As much as we love our home and our pets, sometimes we just need to get away. Whether you own a single gecko or have a large, multi-species collection, plans must be in place for care and feeding of your pets while you’re gone.
When considering care for geckos, the most important thing to remember is that reptiles are not mammals. They don’t require the same amount of calories and frequency of intake that mammals need because reptiles don’t burn calories to maintain a specific body temperature. Adult reptiles are rarely fed every day and can survive for longer without food than their mammalian counterparts. There are 3 aspects of care to consider for all geckos: food, hydration and habitat management. Many older juveniles and adult geckos can go without food for 10 days to 2 weeks, though this is not ideal under normal circumstances. All geckos require more consistent hydration. Geckos that have humidity, temperature and lighting needs that differ significantly from the “outside” environment will easily become stressed if these conditions are not maintained. Babies and hatchlings are more delicate and require more frequent and precise feeding, hydration and habitat management.
Taking Your Gecko With You
Some people choose to bring their geckos with them when they go away. This is not recommended for geckos that can’t be handled, those who are very sensitive to changes in their environment or for short, weekend vacations. Obviously, it would be difficult and impractical to transport large collections. Most public transportation systems such as airlines or trains won’t permit live reptiles to be transported and sneaking your reptile on the airplane would be a very poor choice. If you’re going away for a week or more and will be in a single location during this time, pack up the gecko the same way vendors do when taking their reptiles to a show: place the gecko in a deli cup with holes punched, put the cup in a secure place and transport the cage separately. This will insure that the gecko isn’t harmed by falling items in its regular enclosure if there’s a sudden stop or an accident. The gecko will be fine if its exact temperature requirements aren’t met temporarily although running the air conditioning in the car will probably not be appreciated. Many people have been known to transport their geckos this way if they are going away for the summer or during long college vacations. I even heard of one person who drove from northeastern United States to Florida with a reptile incubator plugged into her cigarette lighter, though this is a little extreme. On arrival at the vacation destination, set up the gecko’s enclosure and return the gecko to it. If the trip will take several days, the gecko can either spend one night in the deli cup (I do this with my geckos when I take them to shows that are a distance away) or can be put into its enclosure overnight. It’s best not to feed geckos who are going to travel. Although many will do well, some do regurgitate (maybe they get carsick!).
Leaving Your Gecko at Home
If the gecko or geckos will be left home when you travel, some care will have to be arranged. As a general rule, most geckos can survive without any intervention for one or two days. If you plan to be away for a weekend, it’s probably safe to leave your gecko alone, though it’s always a good idea to have someone available in case there’s a household emergency such as a power outage that will impact the geckos. For longer absences, there are a variety of choices for gecko care:
—the “kennel” approach: some pet stores, pet sitters or other animal facilities will board your gecko for a daily fee. The advantage to this solution is that there is experienced personnel on site for extended periods of time and, if you’ve chosen wisely, quality care. The disadvantages are that it’s expensive and there’s no way to insure that quarantine from other reptiles on the premises will be carried out to your standards. If you have a friend who’s knowledgeable about geckos and is willing to house your pet while you’re gone (and quarantine it appropriately from any reptile he or she may own), you may be able to overcome all the disadvantages. I had a very positive experience caring for a pair of leopard geckos that needed medication for several weeks, after responding to a request on craigslist (I don’t recommend this method, but it did work out for me and the gecko owner).
— limited care in the home: For medium length vacations of 1-2 weeks, your gecko can survive without food, though this is not ideal. Your gecko should do well if there is someone who can come in every day or so, provide water and check to make sure the heat is working adequately. The “gecko checker” should be comfortable opening the cages and filling water bowls or misting, if necessary. He or she should have contact information for the gecko owner or other knowledgeable person and should be told what to do in case of emergency such as a power outage, flood or fire. Back in the days when I had only 1 leopard gecko, my house-sitter agreed to provide water for her when I had to take a 10 day trip across the country. Although she wasn’t fed during my absence, she was fine when I got back (that was 6 years ago and I still have her) with no obvious weight loss.
—experienced care giver: This alternative is essential for those who have large collections, geckos with special or specific needs, eggs due to hatch or hatchlings. An experienced gecko caregiver can be paid to come into your home every few days (or daily if you prefer) to provide the care that your collection requires. The care giver can be a professional pet sitter, a fellow herper, or even someone that you have trained. It’s essential that you prepare thoroughly. Cages should be labeled with species and names if appropriate. Food, including feeders and supplements should be labeled as well. Provide detailed, written instructions about exactly what you want done with each gecko. As in the case of the “limited care” described above, be sure to provide written suggestions for how to proceed in case of an emergency and contact information. If your geckos are under the care of a reptile vet, provide this information as well. I have found this method to be very successful. I have a friend who is comfortable and experienced with animal care. She comes in every 2-3 days on the rare occasions when I go on vacation and provides care according to my written specifications. She has also checked my incubator for eggs and moved new hatchlings to their enclosures which I had prepared ahead of time. I’ll never forget her text message to me about a newly hatched leopard gecko that looked different from all the other ones she’d ever seen. My first super snow!
Going on vacation with or without your gecko is a balancing act. When deciding how to deal with the situation, you need to weigh your needs and resources against the degree of stress put on your gecko by changes in its habitual routine. Remember, as you consider all the factors, that both you and your pet are capable of being flexible!