How to Take Care of a Leopard Gecko – Housing, Diet & More

Updated: August 3, 2022 by Jennifer Munsell

Leopard gecko care

A popular newbie reptile, the leopard gecko is a low-maintenance lizard native to semi-dry to arid deserts and forest habitats of the Middle East. Whether you just got your first pet gecko or are preparing to get one, you’ll need all the info you can get on leopard gecko care.

Thankfully, as far as care requirements go, leopard geckos don’t need much to be happy and healthy! A spacious tank, a safe substrate, UVB light, heat lamp, and a varied, insectivorous diet are the basics. When it comes to their diet, leopard geckos need to eat a variety of live insects to stay healthy and thrive.

Unlike many other reptiles, leopard geckos don’t need to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, as their bodies can’t digest them. However, you’ll have to have a small amount of nutritious produce on hand to gut-load feeder insects before serving them to your pet gecko.

Stay with me until the end of this article to learn how to care for a leopard gecko and find out what you will need to make your scaly pet feel comfortable in their new home!

A Good Home

There are many reasons why leopard geckos are one of the best types of geckos to own. They are cute, friendly, and cheerful little lizards with many interesting behaviors and funny vocalizations. Leos tend to be especially vocal when they are hungry and will often make loud chirping and squeaking sounds in anticipation of the next meal.

Leopard geckos are also hardy little lizards that are very forgiving if their environment isn’t perfect.

Nevertheless, you should still do your best to ensure that your reptile’s setup mimics their natural environment as much as possible to help them stay healthy and happy for years to come.

Having said that, here are the basic things you’ll need to provide for your leopard gecko:

Enclosure

When it comes to gecko care, the very first thing you will need is an enclosure for your leo to live in. Leopard geckos can grow to around 7 to 10 inches long from nose to tail tip, so a reptile starter kit will be outgrown quickly. If you decide to get a smaller tank for the start, you will need to size up the enclosure a few months later to give your leopard gecko plenty of room to move around and explore.

Baby leopard geckos will do just fine in a 5 to 10-gallon tank. An adult leopard gecko, on the other hand, will need a 20-gallon tank at a minimum.

This, of course, is presuming you want to keep only one leopard gecko. If you are planning to house a male and a couple of females for breeding, be sure to choose a 40-gallon tank at minimum (50 or 60 gallons is even better for multiple geckos).

Glass or wooden vivariums are ideal for leopard geckos and can easily be set up to mimic their natural habitat. While you can size up your gecko’s tank as they grow, many seasoned keepers opt to keep their juvenile or baby leopard geckos in at least a 20-gallon tank. By doing so, they spare their geckos of the stress of moving to an unfamiliar place and adjusting to a new environment later.

When choosing an enclosure for your leo, pick one that has a secure, screened top that will support a light fixture and also keep the inside of the tank properly ventilated.

Unlike other lizards, leopard geckos don’t climb and lack sticky pads on their feet, so there’s little to no risk of escape. However, the screen top can offer protection and keep your pet gecko safe from any other pets you may have, including curious cats!

How to Take Care of a Leopard Gecko? – Housing, Diet & More

Temperature

As cold-blooded creatures, leopard geckos rely on their environment to regulate their body temperature. Lizards prefer a range of temperatures, or a subtle thermal gradient, in their environments so they can adjust their body temperature according to their liking by simply moving to the other end of their enclosure.

The daytime basking area for your leopard gecko should be between 88 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and the cold side should be around 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. At night, it is safe for the temperature to drop to around 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

Don’t place your leopard gecko’s tank next to a window or a door, as those areas are usually drafty and can affect the temperature and humidity inside the enclosure.

You can use a side or under tank heating mat, heat tape, or a regular white light incandescent heat bulb to create a basking spot during the day. A ceramic heat emitter can provide supplemental heat during the night.

There are also colored low-light bulbs that are available in shades of red and blue, though these can be harsh on your gecko’s eyes, and leopard geckos don’t need light to see at night anyway thanks to their excellent night vision.

Using an under tank heating mat is probably the easiest and most popular way of regulating the temperature inside a leopard gecko’s enclosure. However, they aren’t always effective at heating evenly and might cause burns if your gecko likes to burrow in their substrate down to the glass surface of the tank.

You will also need to purchase a thermometer to ensure that the temperature inside your leopard gecko’s tank is just right. While one thermometer is a must, you should consider getting two to keep track of temperatures on both the hot and cold sides of the enclosure.

Ideally, it’s best to purchase dual thermometer/hygrometers, as these can monitor both the temperature and humidity in the enclosure at a glance.

Lighting

While many people believe that leopard geckos are nocturnal, they are, in fact, a crepuscular species. This means that they are most active at dawn at dusk, although their activity continues well into the night. As a crepuscular species, leopard geckos are well aware of daytime and nighttime and need both light and dark for their inner clocks to function properly.

Your leopard gecko will need an incandescent lighting and heating source that will mimic natural sunlight. As a general rule, the lights in the enclosure should loosely follow the sun’s natural patterns: 12 hours on, 12 hours off is best for both you and your gecko, as it is convenient and easy enough to remember yet consistent enough for your gecko.

