For years, the specter of the dreaded protozoan disease, cryptosporidiosis, has worried gecko owners. “Crypto” is highly contagious, incurable, hard to kill and ultimately fatal. A more detailed description is available in an article written in 2009 by Marcia McGuiness. Unfortunately, this devastating disease has invaded my gecko population here at Geckcessories.
For obvious reasons, I have done a fair amount of internet research about crypto and have discovered that almost nothing has been written about it since 2012. I have never seen a post about any breeder admitting that he or she is dealing with crypto. Aside from an occasional new gecko owner reporting on forums about a gecko purchased from a pet store that has “sticktail”, one of the symptoms of crypto (and what happened to all the other geckos in the pet store that were sold to unsuspecting customers?) no one has acknowledged a crypto problem in the past 5 years. As a responsible breeder and concerned reptile keeper, I feel obligated to share my story.
How it Started
As far as I can tell, Crypto may have come to my home with a gecko I purchased last year. I quarantined her and afterward put her in an enclosure with another female and a male gecko. Within a few months, things started to go downhill just as this gecko was laying eggs. By the time I got the three of them to the vet, the two females were dead and the male had lost a lot of weight. The initial fecal exam was negative for crypto. The male was placed in a quarantine cage and after several months and a complete disinfection (as per the guidelines of the article on crypto cited above) of his previous habitat, he was returned to his original home. Although he didn’t regain all the weight he had lost, he continued to do well. Six months after that vet visit he was introduced to two females. As soon as they started laying eggs, things went downhill again.
Not long after that, a gecko of another species in a cage across the room stopped eating and developed a runny diarrhea. I brought her to the vet and her crypto test came back positive. I have now tested most of my geckos, including nearly all of my juvenile leopard geckos. Every result has been positive. I did not re-test the original group of geckos, who are now severely underweight, but it’s pretty clear to me what the problem is. My best guess as to how this disease spread is that I have, unfortunately, been in the habit of returning uneaten feeders to the cricket enclosure. Most likely, the crickets were contaminated, as well as other items used for cricket feeding.
How to Reduce the Chances of Crypto
I don’t think there’s any way to completely eliminate any chance of a crypto outbreak and to still own geckos. I have gotten rid of all my feeders as well as their enclosures and bought new feeders. I’ve treated all the implements used with the feeders. Here are other precautions I recommend:
♦ Test any gecko you purchase for crypto, or find out whether the gecko has been tested by the seller. Technically, a gecko should be able to provide 3 negative crypto tests to insure that it is crypto free. If I ever sell geckos again, I will have them all tested for crypto. It will raise my prices by $10-20 a gecko, but it will decrease the chances of transmitting this infection.
♦ Once a feeder goes into an enclosure, it should not go anywhere else. Most care sheets advise that uneaten feeders should be removed if not eaten within 15 minutes. That’s great for owners of 1 or 2 geckos, but if you have 50 geckos, what are you supposed to do with the uneaten feeders? At this point, they stay in the cage and when the next feeding time arrives, I try to encourage the geckos to first eat whatever is still in the enclosure.
♦ Wash your hands often with soap and water. Soap and water will not kill the crypto oocysts that are excreted with the gecko feces, but there’s at least some chance you can get them off your hands by washing. Wash after each gecko cage or rack you service. Wash after handling a gecko and before handling the next gecko.
♦ Test for crypto any gecko with persistent diarrhea.
When God Gives You Lemons . . .
I am devastated. It’s likely that every single gecko in my care will die before its time. I have tens of geckos that I produced to sell that I can’t sell. My current career as a gecko breeder, one that I’ve loved for the past 13 seasons, is over. I don’t know that I’ll ever breed geckos again. I’ve had to contact the few people this season who bought geckos from me, share the news and offer them refunds if they want them. I will ultimately be throwing out a lot of gecko related accessories, some of which I made and some that have a lot of sentimental value to me. I’m preparing to say goodby to some geckos I’ve had for more than 10 years.
The biggest problem I’m confronting now is how to house the geckos that I would normally be selling. The enclosures they currently inhabit are designed to be temporary until they are sold but now I must find housing for them in my home for the rest of their lives. I’ve resisted doing the math because I suspect it will be impossible.
I used to wait eagerly for the eggs to hatch and now I pray that they won’t hatch. While there is a very slight chance that subsequent hatchlings will be negative for crypto, the literature suggests that offspring of crypto positive parents are likewise crypto-positive (they will be tested when they get a little bigger).
. . . Make Lemonade
Despite the horrible news, things with the reptiles are oddly “normal”. Of the 70 or so geckos I have, only 4 are wasting away, and 3 of those are still eating like champs. A few more of the geckos have intermittent diarrhea. In some ways, it’s “business as usual” in terms of feeding and other care. I don’t know what the future will hold. I considered having the sickest geckos euthanized and I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t put down a gecko that is still eating, licking water drops off the enclosure walls and is not in any obvious pain.
When one lives with a long-term terrible situation, the key to emotional survival is to take a “one day at a time” approach and to remember to be grateful for the things in life that are going well. I still have my health and my job. My family members are also doing well. I get to have some gorgeous geckos for my very own that otherwise would have been sold. Caring for a large number of geckos, providing for an ever expanding group of hatchlings and working the shows and the internet to sell them, while pleasurable, is time consuming and puts a great strain on vacation plans. I hope to retire in about 5 years and it may be time to eliminate this somewhat costly and encompassing hobby.
When All is Said and Done
I return to the point I made at the beginning of this article: Why haven’t we heard anything about cryptosporidiosis during the past 5 years? Am I the only breeder dealing with this? Are there geckos being bought and sold through facilities where crypto is present? Is there any interest in research to develop a cure for this parasite? I have found that reptile keepers are notoriously silent about their methods and the specifics of their care, frequently (though not always) for good reason. I feel that it’s time to speak out about this issue in order to understand how widespread it is and how we can minimize its spread and its effects.