Leopard Gecko Care Sheet: Best Cages, Heating & Feeding

Leopard geckos are one of the most popular pet lizards of all. This is not without reason. They are beautiful reptiles, with their leopard-like patterning and rounded, cute faces. 

Leopard geckos are easily cared for when you address a few basic requirements. They can also become tame enough to be handled safely.

If you’re considering keeping one of these fantastic lizards then read on for our detailed leopard gecko care sheet…

Natural Environment & Behavior

Leopard gecko care sheet

Leopard geckos come from arid regions around Pakistan and Afghanistan. As a result, leopard geckos, which are also known by their Latin name of Eublepharis macularius, tend to do best in a dry cage with a low humidity. 

Unlike many other gecko species leopard geckos lack sticky toe pads, and instead their toes end with sharp claws. These are used in the wild to help burrow beneath rocks and fallen wood. Here they can hide away from predators and the most extreme daytime temperatures. 

A leopard gecko is therefore unlikely to scale the walls of their cage, which can make them easier to manage in captivity.  

Leopard geckos are considered “crepuscular” which means they are most active around dawn and dusk. While this means that you’re unlikely to see your lizard moving around much during the day, it does mean that these lizards tend to be active during the evening. For those of us out of the house at work or school for most of the day this can work well. 

The maximum size of leopard geckos can vary based on a variety of factors including diet, age and gender. Generally leopard geckos will grow to around 15-20cm in overall length. In extreme cases some huge specimens may reach closer to 25cm in length. This includes the short, stubby tail. 

Kept under optimal conditions your leopard gecko may live for 10-15 years in captivity.

Leopard Gecko Cages

Leopard geckos are not difficult to accommodate in captivity when a few basic considerations are met. Some suitable examples of leopard gecko cages include:

Glass Terrariums

Arguably one of the best-looking potential leopard gecko cages of all these are packed with practical features.

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Pros

  • Metal mesh in the lid supports ventilation and creates a dry environment
  • Lockable front-opening doors make tank maintenance easy
  • Stand-alone light fitting makes adding UV lights a breeze
  • Visually appealing to create a real feature in your home
  • Integrated holes for adding electrical equipment
  • Easy to add ceramic heaters for a basking spot (see later)

Cons

  • Can be quite expensive
  • Made of glass so relatively heavy
  • Doesn’t hold heat as well as sealed containers

Glass Fish Tanks 

Many leopard gecko keepers opt to use a glass fish tank. While leopard geckos don’t have sticky toe pads some consideration should be given to a lid. In general you’ll want to fit lighting and heating to the lid, and will want to avoid the chances of any other domestic pets such as cats getting to your lizard. Specialist mesh lids are available and are strongly recommended. 

Pros

  • Cheap and easily sourced
  • Can make an attractive display
  • Copes well with high temperatures required by leopard geckos

Cons

  • Made of glass so can be heavy
  • Will require a separate mesh lid – which can add to the cost
  • No front-opening doors can make maintenance harder
  • Doesn’t hold heat as well as sealed containers
  • Will require thought about how to install lights/heaters

Wooden Vivariums

Wooden vivariums are a far more popular option in Europe than the US. Some specialist reptile suppliers sell them, or it should be possible to build your own with some basic DIY skills. These are normally made from melamine or some other form of plastic-coated wood to keep the cage sanitary.

Pros

  • Excellent at holding heat during colder weather
  • Available in a wide range of sizes and colors to suit all homes
  • Front-opening sliding doors make tank maintenance simple
  • Doors can be locked shut for security
  • Attractive appearance once set up

Cons

  • Not as commonly available as some other options
  • Fitting lights and heating can be more challenging
  • Need to ensure suitable ventilation to ensure dry environment
  • May warp over time if regularly exposed to heat or moisture

Plastic Storage Boxes

Reptile keepers have been repurposing household objects since the earliest days of the hobby. Leopard gecko keepers are no different. Clear plastic storage boxes and bins have become a popular option for some leopard gecko keepers, though they are far from the most attractive of options. They will also require you to cut holes for ventilation, then stick metal gauze over the top for security purposes. 

Pros

  • Cheap to buy from most big box stores
  • Readily available nationwide
  • Lightweight and easy to wipe clean

Cons

  • Probably the least visually-appealing leopard gecko cage option
  • May require some diy to add suitable ventilation
  • Can be challenging to add lighting
  • Plastic may bend or melt under heaters

Leopard Gecko Cage Size Recommendations

Adult leopard geckos should be provided with a cage measuring no less than 60cm long by 30cm deep. It should be stated that this is a minimum size, and so a longer cage of 90cm is recommended if you can afford it. 

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Younger leopard geckos should be provided with a proportionately smaller cage. Placing a hatchling leopard gecko into a full-size tank can result in them feeling insecure, and never really thriving. If you are to buy a baby leopard gecko, therefore, consider investing in a smaller cage initially. In time, as your gecko grows, they can then be moved up to their final quarters. 

