GeckosReptiles & Amphibians

Pet Gecko Guide

Geckos are generally small to medium-sized lizards native to warmer regions of the world. There are over 1,600 different species of geckos, but not all of them are commonly kept as pets. The geckos most commonly kept as pets are usually less than a foot long and live between 10 and 20 years. Due to their small size and long lifespan, geckos have become very popular pets, but their care still varies from species to species.

Popular Pet Gecko Species

Some gecko species are gaining popularity as pets:

There are of course many other types of geckos in the wild and as pets, but these other species are not as common as those mentioned earlier.

Select Gecko

If you want a pet gecko, it’s best to get a captive gecko from a reputable breeder. If you adopt a wild-caught gecko, you won’t know what diseases or ailments it might be carrying. Look for a gecko with clear eyes, no dry patches of skin, all fingers, toes and tails, and a healthy appetite.

gecko behavior

Although there are many species of geckos, some of them have similar temperaments and exhibit similar behaviors. For the most part, geckos are pleasant, docile pets, but most of them don’t like being petted too often by humans because it can cause them stress.

  • Activity: Most geckos, including the popular leopard geckos, crested geckos, tokay geckos, and African fat-tailed geckos, are nocturnal, so they are most active at night, but there are some species of geckos that are diurnal, including the aptly named Gecko Day Gecko.
  • Speak: They are not loud, but some geckos make sounds such as chirps, barks and clicks when defending their territory or attracting a mate. Geckos are completely silent most of the time.
  • temperament: Geckos are generally not aggressive reptiles unless two males are kept together. Therefore, it is best to keep male geckos apart as they may attack each other without warning. Geckos rarely bite, but some species are more likely to bite, such as the tokay gecko.

house gecko

Care requirements will vary by species, but in most cases geckos will need to be kept in enclosures with branches to climb, water bowls, hiding places, and secure covers. Geckos can escape through small holes, so an aquarium with a tight lid is recommended for keeping geckos. Most geckos only need a 10 or 20 gallon aquarium because they are small reptiles, but larger species require more space.

To line a gecko’s cage, use a substrate such as coconut shell or orchid skin, both of which retain moisture and won’t harm the gecko if ingested in small amounts. Paper towels and newspapers can also be used, but some concerns about bleaching and dyeing of these paper products have led reptile owners to opt for more natural options.

Heating and Humidity in Geckos

The ideal temperature range for most geckos is between 70 and 90 degrees, but some geckos require higher basking temperature zones to 100 degrees. These high temperatures are achieved through the use of heat lamps and heating pads. The appropriate temperature gradient should be provided within the appropriate temperature range for the specific species of gecko you are caring for. This usually means that one side of the enclosure will be in the 70’s and the other side will be in the 90’s or 100’s.

For nocturnal species, UVB-emitting bulbs are generally not required, but daytime gecko species will require this special light. UVB rays are invisible but important to the growth, appetite and activity of many reptiles.

There are many different kinds of bulbs for UVB, heat, and light, and some may be better suited to your particular species of gecko than others. But no matter what bulb you choose, follow a proper day and night cycle to illuminate the enclosure. White light, even if it doesn’t provide heat or UVB rays, needs to be visible during the day, otherwise your gecko may get stressed and confused.

Humidity in gecko enclosures should be maintained between 70% and 80%. Atomizing the enclosure with water is the most common way to achieve this percentage, but providing a large water bowl will also help. A hygrometer can be used to measure the humidity of a gecko enclosure.

feeding geckos

Most geckos don’t eat plants or vegetables, so if you want to keep a gecko, you must be comfortable with live insects. There are several insects to choose from, some of which are preferred by different gecko species over others. The most common types of insects are:

  • mealworms
  • cricket
  • super worm
  • waxworm

Crickets and mealworms are usually staples for geckos, while superworms and waxworms are more of a treat. Some gecko species do eat fruit, and they are often given formula diets to meet their specific nutritional needs. Feeding regimens will vary depending on the age and species of the gecko and may be daily or weekly.

Before feeding a gecko, the insects must be fed a nutrient-dense diet. This will load the insects’ guts so they can provide the gecko with better nutrition. Calcium powder should also be sprinkled on insects intermittently to replenish the mineral in geckos.

deal with geckos

Never grab geckos by their tails, as they often drop their tails (a natural defense against predators). However, if this happens, there is no need to panic. Although it may have a different shape and/or color, it will grow back. Geckos should be well fed and preferably separated from any cage mates until their tails grow back.

Illustration: Nusha Ashjaee. © The Spruce, 2018

Common Gecko Health Issues

Geckos are not immune to health problems. Some of the most common diseases include:

  • Stomatitis – Also known as mouth decay, stomatitis sounds serious and needs to be treated early. You’ll notice red discoloration around the gecko’s mouth, and possibly some pus that looks like cheese.
  • breathing problems – A wheezing or drooling gecko may have a respiratory infection. These are usually caused by drafts or low temperatures in the enclosure.
  • parasite – Geckos are also often afflicted by parasitic infections, both internally and externally. Worms and tiny eggs may be in the feces, and small mites may be on the surface of the skin. A parasitic infection on the skin can look like a red rash, or you may notice that your gecko is having difficulty shedding, while internal parasites can cause sluggishness, changes in appetite, and unusual stools.
  • scab off – This fancy word to describe the shedding problem is a big problem for geckos that don’t have proper humidity in the paddock.

Edited by Adrienne Kruzer of RVT

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