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“My Gecko Will Not Eat” Part 2

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In a previous article (My Gecko Is Not Eating ) I described common situations, including illness, life cycle and stress, that result in geckos not eating and provided suggestions for how to deal with each case.  This article addresses an even more frustrating situation: the gecko who doesn’t seem to belong to any of the categories above but continues to refuse to eat, sometimes for months.  These geckos seem to be healthy: they are alert and active and don’t appear to be in any distress.  They are not losing a significant amount of weight.  They are not ovulating or  in the phase of breeding where they eat little, they are not brumating, and their fecal exams from the vet are negative.  My theory about why this occurs is limited to my experience with leopard geckos and African fat tail geckos though it could be extended to other geckos as well.  It is based on observation of my own collection rather than extensive medical or scientific research.

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Why I think Geckos may stop eating

Most leopard- and fat tail geckos in captivity live in conditions vastly different from those in the wild.  Their territorial “range” is severely restricted to a plastic tub or glass enclosure, usually not much more than 9 or 10 square feet.  They don’t have to hunt extensively for food and in some cases do not even have to move more than a few inches to eat their fill.  The average weight of captive leopard geckos has also increased during the past 10-15 years; it’s not unusual for non-giant leopard geckos to exceed 100 grams.  Many geckos adhere to a yearly cycle of variable food intake: during egg-laying season and before winter, they increase their food intake.  When the daylight hours become shorter, they reduce food intake and in some cases go into brumation.  In late winter and early spring, when they begin to become more active, their food intake may be further depressed by ovulation in the females and eagerness to breed in the males. 

day gecko eating
Day gecko eating, photo by islandgyrl

In my experience, some geckos don’t seem to break out of their reduced intake habits, even as the days lengthen and grow warmer.  Assuming that the gecko isn’t ill, it may have gotten into the habit of not eating and is slow to switch to the greater intake that we expect.  I also feel that some geckos regulate their intake based on weight.  A gecko that is not very active and is expected to eat several food items every 2 or 3 days may easily become obese.  While some geckos do eat whenever food is offered, others may not feel the need to eat and continue to gain weight.  Below is a chart of leopard gecko weights taken at 3 times in the year, July 2009 (mid-breeding season), October 2009 (end of breeding season, just before winter slow-down), April 2010 (about 1/3 of the way through breeding season).  Notice that many of the geckos  gained about 20 grams between July 2009 and October 2009 and that by April 2010 they were at or near their breeding season weights.  As of April 2010, there is only one gecko who is eating regularly (adults are fed every other day).

 As long as illness has been ruled out by checking alertness when awake, activity level and fecal analysis if necessary, there are three approaches that will assist during this non-eating period: offering food, facilitating eating, accepting the situation.

Offering food

Some geckos will eat anything offered and others are more picky.  Some get tired of their “regular” feeder and prefer something different.  Whenever possible, offer at least two types of feeders that the gecko has enjoyed in the past.  In my household, mealworms, crickets and superworms are almost always available.  Some of my geckos who have preferred superworms exclusively in the past have been more receptive to crickets recently.  Offering several feeders (one type at a time) at different times of the evening or night may result in increased consumption. Having mealworms available at all times for geckos accustomed to eating food from a bowl will also add to opportunities to eat.

Facilitating Eating

Normally, when feeding terrestial, hunting geckos, feeders are placed in the enclosure at large and the gecko is expceted to hunt them down.  There are a variety of ways to make it easier for geckos to eat, ranging from reducing the prey’s range to actively assisting with feeding:

