Gecko Pet Care Guide
With over 1,600 species of gecko out there, you're definitely spoiled for choice. However, only a small number of breeds have become popular as pets and it can be difficult to find some of the more rare and exotic breeds. This means if you keep one as a pet you’ll definitely need exotic pet insurance.
If you’re interested in keeping geckos as pets, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about them, from diet and habitat to being able to spot when they’re sick.
How big do geckos get?
With so many different species of gecko, they can come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from 0.6 inches to up to a whopping 24 inches. However, the geckos that are most often kept as pets are usually under 1 foot long, many being much smaller. The average size of those gecko species kept as pets tends to be between 7 to 10 inches from tip to tail.
How long do geckos live?
Most geckos kept as pets tend to have quite long lifespans, usually between 10 and 20 years. One of the most popular pet gecko breeds, the common leopard gecko, lives for around 15 years.
Popular gecko species
The most popular breeds of geckos kept as pets are:
- The leopard gecko - Native to the deserts of northwest India and Pakistan, the leopard gecko is very easy to care for. They’re docile, don’t mind being handled, and can become quite affectionate if handled from a young age.
- Common house gecko - One of the smaller geckos at around 3 to 5 inches in length. They have specialized footpads that allow them to stick to vertical surfaces and even on ceilings. They have shorter lifespans than other geckos at about 5 to 10 years but are still quite easy to care for.
- Tokay geckos - Getting their name from the “To-kay!” sound they make, they have a reputation for being a little feisty, so may not be a good choice for a first-time gecko owner
- Crested geckos - Once thought extinct, the crested gecko still has protected status in the wild but has made a startling come back as a domestic pet. They’re quite docile but can sometimes be a little skittish
While we’ve seen above that different gecko species can have different personality traits, they tend to exhibit a few similar traits across all species.
- Activity - Most geckos are nocturnal and only active at night. The most popular species, including the ones we’ve mentioned above, are all nocturnal. Although there are some species like the Moorish gecko and day gecko that are active during the day
- Vocalization - Most of the time geckos are quiet, peaceful pets and you won’t hear much noise out of them. Some species, like the tokay gecko, are however known for their louder vocalizations.
- Temperament - Geckos are typically quite docile and easy to look after. The only time you might see aggressive behavior from them is if you keep two males in the same enclosure. They might see each other as competition and you can have a fight on your hands very quickly.
How to choose a gecko?
Always go to a reputable breeder and never buy a wild-caught gecko. Look for signs of good health like clear skin and eyes and that they have all their fingers and toes. A healthy gecko should also have a good appetite and appear alert.
Do geckos like to be held?
This can depend on the species, but generally, geckos don’t like being held for long periods of time or being handled too frequently. Make sure you never pick one up by the tail either. Geckos will drop their tails as a defense mechanism and you'll have to wait for it to grow back.
How to clean their home
Geckos can be susceptible to skin infections so you’ll need to deep clean the tank once per month. First, wash the tank and any toys, rocks, or objects inside with warm soapy water. Then wipe down with a reptile-safe disinfectant.
You’ll also need to clean out any feces and uneaten food on a daily basis. You should always wear gloves when cleaning your gecko’s tank as their feces can contain bacteria like salmonella.
You’ll need a tank or terrarium with about a 10-gallon capacity. For each additional gecko living there, increase the size by five gallons. The ideal temperature should be between 70 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit and you’ll need to install heat pads and lights.
You’ll need to set up the lights on a gradient, meaning one side of the enclosure will be at 70 degrees, warming up to about 100 degrees on the other side.
If you have a gecko that’s active during the day you’ll also need to install a UV emitting bulb to simulate the natural sunlight they’d be getting in the wild. You won’t need this if your gecko is nocturnal, though.
You’ll need to keep humidity high, around 70 to 80 percent. You can mist the tank by adding a bowl of warm water to the tank several times a day. Most pet stores will sell a good humidity monitor.
What do geckos eat?
Geckos absolutely love insects of any kind. The majority won’t eat any sort of fruit, vegetables, or plants so you’ll need to stock up on invertebrates from the pet store. Popular choices are:
Mealworms and crickets are the gecko’s daily staples, and waxworms can often be given as a treat. Many pet stores will sell dried insects but, if you’re able to buy them live, you can feed the insects a nutritious diet before giving them to your gecko. For example, sprinkle calcium powder over the insects. and they’ll pass this nutrition on.
Common gecko health problems
Unfortunately, geckos of all species are subject to a number of common health problems. Ones to watch out for include:
- Parasites - Geckos are particularly susceptible to parasites, both internally and externally. Look out for red rashes on the skin or if your gecko has trouble shedding,
- Stomatitis - More commonly known as mouth rot, this is an inflammation of the mouth, gums or lips. Without treatment, the infection could spread to the jaw and cause loose teeth
- Dysecdysis - This is a condition in which geckos have trouble shedding their skin. They normally shed around once per month, and being unable to shed is usually a sign of poor humidity
- Respiratory issues - If the enclosure is too cold or draughty, a gecko can contract a respiratory infection. You can spot this if you notice your gecko drooling or wheezing or being less active