Tail loss is not only caused by predator attacks or improper handling but can also be an effect of intraspecies aggression. Intraspecies aggression is when the animal is attacked by a member of the same species. In other words when two leopard geckos are housed together for any reason they can become territorial and attack each other, making one or both reptiles drop their tails due to a high amount of stress. When males are housed together, the become territorial and attack each other which may lead to a tail loss; babies may drop tails when food is placed in the enclosure and they go into a feeding frenzy; and aggressive females may drop their tails when they are paired for breeding purposes with an overly sexually aggressive male.
Even though leopard geckos do drop their tail, and a regrown tail does not affect the gecko in a negative way, it is important to give the gecko special care when their tail has been dropped. A leopard gecko uses its tail for fat storage and uses that storage in times of starvation to survive. When a gecko loses its tail, it loses its main source of fat storage and the gecko should be housed alone until the gecko regrows the tail and regains its strength and fat once again. The tailless reptile must be kept warm, fed and watered regularly for it to be able to regenerate a new tail.
Once the tail has regrown, handle the gecko with care and observe the conditions that made the animal drop its tail so it can be avoided in the future.
Leopard Gecko with Regenerated Tail
Leopard Gecko with Original Tail
Philippe de Vosjoli, Roger Klingenberg, Ron Tremper, and Brian Viets. The Leopard Gecko Manual. Irvine: Advanced Vivarium Systems, Inc. 2004. Print.
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.