As any fan of reptiles knows, the leopard gecko’s adorable grin draws people in, making this delightful creature popular among people of all ages and experience levels in reptile care.
This perky little lizard is an excellent beginner’s lizard (opens in new tab), since they are generally docile, easy to tame, and have minimal care requirements.
Leopard Geckos, also known as Leos, also make GREAT pets for more experienced reptile owners who are interested in breeding unusual color morphs and patterns!
Compared to other lizards, they’re also a bit different from their counterparts among their own class (more on this later).
What You’ll Learn In This Leopard Gecko Care Sheet:
- Background information on Leopard Geckos.
- Best place to buy a healthy Leopard Gecko (plus what to look for!)
- Relative cost of a Leopard Gecko (including rare morphs)
- Proper diet for all ages
- How to properly set up a Leopard Gecko enclosure
- Health concerns to be aware of (plus how to prevent them!)
- Expert handling & bonding tips
- & So much more!
Whether you’re experienced in reptile care, or if a leopard gecko will be your first reptilian pet, this in-depth care guide is packed full of helpful tips to ensure your lizard companion enjoys a happy, healthy life for years to come.
Leopard Gecko Background Information
Leopard Geckos are small, ground-dwelling lizards that hail from the Middle East and India. These lizards are typically found in rocky, grassland, and desert areas.
They are naturally nocturnal, but while in captivity, they generally abandon their true nocturnal behavior and become more active during the day, but still continue the height of their activities overnight.
Leopard geckos generally do not bite and are slow-moving, which makes them an ideal pet for the beginner reptile enthusiast.
⭐️ Fun Fact: Did you know? Leopard Geckos can be vocal lizards, especially when they are hungry, making a variety of chirps and squeaks. You can see these noises for yourself here. How cute!
Compared to other lizards, leopard geckos require minimal care, and with proper husbandry, they can live for an average of 6 to 10 years. However, male geckos commonly live 10 to 20 years, while the oldest known leopard gecko reached 27 years of age!
Leopard geckos are commonly a mixture of yellow and white and are spotted with black dots. Hatchlings are striped and gradually change from stripes to spots.
While not as colorful as some reptiles, leopard geckos can appear in a few different patterned morphs or variations. Certain colors are more desired and valuable, while the normal coloration found in the wild is readily available and most affordable.
Besides coming in a variety of color morphs, leopard geckos can derive from bloodlines that grant a larger size. In fact, if a male leopard gecko comes from a giant bloodline, he may reach nearly a foot in length at maturity!
Normally, hatchlings measure 3 to 4 inches long, while adult females are 7 to 8 inches, and males are 8 to 10 inches.
On average, a leopard gecko can range in cost from as little as $20 to over $500 for the rare and highly desirable color morphs.
Initial startup costs for a habitat with all the furnishings will run you around $200, since these are small lizards and don’t require much space.
In total, leopard geckos make the ideal pet for someone who is just beginning to venture into reptile care, as normal color morphs are easy to find and very budget-friendly.
🔑 Leopard Gecko Background Key Takeaways: Leopard geckos make great pets for both beginner and expert lizard owners alike. Generally docile, these easy-to-care for lizards can live to be between 6 and 10 years in captivity. Costs tend to be affordable, with the bulk of the investment being upfront to purchase the lizard and set up their habitat.
Where to Buy a Leopard Gecko & What to Look for
As one of the most popular reptilian pets, leopard geckos are readily available at pet stores, but it’s always best to purchase geckos from a reputable breeder.
Either search online for a leopard gecko with excellent reviews, clear policies, and healthy animals, or visit a local reptile expo to view a variety of geckos for sale in-person.
When choosing your new leopard gecko, look closely at the tail since it can be a key indicator of overall health.
Ideally, your new Leopard Gecko should…
- Have a tail that is plump and fat, preferably as wide or wider than the space between the gecko’s shoulders
- Have eyes, nose, and mouth that appear clear, with no visible discharge.
