Introducing Ray Roehner, author of The Leopard Gecko Advisor and owner of Designer Geckos, the first commercial storefront in the world dedicated to leopard geckos! Periodically he will be answering questions about leopard geckos that readers send in. Here is his first installment:
My Leopard gecko hasn’t eaten in a month and I’m worried
I always advise people that there are three types of geckos as far as eating habits go….picky eaters, normal eaters, and voracious eaters. Voracious eaters will eat anything, anytime, and rarely if ever go off food. You need to be careful not to overfeed this type or they can get obese quickly. While they will always look up at you like they are starving, don’t give in to their requests! Feed them in a measured way, as obese geckos can have difficulty shedding, breeding, and have a shortened lifespan.
Normal eaters will eat well most of the time, but occasionally go into fasting periods. This is particularly true in winter and early spring when geckos’ hormones are fluctuating as the onset of the breeding season approaches. In winter many reptiles go into more of a dormancy, non-eating period, sensing the shorter days and colder temperatures. This behavior is normal and not to be concerned about as long as the gecko’s tail has adequate fat reserves for its sustenance. If the gecko has gone for a long period without food, and its tail and body weight has diminished, it is time to take action.
This is also an ongoing battle with picky eaters, who oftentimes do not have a good feeding response. Picky eaters are the most difficult geckos for the hobbyists to deal with. Sometimes it’s a matter of finding the insect preference, as many geckos do prefer certain insects.
If your gecko has gone for a long time without food and its body and tail are looking abnormally thin, I would recommend the following:
– Be sure your husbandry parameters are correct, warm hide surface temperatures in the 89-93 range, etc. Do NOT use heat rocks or hot lights for leopard geckos…..use belly heat with an under tank heat pad, regulated by a thermostat.
– One month off food is not alarming unless the tail is getting thin. If there is a question of possible health issues, it would be worth it to take a fresh fecal sample to the vet for analysis to rule out parasites.
– If all’s in order, then trying different insects is the key. Try fresh waxworms dropped in front of the warm hide opening first. If the gecko takes those, feed waxworms for a few days to jumpstart the animal’s metabolism and stimulate its feeding response. Then start to offer mealworms, superworms, dubias, etc. until you find what its current preference is. De-legged crickets put in a small shallow dish are often irresistible and can be a good appetite stimulant as well.
– If all these methods fail, then it may be time to try assist feeding. Hold the gecko securely in your hand so just its head is sticking out of your fist. Rub a fresh waxworm along its mouth until it opens, then place the waxworm in the mouth with forceps. Close the mouth, being careful not to get bitten. Repeat this a few times, and do this daily for three days, and then try to resume normal feedings.
– If the waxworm method doesn’t work, then you may need to syringe feed the gecko for a few days. I recommend a mixture of baby food (Beechnut brand chicken with broth only), mixed in a slurry with a little of your vitamin/mineral mixture and a little bottled water to get it to the right consistency. Feed 1cc of this mixture daily for 3-4 days. Baby food needs to be refrigerated once opened and is only good for 1 day after opening, so be sure your baby food is fresh or you’ll create other problems.
Once you have stimulated the gecko’s appetite it should soon begin to eat normally. Again, do not be alarmed as long as the gecko is not getting appreciably thinner than normal. Fasting is normal for many geckos, and most healthy geckos can go for several weeks without food with no ill effects. Best of luck.
This pic is of a male Albino Zorro Mandarin Designer, called a Golden Candy Cane. It is a product of years of breeding by Designer Geckos and is the most unique albino we’ve seen. The high contrast bright orange markings on a lavender background make this new gecko a very striking animal. Test breedings are now in progress to determine if it is a new albino, or a new variety of a Tremper Albino. Results on this will be in soon.
Any suggestions for an adult gecko that always has trouble with her toes not shedding? I always make sure it’s humid and she has a moist hide to shed in. I also use d3 powder on her crickets! How can I help her poor little toes. She has lost a couple tips over the years.
This is one of the biggest issues hobbyists have with geckos, and we see many geckos at reptile shows with missing toes. Sadly, lost toes do not grow back, but the good news is, this is totally preventable. Some morphs are more problematic shedders than others. Albinos seem to have more trouble than some of the other morphs for instance. When you know you have a problematic shedder, it’s up to you to use very careful husbandry techniques to avoid toe and eye problems post-shed. The first thing is to check your gecko daily, and as soon as it is getting cloudy skin indicating imminent shed, you need to place a wet crumpled half of paper towel in both the cool and warm hide to increase the humidity in the caves. After the shed is complete, examine the gecko carefully in good light and promptly remove any shed remnants with a wet warm Q tip and your finger nails. Pay particular attention to the legs, toes, vent, and face/eye areas. If it has excessive stuck shed, or your gecko is having a difficult time shedding for whatever reason, it is best to soak it in a container with enough warm water to cover the gecko but so its back and head are not submerged. Once inch is a good amount depending on the size and age of the gecko. Soak the gecko for 10 minutes, gently swabbing its back and head with a piece of paper towel soaked in the bath water. The water should be warm, not hot. When geckos are first placed in a warm bath, they get upset, but only for about 15 seconds or so. Then they settle down and seem to enjoy their warm spa! The shed will come off easily once properly soaked. Also, be sure you are using a 50-50 mixture of vitamins/calciumD3. We also prefer other feeders over crickets, so try varying your gecko’s diet. More fat in its diet may be helpful to the shedding issues. Good luck.