Reading Time: 4 minutes
If you’ve never had a pet reptile before, the leopard gecko is a good place to start. These little lizards are charming and easier to care for than many other species.
“Leopard geckos are beautiful, with lovely colors and markings, huge bright eyes and sweet faces. They are delightful to watch, curiously exploring their environment or hunting insects like a tiny cat, creeping stealthily then pouncing at the end,” says Dr. Frances Baines, a retired British veterinarian with an interest in researching the lighting needs of reptiles and amphibians. “Once their housing is set up, with the lamps on timers, the heating on a thermostat, they are quite low maintenance, very clean, almost silent, and undemanding.”
Lynsey Rosen, DVM, an exotic animal veterinarian and Fear Free certified professional, agrees. “I think they make really good pets. They’re generally very friendly and docile and they have really cute, unique personalities. I just think it’s really important that when people get one they do their research and understand what goes into setting them up, and that they make sure they have a veterinarian that can see reptiles so they can get proper care when they need it.”
What do you need to understand, if you’ve never had a reptile before? Unlike most mammal pets, who can thrive in the same environment we do, reptiles need to be provided with the correct levels of temperature and humidity, which can differ by species. You’ll need to be able to control and measure those environmental factors in their enclosure (consult a reliable source for the specifics: Baines recommends you start here).
It’s not enough to just crank up the heat in your house, because your pet’s needs are more complex than that. “She doesn’t just need ‘warmth’; she needs a specific range of temperatures from warm to cool, called a temperature gradient, so she can move around and choose her preferred temperature at different times of the day,” says Baines. “If she’s too cool, she can’t digest her food and becomes sleepy and slow. If she’s too hot and can’t escape the heat, she will die.”
Reptiles also need special lighting. Although leopard geckos in the wild are most active after sundown, they do bask in the sunlight, and UVB lighting helps them produce vitamin D3, which is essential for their health. Baines says, “I highly recommend the daytime use of a gentle incandescent basking lamp paired with a specialist low-output UVB reptile fluorescent tube for all leopard geckos, placed over one end of the vivarium to provide a ‘patch of sunlight’ below.”
Your enclosure must provide not only for the physical health of your gecko, but also behavioral health. Enrichment for reptiles isn’t buying toys or playing games but providing an environment that allows them to feel safe and express natural behaviors. In the wild, they live in rocky, scrubby terrain where they spend the day sheltered in crevices and tunnels.
“They are quick to learn the layouts of little caves, burrows, and safe places; they are instinctively nervous of open spaces and being pounced on from above by a bird or mammal predator,” says Baines. “So to have a happy gecko, he needs to feel secure, with plenty of interesting little hides, caves, and safe places, some of which can be filled with damp moss for increased humidity. There should be very little open space in the vivarium, so if he wants, he can get from one side to the other without being seen. If possible, house him in a vivarium that opens at the front, so you’re not moving a screen and reaching down from above to feed him or pick him up. You can cover the sides and back of an all-glass vivarium with a backdrop taped to the outside, too, so he doesn’t feel so exposed to the rest of the room.
Health problems with reptiles frequently stem from errors in providing the right environment, so when a veterinarian sees a sick gecko, that’s the first thing she thinks about. “We always ask for a really detailed history of what they’re doing at home: what they’re feeding, how their enclosure is set up, their lighting sources, where the reptile came from, how they’re handling it,” says Rosen. “All those are really important.”
Rosen says she often sees problems related to improper substrate. Sand can cause problems. “Either the reptile ingests it and gets an impaction and they need surgery, or gets it in their eye and it causes ocular ulcers or little abscesses,” she says. She recommends either paper or products made specially to line reptile cages. If you want to use something more natural, do your research carefully (again, here is a good place to start).
Finally, don’t forget you’ll need to be okay with feeding your pet live insect food, such as crickets. Don’t feed insects that you catch outside, which can make them ill.
If you’re thinking of a leopard gecko as a pet for kids, remember that they are small and delicate, and can’t roam outside their cage. “I would not recommend letting any child under four or five years of age handle one, even with supervision, because younger children do not have fine control of their grip and can crush the belly without meaning to or let go suddenly and drop the gecko to the floor,” says Baines.