  • hold the feeder near the gecko so it can still move but cannot get away: hold a cricket by the leg or the worm by one end.  This way the gecko can be stimulated by the movement of the prey but doesn’t have to chase it.  This is especially effective for the gecko that frequently strikes at prey and misses.
  • reduce the range of the prey:  some geckos won’t respond to prey held for them. They will chase their prey but will lose interest if it gets away from them.  Remove the cage furniture during feeding so there are fewer places for the feeder to hide.  In some cases, it may be possible to block off a section of the enclosure so the gecko can hunt in a smaller space.  I will frequently place a few crickets in the lay box (which has a hole at the top) and then put the gecko in so it can hunt the crickets in the smaller space.
  • assisted feeding: when a gecko has steadily refused to eat, I will often “assist” it by holding it in one hand and pressing the prey against its mouth with the other.  This is different from “force feeding”, where food is forcibly placed into the gecko’s throat.  Usually if a feeder is gently tapped against the gecko’s mouth, it will open its mouth and take a bite.  If a gecko is determined not to eat, it will spit out the food item.  Some geckos, though, will eat when fed this way even when they won’t take food on their own.

Usually I proceed through the three steps above when offering food to a reluctant gecko, using the “assisted feeding” method as a last resort.

Accepting the Situation

One of the most difficult situations for us humans to accept is the refusal of those under our care to eat.  The  number of books and advice columns devoted to parents who worry about their children’s eating habits should attest to this.  We expect our geckos to eat when we feed them and become worried when they don’t, especially if they repeatedly refuse to eat.  In the absence of an obvious illness or of significant weight loss, it may be safe to assume that sometimes the gecko just doesn’t need to eat for awhile.  The best way to deal with the anxiety about eating in this situation is to keep in mind the facts: the gecko does not appear ill, it isn’t losing weight, it’s behaving normally in every way except for food intake. 

Try not to worry.  Enjoy your gecko.  Seek medical advice if your gecko does seem ill: increased lethargy, noticeable weight loss, bloated belly.

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.

33 Comments

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  1. My fat-tailed gecko is listlis and not eating for a few days now. I have picked him up and will not hardly move. I have adopted him from someone else and I have had him or her for 5 years. I don’t know what to do and I don’t have any spare money to take it to the doctors. What do you suggest I do?

    Martha

  2. Thanks for the feedback. I love pictures too but sometimes what we want just isn’t available. Check out some of our other posts (including the one scheduled for publication 5/31) which have tons of pictures

  3. We are a first grade class. We have a Leopard Gecko that hasn’t eaten in months! His tail is getting smaller. He is active and one eye gets gunk in it occassionally. We are learning about what might be wrong. Thanks for your information.

  4. Hi Aliza,

    Thank you for your very thoughtful and helpful post. “My gecko will not eat, part 2” describes my female leo to a “T.” She’s 2 and 1/2 years old, plump tail, reasonably active (certainly not lethargic), in a 10 gallon tank (90 degrees at the warm end), not impacted, no fecal problems, tank is clean, water every day – she just doesn’t have that robust appetite that it seems every other gecko has. She has periods where she will eat consistently, but it seems like these periods are shortening in length. I’m wondering if moving her to a 20 gallon tank will help. I’ve tried everything else! I find myself hand feeding her with Repti-aid just to make sure she doesn’t lose weight – she will lick the Repti-aid off her nose.

  5. Hi. I need help really bad. I’m kinda scared. My leopard gecko is a 3 yr old female and she has never done this before. She has stopped eating since 5 months ago. She is still fat. Her tank I have her in is perfect. I did mealworms and crickets. I gave her wax worms, than she wouldn’t take anything else and got addicted to those than all of a sudden she stopped eating. 5 month months later…nothing. I tried a dropper a few times but she stopped taking it. She sheds regularly still. She hasn’t lose weight. Help? Please

  6. If she hasn’t lost weight and is behaving normally (maybe a bit less active) then she’s probably fine. Are you finding any poop in the cage? If so, she’s possibly eating something. Just keep offering food and providing water. If she starts looking like she’s getting a lot thinner, take her to a reptile vet. I have several geckos who seem to go without eating for that long and they’re all healthy.