- Have a vent (an opening for urinating and defecating) that appears clean and not swollen.
Captive-bred leopard geckos can be found in pet stores, at reptile shows, and online through breeder websites.
On breeder websites, you can learn about the geckos they have available for purchase, and peruse their stock, looking for the perfect addition to your home.
Breeders also offer much more unique and wider color morph variations than what you can find at pet stores. However, these rare color morphs can cost you well over $500.
If you’re just starting out and aren’t interested in getting a fancy morph, then a high-quality, well-cared for pet with the typical color pattern for leopard geckos will cost around $20 to $30.
Wherever you choose to purchase your leopard gecko, check your new pet over carefully for any signs of health issues first.
While it may be tempting to rescue the sickly lizard and attempt to nurse it back to health, you may be left with heartbreak and hefty veterinary bills.
Instead, choose the healthiest gecko you can find from a reputable source and you will have an entertaining companion for many years to come.
🔑 Leopard Gecko Purchasing Key Takeaways: When it comes to purchasing a Leopard Gecko, you’ll have the option of going to a pet store or locating a reputable breeder (recommended). When choosing a Leo, you can ensure it’s healthy by looking for 1) a tail that plump and fat, 2) no visible discharge around eyes, nose, or mouth regions, and 3) a vent that is clean and isn’t swollen.
Leopard Gecko Diet and Feeding Guidelines
Leopard geckos are insectivores who thrive on a diet consisting of crickets, waxworms, mealworms, and superworms.
Waxworms are high in fat, so they should only be fed as a treat, while the main diet should mostly consist of gut-loaded and dusted crickets (more on this soon).
If you’re breeding geckos, you can feed a breeding female a tiny pinky mouse for additional calories and fat, but these food items are best avoided in pet geckos, since they can rapidly become obese if fed too many.
When feeding your leopard gecko, place your pet in an empty tank. These lizards are prone to snatching up their substrate, particularly sand, if fed in their usual habitat. For this reason, sand is best avoided in your gecko’s enclosure to prevent an impaction.
Depending on the age and the size of your leopard gecko, you may expect to spend anywhere from $15 to $30 per month to feed your pet a variety of crickets, worms, and appropriate supplements.
Components of a Leopard Gecko Diet
Although you know leopard geckos do well on a diet of crickets, ensure the insects are gut-loaded prior to feeding your lizard.
Essentially, this means the crickets or worms you feed must be fed a nutritious meal 24 hours before feeding to your leopard gecko, so your pet can obtain these nutrients as well.
Before offering your leopard gecko a meal, you will also need to coat the insects with a calcium and vitamin D3 supplement. This technique of coating insects is often referred to as “dusting”.
To do so, put the crickets or worms in a ziplock bag with some of the powder supplement. Shake the bag quickly to coat, then drop the insects into the tank with your lizard.
⭐️ Dusting vs Gut Loading Simplified: Dusting quite literally refers to the act of coating a feeder insect’s body with calcium or a multi-vitamin powder of your choosing and then feeding it directly to your pet reptile. In contrast, gut-loading refers to feeding the insects various nutrients that temporarily fill their gastrointestinal tract. These insects are then fed to your pet who ultimately ingests the nourishing mixture.
Hatchlings and juveniles need the calcium and vitamin supplement at every feeding, whereas adults only need it at every other feeding.
In addition to dusting your lizard’s food with a calcium and vitamin D3 supplement, keep a small dish full of a calcium supplement (with or without the vitamin D3 supplement).
This ensures that they have their calcium needs met to help stave off a variety of health issues that lead to weight loss and bone damage.
Leopard Gecko Diet Based on Age
As your leopard gecko grows, it can tackle larger prey, and eat more food items at once. A general rule of thumb for feeding your leopard gecko is to offer two appropriately sized insects per inch of lizard length.
For example, a 6-inch long gecko should be offered 12 crickets per feeding. To choose appropriately sized insects for your lizard, choose food items that are no longer than the length of your gecko’s head.