Keeping Leopard Geckos Together

Unlike most popular pet lizards, it is possible to keep leopard geckos together if some basic rules are followed. The golden rules for keeping leopard geckos together are:

Males

Male leopard geckos will often fight in the confines of a cage so shouldn’t be kept together.

Females

Female leopard geckos tend to be far more laid back, and so two or more females can often be kept together successfully so long as suitable space is provided.

Pairs

Breeding pairs of leopard geckos may also get on well. Be aware, however, that the female may get harassed by the male, continually looking to mate with her. Also, of course, keeping breeding pairs together can risk the female laying fertile eggs. The breeding of reptiles should only be attempted if you have ready homes for any eventual babies. 

Sexing Leopard Geckos

One difficulty with keeping two or more leopard geckos together is that they are very difficult to sex when young. It is possible, therefore, that those two females you bought when they were small could turn out to be two territorial males.

If you plan to keep leopard geckos communally therefore you’ll either want to buy older specimens that are easily sexed, or have a spare cage ready should your geckos need splitting up in the future.

The best way to sex leopard geckos is to look for the “bulge” that is seen around the vent in males. These are the reproductive organs within the body and signify a male specimen. The bulge is absent in females and juveniles.  

If you opt to keep two or more leopard geckos together then it is crucial that you carefully observe them on a regular basis.

While the rules above will avoid most disagreements, all lizards are unique. Keep an eye on any geckos kept communally to ensure both are faring well and fattening up nicely.

If you have concerns that one of your lizards is getting bullied or isn’t getting their fair share of the food then you are strongly advised to consider separating them and keeping them individually. 

Leopard Gecko Cage Temperature & Heating

Coming from hot, dry desert regions it should come as no surprise that leopard geckos require a warm cage if they are to thrive in captivity. The ideal cage will provide a basking spot at one end, with the other end remaining cooler. This thermal gradient allows your lizard to select the temperature that suits them best.

Leopard geckos should have access to a basking spot of around 30’C / 86‘F, with the cooler end sitting close to 25’C/77’F. 

It is perfectly acceptable for the temperature to drop by a few degrees during the night, as would happen in nature.

Providing heat like is most easily accomplished with a ceramic heater. These can be positioned over the basking area. Ceramic heaters can get very hot indeed, so they should always be used with a bulb guard and a thermostat. 

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Depending on what cage you use, it may not be necessary to heat the cooler end – it may naturally attain the desired temperature. If you find the cool end of the cage gets colder than is ideal then a heat pad can work well to gently increase the temperature. 

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Heat lamps that provide visible light aren’t recommended, as these will have to be turned off during the night, so may lead to the cage temperature falling too low. Ideally heat and light should be provided by different pieces of equipment.

UV Lighting for Leopard Geckos

Like many lizards, leopard geckos should have access to ultraviolet light. This UV light helps with the absorption of calcium from the diet, and prevents the chances of metabolic bone disease.

Leopard geckos may come from areas of the world known for their bright, direct sunlight, but of course they are also hidden away for the majority of the day. That means they’re rarely exposed to the extremes of sunlight.

Most experts recommend a bulb that provides between 2% and 7% UBV. A 5% bulb therefore seems like a safe middle-ground to aim for. These are easily fitted in many cages, most notably the Exo Terra, as one can buy a separate lighting hoob, and fit a micro UV bulb into it. 

The lights should be turned off at night, so your pet is exposed to a proper day/night light schedule.

Substrates for Leopard Geckos

A major concern when keeping leopard geckos is avoiding the risk of “impaction”. This is when your lizard accidentally swallows some substrate, which then ends up blocking the digestive tract. The end result can be expensive vets bills at best, or the early passing of your lizard in extreme cases.

Common examples of substrates recommended for leopard geckos include:

  • Repticarpet
  • Newspaper

Note that there are proponents on both sides of the substrate argument. You will find keepers on forums who recommend particulate substrate like reptile sand for the cage floor. For most keepers, however, this is believed to be too risky to try. 

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Tank Decor & Environmental Enrichment

Leopard geckos appreciate somewhere safe to hide away during the day. This means that the provision of at least one hide should be considered essential. The best leopard gecko hide will allow your lizard to fit it’s entire body inside. 

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If you have the space and the budget it is generally best to add two different hides – one at the cool end and one near the basking spot. This allows your pet to rest in the area that suits them best.

When keeping two or more leopard geckos together the provision of extra hides is recommended to reduce the chances of arguments.

What Do Leopard Geckos Eat?

Leopard geckos are carnivores, which means they eat living prey. Most commonly this is arthropods. As pets, leopard geckos will eat a range of different feeder insects of a suitable size. It is recommended to offer a wide variety of different insects to avoid nutrient deficiencies, and to offer supplementation to ensure a suitable calcium intake. 