Remember as well that young children are notorious for placing objects and their hands in their mouths. Supervise their interactions with any pet reptiles and make sure they wash their hands thoroughly after handling them or water or objects in their environment, to prevent potential transmission of Salmonella, which is found normally in the digestive tract of healthy reptiles and amphibians.
For older children, though, they can be a good choice, but parents need to be just as interested as the kids. That’s not just so they can supervise, but also because these little lizards can live well into their teens and sometimes even their twenties – likely long after your child has gone off to college. “So even if he or she doesn’t get bored of it before then, the parents are quite likely to become the primary carers eventually,” says Baines. “I say this from personal experience!”
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.
PublishedMay 3, 2021
If you've never had a pet reptile before, the leopard gecko is a good place to start. These little lizards are charming and easier to care for than many other species.Are leopard geckos beginner friendly? ›
If you've never had a pet reptile before, the leopard gecko is a good place to start. These little lizards are charming and easier to care for than many other species.Are leopard geckos easy to take care of? ›
Leopard geckos are small relatively easy to care for reptiles. They can reach an adult size of 5-10 inches, and can live 10-15 years with good health care, a clean environment, and proper feeding.What are the basics of owning a leopard gecko? ›
Leopard geckos eat a diet of live insects, which can include crickets, 'calci worms', waxworms and small locusts (no bigger than the size of your gecko's head). You'll also need to provide fresh vegetables and clean water to keep these insects hydrated. You should feed young geckos every day and adults every other day.Do leopard geckos like to be carried? ›
Keep in mind that leopard geckos don't particularly like being held. If you get your leo used to being handled when it's young, it probably won't mind when you hold it, but it won't love it either!How long can you leave a leopard gecko alone? ›
As a general rule, most geckos can survive without any intervention for one or two days. If you plan to be away for a weekend, it's probably safe to leave your gecko alone, though it's always a good idea to have someone available in case there's a household emergency such as a power outage that will impact the geckos.Do leopard geckos need a water bath? ›
Water Recommendations for Leopard Geckos
Offer fresh water daily in a water dish large enough for the lizard to soak its entire body in. Additional soaks in shallow warm water for 15-20 minutes 2-3 times a week are helpful, especially during a shed.
Leopard geckos generally do not need to be bathed and can keep themselves relatively clean if kept in a tidy habitat. However, your gecko may need to be washed if it is having a hard time shedding its skin, develops a skin condition, or becomes noticeably dirty.Do leopard geckos need a heat lamp? ›
For instance, leopard geckos don't need a heat lamp but they do need a heat source of some kind so they will appreciate a heat lamp if nothing else is used to give them a temperature gradient. Some geckos, like day geckos, will prefer a heat lamp over a heat mat or heating pad.What to know before buying a gecko? ›
If you want a pet gecko, it's best to acquire a captive-bred one from a reputable breeder. If you take in a wild-caught gecko you won't know what diseases or ailments it may be carrying. Look for a gecko that has clear eyes, skin without dry patches, all its fingers, toes, and its tail, as well as a healthy appetite.
Sand is considered unsafe by some, due to the risk of ingestion and impaction (either due to accidental ingestion or intentional ingestion to meet calcium needs). Sand ingestion is a bigger risk for juveniles, so sand is not usually recommended to be used with juvenile geckos.What is the easiest gecko to own? ›
Leopard geckos are always a good choice for reptile beginners. They are easy to find at your local pet store or reptile show and come in an array of patterns and colors, referred to as different morphs.What does a leopard gecko need in its tank? ›
It is important to remember that your Leopard Gecko needs a 20-gallon long tank that is ideally made from glass. A tank needs a heat source and the best one to use is a ceramic heat emitter. Provide a temperature gradient from 90°F to 75°F. A UVB tube light is recommended too – but this is optional.How many hits does a leopard gecko need? ›
Your Leopard Gecko will need 3 hides/houses. One on the hot side of his tank, one in the middle that will act as his humidity hide (this is helpful when shedding), and one on the cold side of the tank. The humid hide should be fairly enclosed and have moist paper towel (when shedding) or coco fiber for substrate.Do leopard geckos prefer hot or cold? ›
Ideal temperatures Leopard Geckos range from 75-80°F on the cool side and 80-85°F on the warm side. Provide a 90-95°F basking area on the warm side.Do leopard geckos need 24 hour light? ›
Leopard Geckos should have 14 hours of daylight during the summer months and reduced to 12 hours during the cooler winter months. Although Leopard Geckos are most active in hours of mostly darkness, many have been observed emerging for short periods during the day to bask - especially in the hours of dawn and dusk.Do you have to wash your hands after holding a leopard gecko? ›
Be careful as reptiles can carry Salmonella. Wash your hands before and after handling the gecko or its equipment to reduce the spread of infection between you and the lizard and other animals.How many mealworms should I feed my leopard gecko? ›
Baby Leopard Geckos should be fed 5-7 small crickets or mealworms every day until they reach about 4 inches. Larger food should be offered every other day until they become full grown in about 10-12 months. Adults can be fed 6-7 large crickets or mealworms 2 to 3 times a week.Can a leopard gecko eat fruit? ›
Can Leopard Geckos eat fruit and vegetables? Leopard Geckos are insectivores and cannot eat fruit or vegetables. A Leopard Gecko's body can only digest meat, such as insects. The reason they can't eat fruit or vegetables is because their bodies aren't designed to manage or digest fruit and vegetables.How long does a pet leopard gecko live? ›
Leopard geckos can live 10-20 years in captivity with good healthcare, proper environment, and a healthy diet.
