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.

Feeder Issues

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

Proper Hydration

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.

Breeding Cycle

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

Illness

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.

9 thoughts on “Is My Leopard Gecko Stressed: Signs & Solutions That Work”

  1. Hey my name is amanda and my sister thought it would be cool to get a leopard gecko. But she ended up getting one without doing research. Its about a year and a half later, and im kind of worried something happened with her gecko. He doesn’t come out as much anymore and gets scared when we try to hold it. What do we do?

    1. Hi Amanda!
      I have a leopard gecko as well. I suggest you try to leave him alone for a few days (or up to a week). He’s probably just stressed, and if he’s about a year and half old, like you said, he’ll be going through some hormonal changes that could make him skittish.
      Leave him alone for a bit, then re-introduce yourself slowly. Dropping your hand in the tank and letting him sniff around it, petting him gently without picking him up, and things like that are all great methods.
      Good luck!

      PS: Have your sister read up on leopard geckos as well. It’ll do her and the gecko well.

    2. Hi! I would try to put the gecko into a reasonably big box as in plastic and put your hand inside, let the gecko investigate your hand without you moving and it should get used to you! Repeat this for a couple of weeks daily! It may also be environment issues as well such as temperatures and food and water etc. I would recommend checking

  2. Hi, my leopard gecko is dragging his back legs and hasn’t been eating. I’ve tried to give him food but he doesn’t want any. He seems more aggressive and skidding around me. He’s still a baby, I got him a couple months ago. Can you help?

  3. hello! I have two geckos that I love very much, and I’ve had one for a year. Her name is Ember. She is always the sweetest gecko ever, and she enjoys human interaction as long as she’s familiar with your presence, as she’s a bit shy. Me and her have made a huge bond over the year I’ve owned her, but recently she’s been acting strange. She almost never leaves her warm hide, and she never seems like she wants attention or interaction. Whenever I take her out of her cage, she just stands there and she doesn’t adventure the area like she used to. Other than that, she seems perfectly normal and healthy. She had no signs of illness and I am sure to keep her cage clean, as I clean it every week (sometimes I’ll skip a week and only do a small spot clean.) For the most part, she kinda acts like she’s a completely new pet, in the sense where she seems confused or scared, but then again she doesn’t get skittish or defensive. Long story short, my healthy gecko is acting strange and I don’t know what to do.

    1. Hello my name is arianna and i had my leopard gecko since February and all of a sudden she always in her hide never comes out and she hasn’t ate in a couple days every now and then I will open the tank and put my hand in there and see if she will go to me if not I just close it back up like a couple more hours later I’ll try to feed her but she turns her head and won’t eat at all PLEASE HELP!!

  4. Hello,

    I have a leopard gecko who is around 3 or 5 months old. I got them in August. Generally speaking, they’re a nice gecko. Very curious, they love to hunt, they do know how a ask for food. They “like” being on my hand as it’s hot and they can see the feeders box from their (yummy!!).
    But recently they change radically their personality. From a cute, very curious little gecko, I have this skittish baby. They hate their terrarium. They don’t come out anymore. They come only when it’s food time, and when they’re on my hand, they don’t want to go into their terrarium anymore. They’re wigging their tail like something’s stressing them. I don’t know what happened. They did the same things one month ago but they came back to normal 3/4 days after that with improvement every day.
    Now it’s been already 4 days and nothing changed. I suppose they were on their cold hide for all this time because they even felt asleep on my hot belly yesterday. It never happened.
    I don’t know what to do. I’m anxious. Is my gecko sad? Unhappy? Ill? Am I a bad parent? I can read that it can be an hormonal issue but I’m really really scared for them. They don’t seems ill, skin is good, they still wanna eat, I suppose they drink… I have the feeling they don’t really poop because they don’t want to got outside their hide.

    Should I go see the vet?

    Thank you…

  5. So I feel like I’m SOL. My leopard gecko laddie
    I got him October 15 2020 and it’s now December 23rd. I first fed him mealworms then occasionally hornworms, and wax worms. But I tried crickets in his new enclosure and it’s huge. It’s a 30 gall, and he has so much space and 7 hides/wet hide/two small water dishes/ fake suction leaves with variety and hes on Forrest floor mat and paper towel I don’t use substrate. I used crickets for the first time switching him to his large enclosure and I figured since it was so big, that I could just allow the crickets to roam. I figured he would love hunting them, but they were loud and a they freaked me out. I have a phobia of bug typically but mealworms and wax worms and hot worms do not bother me. I left them in for a day and noticed that two had died in the water dish. Again I know this was reckless I was scared of the bugs and my husband isn’t a fan of my reptiles and I have been going through some unforeseen health issues so I did take them out after two nights I scrubbed his water dishes and food dish clean I cleaned his whole tank new paper towel and cleaned the things the crickets could have touched. He has been less active. He doesn’t come when I call him out for dinner which, usually he sits and stares at me while I powder his food in excitement. Is it stress from the new cage? Or could he possibly have parasites from me being so reckless 🙁 I will get money for the vet if I have to I won’t let my baby die but maybe I’m just overthinking???? He has had one stuck shed on his head since the new tank change and I helped him no problem. But before that, he did not have any issues with shedding. I provide a moist hide. And I have him back on worms and they don’t roam. I really haven’t over handled if anything because of wanting to be over cautious and slowly “bond” he is more docile when I hold him now but he doesn’t look as happy, he doesn’t move around as much but maybe I never noticed before. The other night he screeched and me and my husband heard it, but he doesn’t physically look ill. I just want my baby to be OK and make sure if he does have parasites I take care of it. Never using crickets again

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