How Often to Feed Your Leopard Gecko
Juvenile leopard geckos need to be fed several crickets every day. When your gecko is a baby, allow your pet to eat as much as it is able to in a span of 10 minutes every day. As your gecko becomes older, you can stretch out feedings to every other day.
If necessary, adult leopard geckos can skip several days between feedings, but most gecko owners offer a meal every other day.
Be sure to remove the uneaten crickets after 10 to 15 minutes, or place your gecko back in the regular habitat to help keep the enclosure clean and to prevent the crickets from pestering your gecko.
🔑 Leopard Gecko Diet Key Takeaways: Leos are insectivores which means their diet consists of a mixture of succulent worms and crickets. Remember to gut-load and dust your feeder insects with calcium and vitamin supplements. Offer two appropriately sized insects per inch of lizard length and change their feeding frequency as they age. Lastly, always choose food items that are no longer than the length of your gecko’s head.
Leopard Gecko Habitat and Tank Setup
Size of the Enclosure
Unlike some other reptile species, leopard geckos can be housed together. Fighting and other poor behavior among leopard geckos is uncommon, unless males are housed together.
To prevent injury between your pets, avoid housing male leopard geckos together.
General rules for housing leopard geckos are as follows:
- A 10-gallon enclosure is sufficient for babies, while an adult needs 20 gallons. Too large of an enclosure can make your leopard gecko stressed, so increase the habitat size as your lizard grows.
- A 15- 20-gallon tank can be large enough for two adult leopard geckos, but there should only be one male per habitat.
- Ideally add 10 gallons to your tank size for each adult gecko. For example, three adult geckos—two females and one male—should have a 30-gallon enclosure.
- Be warned that when housing male and female geckos together you can soon have babies on your hand. In fact, you can have up to six egg clutches per year, so you may be quickly overrun with babies if you don’t sell them!
Keep in mind that it is also a good idea to have a separate enclosure in which to feed your leopard gecko.
These little lizards are prone to gulping down substrate along with their meal, which can potentially cause an impaction.
Once your pet is done eating, simply place your gecko back in the regular enclosure.
Type of Enclosures
As with most reptiles, one of the most popular enclosures are glass aquariums. You can easily find old aquariums that leak so fish owners are selling them for cheap, and glass aquariums make ideal leopard gecko habitats.
Alternatively, you can DIY and build your own enclosure using wood-framed enclosures with glass or plastic doors that allow easy access.
Whatever enclosure type you choose, be sure to use a screen top, which will help keep your gecko’s habitat at the ideal humidity level by allowing evaporation.
Ideal Temperature Gradient
Since leopard geckos originate from desert areas in the Middle East, they thrive best in a warm, dry climate.
An ideal daytime basking spot of 88 to 92 degrees Fahrenheit can be produced by an under tank heat mat.
Avoid using heat lamps, since they can cause burns and vision problems to the leopard gecko’s sensitive eyes.
Allow the thermal gradient to shift down to about 75 degrees on the cool side of the enclosure, with nighttime temperatures dropping down to 70 to 75 degrees.
By using an under tank heat mat with a thermostat, you can ensure the ambient temperature remains above 70 degrees, with a toasty-warm hot spot of 88 to 92 degrees.
Ideal Humidity Levels
These lizards are a desert lizard, so they do not need an overly humid environment like amphibians.
However, if the humidity level is too low—below 20%—your leopard gecko may have trouble shedding its skin.
An ideal humidity level falls between 30% and 40%, which is similar to the humidity level in your home.
Since the humidity level is similar, a screen top on your pet’s enclosure, paired with a heat source, should keep the environment relatively dry.
Be sure to monitor the habitat with a hygrometer, and make humidity adjustments as needed.
⭐️ Pro Tip: One key tip to remember about caring for your leopard gecko is to ensure you provide a moist hide. This hide allows your lizard to safely and smoothly shed its skin. Discover exactly how to properly do this and more by reading below!
