As a leopard gecko breeder and an animal lover, one of the things that I do all the time is scan Craigslist’s pets ads for gecko posts. More often than not, I find breeders selling babies, which is all well and good by me. But every once and a while, I find that someone is trying to get rid of a sick gecko, and when I find that, I always offer myself up as a rescue. I’ve had more than my fair share of deaths when I rescue leopard geckos, since I sometimes arrive just a little too late, but I’ve also had a good number of successes. I wanted to write this article so I could describe some of the things that I do, and which you can do, to keep a leopard gecko happy and healthy in your own home.
Ideally, you’ll want to go to a vet and get antibiotic treatments. Unfortunately, as I’ve seen far too often, many gecko owners don’t budget for this, and can’t afford to take their geckos in, or simply don’t have a reptile veterinarian anywhere near them. If you fit that profile, then this is really a guide for you more than anybody else, since I’m not going to rely on having a fecal test or any other medicines.
I’m going to be referring to my latest rescue throughout this article. She’s not quite out of the woods yet, but “Bubbles” as her previous owner named her, has started the road to recovery quite well. This is a picture that the owner gave me of Bubbles before she started to decline, and the second picture is a picture of Bubbles when I first brought her home.
To those who are unused to the appearance of leopard geckos, I want to point out a few things that tell me that this is one troubled creature. First, notice the dark color of her entire body, but particularly her tail. That’s a sure sign of stress, and pretty constant stress at that, if not a bigger problem like Cryptosporidiosis. Also notice that she didn’t really complete her shed very well on her own, and that her tail is fairly skinny. All of these signs point to a severely troubled gecko. According to her previous owners, she was also fairly lethargic, much moreso than normal.
So I had to start the recovery process quickly. When it comes to dealing with sick geckos, I immediately assume parasites is the issue, because in my experience, nine times out of ten, that’s the problem. I thoroughly cleaned out a ten-gallon aquarium for her, added paper towels (easy to ensure that they’re clean), and added some clean new fixtures to her new home, which I made out of tupperware. I moved her in quickly, double checked the temperature, and let her be.
Then it came time to clean her old home. I wanted to move her back in as soon as possible so that she wouldn’t be as stressed out from moving homes. If parasites is, in fact, the problem, then you need to get rid of the parasites wherever possible, so I did a thorough cleaning of her old home, and everything in there. As you can see from the “before” picture above, her previous owners used sand as a substrate. I cannot stress it enough that with sand, it’s not a matter of “if”, it’s a matter of “when” it’s going to kill your pet. Obviously, removing the sand was priority number one, and I then took a bleach soaked rag to the entire inside of the tank. I took all of her old aquarium furniture and hides, and submerged them in a 50/50 bleach/water solution for two hours, then took them out and allowed them to dry in front of a fan. Before even thinking of putting anything back together, I scrubbed it all with soap and water, rinsed off everything, tank included, and let it sit overnight. That should thoroughly kill any and all bacteria and parasites that may have infested the aquarium itself, and it provided a nice clean start for Bubbles in a place that’s fairly familiar to her. The only difference was that the sand was gone, replaced by tile, which is impossible for the geckos to eat, and also a good conductor of heat.
The next day, I put Bubbles back in her old aquarium, and did the same scrub routine with her new tank. There’s a lot less work to it this time with paper towels and tupperware hides, which can all just hit the trash.
Now to treat the gecko itself. I always provide clean, filtered water daily, and for particularly skinny geckos, I like to provide a small dish of mealworms at all times in hopes of getting her to eat when she’s hungry. Otherwise, I hand feed. I think it’s harder for them to ignore the food when it’s right in front of their faces, and if they’re feeling lethargic, then it’s going to be tough for them to catch crickets, even if the crickets are hobbled. Make feeding a simple process, and use large food, that way they get more calories with less effort. I use superworms, heavily dusted with calcium powder, held out with tweezers. Another must at this stage is the use of Reptaid (http://www.reptaid.com/), which is an organic vitamin compound that is made with lots of anti-parasite ingredients, which should be injected into the worm before feeding. I keep a bottle on-hand all the time, and I’ve found that small doses over time are usually enough to get them better without the use of veterinary medicine.
If, like Bubbles, they aren’t shedding, I take one extra step. Using a cheese grater, I take a human adult multivitamin and grate it over the coarse side, reducing the material to dust. Licking my finger helps me gather a little bit on the tip of my finger, and then I just touch the reptile’s mouth with it. They can’t help but lick it when it’s right in their face, and that way you can give them a little vitamin supplement. Some people don’t think that this is necessary, and it may not be, but it’s always worked for me. The logic is that if they’re not shedding completely, they’re missing out on some of the vitamins that they would normally get from eating their skin. Why a human adult vitamin instead of an already prepared reptile vitamin? If the logic holds, as I believe it does, that leopard geckos need to eat their skin to get different vitamins than they get anywhere else, then they would have stopped eating their skin in captivity. All adult multivitamins that I’ve ever seen give calcium, plus a variety of other things that may help them get healthier. As I stated, this may help, or it may not. I did this originally based on what I read about the skin being shed, and so far, the only geckos to have gotten worse, or died under my care have been far too sick to begin with.
As long as they’re eating something, you should be OK to simply let the process run its course. When it comes time for them to shed, give them a warm bath once per day, and don’t disturb them much throughout the course of their recovery. When I have a sick gecko, I actually like to set it up in my closet, because that’s the one place where I know that it won’t be bothered by the light or noise. Alone, it can sometimes calm down and de-stress, which is one of the most important parts of getting your gecko back on track.
Bubbles isn’t back to 100% yet, but a few days into it, she’s already looking a lot better. I think she’ll come out of it all just fine, and I might even end up using her for breeding some day. All it takes is a little know-how, and you can save almost any leopard gecko.