When maintaining your Leopard Gecko, a light mist daily is recommended to provide hydration opportunities as well as light humidity spikes. Dew drops are readily drank by this species and will appreciate a light misting daily.How often should I clean my leopard gecko's cage? ›
Cleaning the enclosure
Leopard geckos, as with most pets, require a clean environment to thrive. We recommend a spot clean as often as possible (every day) and a full clean every 4 weeks or so.
Can I keep a gecko in a 10 gallon tank? In short, yes some species of gecko can thrive in a sufficiently equipped 10-gallon tank. Some smaller species of gecko can even be kept in enclosures smaller than 10 gallons. A 10 gallon tank would be considered a healthy minimize size for an adult leopard gecko, for instance.Should I turn my leopard geckos light off at night? ›
At night, all of the lights should go off and the enclosure should be completely dark. This should make sure that the gecko has a clear day night cycle.Is it OK to leave a heat lamp on overnight for leopard gecko? ›
Geckos only need heat at night, but during the day they need both lighting and heat. This can be achieved with a mix-and-match combination of several different lighting and heat lamp combinations.What size tank does a leopard gecko need? ›
For these reasons, ReptiFiles recommends that adult leopard geckos be housed in no smaller than a 36″ x 18″ x 18″ enclosure with at least 4.5 sq ft of floor space. Floor space is the most important consideration here, as leos are terrestrial (ground-dwelling) lizards.Do geckos like being left alone? ›
Since geckos are naturally solitary and territorial creatures, they do not get lonely if placed alone in a cage or left for some time away from their keeper. They much prefer having their food and heat to themselves rather than sharing it with another gecko.When should you hold a gecko? ›
Handling Tips. Once you've brought your gecko home, it's tempting to start playing with him or her right away. But wait 2 weeks after buying before beginning handling — your gecko needs time to settle into their new home, and handling on top of that can cause additional stress.Do leopard geckos prefer live or dead food? ›
Captive hornworms will be a blue/aqua color, and wild hornworms will be bright green. Leopard Geckos should also not consume dead, dried, or processed foods regularly. Leopard Geckos are designed to eat fresh, live prey. Insects that are dead, dried, cooked, frozen, or processed lose some of their nutritional value.What kind of bedding do leopard geckos need? ›
We recommend using a 50:30:20 mix of organic topsoil, play sand and clay. Do not use calcium sand or beach sand in the mix. Also make sure the soil and sand are free from fertilizers and pesticides.
The leopard gecko is a popular choice for most beginner lizard owners due to their slow, docile attitude and simple, low-maintenance care needs. Leopard geckos come with a coat of dark spots, like a leopard cat. However, their colors range from yellow to white to orange.What is the friendliest gecko? ›
1. Leopard Geckos. Leopard geckos are easy to care for, making making them one of the best pet lizards for beginners and children over the age of 8. With an average length of 9 inches, leopard geckos are easy to handle and have a gentle disposition.What is the best first time gecko? ›
Many first-time gecko keepers buy Crested Geckos for their ease of care and generally docile disposition. Captive bred Crested Geckos come in a variety of colors, from near-black to cream-white along with reds, yellows and the normal olive. Patterns include pinstripes, tiger stripes and spots.What is the hardest reptile to take care of? ›
- Adults alligators are large and aggressive by nature, two traits that make them unsuitable as pets. ...
