Leopard Geckos are a great first pet for all levels of reptile enthusiasts. They require little maintenance, care, and space, unlike most beginner pets. They are very rewarding and come in many different color morphs and patterns.
Leopard Geckos are found in the semi-arid grassland deserts and rocky outcrops of India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. During the day they can be found sleeping in humid, cool crevices to get away from the intense heat.
I would like to preface this by saying that this care sheet is based on my research and years of experience. There are many ways to care for this species the right way. The information included in this care sheet, if followed exactly, would guarantee the success of a happy and healthy Leopard Gecko.
Baby leopard geckos are just over 2 inches when they hatch but grow rapidly, reaching sexual maturity at 9 to 12 months of age. Adults range in total length from 8 to 10 inches (with the exception of giants and supergiants), with males being heavier bodied and bulkier than females.
Leopard Geckos are well known for being long-lived. A baby gecko that you buy today could easily live 15 to 20 years, although even longer lifespans are not unheard of!
One Leopard Gecko can easily be kept in a 15 to 20-gallon long enclosure. I do not recommend going any larger than 20 gallons, as it can cause many issues such as stress if the parameters are perfect. Younger geckos could be housed in slightly smaller habitats and upgraded as needed if they are having difficulty finding their food. If possible, I recommend purchasing a front opening terrarium for the reasons that it's easier to clean and will give you better access to your gecko. For a front opening enclosure, I would recommend an Exo Terra (24 x 18 x 12), Zilla (30 x12 x 16), or a
Zoo Med (24 x 18 x 12). If you are unable to find a front opening terrarium, a standard tank with a screen top would work great as well. Please note that Leopard Geckos prefer to be secluded and hide in small crevices to feel safe. It is important to provide ample floor space since they are a terrestrial species of gecko. This should all be taken into consideration when building your gecko's enclosure.
When housing Leopard Geckos, please DO NOT house a MALE with a FEMALE or house TWO MALES together. I also do not recommend keeping multiple females together. In the wild, Leopard Geckos are rarely found in groups, unless they are using the same resources such as caves. They prefer seclusion. Regardless of what you may have heard in the past, females can also have issues when housed together. Fighting between females can happen at any moment and result in major injuries. There are a few cases where two adult females live together in harmony their whole lives, but this is few and far between. One usually becomes more dominant over the other and takes over resources such as food, water, and hiding spots. It's better to be safe than sorry.
Heating and Lighting
Leopard Geckos are found in dry, arid deserts where the temperature is very hot during the day and cooler at night.
Since Leopard Geckos are cold-blooded reptiles, they depend on their environment to maintain suitable body temperatures since they cannot regulate it themselves. You want to create a heat gradient within the terrarium with a hot side and a cool side. On the warm side, you want the ambient temperature to be around 77°F-85°F and the hotspot directly over the heat pad to be 88°F-90°F. For the cool side, you want the ambient temperature to be about
75°F-80°F. The best way to measure ambient heat temps is by using a thermometer and the best way to measure the temperature of the hot spot is to use a heat gun. The nighttime temperatures should drop to about the ambient temperature of 75°F with a slight heat gradient. Incorrect temperatures can cause many health issues for your gecko, so it is very important to make sure that your temperatures are on point.
These temperatures can be slightly dropped to mimic a cool down or brumation during the winter. By no means is this necessary.
To heat the tank I recommend using an under-tank heat pad (UTH) as they absorb heat from their bellies to digest food. As a crepuscular species, they are active the most at dusk and dawn to hunt for food, then burrow during most of the day to digest their meals. Unlike diurnal species, Leopard Geckos do not bask out in the sun during the day. Using a source of belly heat like a UTH should be placed on the bottom of the tank with the adhesive side outside the enclosure over the hot spot. Please make sure to be careful and cautiously read the manufacturer's instructions for the heat pad. A heating pad should ALWAYS be used with a thermostat to regulate temperatures. Without a thermostat, the temperatures of the heat pad will be too hot on its own and will burn or possibly kill your gecko. The probe of the thermostat should be placed directly above the hotspot where the gecko would be. This will give you the most accurate temperature reading. Just as the UTH please make sure to carefully read the instructions before set up.