Unlike bearded dragons who need strong basking bulbs, leopard geckos aren’t a full-time basking species, so they don’t need an intense UVB source. Although UVB isn’t necessary for your gecko’s survival, a small amount of UVB lighting (anything from 2% to 7% output) can go a long way in keeping your leopard gecko healthy and can reduce the risk of metabolic bone disease.

Humidity

Humidity is another important aspect of leopard gecko care you should keep in mind when setting up a tank for your new scaly friend. Leopard geckos are desert-dwelling species, so they don’t need a highly humid environment to live comfortably. The ideal humidity levels for leopard geckos are around 30% to 40%.

If the humidity is too low (below 30%), your leopard gecko might have trouble shedding and end up with stuck shed on their toes and tail, which can be painful and difficult to remove. On the other hand, if humidity becomes too high (above 40%), your gecko risks developing a respiratory infection.

You can easily maintain ideal humidity levels by keeping a small water dish in your gecko’s enclosure. By placing it towards the middle of the enclosure, the water inside won’t evaporate constantly or rapidly, but the small amount of evaporation over time will keep humidity at a reasonable level. You can also increase or decrease the size of the water bowl if needed.

Be sure to use a hygrometer to measure humidity levels inside the tank, and make sure they are always in an optimal range to prevent your gecko from dealing with painful health conditions caused by incorrect humidity settings.

Substrate

This leopard gecko care sheet wouldn’t be complete without substrate! To ensure that your leopard gecko’s tank mimics its natural habitat you will need a safe substrate. Essentially, a substrate is the material you’ll use to make up the floor of your gecko’s enclosure.

Avoid using sand substrates, even if they are calcium sands, since they can cause impaction if ingested. Other substrates with small, indigestible particles, such as wood chips or gravel, can also present impaction risk.

Hatchlings and baby leopard geckos in particular shouldn’t be kept on these “loose” substrates, since babies are more likely to swallow it while feeding or simply out of boredom or curiosity. Many loose substrates like wood chips or shavings can also hurt your gecko’s tender belly and legs by causing splinters and cuts.

It’s best to opt for flat, non-loose substrates, such as reptile carpet, paper towels, ceramic tiles, or even newspapers as bedding for your leopard gecko’s tank.

There are some relatively safe loose substrates on the market, such as coconut fiber, excavator clay, or bio-active substrates, which look great and help to create a natural-looking environment for their pet lizards. Still, the risk of impaction is always present with any and all loose substrates, even if the particles are fairly easy to digest.

The substrate should retain moisture well. Peat moss, sphagnum moss, coconut fiber, and vermiculite are popular choices, since they hold moisture well and create an ideally humid environment for shedding. Mist the substrate inside daily and keep an eye on humidity levels in the enclosure in case you need to adjust anything.

Whatever type of substrate you decide to choose, you will need to spot clean it for feces every day and completely replace it at least once a month. Some substrates that get dirty and worn down easily, such as paper towels or newspaper, will need to be changed more often. Additionally, if you have more than one gecko in your enclosure, you’ll also need to change the substrate more frequently.

When replacing the entire substrate, you should also deep-clean the entire enclosure using a reptile-friendly disinfectant. These types of disinfectants usually work quickly and can be wiped clean using a paper towel after 30 seconds. In a pinch, dish soap and warm water is also quite effective, provided you rinse the enclosure thoroughly with clean water afterward.

Decorations

Rocks

No leopard gecko tank would be complete without decorations to make their tank feel like home. Leopard geckos love the heat coming from the basking lamps, but they also enjoy secondary tummy heat, which will radiate from warm objects. Natural rocks like slate are ideal for this and should be added to your pet’s tank for them to bask on.

Decorations like rocks and bridges and platforms should be placed under the heat lamp so they can warm up nicely and radiate heat to your gecko. Just be sure the lamp isn’t placed too closely, as certain objects like slate can overheat quickly and cause burns to your gecko’s sensitive skin.

Shades

To mimic your gecko’s natural habitat, you can also use plants to provide shade and partial cover for when your lizard is tired of heat and basking. Live plants are great, but they need a bit of upkeep to look great, so it’s fine to use artificial plants, too.

Hides

When it comes to decorations, let’s not forget about hides! Every leopard gecko tank needs to have a moist and warm hide, though an additional dry, cooler hide is also recommended. Having a warm, moist hide is extremely important, as it can help prevent shedding issues, such as a stuck shed.

There are many different ways you can make a hide box for your leopard gecko, including using a small plastic container or simply purchasing a cave-like hide. The hide should be large enough to fit your gecko’s entire body yet cozy enough for them to feel safe and comfortable.

You can also use hollowed-out half logs as additional places for hiding and surfaces your gecko can use for climbing. You can also stack slates or rocks to create crevices in which your pet can hide. Feel free to get creative!

Food & Water Requirements

Leopard geckos are strict insectivores, which means they eat a diet of live invertebrates (primarily insects). The main thing to remember about your leopard gecko’s diet is that it should consist of a variety of feeder insects.