    Aliza

  7. Hi, i have two questions.

    1. i have the same problem as Brittany. Our Gecko is 2yrs old and not eaten for about 3 months. ive tried mealworms, waxworms, crickets and locust and she isnt eating anything. she does shed but isnt pooping and looks healthy. should we be concerned?

    2. i was wondering if she was lonely and needed a mating partner? i know that may sound crazy but i once heard her make a noise and our pet shop told me that it was a mating call. do we have to get a male for her? could she be depressed/ lonely??

    many thanks

  8. 1. Other people may differ, but in my experience, a gecko who isn’t eating but has correct heat and caging, continues to be active an alert and isn’t visibly losing weight, is probably OK. A number of my geckos don’t eat much (or at all sometimes) in the winter and/or when ovulating. Keep offering, keep an eye on how she looks and don’t worry.

    2. To the best of my knowledge, leopard geckos don’t have mating calls (I’m assuming you’re talking about a leopard gecko) and don’t get lonely. Sometimes one will grunt or squeak, but it has nothing to do with mating. From the female’s perspective I imagine most leopard gecko females would be most comfortable if not bothered by the male. Although they ovulate, they don’t go into heat like mammals. Leopard geckos are generally solitary creatures and she is probably not lonely.

  9. Aliza,
    Thanks for your speedy reply. yes we do have a leopard Gecko and i am happy that you said that she doesn’t need a mate as i would not be able to facilitate a breeding pet (my kids are enough work!). Our Gecko looks healthy and is acting normal so i will take ur advice and not worry and keep offering her food.

    can i keep the live locust/ crickets in her enclosure or do i need to remove them????

    Many thanks,

    T.

  10. The general wisdom is to remove whatever they don’t eat in 15 minutes because there is a worry that the crickets will bite the gecko. I haven’t found this to be a problem and do leave some crickets in the enclosure with healthy geckos. If you’re worried about it, you could always leave a jar cap with some grain in it for the crickets to eat.

  11. i have the same problem of my leopard gecko not eating, and i see that you said they do not need a mate, but we have a male leo too, could her being able to smell him make her want to mate?

  12. Hi Aliza,

    This is Ed from 2012 above. I received Sheona’s question via email and I thought I’d comment and give an update. All of this is in the context of a 5 year owner of 2 leopard geckos, who reads the gecko articles and books.

    Sheona’s question first: my first leopard gecko was a female and she had a great appetite for the first 1 and 1/2 years, and then she seemed to hit a wall in terms of eating. Not losing weight, but eating maybe 10% of what she used to. The only thing she would eat were waxworms, which she loves. I would give her repti-aid (a reptile nutritional liquid supplement) and feed hand-fed her a reptile food supplement paste (mostly powdered egg yolk) just to make sure she didn’t shut down.

    I thought she might have had eggs, but “Dragon” being my first, I wasn’t sure. Besides, she’d never been with a male leopard gecko.

    When Dragon was about 2, I bought another leopard gecko I saw in a pet store that I liked. A baby, “Spots,” 2 and 1/2 inches long from nose to tail. Put “her” into Dragon’s tank, thinking “well, the breeders say that leopard geckos are not normally cannibalistic if they’re well fed.” WRONG. I saw the look and behavior right away and put my hand between Dragon and Spots before Spots became an expensive dinner. Spots got his own tank.

    Flash forward, Spots is now a year old and , surprise, surprise, a boy. I decided to switch the geckos between tanks, so that each could have a turn on the top and bottom tanks, respectively. Lo and behold, once Dragon got a whiff of Spots’ scent, she started laying eggs. Two every two weeks. She paid 10 eggs that first year without ever being fertilized. 8 last year. So far this year she’s laid two, but the year is young.

    Moreover, to Sheona’s question, once she started laying eggs, and more specifically laid the eggs, she went from eating very little to eating like a fiend. Her record is 10 superworms at once, and after she lays eggs it’s not unusual for her to eat 5 or 6 superworms – the large ones. The male gecko, on the other hand, eats consistently all year long, but maybe 2 or 3 superworms at a time.

