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.
26 CommentsLeave a Reply
I just read through your article. I am so sorry this happened to you and your geckos! As hard as it must have been writing the article, I really appreciate you sharing it. I only have 5 lizards, but I know as years go by that number will grow and hopefully one day I will end up breeding them, too. I am really thankful you’ve shared with me your experience, so hopefully I can better understand and maybe avoid having an experience this. Not just for myself, but also by sharing your article with other hobbyists. Thank you again! – Jordie
So sorry to read about your situation. Crypto is really a scary parasite because some geckos appear to be able to carry it with only minor symptoms, and you can have an infected animal test negative if they don’t happen to be shedding the parasite at the time of the sample. 🙁 I’ve taken to doing two tests in incoming geckos — one at the start and the end of a three-month quarantine period.
Thanks for your support. It’s an awful way to learn a hard lesson.
I feel so bad for you, just having to watch your pets waste away. At some point in time I was going to buy a gecko from you but now I can’t. I’m just glad the ones alive are still eating happily. I don’t know what I’d do without my little Shiloh
Thank you. Fortunately, nearly all the geckos look pretty good right now. They are carrying the parasite, but it’s not affecting them. I hope you are able to find a nice gecko from someone else.
Aliza, I’m so sorry to hear this has happened – you’ve been such an amazing resource to the leopard gecko keeper community. Keeping you and your geckos in my thoughts.
Has your vet recommended Fumagillin? In combination with Metroniadzole I’ve seen good results against Cryptosporidiosis.
This is really unfortunate and I’m sorry to hear this happened. I too have heard of this but have never actually heard of anyone who’s dealt with it. You did what a good bit of people probably wouldn’t have with telling previous buyers about the situation.
Thanks for your kind thoughts. Trying to make the best out of a bad situation.
This is such heartbreaking news! I bought a wonderful little leopard gecko from you about a year ago, and I’m now preparing to get a gargoyle gecko, so I checked your website for available or future gargoyle babies. The reason I chose you a year ago is because you struck me as a very ethical breeder, and you’ve now really proven the depths of your integrity by being transparent about what has happened.
Have you considered setting up something to allow people to donate to you to help you get your babies into better longterm housing?
It’s a nice idea, but the problem isn’t cost of housing, it’s space to put the cages! The best help I could get is if someone wanted to take in a healthy looking (possibly for years) crypto positive gecko, but I don’t really expect that.
Yes, I imagine it would be difficult to find homes for them considering most people who would be prepared to take in a reptile probably already has reptiles and therefore shouldn’t really risk exposure. 🙁
I had learned that crypto was a risk in reptiles a year ago as I prepared for my first gecko from you, but the impression I got about it was that you really only saw that sort of thing coming out of pet mills/pet stores (propagated by bad hygiene, and bad husbandry) but this was a wake up call. It can happen to anyone.
When I do find a gargoyle breeder who meets my standards, I will do my due diligence and ask about crypto testing specifically.
Sounds good to me. I think there’s a lot more crypto out there than people are aware. I don’t think people are deliberately fooling customers, rather, they don’t really want to know. I sure can sympathize!
I feel guilty for asking considering the circumstances, but I trust your judgment, do you know of any good, ethical breeders for gargoyles that you would particularly recommend?
I highly recommend Dragontown, Rhachouse and Leapin Leachies. You may see from their websites that the prices are on the high side, but if you contact them (they are all pretty approachable) and ask if there is something less fancy and less expensive (if that’s what you want) you may be able to get something that’s not advertised.
Thank you for the recommendations, and the tip about asking about unlisted geckos (good to know).
PS. The gecko you sold me last year is great. Great temperment, good feeder, and a big healthy girl. She had her first annual recently (I didn’t want to stress her with a vet visit as a baby if it wasn’t necessary) and the vet said she is in excellent condition. I got her, in part, to help with my PTSD/anxiety even though geckos are a pretty unconventional choice for that sort of thing. Seeing her sweet face everyday, and interacting with her is a wonderful, calming experience. I’ll always be grateful for the part you played in bringing her into my life.
So sorry hear of this trajedy. Can you please update your situation? Also, have you been tested? Can anyone coming into your house contract this disease?
As far as I know, the cryptosporidium protozoa that affects geckos does not affect humans (though anyone who is immune-suppressed should avoid contact). Most of the geckos continue to do well. I have had 2 die and 2 more are probably not going to make it. Nearly everyone else looks good at the moment. I am now focusing on how to accommodate the many geckos that will spend the rest of their lives with me instead of being sold. These geckos are free to anyone who would like to house a crypto-positive gecko, who will likely live for many years. I don’t recommend this to anyone who already owns geckos, but it would be a good pet for someone who wants just one gecko and would like a nice gecko for free.
Did your physician or veterinarian say to you that it’s not transmissible?
My reading has told me that it’s not transmissible.
It is unusual for it to be transmitted to humans, but not impossible in immuno compromised people such as people who are on anti-cancer drugs or have has a transplant.
IT is highly transmittable between reptiles though usually via the fecal oral route. Now reptiles don’t typically eat their own feces s with good hygiene and quarantine it can be contained within a collection. however, feeders can be an issue as many feeder insects will happy eat fecal material. If you recycle uneaten feeders there is a risk you will transmit the disease between populations. Of course this is a risk in bio-active setups too especially as the invertebrates are there to clean up the animal waste.
Thank you so much for writing this article. I’ve had 4 leos I’ve seen that started to lose the weight in their tails, and one of them has a pretty decent sized prolapse that just popped out (my first one) with no vets around for the holiday weekend. So, I’ve been online trying to figure out what to do and after doing a ton of reading, I have a horrible suspicion that I’m going to be in your boat in the near future. I never even thought of this since I’ve had all of my breeders for years and have kept only their babies. No new leos have entered my house in well over 3 years. I’m going to take one of them in after the holiday to have it tested and if as suspected, it is positive, I’ll also be discontinuing my breeding program and just trying to give my 30+ geckos a good rest of their life. This just sucks but I do thank you for sharing. You really helped me to see that there is a lot to be thankful for.
I’m really hoping it’s not the case. Good luck and keep me posted.
Thank you for this article. I had no idea about any such diseases. I don’t have geckos at themoment, but I’m planning to get two or three for my son (who is 11 and which, of course, means that I’ll be looking after them) from different people. We live in Spain, does anyone know if this disease is a problem in Spain? I never heard of it but as Aliza says, poeple are suspiciously silent about it. I will try to have them tested before I put them together. I was planning to quarantine them fro three months anyway. I do have bearded dragons, who live mostly in our garden, does this pose a threat to geckos in terms of disease*? I guess yes, and we’ll have to be careful with hygiene…
*we haven’t been too careful so far and I don’t think our dragons carry salmonella or we would have been sick by now. But parasites for another reptile is a different story…
I have no idea what the crypto situation is in Europe. The idea of quarantining them and having them tested is a good one. One person I know tests when they first get them and then at the end of the quarantine period. I have 2 bearded dragons that I have not had tested and they (as many of the geckos as well) are not showing symptoms. One is 10 years old! Since I wrote the article I have had another 3 or 4 pass away from crypto. At the moment, maybe one is showing symptoms and the others remain healthy looking.
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