My Leopard Gecko Won’t Eat: The Troubleshooting Guide
A leopard gecko that won’t eat and stops seemingly out of nowhere can be a stressful experience for both the keeper and the reptile. If you’ve ever owned a reptile then you know of the frequent hunger strikes and out right refusal of food. Sometimes I wonder how it’s possible for my leo to go so long without food.
Common reasons why leopard geckos will stop eating include environmental or temperature changes, the beginning of a shed cycle, stress, illness, previously overeating, and husbandry issues.
Hopefully by sharing my experiences and how I’ve dealt with these problems, it can point you in the right direction for getting your herp back to a normal feeding schedule.
Recently Purchased Leopard Geckos
If you’ve recently bought a new leo, they will take some time to get acclimated to their new environment. Lizards tend to stress out very easily especially when being transported to a new home. I recommend giving your pet at least 1 to 2 weeks to get situated. Be sure to consistently offer prey items in a bowl every day and until they get back to feeding normally.
If the reptile is healthy, they will have a good amount of fat stored in their tail which comes handy during times of stress.
The old saying goes, if they’re hungry enough they will eat and this has proven true more often than not in my experience.
Is Your Leopard Gecko Really Refusing Food?
The first thing I do is to check for feces. I use paper towels as substrate and sometimes they will poop right under the paper making it hard for me to see. In my experience they usually defecate every two to three days so waiting at least that long after offering food is recommended.
Being smaller in size, hatchlings and juveniles consume less resulting in smaller sized feces that can often go undetected.
You can also monitor their feeding habits by counting out a number of feeders (ex. 10 mealworms) and seeing if any have been picked off the following day.
Lastly, they normally poop in the same location making it easy to spot and keep track.
Changes in Temperature or Climate
Leos are able to sense a change in climate even in captivity. Shorter days and longer nights along with decreased temps can sometimes trigger a process known as brumation. This will usually occur in the fall or winter and only with mature adults. They tend to be less active and will stop feeding for weeks to months at a time.
You’ll also notice your pets “resting” in certain spots on the cool side of their enclosures. On a side note, temperatures usually will need to be around 68-72F to induce brumation. Adult males and females will normally go off feed as they ramp up their hormones for breeding.
Climatic changes can also stress them out so recent outages of heat tape or raising/lowering the thermostat can adversely affect appetite. Moving a rack or enclosure to different parts of the house can also impact feeding response.
Always maintain ambient temperatures (air temps) 75F-80F. Be sure to provide a basking area (belly heat like the picture posted above) on the hot side of the enclosure at 88F-92F. It is essential to use a reptile thermostat with any supplemental heat source.
Also, you can try providing a light source for 12-14 hours a day and turning it off for 12-8 hours of “night” known as a light cycle. By doing this, we can replicate the best environment for them to thrive.
When boosting temperatures, try to not bother them for at least a couple days after which you can try and entice them with smaller prey items.
Herps can sometimes become impacted especially if you keep your animals on loose substrates such as sand (not recommended) or coconut fiber (eco-earth). They tend to lunge at prey items and will accidentally ingest some substrate. This is the exact reason why I recommend using a food bowl.
The substrate is usually indigestible and will have a hard time passing through the intestinal tract thus getting “stuck” or impacted. They can also become impacted from overeating or consuming larger than normal prey items.
As a general rule, I like to offer appropriately sized feeders which are no longer than the width/space between their eyes. Some signs of impaction include
- going off feed
- sunken eyes
- folded skin
- weight loss especially in the tail
I advise taking your pet to a trained exotic vet to best combat this problem. You can try and give them a warm water soak for 15-20 minutes at a time. Be sure to allow the water to only come up to elbow height, it’s important to have the underside of the belly maintaining contact with the warm water.
I recommend doing this once every day for a total of 5 days.
Normally this process will aid in hydrating your reptile giving it the strength to move the impacted items along the digestive tract naturally.
Once cleared from the GI tract, they should be back to eating within a few days.
Changes in Environment
We all love to handle and interact with our pet leos. Often times, we can overdo it and stress out our pets. For this reason, I only handle my animals no more than once a week for a maximum of 2-3 minutes at a time.
This keeps stress at a minimum when taking them out of their habitat.
Moving items around in their enclosure or adding new items such as hides and substrate can also cause them to temporarily stop feeding.
Housing two cage mates together can also cause bullying and fighting.
I also recommend one animal per enclosure/tub to eliminate this problem. Housed individually, they will not have to worry about competing for food.
