I’ve at times wondered why we are so obsessed with gecko poop. They poop too much, they don’t poop enough, it’s stinky poop, it’s runny poop, it’s hard poop, babies poop more often than adults, is this poop? Then we have to clean up the poop. We even go as far, on occasion, to pick apart the poop. Last but not least, it’s very important to take along poop to the vet visit. It should be fresh poop of course. Hopefully we will get an all clear on the poop.
So, just why are we concerned about our gecko poop? It’s one of the immediate indications of our gecko’s internal health. If they eat regularly they will poop regularly. It sounds simple enough, but if they don’t poop, there’s a problem. This is often a husbandry related issue, such as warm end floor temperature that’s not high enough or loose substrate ingestion. Ruling that out, there is a health issue that needs to be addressed immediately. While there are a few things you can do at home to help things along, if your animal doesn’t respond favorably with a gift, don’t hesitate to get it to a qualified herp vet.
We also wonder if our gecko is pooping enough. Babies typically poop several times a day, as they eat small frequent meals. Juveniles may or may not go more than once a day while they are their development stage, depending on their appetite. Adults who eat every two or three days may only go every two or three days. Remember, poop is waste not used by the body, digested food they are eliminating after they have used its nutrients.
What about consistency? Normal, healthy poop is dark brown, well formed, and has a whitish, chalky textured urate attached. It all stinks when it’s fresh! A change in diet can cause a change in poop while the animal’s body adjusts to something new. An occasional slightly runny poop is no cause for alarm but, if it continues, a fecal test should be done sooner rather than later.
It doesn’t really look like poop, so what could it be? Most commonly, it’s regurgitation. Rarely will a healthy gecko regurgitate unless it has grossly over-eaten or ingested substrate, such as sphagnum moss. They are able to completely digest their skin after shedding, so if they regurgitate it, a detailed fecal test is in order that should include testing for the dreaded cryptosporidium. It’s especially important to get this test done ASAP if they are eating less and fat loss in the tail (of those geckos that store fat in their tails)has been noted. There is ongoing crypto research being conducted, but at this time, there is no known cure.
Parasites pose a number of problems, and can result in death of the animal if left untreated. The most common symptoms include unexplained appetite loss, thin tail, regurgitation, diarrhea, dehydration, weight loss, and lethargic behavior. A heavy parasite load will drain a gecko of all its resources and eventually, life. There are several drugs used to treat parasites, some more effective with specific strains than others. It’s very important to know what parasite is being treated, since their individual life cycles can differ, thus changing the choice of antibiotic and dosage frequency. Also, the gecko’s overall condition should be considered in regard to medication orders, as many can be quite harsh on their systems and quite possibly harm the animal. A general broad spectrum treatment plan may or may not be effective. The key is a qualified herp vet. There are detailed photos of all known parasites in the book, “Understanding Reptile Parasites” by Roger Klingenberg and, if a person has a 100x microscope, picking apart a poop would show any harmful threats. It’s also helpful to be informed of possibilities when consulting with your vet for medications.
What if there are no qualified herp vets available within a reasonable distance? First, let’s address “qualified.” Just because a vet agrees to see your lizard does not mean they’re well versed in specific herp issues, though they have a fantastic long-standing practice with dogs and cats, and exotics such as birds and ferrets. This website can help you locate a vet: http://www.arav.com/. Local herpetological societies may also be able to assist in your search, oryou may even be able to get a referral from another herp keeper. A “reasonable distance” is subjective; ours is over two hours away. A vet close-by may be willing to telephone consult with a good herp vet in order to diagnose and treat your gecko correctly. The time to look for a qualified vet is before you need one, to avoid the stress of desperation. In tough economic times, a person might not be able to afford a trip to the vet, potentially costing hundreds of dollars. And still, the gecko dies. Had a consultation been done before it got so bad, the gecko may have had a chance to survive. Again, look for some resources before a crisis presents itself. Some vets will run a fecal test with just the fresh stool sample, without bringing in the animal for an office visit. This can be especially helpful if there isn’t a qualified herp vet available close by.
Last but not least, proper quarantine practices for a new animal is a must in keeping your geckos healthy. This includes being very careful to avoid cross-contaminating with dishes, utensils, or hands. Bacteria, viruses, and parasites can spread like wildfire through a communal cage if just one new animal is infected and housed with others. Many gecko species have a tendency to share the same toileting area, thus coming in direct contact with each other’s poop. Good housekeeping practices will minimize harmful growths that your gecko can come into contact with, as well as feeder insects that haven’t been eaten yet.
I would like to thank my vet, Dr. Ivan Alfonso DVM, for assisting me with this article.