If you are thinking about adding a pet gecko to your family, you probably have lots of questions about gecko lizard pet care!
A leopard gecko is one of the best gecko pets you can choose. These gentle lizards are relatively easy to care for and are marvelous to watch!
This article will introduce you to leopard gecko pet care.
We’ll give you in-depth information about habitat, lighting, temperature, diet, enrichment, health and more!
Keeping a gecko as a pet
If this is your first foray into reptile pet care, you may even be wondering, “Can you have a gecko as a pet?”
How difficult is pet gecko care? Will you be able to have meaningful interactions with a gecko pet?
The good news here is that the leopard gecko, the most common gecko pet species, makes an excellent first reptile pet!
The leopard gecko is docile, sturdy, open to handling and has the simplest care requirements of the gecko pet species.
For the best success with keeping a gecko as a pet, make sure you have your new gecko’s habitat all set up before bringing him home.
Also, make sure you take your new gecko to an exotic veterinarian right away for a “well gecko” checkup.
Gecko pet care
This comprehensive gecko pet care sheet will give you the information you need to feel confident and competent in caring for your new pet gecko!
This article works as a gecko pet care sheet for step by step guidance on how to care for your new gecko pet.
Gecko pet species
The leopard gecko pet species (also called the spotted gecko) is considered the best species for first-time gecko owners.
In addition to the leopard or spotted gecko pet, other gecko species that are popular include the following:
- African fat-tailed
- mossy prehensile-tailed
- giant New Caledonian
- giant day
- Madagascar ground
- neon day
Gecko pet species can vary greatly in size and temperament.
Experts recommend the leopard gecko or crested gecko for a first pet gecko, since each species is relatively hardy for its size, tolerant of handling, placid (i.e. rarely bites) and long-lived.
Most gecko species live in more arid climates.
Leopard geckos, for example, have a natural range that extends from Iran to Afghanistan and North India to Pakistan.
Pet gecko size
Pet gecko size can vary quite surprisingly from one species to the next!
The leopard, or spotted, gecko can grow up to 10 inches long (from nose to tail tip).
Adult leopard geckos typically weigh between 45 and 65 grams (about the same weight as a tennis ball).
Pet gecko housing
It is perfectly fine to keep one gecko alone.
However, if you want to keep more than one gecko, and you do not plan to breed geckos, you must make sure your geckos are all female.
This is SO important – two males housed together will fight to the death!
Pet gecko tank
Your pet gecko needs to live in a solid-sided habitat with a secure but ventilated cover.
A mesh-top glass aquarium is an ideal choice. A commercial vivarium (glass-fronted enclosure) can also make a good choice.
A solo pet gecko will need at least a 10-gallon aquarium.
Plan to add an additional five gallons’ worth of space for each additional adult gecko.
Pet gecko enrichment
Pet geckos spend their days doing three basic things: hiding, basking and hunting for their dinner.
Let’s discuss what these activities entail.
In the wild, a gecko is both predator and prey. A gecko preys on insects.
Pretty much everything else preys on geckos, with snakes being the chief antagonists.
So your pet gecko will come to you with an already well-developed instinctual need to hide.
You will need to provide one or more hide boxes for this purpose and to offer extra humidity.
The best way to make a hide box is to pack a plastic tub with damp moss and cut an entry hole in one side.
You can also make hide boxes from rocks, hollow logs, clay pots and similar structures.
Like all reptiles, your gecko pet is ectothermic (or cold-blooded), which means she cannot control her own body temperature internally.
Basking is one method geckos use to “thermo-regulate,” or adjust their internal body temperature to stay comfortable.
When a gecko gets cold, she will seek out a heat source. When a gecko gets hot, she will seek out a place that is shady.
The basking spot will be the warmest area inside your pet gecko’s enclosure (the sections on lighting and temperature give you exact specifications for each requirement).
In the wild, a gecko would spend most of his time hunting for insects.
A pet gecko, of course, doesn’t have to hunt for dinner!
But your gecko will still crave activity, and for this, you can provide rocks, plants (artificial or non-toxic live species), logs and other enriching additions.
Pet gecko substrate
Reptile carpet, paper, paper towels, newspaper (with non-toxic ink), orchid bark or smooth stones all make for a good bottom material for the enclosure.
It is best to avoid using a sand or gravel substrate since ingestion can cause dangerous intestinal impaction.
Pet gecko lighting
Geckos are nocturnal, which means they are most active starting around dusk and into the night.
A gecko will spend much of the day resting and sleeping. For this reason, it is important to provide a natural environment that replicates what is happening outside.
During the warm months, 12 hours of light followed by 12 hours of dark is your goal.
During the cool months, 10 hours of light followed by 14 hours of dark is preferred.
Because your gecko is nocturnal, this means that unlike diurnal (day-active) reptiles, your gecko won’t have as great a need for ultraviolet spectrum light.
However, you should still provide a UVA/B bulb during the day just to make sure your gecko is taking in enough ultraviolet light to make vitamin D and grow strong, healthy bones.
Your gecko’s most urgent 24-hour lighting need is actually for a source of heat.
