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5 Common Gecko Health Problems

Even the most experienced and effective gecko keepers occasionally have geckos with health problems.  This may occur with new acquisitions and also with animals they have had for a long time.  There are a variety of heath problems that may affect our geckos, some of which may need to be diagnosed or treated by a vet.  The problems discussed below are the most common health problems affecting geckos and are relatively easy to recognize.

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Poor Shedding

Healthy geckos with appropriate living conditions shed regularly.  They shed completely and often eat their shed to the point where the keeper may not even notice that the gecko has shed.  Some geckos experience shedding problems occasionally and others chronically have difficulty shedding.  Signs of shedding difficulty range from large sheets of shed clinging to the head, tail or limbs to residual shed left around the eyes, on the tail tip or the toes.  This shed must be removed since it can cause constrictive damage to the extremities.  For geckos that can be handled, shed can be removed by soaking or spraying the affected area and manually peeling off the stuck shed once it’s been softened by water.  For geckos that can’t be easily handled, a “sauna” can be set up for them: cut a hold in the cover of a plastic container, line it with paper towel and mist it with warm water.  Place the gecko in the container for up to 10 minutes to allow the humidity to soften the shed.  With luck, the gecko will then be able to remove the shed.  Severe shedding problems where, for instance, the tail tip is shriveling, may best be treated by a vet.  Severe shedding problems in hatchlings, if they don’t improve with time, may be an indication that the hatchling should be culled.

Metabolic Bone Disease

All geckos require calcium to maintain strong bones and vitamin D3 to aid in metabolizing the calcium.  Calcium is generally supplied in powdered form in a bowl, through dusted feeders or as an ingredient in fruit feedings.  Vitamin D3 is supplied through exposure to sunlight, through UVB in lighting or in powdered form with calcium or vitamins.  Geckos that do not receive enough calcium or vitamin D3 experience a loss of bone density (Metabolic Bone Disease, or MBD) resulting initially in soft, rubbery bones and ultimately leading to crippling deformities.  This process usually occurs over a period of months or more, though in some cases a gecko exposed to inadvertent extremely high temperatures can suffer an acute, cataclysmic calcium deficiency.  Signs of MBD include bowed limbs, a rubbery jaw that prevents geckos from chewing or killing their food, and tail or spine kinks that were not previously present.  Occasionally hatchlings are born with an inability to properly metabolize calcium and will not survive.  Care must also be taken with egg-producing females, who require more calcium than usual to make up for the calcium expended in forming their eggs.  Mild cases of MBD may be reversed by increasing calcium and vitamin D3 intake.  One way to do this is to wet a finger, dip it in calcium with D3 powder and rub it on the gecko’s mouth.  The gecko will then usually lick the calcium and ingest it.  More severe cases of MBD should be treated by a vet who may prescribe liquid calcium or a calcium injection.  Frequently, bone deformities will not be corrected when the MBD is treated, but furthere deformity can be avoided with proper treatment.

Parasites

All geckos probably carry a low level of internal parasitic organisms which don’t harm them. When geckos experience a compromised  immune system, which can be brought on by stress, illness, or injury, they may be less effective at keeping these parasites in check.  When the parasite load increases, it starts to seriously affect the gecko’s health.  In other cases, a gecko can become a host to a new parasite because it ingests it in another animal’s feces or elsewhere in its environment (This is one important reason for quarantining newly acquired animals from the rest of the collection).  Geckos with too great a parasite load may be asymptomatic or may exhibit symptoms including smelly or runny feces, bloated belly, weight loss, or anorexia.  Although some people attempt to treat parasites on their own by administering a universal anti-parasitic medicine, it’s more appropriate to consult a vet to determine the correct medication and dosage.  Treatment will also include repeatedly disinfecting the geckos’ environment to prevent re-infection.

Some species of gecko, especially wild-caught ones, are prone to external parasites, usually mites.  Once again, the gecko’s skin must be treated as well as the environment to prevent re-infestation. Check out our blog post on gecko mites that we’ve posted in the past.

Stress

Geckos can become stressed for many reasons including moving to a new environment, change in a familiar environment, introduction of another reptile, overcrowding, breeding or change in husbandry.  In general, any change in the gecko’s habitual existence or prolonged poor husbandry can cause stress.  Stress is not an illness in and of itself but can cause symptoms such as reluctance to eat and can depress the immune system leading to parasite overload.  Stress can even cause a gecko who normally has no trouble shedding to have a poor shed.  In some cases, such as the acquisition of a new gecko which must acclimate to its environment, giving the gecko time to adjust without handling or disturbing it will take care of the problem.  In other cases, stressors must be removed (e.g. separating the gecko from cagemates which are stressing it) and  illnesses caused by the stress must be treated as well.

