INTRODUCTION: About 1500 species of geckos exist in the world. The most commonly found in captivity include leopard geckos (native to Asia through parts of India), African fat-tailed geckos, and New Caledonian crested geckos (see separate husbandry handout for crested gecko care). Lifespan in captivity is approximately 7-10 years, and adult size of the most popular species is generally up to 6 inches when measured snout to vent, but varies somewhat between species. As compared to many other species, care of geckos can be relatively straightforward, making them good pets.
HOUSING: Geckos should generally be housed singly throughout their lives to avoid conflict between animals and resultant injury. Two or more juvenile or female geckos can sometimes be housed together if adequate space and hiding areas are provided.
– Cage – A 10 gallon enclosure is adequate for a single juvenile gecko. A 20 gallon or larger enclosure is appropriate for an adult. In addition to glass aquariums, Exoterra brand and similar enclosures are also appropriate.
– Bedding/substrate – Newspapers or paper towels are safest and easiest to replace/clean. Vinyl tile (from hardware store) or Repti-Carpet can also be used. If a paper pulp material (Carefresh) is used, you should feed your pet in a separate enclosure to prevent ingestion. Replace the bedding/substrate or clean the hard surface every 1-2 days to prevent exposure to waste. **SAND, GRAVEL, MULCH/BARK, OR OTHER NATURAL SUBSTRATES SHOULD NOT BE USED DUE TO DIFFICULTIES IN CLEANING, RISK OF GASTROINTESTINAL ISSUES IF EATEN, AND PROBLEMS WITH IRRITATION OF EYES AND DELICATE TISSUE OF MOUTH.
– Cage “furniture” – Branches, driftwood, cork bark and/or large rocks can be provided for climbing. A hiding box can be placed on the warm side of the enclosure. In addition to providing adequate floor space, it is necessary to provide several hiding areas if multiple geckos are housed together. **HEATED ROCKS SHOULD NEVER BE USED DUE TO RISK OF THERMAL BURNS.
– Temperature/heating – A temperature gradient should be created within the enclosure, with a warm side and a cool side. This allows the gecko to regulate its temperature by changing location. A reptile under tank heating pad is usually sufficient to maintain the correct temperatures. Use multiple digital thermometers with probes to monitor, as dial thermometers are often inaccurate. Temperatures should reach 92-95 degrees F over the heating pad and 70-75 degrees on the cooler side. Always place a hide box over the heating pad. If you have more than one gecko in an enclosure, you will need a larger heating pad and multiple hiding boxes, as animals will often not share. If your home is kept cooler, you may need a ceramic heating element or colored heat light to provide sufficient heat and reach the recommended temperature ranges. Due to risk of burn injuries, always use appropriate rheostats/thermostats if using the commonly available ZooMed heating pads. Heating pads with which we have had good experiences include Ultratherm Heat Pads (beanfarm.com) and Cobra T-Rex Heat Pads (available from many pet stores).
– Lighting – As this is a nocturnal species, no UVB light source or basking area is required.
– Insects – Offer appropriately sized gut-loaded insects DAILY. Crickets should be no longer than width of gecko’s head. To properly gut load, provide insects with a complete diet, such as rodent chow, dry dog food, or bird pellets. Insects should primarily be crickets. Mealworms, giant mealworms and wax moth larvae are high in fat, and should be offered only in small amounts and on occasion. To prevent injury to your gecko, remove uneaten crickets immediately.
– Vitamin supplements – Dust insects with a high quality calcium/vitamin D3 supplement (with NO phosphorous added) 4-5 times a week. Dust insects with a high quality multi-vitamin (with a vitamin A source that is NOT beta carotene) once a week.
– Insects – Offer gut-loaded insects TWO TO THREE TIMES PER WEEK. To properly gut load, provide insects with a complete diet, such as rodent chow, dry dog food, or bird pellets. Insects should primarily be crickets. Mealworms, giant mealworms and wax moth larvae are high in fat, and should be offered only in small amounts. To prevent injury to your gecko, remove uneaten crickets immediately.
– Vitamin supplements – Dust insects with a high quality calcium/vitamin D3 supplement (with NO phosphorous added) 2-3 times a week. Dust insects with a high quality multi-vitamin (with a vitamin A source that is NOT beta carotene) once every other week.
– Water bowl – Provide clean, fresh water in a dish/bowl into which your gecko can easily climb (small/low for juveniles). It should be large enough to fit your pet’s entire body. Change water daily.
– Encourage drinking – Mist environment and gecko once daily with water in a spray bottle.
– Soaking – Soak your pet 2-3 times a week in warm, shallow water for 15-20 minutes to encourage drinking, improve hydration, and help with shedding.
SIGNS OF ILLNESS: We highly recommend that your pet be seen for a yearly physical examination and fecal analysis with an experienced reptile veterinarian. Please consult your veterinarian should you notice any of the following signs: weight loss, decreased appetite/thirst, abnormal stools, twitching/tremors/seizures, swelling of the limbs, inability to close the mouth properly, discharge from eyes and/or mouth, difficulty breathing, distension of the abdomen in non-breeding animals, masses/lumps, or wounds/cuts/scrapes.