You will need to provide a basking spot bulb to keep the basking spot at 90 degrees Fahrenheit at all times.
You will also need to provide a regular incandescent or ceramic heat source to warm up the enclosure.
Aim for between 80 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit (26.66 and 29.44 degrees Celsius) during the day and in the low to mid 70s Fahrenheit (22.77 to 24.44 degrees Celsius) during the night.
Pet gecko temperature
Lighting, temperature and humidity are the most complicated aspects of caring for any reptile species, geckos included!
Because your pet gecko must thermo-regulate with help from the surrounding environment, this means your enclosure must offer a range of temperature options from cool to warm to very warm.
This way, your gecko can freely move about the enclosure to cool down or warm up as needed.
Your gecko habitat should always offer three temperature ranges:
- A cool end that stays in the low 70s Fahrenheit (22s Celsius).
- A basking spot that stays between 88 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit (31.11 and 26.66 degrees Celsius).
- A warm end that stays between 80 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit (26.66 and 29.44 degrees Celsius).
As long as the overall temperature range inside your gecko’s enclosure offers a range from the low 70s to 90 degrees Fahrenheit, your gecko will have the temperature range needed to self-regulate and stay comfortable and healthy.
Pet gecko humidity
Geckos are reptiles that shed their skin throughout their lifespan. A young gecko may shed weekly. A mature adult gecko may shed monthly.
Your gecko needs a certain level of humidity to aid the shedding process – if the skin gets too dry, it may not shed off the way it should.
This can cause some surprisingly severe health issues, including amputated toes and eye infections.
The ideal humidity level for the entire habitat should be around 40 percent. The damp, mossy hide box will offer higher humidity of around 60 percent.
This will give your gecko a place to go during sheds to help ease this process.
The best way to monitor the temperature/humidity inside your gecko’s enclosure is with a thermometer/hygrometer.
You can also add a humidifier or mister if needed to increase humidity.
Gecko pet food
Geckos in the wild will get most of their moisture from the insects they eat.
However, you should always provide a source of clean water. A shallow dish is perfect for this.
Geckos are carnivorous and they have evolved to eat live insects only.
You can provide crickets, worms, pinkies, roaches, and other insects.
Gut-loaded insects that have been dusted with reptile nutrient powder provide your gecko with the best chance of taking in full and complete daily nutrition.
Gecko pet price
Caring for hatchling or juvenile geckos can be more challenging than caring for an adult gecko.
For this reason, it is a great idea to check with local rescue organizations and animal shelters to find a relinquished gecko in need of a new forever home!
This can also mean a lower cost to acquire your new pet gecko.
The leopard gecko is the most common gecko species in the pet trade.
Leopard gecko price may range from $20 to $40 and up depending on the color and morph, or pattern.
The most common color is a base of yellow, brown or white with darker spots.
Some morphs can be quite exotic, however, and these geckos may cost more.
Pet gecko handling
The pet gecko species you choose will dictate how much you are able to handle your new pet.
Some gecko species, like the leopard gecko, are very tolerant of handling and can even enjoy it, since it gives them more of a chance to explore.
Other gecko species have too-sensitive skin or a more high-strung temperament and really can’t tolerate handling.
If you want to handle your pet gecko, always pick him up by scooping your palm under his body.
You can use one hand to encourage your gecko to step up onto your outstretched palm. Cup your gecko gently and avoid placing too much pressure on the body.
If your pet gecko is still young, you may need to proceed slowly to get your gecko used to being handled.
NEVER pick up your gecko by the tail!
Geckos will detach their tail if they feel threatened. While most gecko species can regrow the tail, the new tail will not look like the original.
Pet gecko lifespan
With a nutritionally complete and balanced diet, the right habitat, and access to preventative veterinary care, a pet gecko may live up to 20 years in captivity.
Pet gecko health
Most gecko health issues can be traced back to improper husbandry (light, temperature, humidity, diet).
When the husbandry matches what the gecko needs, illness is much less likely to occur.
Like all animals, geckos have evolved to hide signs of illness or weakness. However, head to your vet if you notice any of the following:
- loss of appetite
- weight loss
- loose stools or diarrhea
- shed skin sticking to eyes or extremities
Is a pet gecko right for me?
We hope this in-depth article about pet gecko care has helped you decide if having a gecko as a pet is the right choice for you!
Let us know what conclusion you come to in the comments box!
Cheek, R., “Leopard Geckos: Husbandry, Nutrition, and Breeding,” Vet Folio Veterinary Technician Practice, 2005.
Mede, E. et al, “Leopard Geckos Care (Eublepharis macularius),” Chicago Exotics Animal Hospital, 2018.
Wright, M. et al, “Leopard Gecko Care Sheet,” Stanhope Veterinary Hospital, 2018.
Bradford, A., “Facts About Geckos,” Live Science, 2017.
Meyer, J., “Leopard Geckos (Eublepharis macularius),” Long Island Herpetological Society, 2002.
Watson, G.S., et al, “Removal mechanisms of dew via self-propulsion off the gecko skin,” Journal of the Royal Society Publishing Interface, 2015.