If heating the surface area of the warm side of the enclosure is not met using only a UTH, for additional heat I would recommend using a ceramic heat emitter or a deep heat projector. ￼￼You can use a ceramic heat emitter to raise the ambient temperature without providing additional light. In some cases, a CHE may also be used in place of a UTH by placing the substrate of the enclosure to the desired surface temperature.
Lighting is not necessary for your gecko Use of a low output UVB can be somewhat beneficial in providing a day/night cycle for your gecko, provide better metabolism of calcium, as well as help display it to its best colors. A 5.0 bulb may help to metabolize calcium, a vital part of a gecko's life. As a mostly nocturnal animal, though, it is not absolutely necessary for the gecko to survive. If you are planning to use UVB, please contact me, as you would need to change your use of supplementation to protect the health of your gecko.
If more supplemental heat is needed I recommend using a very low wattage ceramic heat emitter as it doesn't produce any light or disturb the animal's day-night cycle. It is very rare that a ceramic heat emitter is needed to raise temperatures, please use only after speaking to a professional.
Please do not use colored light bulbs with your animals because it could alter their day-night cycle and causes similar detriments to a regular bulb.
Leopard Geckos can be kept on many different substrates with achievement. Varieties of substrates include Zoo Med excavator, paper towel, tile, eco-earth-clay mixed substrate, and reptile carpet. Many keepers prefer different substrates and have strong opinions on which one to use. Many keepers also use reptile carpet, but I do not recommend using it as a substrate. It is difficult to clean which makes it a breeding ground for bacteria and I have heard of plenty of stories of claws and teeth getting stuck in the fibers of the mat while hunting. Again it all depends on what works best for you. Most problems with impaction and dehydration are seen with animals housed on sand, and as such, it is very strongly not recommended. The biggest reason for impaction when a gecko is housed on loose substrate is incorrect supplementation. When they are lacking in vitamins and calcium they lick up what they can to try to replenish this need. When they are kept on loose substrate, this results in impaction.
When using a terrarium set up, I highly recommend going as naturalistic as possible to make it easier on you and your gecko in the long run. My favorite substrate is using a mix of Zoo Med Excavator Clay Burrowing Substrate, Eco Earth, and Exo Terra Stone Desert. I found this to be the best substrate, in my opinion, to best mimic their natural behaviors and easy cleanup. All while avoiding impaction.
Furnishings and Hides
It is necessary for Leopard Geckos to have the option to hide during the day. A lack of hiding spots can cause stress to your pet. Cork bark, cork rounds, half logs, and specialty reptile caves work well. It is necessary to have a minimum of two hides available for your gecko. One should be placed on the cool side while the other should be placed on the warm side. A third humid hide should be available for when your gecko is ready to shed. Foliage is also another great way to provide decoration and comfort for your reptile.
I also highly recommend a 3D reptile background to act as stimulation, extra hiding, and to make your gecko feel more secure. There are many great options for backgrounds. You can create your own or buy one from a company such as Univeral Rocks.
Water and Humidity
Leopard Geckos will get most of their water from their food and licking water droplets from their enclosure. A water dish should still always be provided. It does not need to be very big or deep, just large enough to allow your geckos to get a drink should they choose to do so. Please make sure the water dish is cleaned as needed and water is replenished daily.
For the most part, your gecko's cage should be kept dry. However, in the wild, they spend their days in moist burrows. To simulate this in the terrarium, some keepers stuff small amounts of moss or other moisture-retaining bedding under a few of the hide spots and keep it damp via regular misting. These "humid hides" will aid in hydration and the shedding process. Make sure that the medium you keep in your hide box stays moist.