To Create a Moist Hide…
- Purchase or make a cave-style hide
- Place moisture-retaining substrate inside. Substrate options include paper towel, soil, coco hummus, or vermiculite, but the most popular choices are sphagnum or peat moss.
- Dampen the substrate to allow for easy skin-shedding, but avoid over-saturating it so that mold does not occur.
- Switch out the substrate occasionally to prevent bacteria from forming.
In this moist hide, keep the humidity level between 20% and 40%. A higher humidity level may cause your leopard gecko to develop a bacterial infection.
Being nocturnal, leopard geckos are most active at night and do not require a lot of UV lighting.
In the wild, they typically get their UV lighting requirements from the minimal sunlight around dawn and sunset. A small amount of UVA and UVB lighting will go a long way to keeping your pet healthy.
Your leopard gecko will need incandescent lighting to mimic natural sunlight. During the summer, provide 14 hours of light per day, then decrease to a 12-hour day in the winter.
If your under tank heater does not provide enough warmth to meet the basking temperature requirement, you can use a heat lamp to provide both a basking area and light. However, since leopard geckos are nocturnal, you may need to use an infrared heat lamp to provide proper heat without disturbing natural behavior.
Leopard geckos are prone to eating sand when catching their meals, so they shouldn’t be kept on a sand substrate, unless you feed your pet in a separate enclosure.
You can play it safe and completely eliminate sand and other loose substrates from your lizard’s habitat, since sand ingestion can lead to an intestinal blockage, which can require surgery to remove.
Also, be sure to avoid wood shaving for your gecko’s habitat, since the oils found in shavings can be irritating.
Suitable substrate options include:
- Paper towels and newspaper. Both are absorbent and easy to change, minimizing the chance for bacterial contamination.
- Non-adhesive shelf liners. Provides an affordable and easy to maintain option that will last longer than paper towels or newspaper.
- Tile floors. Although not the easiest to work with, if you can get the tiles cut to fit the enclosure, this is by far the best long term substrate option in terms of cleanliness and durability.
Spot clean the cage once a day to remove feces, then deep-clean the entire enclosure once monthly. Disinfect the cage and accessories, and replace the substrate with fresh material.
Decor and Accessories
To keep your leopard gecko happy and healthy, it is recommended to have three separate hides in the enclosure—a hot hide, a cool hide, and a moist hide.
I. The hot hide. The hot hide allows a place for your lizard to retreat to digest its food, or to relax and soak up the warmth on the higher end of the temperature gradient.
II. The cool hide. While the cool hide is not crucial, it is nice to offer a place for your lizard to seek shelter and cool down if needed.
III. The moist hide. A moist hide can double as a cool hide, since if you place your moist hide on the hot side of your enclosure, the moisture will evaporate in the high heat. The moist hide should always be placed at the lowest end of the tank’s temperature gradient and outfitted with moisture-retaining substrate to promote easy shedding.
Plants and Rocks
While your leopard gecko’s hides provide most of the necessary security needed for resting and shedding skin, live or artificial plants also offer important opportunities to hide.
Since leopard geckos don’t eat plants, live plants should be safe with your lizard, but they can raise the humidity level, plus they’re messier to clean around. Artificial plants provide a great alternative, and beautiful greenery to your pet’s enclosure.
Rocks and logs also offer fun activities and the opportunity for exercise for your leopard gecko.
Ensure these objects aren’t too tall and have no sharp edges, since your lizard can’t climb well without sticky foot pads.
🔑 Leopard Gecko Enclosure Key Takeaways: Leopard Geckos don’t need large habitats and can do just fine in a 20-gallon tank (for adult Leos). When it comes to temperature and humidity, the ideal gradient includes a daytime basking spot of 88-92 degrees Fahrenheit which shifts down to about 75 degrees on the cool side and humidity between 30-40%. Lastly, always include elements for enrichment and three separate hides-a hot hide, a cool hide, and a moist hide to help with shedding.