Change in Diet
When purchasing feeder insects from the pet store, oftentimes they can run out of stock on certain prey items. This can force you to purchase other bugs instead of what you normally offer to your leos. These subtle changes can have adverse effects on appetite.
Some geckos prefer mealworms over other critters. Others prefer dubia roaches or crickets.
Whatever the case, if your lizard has taken a liking to a particular feeder, they can sometimes be stubborn to transition over to new alternatives.
I like to offer variety as different bugs contain different nutrients. Although rare, I’ve had some leos go for two weeks without feeding until finally giving in. Others will usually take about 2-3 days before they break. Most however will gorge on anything that moves or stimulates their senses as long as you maintain proper husbandry standards.
Secret tip: Offering superworms can usually aid with stubbornness. I’ve had my lizards refuse everything on the menu until they run into supers. Due to their highly active nature, I believe these guys are the best at attracting your animals. Something about plump juicy worms wiggling around makes them go absolutely bonkers. Fast moving Turkestan roaches will also have the same effect. Feel free to give these a try!
A process where old skin is replaced with new skin. They will normally stop feeding 2-3 days before a shed cycle and 2-3 days after. This is due to the fact that they will consume their own skin absorbing the nutrients in the process.
So whenever I see them about to or in the process of shedding I will immediately stop offering bugs. During this process, make sure to provide them with a humid hide.
Low humidity can cause stuck shed which hinders their ability to move or even see properly. It can cause constriction of limbs, toes, nostrils, and eyes.
This will stress your lizard and may cause them not to eat.
How to Remove Stuck Shed
- Place enough lukewarm water in a container to cover your reptile’s feet.
- Allow them to soak for 10 minutes as this will soften the stuck skin.
- Remove the animal and with a cotton swab or Q-tip gently rub the shed in different directions in order to loosen it.
- You may also need to wet the tip of the cotton swab to better aid in removal.
- Repeat this process at least twice a week or until you no longer see stuck shed.
Sometimes your lizard could be overweight and lethargic or lazy to eat. They will purposely stop themselves from eating as their bodies are capable of using stored nutrients from their tails. To tell if your pet is overweight you can look at the hind legs and if skin starts to roll over itself or are stubby looking then chances are they are on the heavy side.
Their bellies will also be very round and their skin will fold. Lastly, their tails should be nice and plump but never wider than the head.
It’s always satisfying to see your animal eating well as this usually translates to being healthy. Overeating however can cause problems such as indigestion, obesity, and regurgitation. Similarly, consuming over-sized items can cause them to feel sick. Throwing up also leads to dehydration which can cause death.
If you notice this, immediately remove all bugs from their enclosure. It can take a couple days for their stomachs to heal and get back to digesting regularly.
Wait a week and feed smaller critters to ease them back into the process. Always provide a clean water source to avoid contamination and dehydration.
In general, they should be allowed to eat as much as they want within a 10-15 minute span or shorter if they begin to lose interest. You should not have any problems with obesity following these suggestions.
Some leos can become ill or sick which may cause them to stop eating. Respiratory infections are the equivalent to catching a cold for reptiles. This usually happens when temperatures dip below 75F and/or the humidity levels in their cage are too high (above 50%).
Recently adding humid hides can also cause R.I and should never be too damp. Raising the hot side temps can help but ultimately they will need to be seen by a vet.
The common symptoms include sneezing, mucus from mouth, yawning, clicking or popping noises coming from their nostrils, and breathing with their mouths open.
They will need antibiotics to fight off the infection and it usually takes about two weeks for them to completely heal.
Mouth rot or ulcers can also inhibit them from feeding. This usually occurs from an injury to the mouth either self-inflicted (diving for feeders) or from stuck shed that occurs in or around the mouth leading to infection.
How Long Can Leopard Geckos Go Without Eating?
Sometimes a leo will stop eating for no apparent reason at all. In my experience, I’ve seen them go for up to 3 weeks without touching a single bug. As long as they are healthy and have good weights, they will be fine.
Rapid weight loss is a key indicator of a unhealthy animal. A good dose of tough love will often break even the most stubborn geckos.
They will eventually eat if hungry enough but I can understand the stress of patiently waiting for them to do so.
So there you have it, I apologize for the long read but it was necessary to try and answer all the possible issues associated with leopard geckos not eating. If you have further questions, you can email or comment in the section below and I will do my best to respond in a timely manner.