The average recommended enclosure humidity should be 40-55% to avoid respiratory infections. Occasional peaks, such as humid hide recently sprayed are perfectly acceptable.
It is essential to make sure that in captivity, supplementation is on point to ensure a healthy gecko that thrives. As keepers, we are not able to fully meet the health requirements for Leopard Geckos due to the limited amount of diverse feeders. To combat this issue, proper supplementation should be used to ensure good health and prevent issues such as metabolic bone disease (MBD). At Decked Out Geckos, we use a 2:1 ratio of Vionate to Osteo Form-SA. These are supplements that are not highly marketed towards reptiles, however, are some of the best supplements in the market and have never let us down. We use these supplements to dust our feeders during every feeding or can be placed in a small, shallow dish within the tank. They will lick up the vitamins as needed. Both of these items can be found readily online such as Amazon. Other types of vitamins and calcium can be used, however most lack in many specific minerals needed to provide a well-rounded bill of health.
For a balanced, healthy, nutritional diet Leopard Geckos should be fed a variety of insect prey dusted regularly with a high-quality calcium/vitamin supplement as stated before. Please make sure all of the feeders are gut loaded 24 to 48 before feeding. Gut loading is the process by which an animal's prey is raised and fed nutritious foods with the intention of passing those nutrients to the animal for which the prey is intended. This can be done easily by giving your feeders quality vegetables or fruits.
Feeder insects include mealworms, waxworms, superworms, hornworms, fly spikes, crickets, butterworms, and a variety of roaches.
I get a lot of questions about feeding, how much to feed, and when to feed. I will go over regimens I use to hopefully help you formulate a schedule for feeding your gecko. We feed our geckos mostly mealworms with crickets and dubia roaches on the occasion. We start off our geckos on large mealworms right out of the egg. We place a dish of about 25-55 mealworms dusted with supplements in the enclosure. This allows them to eat as they wish and regulate their own feeding. We recommend this way of feeding for geckos under six months. For all of our geckos regardless of age we usually allow them to eat for six days, then allow them to have a day to rest and digest. For example, we might fill the dish on Monday, clean the tank Saturday evening, toss out any old worms, then refill the bowl again the following Monday. In general, we recommend feeding about every 4 to 5 days for adults (over one year old) and every 3 to 4 days for juveniles (over five months old). For older geckos, we usually increase to 40-60 mealworms per week.
One of the biggest issues I see is people overfeeding or getting overly anxious if their gecko doesn't eat every day. Overfeeding will leave you with an obese gecko that may be susceptible to fatty liver disease. Leopard Geckos are not like humans, dogs, or fish. They do not need to be feed every day and can go for many months without eating while still being considered healthy. When a gecko increases in age, they will generally have a slower metabolism and therefore eat much less. It is important to make sure that you observe your geckos behaviors and make changes accordingly. If they seem overweight feel free to cut down food and vice versa if they seem underweight.
Be aware that in the fall/winter months and breeding season during the spring, geckos may have a decreased appetite or go completely off food. Do not get stressed as it is completely normal. I can assure you that eventually, they will go back on food again.
If you are still having issues with feeding, a fellow breeder and friend John Scarbrough from GeckoBoa has written a great article if your gecko is not eating. You can read it HERE.
Baby Leopard Geckos can be a bit jumpy, but begin to calm down quickly with age and regular handling. Animals that are handled regularly from a young age turn out to be among the calmest pet lizards you can own.
Try not over handle them, as that can cause them to stress out over time. You must treat each gecko as an individual, as they each have their own preferences, personalities, and temperaments. Leopard Geckos should not be tested like most fuzzy pets. They do not need human interaction to be happy ad this should be known when becoming acquainted to your pet. If their basic requirements are met and they feel secure, I can assure you they will be very rewarding to interact with.
Please keep in mind that this is a basic care sheet and more research on the animal should be done in order for proper care.