Some good staple insects include:

  • Crickets
  • Dubia roaches
  • Mealworms
  • Superworms
  • Phoenix worms (also known as black soldier fly larvae or NutriGrubs)

Additionally, some good occasional treat insects include:

  • Waxworms
  • Silkworms
  • Butterworms
  • Hornworms

Gut-Loading Insects

Don’t forget that all insect feeders should ideally be gut-loaded 24 to 48 hours before being fed to your leopard gecko. Gut-loading the feeder insects with fresh and nutritious fruits and vegetables will boost their nutritional content.

Although it sounds complicated, gut-loading feeder insects is actually a simple and straightforward process. All you really need to do is throw a few small pieces of fruits or veggies into the container you keep your feeder insects in and let them feast!

Vitamin Supplements

Besides gut-loading, you will also need to dust the insects with a calcium and vitamin D3 supplement. Dusting your insects will ensure your scaly pet is receiving the vitamins they need to prevent health issues like metabolic bone disease and malnutrition.

The easiest way to dust insects is to place them in a zip-lock plastic bag with a spoonful or two of the powdered supplement. Shake the bag quickly to thoroughly coat the insects in powder before dropping them inside the tank for your gecko to eat. Baby and juvenile leopard geckos need a calcium supplement at every feeding, while adult geckos need it only every other feeding.

When and How Much to Feed Your Gecko

Baby and juvenile leopard geckos need to eat several small insects such as crickets or mealworms every day to grow and develop properly. This is because their metabolisms are very fast as babies, and they need food constantly to facilitate proper growth.

When and How Much to Feed Your Gecko

Adult geckos, on the other hand, should be fed every other day, or three to four times per week. When feeding, stick to insects that are no bigger than the size of your gecko’s head. If you come across a larger cricket or worm, you can crush their heads right before serving them to your gecko.

In general, offer your gecko as many insects as they will eat within a 5 to 10-minute period. Once the 10 minutes or so is up, remove any uneaten insects from their enclosure and place them back in whatever container you use to store them.

Water

Finally, to keep your leopard gecko properly hydrated, make sure they have access to a shallow dish of clean, fresh water at all times. Leopard geckos get most of their hydration from the moisture in the insects they eat, but they also drink small amounts of standing water.

If you find your gecko soaking in the water bowl, don’t be alarmed! Some leopard geckos do this to keep their skin hydrated and to help with the shedding. Just be sure to clean the water bowl and replace the water after your gecko has finished taking a bath.

FAQs About Leopard Gecko Care

Is a leopard gecko high-maintenance?

It’s easy to learn how to take care of leopard geckos. They are low-maintenance pets, making them ideal for newbie herpers. Small in size yet hardy, these lizards won’t mind much even if you’re still learning how to care for them properly. Unlike many other reptiles, leopard geckos have fairly basic needs when it comes to their environments, and you won’t have to spend a lot of time adjusting and readjusting their tank setup.

What do leopard geckos need?

All in all, leopard geckos have pretty basic needs, especially compared to most other popular pet reptiles.

If you plan to keep one leopard gecko, a 20-gallon tank will suffice, but you can always go bigger if you want to. Be sure the enclosure has a subtle temperature gradient from the hot to cool side, and ensure that the daily temperature is between 88 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. At night, the temperature can drop to around 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

As a desert-dwelling species, leopard geckos don’t need high humidity to survive and thrive. Keep the humidity inside the tank around 30% to 40%, and provide a moist hide that will help your gecko with the shedding process.

When it comes to bedding, steer clear from loose substrates, especially if you have a baby or juvenile leopard gecko. Instead, opt for a flat, solid substrate like tile, linoleum, paper towels, or reptile carpet.

Are leopard geckos expensive to care for?

Expect to spend around $30 each month on your leopard gecko. Remember, the initial cost of your gecko’s enclosure, substrate, lighting, etc. will likely be around $200 to $300, depending on your location and the type and size of enclosure you choose, so be sure to factor this in as well.

After the initial cost of buying a leopard gecko and setting up its cage, you will need to factor in the cost of food, supplements, substrate, and additional supplies.

Generally speaking, you’ll probably spend around $30 on food, treats, and supplements each month. Finally, let’s not forget about annual veterinary check-ups, which can cost an additional $80 to $100 depending on your location.

What is the easiest gecko to care for?

Leopard geckos are well-known for being the easiest type of gecko to care for! These low-maintenance lizards are often recommended as the best pets for newbie herpers or people looking for a low-maintenance and hardy pet reptile.

Easy-Peasy Care for Leopard Geckos

Newbie herpers really should know the basics of how to take care of a leopard gecko. Rest assured, leopard geckos are one of the easiest types of geckos to care for, and they make fantastic pets for novice and expert owners alike.

Overall, leopard gecko care is pretty basic, and these reptiles make friendly, sociable pets that can tolerate beginners’ mistakes.

If you plan to keep an adult leo, set up at least a 20-gallon tank using gecko-safe bedding, and add a moist hide to help with the shedding. Finally, don’t forget that leopard geckos use their environment to regulate body temperature, so create a warm and cool area within the tank with lighting, ceramic heat emitters, and/or under tank heaters.

Scroll to Top