CONSIDERATIONS BEFORE GETTING A GECKO
Deciding to get a gecko can be a big decision. At AVC, we know that all pets are family and deserve the best care available. Geckos make wonderful pets and are a popular choice for reptile lovers, those with allergies, and for children (know your child and research reptiles first, a gecko is not always a good fit for children). Geckos require a considerable amount of care and need a specific environment with numerous components, which can be expensive to set up. To help you determine if a gecko is right for you and your family, here are some veterinary guidelines to consider before you get your pet:
RESEARCH – Before getting a gecko, do the research. There are many species of reptiles that have become popular as pets. The most common species of gecko found at pet stores and kept as pets is the Leopard Gecko. These lizards are popular because of their calm and friendly nature, and the relatively low amount of care they require when compared to other reptiles. After you decide a gecko is the right pet for you, determine which species of gecko you want, where you will keep the gecko, and whether you can afford the initial set up and continuing care. If you have children, especially young ones, make sure they understand how and when to interact with the animal. Remember to wash your hands after handling or interacting with the gecko. If you have other pets, ensure the gecko is safe from predatory dogs or cats. Remember to take your time before getting a new pet. Many owners are enthusiastic when they first get their pet and quickly lose interest. Remember that geckos can live from six to ten years, with males often living up twenty years. If you get a gecko and lose interest, rehome it through the proper channels and do not release it into the wild. Captive bred geckos will not survive if set loose.
SELECTION – Geckos can be bought at pet stores and through reptile dealers. Once you determine a gecko is right for you, find a reputable seller. Your gecko should be alert, responsive, and calm. Make sure the lizard’s eyes, nose, and mouth are clean and clear. Check to make sure the gecko has all its toes and nails. Examine the tail; geckos can drop the tail (a defense against predators), but the tail will regenerate. Ensure there are no injuries, open sores, or burns. Watch your prospective gecko walk, climb, and lift their head. Determine whether the gecko is a juvenile (usually three to four inches long) or mature (seven to ten inches). If the first or second place you go to does not have the gecko species you want, keep looking. The right gecko for you is out there. If you discover you are interested in another species of reptile, do not be discouraged. Our veterinarians and staff at AVC will be happy to answer any questions you may have about other reptile species as pets.
HABITAT – While the initial cost of a gecko is relatively low compared to other reptiles, all species of gecko require specific habitats with components that can be costly and add up quickly. Set up your gecko’s habitat several days prior to bringing your new pet home. An adult leopard gecko requires a minimum of a 20 gallon terrarium and larger geckos will require a larger aquarium. Glass or plastic enclosures are recommended as they retain heat and lessen the chance of injury common with wire or wooden cages. Provide a screen or wire top that will allow light and heat to reach your lizard and prevent escape. Geckos are climbers, so your enclosure should be large enough vertically and horizontally to allow for climbing. Provide a substrate for your gecko. Which substrate you use can be determined by the gecko species, how much time you have to keep it properly cleaned, and personal preference. Substrate choices include: reptile carpet, sand, newspaper, and bark or mulch. If you are unsure what to use, ask one of our veterinarians. Include some rocks or large branches for your gecko to climb. Lastly, make sure you provide the proper lighting and heating. A gecko terrarium should have a cool area and a warm area. The terrarium should have a basking site at one end that reaches 86 to 88 degrees Fahrenheit, with a cool area at the other end in the 70-degree range. The temperature can drop into the low 70s at night. Infrared or low-wattage incandescent lights are good choices for heating, as well as under-tank heaters. Lights should be turned off at night. Hide areas should be provided on both sides of the enclosure, with at least one moist hide with vermiculite or moss inside to assist the gecko with shedding.
DIET – Feed your gecko every day. Because there are so many different species of gecko, it is best to research your particular species. Consult the AVC staff for specific dietary needs and more recommendations. A dietary necessity, especially with young animals, is a calcium supplement. Animals housed indoors under artificial lighting should receive a calcium supplement complete with vitamin D3. In addition to a calcium supplement, a reptile multivitamin is highly recommended and will aid in ensuring that no nutritional deficiencies occur over time. Animals that do not eat a balanced diet or receive calcium supplements often succumb to metabolic bone disease. Consult your AVC veterinarian regarding which supplements your reptile requires.
HEALTH ISSUES – Geckos may require extra research and care on the part of the owner. You can help keep your pet healthy by being a responsible and attentive owner. A large, clean enclosure with proper lighting and heat, a basking area, and a well-balanced diet will help to keep your pet from getting sick. Even with proper animal husbandry, some animals do get sick. In the case of geckos, deficiencies of calcium and vitamin D3 or improper heating and lighting cause most illnesses. Symptoms of calcium and vitamin deficiency include deformities, lumps, trouble walking or climbing, and lethargy. Watch your pet for signs of diarrhea or constipation, lack of appetite, or signs of fungus or mucus. Geckos do shed their skin periodically. When your gecko is shedding, make sure the skin is dry and thin. Damp or crusty looking skin may be the result of a fungal infection. Should any of these symptoms present themselves, bring your pet to AVC as soon as possible. When caught early, most conditions are reversible, but if untreated, the prognosis becomes more guarded. If you have any concerns about your pet’s health, or just want to bring them in for a wellness exam, the doctors and staff at AVC would love to meet you and your pet. Congratulations on your new gecko.