Getting an exotic pet such as a gecko might seem like a great idea, but before buying a gecko, ensure that you are prepared to commit your time, money, and effort to raise a healthy, happy gecko.
Geckos can live up to 15-20 years — that is a huge commitment. Will you be off to university in a few years? Are you likely to move house? Will you want children in the future? Think about everything and then think if you’ll still be as committed to gecko ownership as the initial enthusiasm you feel now.
Before buying a gecko – A guide
Before choosing a gecko as a pet, consider the following:
Geckos do not enjoy being handled.
While a gecko may tolerate handling by its owner, it is unlikely to enjoy it. Handling a gecko requires care and caution, and, as they can move quickly and suddenly, geckos should not be taken by young children. Being dropped can cause serious injury to a gecko, and you should never grab a gecko by its tail. Geckos can drop their tail if it is grabbed — this is a defense reaction enabling them to escape if a predator attacks them. This is unpleasant for the gecko and can result in health problems as the tail is the gecko’s primary fat store. Once the tail drops, it will never properly grow back.
Geckos are nocturnal
During the daytime, geckos will most commonly be found hiding under rocks. Therefore, if you are after a pet that enjoys human interaction, a gecko is not likely to be the right pet for you.
Geckos live for a long time.
Are you able to provide a lifetime of care to a gecko? They live for 15 years on average, but they are known to live for up to 40 years in captivity! As a potential gecko owner, you have to be willing to commit to this amount of care.
A gecko can be expensive to keep
Have you considered the costs and needed devotion involved in owning a gecko? There’s the expense of heating and lighting the vivarium, feeding, and pet insurance premiums, plus veterinary fees in case of emergency. All These will require adequate budgeting; this includes the initial equipment you will need.
Geckos need specialist care if you go on holiday.
What about holidays? Do you have a knowledgeable friend or local specialist who will be able to care for your gecko if you go on holiday? You will also need to consider the potential costs associated with this.
Geckos aren’t ideal pets for young children.
Who are you buying the gecko for? Geckos do not make good pets for younger children as they require careful handling to avoid injury.
A child might be keen at the start but may become bored quickly, making the responsibility for the gecko’s care will undoubtedly be passed onto a parent. Children will need constant and close supervision to ensure that their pet is being properly taken care of.
Remember, too, that children may move out or go to university or college within a reptile’s lifetime, leaving parents to be responsible for their gecko’s care.
Housing your gecko
The RSPCA recommends that a vivarium for a leopard gecko living alone be at least 60cm long by 30cm wide and 40cm high — it needs to be larger still if you decide to keep more than one gecko together.
What bedding should you use for a gecko?
Calci-sand, coral sand, or newspapers would all make a suitable substrate for a gecko. Do not use regular builder’s sand or play sand, as your gecko will ingest a certain amount of sand when it eats. It must be digestible and able to pass through the animal without causing harm.
What other items should be included in my gecko’s vivarium?
A hide with dampened moss on the inside or a box of sterilized sand (misted with water daily) should always be available; this will help to keep your gecko’s skin soft and moist.
Geckos will need places to hide at both the warmer and cooler ends of the vivarium — you can use a selection of purchased hides, rocks, and hollow logs to create a more varied habitat. If you have two or more leopard geckos living in the same vivarium, it’s essential to provide multiple refuges.
Ensure that you also include a surface with a slightly abrasive edge to help with shedding.
Do geckos need a heated vivarium?
The temperature in the vivarium should range from 27°C to 30°C, with the temperature dropping to 21°C at night. These temperatures can be created using a heat mat, covering an area no more significant than half of the vivarium, or using a heat rock. It is vital to regularly check the temperature of your gecko’s vivarium as the wrong temperature (too high or low) could cause serious health problems. You may wish to purchase a thermostat to monitor this and keep the vivarium at the correct temperature.
Do geckos need UV lighting?
Unlike many reptiles, geckos do not have a specific requirement for UV lighting, but the provision of UV lighting to mimic day and night can be useful. You may also want to fit red or blue ‘night lights’ so you can watch your gecko at night when he is more active.
Do geckos need water?
