Is My Leopard Gecko Stressed: Signs & Solutions That Work
As reptile parents we often want to provide the best for our leopard geckos. When changes in behavior or problems arise, we often feel helpless. The sheer confusion causes frustration as we scour the internet for answers.
Leos are generally hardy animals but can often become stressed for a variety of reasons. The most common factors include improper cage temperatures, new environment, breeding season, lack of food, dehydration, and illness.
This troubleshooting guide will help identify the reasons why your reptile has or can become stressed and offers solutions to tackle those issues.
Newly Acquired Geckos
Purchasing a new pet can be an exciting venture. We spend days if not weeks planning for our new lizard setting up their enclosures, purchasing heat mats, and food. Oftentimes we overlook the importance of acclimation. Like all animals, leopard geckos need time to get situated to their new environment both physically and socially.
For the first couple of days, I can guarantee that your leo will be more than likely stressed out due to the move. Don’t fret however as this is completely normal. They might act lethargic, temperamental, or even flat out aggressive. Refusal of food is also a common indicator that there is something wrong. Being nocturnal they will often only want to come out at night so don’t be alarmed if they spend most of the time hiding away. To ease them into their new setting you should:
- Limit any interaction with your herp including handling, touching, or disrupting them for the first few days.
- Minimize cleaning for the first week, as they probably won’t be defecating or eating much
- Try to keep them in a quieter area of the house away from loud noises or distractions
- It’s best to keep other household pets like cats and children out of sight for the first two weeks
- Make sure that the enclosure size is correct for the length of your gecko (I’ll talk more about this here)
- Have adequate food options such as mealies or roaches and water available at all times.
Providing A Proper Temperature Gradient
One of the most important aspects of husbandry is correct temps. Leos cannot regulate their own body heat and thus need an external source such as a heating pad. This also aids with digestion. High humidity and low temperatures can cause your leopard gecko to become stressed and catch a reptile “cold” otherwise known as an upper respiratory infection (RI). RI’s clog the nasal passages with mucous making breathing difficult and harsh. Left untreated, symptoms will get worse eventually leading to death. Ulcerative Stomatitis or mouth rot can also develop from respiratory infections which will cause your gecko to stop eating. Dangerously high temps will cause them to overheat and lead to organ failure.
Abnormal fluctuations can lead to restlessness as your lizard tries to find the best spot to thermal regulate. This will negatively impact their sleep cycle and feeding schedule. Improper gradients can also lead to food rotting in the gut and damaging the digestive system or worse.
- Provide a “hot side” of 88F – 92F and a “cool side” of 78F – 82F at all times. This way they can choose the best gradient for their current situation.
- Leos best regulate heat through their bellies so be sure to use flexwatt heat tape or any undertank heater available (UTH) covering one third of your enclosure.
- Take both air (ambient) and floor (surface) temps for better accuracy.
- Keep relative humidity levels at a maximum of 20%.
- Provide a humid hide with slightly moist (damp not wet) peat moss to aid with shedding on the cool or middle side of the tank.
One thing I used to do was toss prey items like crickets into my leo’s tank allowing them to roam freely. I thought it was natural and fun to see them hunt their food. What I did not know was by doing this, any leftovers or survivors would be constantly bugging (no pun intended) them. Being territorial animals, leopard geckos can become pressured if even small bugs are in their space.
Not to mention, some feeders will bite or harm your pets. Others will accidentally drown in water bowls which can contaminate the water if not removed within a day. Another issue I used to encounter was constantly offering the same bug every feeding. Sure some lizards don’t mind having the same thing every day however offering a variable diet is important to the health of your animals.
Oftentimes, your gecko will go off feed which puts a strain on their bodies. They do this to indicate that they are either getting too much of one nutrient or not enough of it. Lastly, if they are exhibiting signs such as restlessness, constantly roaming out in the open, or pressing upon the glass, this can indicate that they are hungry. Some keepers will provide a bowl of insects daily only refilling it when empty. Others choose to feed for only 10-15 minutes before removing the bugs. Both methods work but the important thing to remember is what your pet prefers. I try to let them show me what they want.
- Always provide a dish shallow enough to contain your feeders
- Place enough food to last them throughout the day
- Check for and remove any escapees as they can harass your leos
- Offer mealworms, dubia roaches, BSFL, and red runners for a balanced diet
- Try not to interrupt or disturb them when feeding
- Always offer the right size prey, about the length of the space between their eyes
It’s easy to overlook hydration when it comes to husbandry. Being a desert dweller, they can easily become dehydrated. Water allows for proper absorption of vital nutrients such as calcium and protein. They can go weeks without food but only a few days without water. Fresh water is also important as feces or foreign items can contaminate the source resulting in illness. Moisture content in bugs help cleanse the blood and rejuvenates the digestive system. Items like hornworms, silkies, and reptigrubs (black soldier fly larvae) contain high water content.
- Provide a shallow water bowl to avoid drowning
- Occasionally offer high moisture food items
- Change out water every other day to maintain freshness.
- Check for folds in skin and change of overall appearance as this can sometimes indicate dehydration.
- Prolonged (spending most of the day) soaking in water can indicate mites.
As they mature, females and males will go through hormonal changes that puts stress on their bodies. Males will go off feed and solely focus on breeding especially if there is a female around. Females will seem to gorge themselves and then suddenly stop eating for months at a time. This type of behavior is completely normal however.
Light cycles and temperatures can also force your geckos to go into brumation. This is their way of taking a break and prepping for the breeding season. If you don’t decide to breed however, they do not need to go through this cycle.
- Maintain temperatures constantly throughout the year.
- Try to provide 12 hours of day and 12 hours of night
- Always have food available for them
- Do not introduce any females or males to each other
- Night time lows or dips signal winter time which can make them go off feed
Infections and parasites will strain your herps physically and psychologically. Metabolic bone disorder caused by inadequate absorption of calcium leads to weak limbs and immobility. Limping, trouble standing, dragging of limbs can all point to MBD.
Changes in behavior such as lethargy, loss of strength, bloody stools, and regurgitation can all be signs of sickness. Mouth open breathing other wise known as “gaping” can hint an infection in the lungs. Severe pailing or color change can also mean that your animal is ill. Sunken eyes or swelling of limbs mean that husbandry needs to be accessed. Sometimes providing a water bowl that’s too deep or difficult to reach can cause dehydration.
- If you notice any of these signs, I advise you get a fecal/stool sample to determine the underlying factor which could be parasites or bacterial infections.
- Dust your feeders once or twice a week with a balanced mineral mix such as reptical to ensure proper absorption. This will prevent MBD.
- Make sure to check the tail girth as it often correlates with health. Plump and fatty tails are a good sign.
- If you notice gaping, sneezing, or weezing remove humid hides and check humidity levels (remember 20%).
- Try not to feed waxworms as too many can cause fatty liver disease.
Lastly, you want your leo to have something it can rub on such as cork bark. This will aid in removing dead skin from their bodies.