- The green tree python is a beautiful but aggressive snake and should only be kept by experienced snake keepers. ...
- Chinese Water Dragon.
- Tokay Gecko. ...
Blue-Tongued Skinks and Corn Snakes have also proven to be very docile companions. If you're looking for something bigger, Argentine Black and White Tegus, Ball Pythons, and some Tortoise species are known to enjoy human interaction too.What's the best reptile for a beginner? ›
- Leopard Gecko. A leopard gecko is a hardy and peaceful pet that is ideal for beginners. ...
- Bearded Dragon. A Bearded can reach a length of 24 inches and live for more than a decade. ...
- Crested Gecko. ...
- Turtles. ...
- Corn Snakes. ...
- Water Dragons. ...
If there are crickets left behind, you must remove the leftover insects from your lizard's tank as soon as possible. While crickets cannot seriously harm your leopard gecko, they can spread pathogens or start biting your lizard, which can cause an injury and potentially an infection.Do leopard geckos need a lay box? ›
All geckos appreciate a humid soil-filled box to hide in and help their shedding process. Female geckos require a box like this to lay eggs in. Even females who have never been exposed to a male will lay infertile eggs during breeding season once they are large enough.How often do you feed a leopard gecko? ›
You should feed young geckos every day and adults every other day. You'll need to top up your gecko's nutrients with supplements, too. Ask your vet for advice on the best ones to give your pet.What to do when you get a new gecko? ›
- Set Up the Tank. ...
- Set Up the Heat and Lighting. ...
- Fill the Tank With Hides and Decor. ...
- Choose a Substrate for the Tank. ...
- Bond With Your Leopard Gecko. ...
- Feed Your Leopard Gecko Properly.
Juveniles should be fed every 1-2 days and adults 2-3 times per week. Insects should be lightly dusted with a phosphorus-free calcium powder before feeding. Additionally, prey items should be fed a high-quality diet (“gut-loaded”) for at least 24 hours prior to being fed to your gecko.What is the best gecko for beginners? ›
1. Leopard Geckos. Leopard geckos are easy to care for, making making them one of the best pet lizards for beginners and children over the age of 8. With an average length of 9 inches, leopard geckos are easy to handle and have a gentle disposition.Is a gecko easier to care for than a bearded dragon? ›
Bearded Dragons require larger terrariums and higher temperatures than do Leopard Geckos, and must be provided with a source of UVB radiation (Leopard Geckos and other nocturnal lizards get along fine without UVB bulbs). Therefore, Leopard Geckos are the less-expensive pet, in terms of supplies and electricity use.What is the most aggressive gecko? ›
Tokay geckos are generally aggressive and territorial, and can inflict a strong bite. Though common in the pet trade, the strong bite of the tokay gecko makes it ill-suited for inexperienced keepers.What is the friendliest lizard to own? ›
- Bearded Dragon. Despite their fearsome appearance, these exotic-looking lizards are generally friendly and gentle. ...
- Leopard Gecko. Slower than typical geckos and lacking the sticky pads that can make escapes easy, leopard geckos come in different colorations and marking patterns. ...
- Blue-Tongued Skink. ...
- Crested Gecko. ...
Crested geckos have gentle dispositions that allow them to be handled, and they are hardy, making then a good choice for a first gecko. The crested gecko is an arboreal, nocturnal gecko with a wide body and large head.What is the least aggressive gecko? ›
Crested Geckos (Correlophus ciliatus)
They aren't normally aggressive and tend to be very easy to keep and handle with a little experience.
These geckos have become one of the most popular gecko pets currently in captivity. Their playful demeanor, and simple care requirements make them very accessible captive pet geckos.
Leopard geckos, affectionately called leos, are generally easy to care for. They do not require a lot of cage maintenance, but you should still give their environment a lot of attention. Leopard geckos are mostly nocturnal, ground-dwelling geckos that are generally docile and easy to tame.What is the lowest maintenance lizard? ›
1. Leopard Gecko. A leopard gecko is a hardy and peaceful pet that is ideal for beginners. These spotted geckos are quiet and easy to care for, making them ideal household pets.
All food should be live, don't ever feed dead or dried insects, and you shouldn't feed him any fruit or veg.