What to Know About Leopard Geckos

Medically Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on November 19, 2022
5 min read

Leopard geckos are one of the oldest domesticated reptiles.

A leopard gecko is a domestic lizard species small enough to fit in your hand, reaching 8 inches long and weighing 2 ounces by adulthood.

They range in color but are typically yellow with uneven black or brown spots. Leopard gecko morphs (varieties) include bright citrusy colors, albino (pale with no spots), and chocolate (large dark spots).

Leopard geckos originate from the dry deserts and grasslands of Pakistan. Most leopard geckos make docile domestic pets and are captive-bred, meaning they are born in captivity. 

Leopard geckos are nocturnal. They sleep under rocks and in hides during the day, but they're filled with personality at night.

Leopard geckos aren't the most social pets. They prefer to be curious on their own time, crawling and climbing throughout their habitat.

Handling them too much can cause them stress, but trained leopard geckos are more comfortable with being handled. They rarely bite and, when they do, their bite is not painful.

Pet stores and collectors may house multiple geckos in a single tank. While some females may be fine with each other, it's generally better to keep each gecko in a different habitat, especially males.

Geckos need an enclosure called a tank or vivarium. They're typically all-glass with a front-opening door for easy access.

A 20-gallon tank is adequate for a growing leopard gecko, but the bigger they get, the more space they'll need.

The tank's substrate lines the bottom of the vivarium. The ideal substrate for your tank should be easy to clean, impossible for your leopard gecko to swallow, and resistant to bacterial growth.

Paper. Paper towels and unprinted newspapers make suitable substrates for new owners. They're accessible, easy to clean, and affordable.

Tiles. Tiles are a safe, heat-conductive surface for your vivarium. They're also easy to clean and find at any garden or hardware store.

Sand and soil. For adult leopard geckos, the preferred substrate is a mixture of play sand and unfertilized soil. Feed your gecko by hand or using a dish if you have a loose substrate to keep them from accidentally eating it.

Avoid reptile carpets. Many places will recommend reptile carpets. However, unless you intend to wash and dry the carpet daily, it can quickly grow bacteria.

A leopard gecko's habitat needs a gradient of temperatures. 

The warm side needs to be around 85 degrees Fahrenheit. The cool side needs to be around 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

You can maintain daytime temperatures using a heat mat or an incandescent bulb. At night, the temperature can be as low as 65 degrees Fahrenheit as long as there is a warm spot in the tank from a heat mat.

You should invest in digital thermometers for different temperature needs in the vivarium. Temperatures that are too hot can lead to death.

Your leopard gecko needs various rocks, logs, and decor to climb around on and explore. Otherwise, they may "glass surf" by trying to climb the vivarium walls.

Hides. Leopard geckos also need multiple "hides," small, enclosed structures to hide and feel safe in. There should be at least a dry and warm hide, a warm and humid hide (for shedding), and a cool hide for when they get too warm. 

Commercial hides are available in many designs to make the vivarium physically and functionally appealing for your gecko.

Leopard geckos eat insects and not fruits or vegetables. Various insects are ideal for giving your leopard gecko the proper nutrients.

For high-protein insects, crickets and dubia roaches are best. Waxworms and mealworms are a good treat because they're fatty but not ideal for the primary food sources.

There are many more insect options to keep your leopard gecko interested in their food. Variety is the best for your leopard gecko's health and engagement. 

Feeding schedule. The amount your leopard gecko eats depends on its age and mood. Attempt to feed a young gecko every day, but you can wait 2 to 3 days per feeding for adults.

Water. Keep a shallow dish of clean, fresh water in your gecko's vivarium. Replace the water daily to avoid bacterial growth. 

Vitamin supplements. Most leopard geckos need vitamin supplements, particularly calcium. If you don't have a source of natural or artificial sunlight for your gecko, get calcium supplements with vitamin D3 added.

The supplements can be dusted over their food or left in a small dish in the vivarium.

Cleaning the tank. Leopard geckos often go to the bathroom in the same place every time, so spot-cleaning the tank weekly is easy. Wipe down the walls of the vivarium with a wet rag once a week.

Deep clean the tank a couple of times a year. Deep cleaning includes disinfecting all the decor with a 10% bleach solution and scrubbing the vivarium with unscented soap.

Shedding. Your leopard gecko will shed its skin periodically. They eat the skin that peels off, but you should remove any dead skin that litters the vivarium.

A moist hide prevents many shedding issues like stuck shed on the eyes or toes. Create a spa in a container with warm water and paper towels to help loosen the dead skin for your gecko to remove.

Vet visits. Find an exotic animal veterinarian or reptile vet before you need one. They can help you in an emergency and answer questions when you're concerned about your gecko's health.

Common health problems. Leopard geckos are hardy, and severe health problems are rare. However, there are some to keep an eye out for:

  • Calcium deficiency 
  • Metabolic bone disease (MBD)
  • Coccidia (intestinal parasites)
  • Infections from shedding problems

Proper handling. The tail of the leopard gecko is supposed to distract predators. When predators grab the tail, they can drop it, separating it from their bodies.

Be gentle when you handle your gecko. Grabbing them aggressively or picking the gecko up by their tail can cause them to drop it.

There's still plenty to learn about caring for a leopard gecko. Many guides, manuals, and communities are created around leopard gecko husbandry.