Leopard Gecko General Health Information
Metabolic Bone Disease
One of the most severe conditions that can affect leopard geckos is metabolic bone disease. Just like humans, geckos become ill if they don’t get enough calcium and vitamin D in their diets.
Similar to Bearded Dragons, Metabolic bone disease (MBD) causes painful spine and limb deformities.
Signs of MBD in leopard geckos includes:
- Slow movement
- Progressive weight loss due to spongy jaw and inability to eat
This disease can be corrected with vitamin D injections and administration of liquid calcium. A long-term treatment plan includes appropriate calcium and vitamin D3 supplementation.
Like other lizards, leopard geckos that are undernourished or live in a cage with insufficient moisture may develop dysecdysis.
Dysecdysis, which looks like dry skin, causes the gecko to have difficulty shedding and can affect its vision. With too-low humidity levels, cool temperatures, and lack of available furniture to rub against, your gecko may retain patches of skin.
If the eyelid skin is retained, your pet can have vision issues. The tip of the tail and the fingers can necrose and die if the skin fails to shed and restricts blood flow.
If you notice your leopard gecko having issues shedding—this process should be completed in one to two hours—place your lizard in a shallow dish of water to increase moisture.
Leopard geckos can commonly suffer from an intestinal impaction if they are kept on improper substrate, such as sand or small gravel.
These lizards may eat their substrate if their diet is deficient in calcium, their food is placed on improper substrate, or they are learning about their environment and accidentally eat sand or gravel.
Signs of impaction in your leopard gecko include:
- Swollen stomach
- Lack of appetite
If you suspect your gecko is suffering from an impaction, your veterinarian can take an X-ray to determine if something is indeed stuck, and then provide instructions or assistance in removing the blockage.
The most common health issues in leopard geckos are caused by improper temperature and humidity levels, and inadequate nutrition from a poor diet.
At the first hint of illness, closely examine your husbandry habits for any issues.
🔑 Leopard Gecko General Health Key Takeaways: Like all reptile species, Leopard Geckos are susceptible to a variety of health concerns. Fortunately, you can help prevent them from suffering from a weakened immune system and becoming sick by ensuring their diet and habitat are on point.
Leopard Gecko Handling and Bonding Tips
When you first bring home your leopard gecko, give them a few weeks to settle in.
They will typically tolerate a certain amount of contact, but don’t overdo it, or your leopard gecko may become stressed, especially at the beginning of your relationship.
If threatened, your gecko will naturally amputate its tail, so a slow taming and bonding process is best. The new tail will begin to grow in a few days, taking about three to four months to fully regrow. However, the new tail might not be as nice as the previous tail.
Always handle your leopard gecko with care and avoid grabbing it by the tail. Support the lizard’s entire weight by placing your hand or arm under the belly.
Leopard geckos make ideal pets for beginners and are great lizards to introduce people to reptiles, as they are slow-moving and rarely bite. Plus, their adorable grins and cute chirps are particularly endearing!
🔑 Leopard Gecko Handling & Bonding Takeaways: Don’t be surprised if initially your new Leo acts shy and aloof. Give your Leo time to settle in to their habitat before handling them. Remember, any extreme stress will cause them to drop their tails. With a little time and patience, not to mention the right techniques (see above) you and your pet will surely form a close bond that will last decades!
Is a Leopard Gecko Right for YOU?
If you’re in the market for an easy to care for reptile with a perky personality, look no further than the leopard gecko.
These cute little lizards are excellent beginner pets, and also make ideal companions for breeding reptile enthusiasts to produce rare color morphs.
It is my hope that this care sheet has given you the knowledge and confidence to properly care for your new Leopard Gecko.
Over time, your leopard gecko will bond with you and greet you with a series of chirps and squeaks, grinning up at you for attention and a meal.
If you’re looking for a new reptile to welcome into your home, you simply can’t go wrong with a leopard gecko.