Introduction and Care for Geckos as Pets

Leopard gecko close-up on a log

Geckos are tiny to medium-sized lizards that live in warmer climates. Geckos come in over 1,600 distinct species, however not all of them are maintained as pets. The geckos that are most commonly kept as pets are under a foot long and have a lifetime of 10 to 20 years. Geckos have become due to their tiny size and long longevity, however their care varies depending on the species.

Popular Pet Gecko Species

A handful of gecko species have grown in popularity as pets:

  • Leopard geckos
  • Tokay geckos
  • Day geckos
  • African fat-tailed geckos
  • Crested geckos
  • Common house geckos

There are of course many other types of geckos both in the wild and as pets but these other species are not as commonly seen as the aforementioned.

Choosing a Gecko

It's recommended to get a captive-bred gecko from a reputable breeder if you want a pet gecko. You have no way of knowing what infections or disorders a wild-caught gecko may be carrying. Look for a gecko with bright eyes, smooth skin free of dry areas, all of its fingers, toes, and tail, and a healthy appetite.

Gecko Behavior

Even though there are many different types of geckos, several of them share similar personalities and characteristics. Geckos are generally nice, docile pets, but they prefer not to be handled by people on a regular basis since it can be stressful for them.

  • Activity: Most geckos, including the popular leopard geckos, crested geckos, tokay geckos, and African fat-tailed geckos, are nocturnal so they will be most active at night but there are some species of geckos that are active during the day, including the aptly named day gecko.
  • Vocalizations: They're not terribly vocal but some geckos make noises such as chirping, barking, and clicking when they are defending their territory or attracting a mate. Most of the time geckos are completely silent.
  • Temperament: Geckos are not usually aggressive reptiles unless two males are housed together. Because of this, it's best to separate male geckos since they may attack each other with little warning. It's rare for a gecko to bite a person but there are some species that are more likely to do so, such as the tokay gecko.

Housing a Gecko

Geckos require different levels of care according on the species, but for the most part, they require cages with branches for climbing, a water dish, a hiding area, and lockable lids. Because geckos may escape via minor gaps, it's best to keep them in an aquarium with a tight-fitting top. Because geckos are tiny reptiles, they only need a 10 or 20 gallon tank, but larger species would require more area.

Use a like coconut husk or orchid bark to line your gecko's cage. Both of these materials retain moisture and are safe to eat in tiny amounts. Paper towels and newspaper can also be used, but some reptile owners prefer natural alternatives due to concerns about bleaching and dying.

Heating and Humidity for Geckos

Most geckos like temperatures between 70 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit, while others demand greater basking temperatures in the 100s. Heat lamps and heating pads are used to attain this high temperatures. A good temperature gradient in the right temperature range for the gecko species you are caring for should be given. This usually implies that one side of the enclosure will be in the 70s and the other in the 90s or 100s.

No UVB-emitting bulbs are usually required for nocturnal species, but gecko species that are active during the day will require this particular lighting. UVB rays are invisible, yet they are critical for reptile development, hunger, and activity.

There are many various types of UVB, heat, and light bulbs available, and some may be more suited to your gecko than others. However, regardless of the bulbs used, the enclosure should be illuminated using a correct day and night cycle. White light must be visible during the day, even if it does not provide heat or UVB rays, otherwise your gecko may grow anxious and confused.

The humidity level in a gecko's cage should be between 70% and 80%. The most popular technique of obtaining this percentage is misting the cage with water, although having a big water dish will also assist. A hygrometer may be used to determine the humidity level in a gecko cage.

Feeding Geckos

Because geckos do not consume plants or vegetables, you must be comfortable with live insects if you wish to keep one. There are various insect alternatives, and different gecko species favor one over the other. Insects that are most typically fed include:

  • Mealworms
  • Crickets
  • Superworms
  • Waxworms

Geckos' basic meals are crickets and mealworms, with superworms and waxworms being more of a treat. Fruit is eaten by several gecko species, and they are frequently fed a specialized diet to suit their nutritional requirements. Feeding schedules will vary depending on the gecko's age and species, and may be daily or weekly.

The insects must be provided a good diet before being fed gecko. The insects will be gut-loaded, allowing them to supply superior nutrients to the gecko. Calcium powder should be sprinkled on the insects on a regular basis to provide this mineral to the gecko.

Handling Geckos

Never grab a gecko by the tail because they frequently drop it (a natural defense against predators). However, there is no reason to be alarmed if this occurs. It will regrow, albeit it may take on a new form and/or color. Until the tail has grown back, the gecko should be well fed and kept away from any cage mates.

Common Gecko Health Problems

Geckos are not immune to health problems. Some of the most commonly seen ailments include:

  • Stomatitis - Also called mouth rot, stomatitis is as gross as it sounds and needs to be treated as early as possible. You'll notice a reddish discoloration around the gecko's mouth and possibly some pus which looks like cottage cheese.
  • Respiratory issues - A gecko that is wheezing or drooling may have a respiratory infection. These are usually caused from a draft or low temperatures in the enclosure.
  • Parasites - Both internal and external, geckos also are frequently afflicted with parasitic infections. Worms and microscopic eggs may be in the feces and small mites may be on the surface of the skin. Parasitic infections on the skin will look like a red rash or you may notice your gecko has difficulty shedding while internal parasites can cause sluggishness, changes in appetite, and unusual droppings. 
  • Dysecdysis - This fancy word for problems shedding is a big problem for geckos who do not have proper humidity in their enclosures.

Edited by Adrienne Kruzer, RVT

  • How long do geckos live as pets?

    Geckos lives from six to 10 years.

  • How much do pet geckos cost?

    Difference geckos have different price points. Common house geckos cost about $10. Leopard geckos, for example, start at around $15 and go up to the thousands. They are geckos for every price point.

  • Where do geckos like to be pet?

    Geckos do not love to be petted or handled. They tolerate it, if you're gentle.