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Wounds

Geckos living with cagemates are always prone to wounds from biting or scratching.  Even geckos living alone can injure themselves by encountering unsafe objects in the enclosure or even by aggressive attempts to shed.  Serious wounds, wide or deep enough to expose bone or viscera need to be treated by a vet. Less severe wounds should be kept clean, away from particulate substrate and allowed to heal on their own.  Wounds can be cleaned with hydrogen peroxide if desired. If the wound doesn’t heal or beginsS to look infected, vet treatment is recommended.  It’s also important to determine an eliminate the cause of the wound.  This may require a change in the cage furnishings or separating cagemates.

Geckos can be kept healthy with proper attention to these most common health problems and a good sense of when to treat independently and when to visit the vet.

What do you think?

Written by Aliza

Aliza is a home care speech therapist living in the Boston area. She successfully bred a variety of gecko species between 2005 and 2017. She currently cares for a large number of geckos as well as a few frogs and bearded dragons. Other interests which she pursues in her copious free time include work in ceramics, practicing aikido and surfing the internet.

32 Comments

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  1. I’m getting a Leopard Gecko soon because my turtle is being let free. This is really good information because my turtle was sick in the first 3 weeks. I wanted a gecko because I thought they’re coloration was really pretty. Awesome intail.

  2. I hope that if you’re releasing your turtle into the wild that it’s a turtle that came from the same wild place where you’re releasing it. If not, please don’t release it outside. It’s bad for the turtle and bad for your local environment.

  3. Hi Ive just noted your comments on here about leopard gekkos, have to say, I feel Ive learnt quite a lot, I do believe my gecko may be stressed according to your info. Wil speak to my vet tomorrow about it, thanks

  4. My granddaughters gecko is just lying around and not moving, he wont even try to get away from you. He seems to be very sick, what can we do?

  5. How long has she had the gecko? The most important component in correct gecko husbandry is:
    temperatures on the floor (not the air) measuring in the low 90’s
    even more important: regular supplementation with calcium and vitamin D3.

    If the temperatures are too far off, the gecko won’t digest its food
    If there is no supplementation, the gecko will eventually develop MBD (metabolic bone disease) and won’t be able to move or eat.

    In any case, I really feel the gecko needs to see a reptile vet. You can find one at arav.org. (if this gecko doesn’t make it and your granddaughter wants to get another gecko, it will be really important that temperature and supplementation are correct.)

  6. Hello everyone, so my mom texted me about an hour or so ago to tell me that there was something wrong with my leo. He wont eat and is very lethargic, and there is also a very large puddle in his tank next to his food bowl. I can’t really tell what it is from the picture, but it looks like either a) vomit, b) diarrhea, or c) bloody vomit/diarrhea. I can’t wipe any up to see if it’s bloody as I”m not there, and I was wondering what I would be able to do in this situation? I currently don’t work and can’t afford to take him to the vet right now, so I was hoping there was maybe something I could do at the time to try to help and see if he gets better? I know I need to take him to the vet, and I will as soon as I can, so please don’t say I need to take him to the vet, I just need to know what I can do to help him right now

  7. What kind of feeders does he usually eat? Is there any chance that one of the feeders bit him? Has he been completely fine up to this point? If he’s on any kind of particle substrate, change that to paper towel. Otherwise, until you can take him to the vet, the most you can do is to keep him warm drip some water on his nose so he’ll lick it off and get hydrated, and see if you can get him to lick some meal worm or cricket guts off his nose as well.

  8. He eats both dried crickets, dried meal worms, and live meal worms. He also has a bowl of calcium powder. He’s currently kept on small tiles that I keep clean, and he has a constant water source. He has been fine up to this point that I can tell, he’s usually pretty active and peppy.

  9. yeah, me too. I’m going home in the morning so I’ll be able to tell if it’s blood or not in with whatever it is. I hope he’s ok, and if he does have to go to the vet I hope it isn’t too expensive so I’ll be able to pay for it. Thanks for your help

  10. hi I’m thinking of getting a Panther gecko and i am doing a bunch of research on care but there is one thing I am wondering do I dip the food in some calcium powder or just give the gecko a bowl with some calcium powder in it? I just have gotten multiple accounts on that and I want one more from a person that I think knows her stuff.

  11. I’m not a panther gecko expert and there is more than one way to do things, but I can tell you that panther geckos are nocturnal and consequently need less D3 to metabolize calcium than a diurnal reptile would. Years ago, when people didn’t know about supplementation most geckos had problems because they weren’t getting any, but these days, it’s more likely that keepers will go overboard in the other direction. For that reason, I’d recommend (I’m not the author of this article, by the way) dusting (that’s the dipping part) the feeders in calcium with vitamin D3 every other feeding.

  12. My african fat tailed gecko has a nipped tail. Probably from a cricket. Its not healing very well and the tip is covered in small white splotches but can be peeled off. He also has no control over the tip of the tail. For example when he is hunting he lifts his whole tail up but the tip makes a U shape. Im not sure what is happening and am worried. He is still active and eats well. Please help. Thanks.