A supply of fresh water in a heavy-weighted bowl that will not easily topple over should always be available. Juveniles may need spraying with water at first until they learn to drink from a bowl.
Should you keep geckos in pairs?
A gecko will be happy to be kept alone. Females may live happily together, provided that they are given their refuge areas and have plenty of space. Adult males will fight and should never be kept together while having a female and a male will lead to breeding. It is recommended that novice gecko owners keep just one gecko.
About the gecko
Welcome to the world of geckos!
Wild leopard geckos (the breed of gecko most commonly kept as pets) are found in arid and rocky environments in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and northwest India. Geckos are nocturnal (active at night) and feed on a variety of different insects and other invertebrates.
Adult leopard geckos are spotted, hence the name — they have a yellow body with a white undercarriage, are speckled with brown spots and splodges on the tail, and the tail is striped with black bands.
Juveniles are mainly striped.
Pet geckos will require breeding in captivity. There are now several different colors available, including patternless geckos.
Feeding your gecko
What does a gecko eat?
A gecko’s diet should contain a variety of small insects no larger than the distance between his eyes. Crickets should make up the larger proportion of a gecko’s diet, with species like grasshoppers, mealworms, and locusts occasionally added to make the diet more varied. The insects offered to your gecko should be free from pesticides.
Adult geckos will need to eat about five to six insects every two to three days.
It’s recommended to let the insects out of the vivarium in the evenings and any uneaten insects removed after 24 hours to avoid them causing injury to your gecko.
The prey should be dusted with a vitamin and mineral supplement before feeding to ensure your gecko receives all the nutrients it needs. It’s crucial that the insects you offer are healthy and well-fed or ‘gut loaded’ as these nutrients will be passed on to your gecko.
Either grated or in a large piece, Cuttlefish should be supplied for the gecko to chew on.
Water in a heavy-bottomed shallow bowl should always be available, and it should be changed daily.
TIP: Find and establish your food supply before buying a gecko.
Caring for your gecko
Does a gecko shed its skin?
Geckos do shed their skin, but unlike snakes, a gecko sheds its skin in small pieces. As they grow very rapidly, young geckos will shed their skin almost constantly. This slows down as they reach maturity.
Having access to a damp area — like a hide with damp moss inside or a box with sterilized sand that is dampened daily — can help your gecko shed its skin. A fresh supply of clean water should always be available.
Geckos can sometimes end up with bits of shed skin stuck to their eyes. If this happens, it’s crucial that this is removed quickly to avoid permanent damage to the eye.
How often should you clean out a gecko’s vivarium?
Your gecko’s vivarium should be spot cleaned every day to remove any feces.
Every three to four weeks, the entire vivarium should be emptied and cleaned with a pet-safe disinfectant, along with any cage furniture.
It’s important to remember to always cleanse your hands thoroughly after handling your gecko, food, or any items inside his vivarium.
Do geckos enjoy being handled?
Geckos will tolerate careful and responsible handling but are unlikely to find the experience enjoyable. Older children and adults should only handle them as fast movers, making them easy to drop. Never grab a gecko by its tail. Geckos can drop their tail if it is grabbed — this is a defense reaction enabling them to escape predators. The process is unpleasant for the gecko and is bad for its health as the tail also acts as a fat store. The tail will never fully regrow once it drops.
Do geckos bite?
Geckos can bite, but it usually feels more like a pinch — most owners report a leopard gecko’s bite does not hurt. Young geckos may bite, but once they realize you are not food and get used to being handled, they should stop doing it.
Can two geckos live together?
Geckos prefer living alone but may tolerate another gecko. Do not put two males together and do not put different species of gecko together. Male and female geckos are likely to breed; therefore, you are not recommended to put them together. Two females should be ok but ensure your set-up is big enough to accommodate two geckos. It is not recommended that novice owners keep more than one gecko.
Is your gecko healthy?
Provided that your gecko is adequately cared for and that you provide him with the right environment, he should not suffer from illnesses and ailments.
Before your leopard gecko arrives home, ensure that you have located and made contact with your local reptile-friendly vet — beware, not all veterinary surgeons have an in-house reptile specialist.
A healthy gecko should be:
- Have a good reserve of fat on the tail
- Should move fast and respond quickly if disturbed.