    With my geckos, once they get to maturity (around a year), they start eating significantly less. If you’re used to fish and mammals, you have to get used to the slower reptile and gecko metabolism. My girl and guy gecko have fat tails and their primary food is superworms, once or twice a week.

    Aliza, thanks for your response in 2012 – love the site!

    Ed.

  13. Thank you,

    we cannot swap ours tanks as our male’s tank is larger because her is a much bigger lizard, but we gave her a piece of his repti-carpet and an egg laying box, and she seems happier and so far we have two crickets unaccounted for. hopefully this has worked.

    thanks again, and will update you 🙂

  14. Hi Sheona,

    When I said “swap tanks,” all I did was pick up the geckos and put them in each other’s tank. They were not in together because I didn’t want them to breed. I have to throw in a disclaimer here, because most of the gecko owners I’ve spoken to say that their females will not lay eggs if they’re not fertilized, but the one I have has never been fertilized and she’s laid 20 eggs over the last 3 years, with this year just starting.

    In retrospect, the reason my female was not eating was because she had two fully developed eggs in her. The tank swap got her excited because all of a sudden she was smelling a mature male, she started laying eggs almost immediately and then started eating ravenously. I don’t know if this is the reason your female is not eating, but if you have a male, it’s worth a try.

    Good luck!

  15. I have a fat-tailed gecko for about 3 or 4 months. Not sure if male or female. Has not eaten entire time I’ve had it. Lost weight & tail is thin. Tried crickets, mealworms, baby food, & jump start. @ one point was able to assist feed a little baby food, but only able to get it to take a couple bites. I’m worried I’m gonna lose it. Don’t know what else to do. Please help.

  16. I️ have a 10 year old fat tail leopard gecko and she is somewhat skinny and she is not eating at all she licks and drinks warm water we have in her enclosure but she is not eating
    We feed her crickets what do we do??!!
    Thanks

  17. Hopefully you read both “my gecko will not eat” articles and have tried the suggestions there. Sometimes fat tails need a little jump starting and do well if you hold them and poke a cricket at her mouth. Sometimes there is another problem that isn’t apparent and you need a vet visit. Sometimes it’s just winter and, even though she’s skinny, if she’s not losing any more weight, you’ll have to wait until the days get longer. Ten years old isn’t ancient for a fat tail gecko, but it is getting up there and that may have something to do with it as well. Sorry I can’t offer a sure-fire solution, but here are some things to consider.

  18. My female Leo is 6 years old and has not eaten for 7 months to my knowledge.
    She was a bit overweight to start with and so I wasn’t concerned initially. Her weight has decreased less than 5g. Now 77g. Still lively and plump. No marked change in energy levels. Usually eats locusts as she went off crickets 2 years ago. Tried waxworks, mealworms and dried crickets. She has fresh water daily and calcium powder appears to be disturbed.
    Shedding ok and regular excretions.

    At a loss what else to do. Not much in the way of specialist vets locally.

  19. I think my “not eating” record for a gecko was 6 months. I ended up taking super worms and squeezing the guts out and poking some into his mouth. Normally if a gecko isn’t losing much weight, even if it isn’t eating, it’s not too much cause for concern. Are you sure she isn’t eating anything at all? Do her poops look normal? The most I can suggest is to keep offering, to try holding her and poking a feeder into her mouth and to stay on top of weight and energy level.

  20. Hi Aliza, She is producing mimi poos of usual consistency. She must be nibbling on the dried crickets or her fingernails!

    I will keep trying and maybe try mushed guts around her mouth. Thanks for the reassurance.

  21. Update. Saw the vet and ziggy is in perfect health. Suggested nutrition bath and gecko meal paste. Then last night SHE ATE A LOCUST!!
    Just 1 but it’s a start

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