  13. There is a chance that the tip of the tail will fall off. This is not a big deal and it should heal well and possibly regenerate so you won’t even notice that it had happened. Keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t look swollen or with pus which would mean that it’s getting infected. If that happens, you will need to take him to the vet.

  14. A picture would be helpful. Leos don’t really have dewlaps but I’ve seen in some of my leos that the skin under the jaw looks somewhat concave. I don’t think it’s anything to worry about.

  15. I recently got two African fat tailed geckos and my female gecko hasn’t been eating for about a month now. My friend had them for about 3 years and before she gave them to me she told me they ate crickets however my female has not been eating since I got her): I don’t have an exotic animal vet anywhere around me so I took her to a reptile store to see if they could tell me what was wrong and they said her belly was dark like her food was unable to digest so I’ve been giving her warm bathes and massaging her belly but still not eating….what do I do?

  16. You could try holding her gently and poking a cricket at her mouth until she bites it. I have been able to feed AFT’s that way. They do seem to sometimes go off eating. If she has a medical problem, there may not be anything you can do, but try the hand feeding first.

  17. Hi!
    So my African fat tailed gecko won’t eat anything other than mealworms..I’ve tried letting him starve for two weeks so he’d be hungry enough to eat crickets but won’t take anything other than mealworms.. I’ve tried hand feeding by poking his mouth too but won’t work and I’ve heard that a diet of only mealworms isn’t good for them

  18. Think of all those human kids who live on a diet of french fries and pizza. We can encourage and offer, but some geckos (not to mention kids) are just stubborn about what they will eat. I recommend you feed her what she’ll eat and periodically offer some alternatives. You could try super worms, silk worms or hornworms, though I think that only the super worms are reasonably enough priced so they could be a legitimate staple. There are many geckos who eat mealworms their whole lives and are fine.

  19. Hey guys I recently purchased a peacock gecko from my local pet store. However, I noticed that some of his toes are black and some are stumps. Is this normal? Should I return him?

  20. The reason for this is that he had some stuck shed on his feet and it cut off his circulation. Is he able to stick to the glass? If not, you should definitely return him because this is going to impact his quality of life and your success with him. If he’s sticking fine and you don’t mind the cosmetic look, you can keep him. I’m going to guess that he had difficulty shedding because they did not provide enough humidity. Check him carefully, if you keep him, to be sure when he sheds that there is no shed retained on the toes. If there is, you’ll have to catch him somehow, and let him sit in a tupperware container with a warm moist paper towel inside and a hole in the top. Hopefully you’ll then be able to get the shed off.

  21. I have an African Fat tailed gecko. For about the past 2 months, it’s head has been tilted. It looks almost like it was going after a cricket, missed, and injured its neck. Lately it seems to be having a harder time catching the crickets. I’ve tried touching her mouth with food, she just backs up and won’t take it. I’m worried that she isn’t eating. I’ve tried to keep track of what I put in the tank but occasionally have escapees so not sure if she’s actually eating them. Has anyone ever had this happen?

  22. I would wonder whether it’s really possible to injure the neck just by missing the cricket. It’s been more common for me that my AFT’s stop eating for awhile with no good reason. For the neck you should consider a vet visit. For the eating, you could try holding the gecko gently and poking a cricket at its mouth so it will bite the cricket and hopefully eat it.

  23. She really doesn’t want to take anything by my hand. I have tried it. Is there any other food that I can give her that she doesn’t have to catch?

  24. Unfortunately, most AFT’s aren’t interested in worms, though you could try super worms which move around but not as fast as crickets. I’ve had a few AFTs who liked them. On the other hand, this is the time of year where many of my geckos aren’t eating much and as long as their tails aren’t getting a lot skinnier, I just let them be and everyone comes through fine.

  25. Hi i got a new baby leopard gecko in November and in January it went into hibernation since then her tail has shrunk to nothing and she’s practically wasting away i am really desperate for help as the breeder is not helping me at all and we cant afford the vets . I offer her food every day she hardly even looks at it however she does drink lots of water . I really don’t know what the problem is because she was perfectly healthy before. i have never owned a reptile before so any advice would be really appreciated . Thanks

  26. Was it really baby in November? I ask because if it was truly a juvenile, it shouldn’t have gone into hibernation because it would have been still needing to eat and grow. Did she eat fine for you for 2 months? I wish I could be of more help. Sometimes there is a problem with a gecko that no one recognizes till it’s too late and there’s nothing that can be done. You can try squishing up a feeder and rubbing some of the guts on the gecko’s nose to see if it will eat it. If the gecko’s floor is at the right temperature on the hot side (low 90’s) then the only other thing I can think of to do is to somehow get it to a vet.

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