Some of the most popular options include:

Crickets

One of the most commonly-available types of feeder insect. Adult leopard geckos are able to pick off even adult crickets so there is no need to sort through the tub for a suitably-sized prey item.  

Locusts

Adult locusts are far too large for leopard geckos, but smaller locusts can be an ideal food source. Often known as “hoppers”, these smaller sizes are arguably easier to handle than crickets so can make your life easier. 

Roaches

Dubia roaches are a popular insect prey, and many leopard gecko keepers end up starting their own culture. In this way you can create an almost never-ending supply of feeder insects for your gecko. 

Waxworms

Waxworms are fat, juicy grubs that should be fed either by hand or from a shallow bowl. If not, the wax worms will quickly burrow into your leopard gecko substrate and disappear from view. 

Mealworms

Mealworms are easily cultured at home like dubia roaches and can be fed in moderation. Like wax worms, mealworms should be given in a shallow bowl to avoid them escaping around the tank. 

Supplements for Leopard Geckos

It is advisable to supplement the feeder insects you provide. This ensures maximum nutrient content for your leopard gecko. There are two common types of supplement suitable for leopard geckos:

Gut Loading

Gut loading is the process of feeding particularly nutritious food to your feeder insects. This supplement is given 24 hours before you plan to feed the insect to your gecko. In this way, when the insect is eaten, the contents of it’s digestive tract is also consumed. Of course, this requires a degree of preparation. 

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Dusting

Dusting is a considerably easier option as it can be done just before feeding your pet. Simply add some mineral dust to a clear plastic bag, add your chosen feeder insects and shake vigorously to coat the insects in the fine powder. They should then be given to your leopard gecko immediately to prevent them preening off the powder. 

Water & Humidity Recommendations

Coming from dry, desert-like regions of the world leopard geckos do best in a dry, low-humidity environment. This means that ventilation should be good at all times, while substrates should be dry.

Even leopard geckos need to drink sometimes though. A wide, shallow water bowl should be provided at all times. The water should be changed daily to prevent a bacterial build-up with the bowl itself being cleaned and sterilized every week. A reptile-safe detergent or boiling water can be used for the purpose, though ensure the bowl is allowed to dry thoroughly before reuse. For ease, it can be worth investing in two water bowls so one can always be in use. 

Some keepers find that the dry environment of their cage leads to sloughing problems (see below) and so they create a moister area within the cage. This is most commonly within a hide, to keep the rest of the cage dry. 

Leopard Gecko Sloughing

Your leopard gecko will regularly change it’s skin. As the old skin starts to loosen, your leopard gecko may start to look dull, and it’s eyes may appear cloudy. Over the course of a day or two the old skin will come off in pieces, to reveal a shiny new skin beneath. 

Sloughing can be a stressful time for leopard geckos so you’re advised not to handle your pet during this process. Some keepers like to provide abrasive surfaces such as rocks, so your gecko can rub themselves against it to remove their skin. Other keepers add an extra hide to the cage, adding moist kitchen towel or suchlike to the inside. In this way your gecko can “soak” their old skin off. 

It is perfectly normal for leopard geckos to eat their sloughed skin, so this should not be a cause for concern. If any flakes of skin remain in the cage after moulting then these should be removed as part of your regular tank maintenance.

If any random bits of skin remain on your lizard then it is possible to buy sprays to help gently loosen the last remnants.

Handling Leopard Geckos

Leopard geckos tend to be docile, and lacking the sticky toe pads of their close relatives, they can be handled safely. As with all pets, you’ll want to slowly introduce your pet to handling. Getting your pet used to taking food from your hands can be a good first step.

When handling your leopard gecko be mindful of the following tips:

Coax Onto Your Hand

It is generally best to coax your leopard gecko onto a flat hand by holding it out in front of your pet. This tends to be kinder than grabbing at the lizard and picking it up, which can make geckos feel like they are being attacked by a predator. Be patient and take your time to avoid startling your reptiles. 

Hold Them Low

Leopard geckos tend to be quite slow moving which can make them easier to handle than many other lizards. All the same, lacking the sticky toe pads of other geckos, they are more likely to fall when being handled. The results are often unpleasant. 

It is wise to handle your leopard gecko over a low and/or soft area such as a bed, so that if it is unlucky enough to fall then the damage to your pet should be minimal.

Avoid the Tail 

Leopard geckos can “drop” their tail if they feel threatened. The tail comes off in one section, writhing around on the ground, while the gecko itself disappears to safety. While a dropped tail will generally re-grow, the new tail is likely to be smaller and less visually-appealing. It’s also a permanent reminder that you weren’t as careful as you should have been!

To avoid your leopard gecko dropping its tail be sure to avoid holding the tail in any way during handling.

Only Short Handling Periods

Lastly, introduce your pet to handling for only short periods of time. Just a few minutes here and there is likely to be far less stressful than longer handling periods. 

Richard Adams

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