Thinking of getting a pet gecko? As with any pet, there are some things you will want to know and ways to prepare ahead of time so that when you bring your new pet gecko home, it’s a happy and seamless transition. Here’s your Pet Gecko Beginner’s Guide!
Before Buying a Gecko
Before buying your pet gecko, it is important to know what keeping one of these reptiles will require. There are more than 1,600 species that range in price from $10 to $1,000. Many of these species live 10 to 20 years in captivity, so ownership is not a short-term commitment by any means. If you are thinking about taking in a gecko as a pet, consider whether you can provide it with a stable home and meet its needs for this lengthy period of time.
Types of geckos most commonly taken in as pets include:
- Leopard gecko
- Tokay gecko
- Day gecko
- African fat-tailed gecko
- Crested gecko
- Common house gecko
Most pet geckos are species that do not grow past 12 inches in length. But you must provide an aquarium habitat for them that suits their size and environmental needs. This means it is usually best to buy a habitat they can grow into, rather than one for which they will quickly grow too large. The most commonly adopted types of geckos usually do well in a 20 gallon tank throughout their lives as long as it is outfitted with a variety of climbing options, a hiding place, heat lamp and tight-fitting lid.
Despite how cute they are, geckos do not like to be handled very often. Too much handling can make them anxious. You should also avoid putting two males in the same habitat because they will become aggressive toward each other.
Bear in mind that the gecko diet consists solely of live worms and insects. You must be able to provide these and put up with occasional insect escapees around the reptile tank.
How much does a gecko cost?
Because of the variety of species and wide availability of geckos as pets, you can adopt one of these reptiles for anywhere between $10 and $1,000, depending on which species you choose. For food, setup of the habitat, and other first-year costs, a gecko owner will typically pay about $560 to $1,645. Annually, the owner will pay between $330 and $1,310 for the animal’s upkeep. This includes food, habitat accessories, vet care, and other supplies.
There are many factors determining how much a gecko costs over its lifespan. Obviously, this starts with how long the reptile lives. Most geckos have a lifespan of 10 to 20 years. This means that they typically cost from $3,860 and $27,845 over the course of their lifetime plus the gecko’s adoption cost. Speaking of adoption costs, here’s an article about how much leopard geckos cost to give you an idea.
New Owner Shopping List: What To Buy
Like any pet, geckos have special needs that must be met by their owners. These responsibilities include providing a safe and clean habitat, feeding the animal, and keeping their living space clean. To make becoming a new gecko owner easier, below is a shopping list for preparing to take your pet home.
- Vivarium – An enclosed 10-20 gallon glass aquarium with a tight-fitting lid is ideal for creating a habitat for your gecko
- Canopy – A vivarium canopy fits the top of the vivarium to provide light and heat for the reptile
- Daylight and/or night bulbs – These bulbs simulate daytime and nighttime conditions, just like a gecko experiences in the wild, and helps them keep their circadian rhythm
- Heat rock or heat mat – Much like a human’s heating pad, a heat rock or heat mat provide the reptile with constant warmth
- Thermometer – Maintaining the right temperature for your cold-blooded animal is critical for keeping them healthy
- Live insect food – The gecko diet consists exclusively of live insects like worms and crickets
- Feeding rock – The feeding rock is a specialized feeder that is designed to look like a natural rock but helps keep the vivarium clean by holding calcium powder, food and vitamin supplements where the gecko can ingest them
- Vitamin supplement – Geckos need calcium and vitamin supplements to ensure their good health since insects do not provide these key nutrients
- Gut-loading product – This product typically comes in a jar, ready to feed insects for gut loading and to ensure they provide the nutrients your pet needs
- Calcium – Usually in powder form, reptile calcium supplement helps prevent nutritional deficiencies like metabolic bone disease, fertility problems, and digestive problems
- Water dish – Your gecko needs a constant supply of clean, readily accessible, and fresh water
- Substrate – This material is the ground cover for your gecko and ideally is a 50:30:20 mix of organic topsoil, play sand and clay
- Hides – Hides provide your gecko places to retreat for rest, sleep, and solitude
- Decor – Most gecko owners enjoy dressing up their pet’s vivarium to provide a habitat much like they would experience in the wild
- Reptile-safe disinfectant – This cleaning solution is the best choice for cleaning your pet’s vivarium, being both effective and non-toxic
- Prey holding tank or container – You will need to gut-load your pet’s insect prey and keep them alive until feedings, such as in a small aquarium, tank, or other receptacle
Ongoing Needs: What You Need to Care for Your Gecko
Caring for your gecko for the long term involves keeping their habitat clean and replenished with everything they need for comfort, stimulation and nutrition. Items you will to keep on hand throughout their lifespan include:
- Daylight and/or night bulbs – These bulbs are important for your gecko’s circadian rhythm and keeping the environment at ideal temperatures for the cold-blooded reptile, thus must be replaced on an ongoing basis
- Live insect food – Your gecko eats only live insects like worms and crickets, making it important to frequently purchase food supply at a pet supply store and maintain them in a separate tank or holding area for housing and gut-loading of this prey
- Vitamin supplement – Because insects do not provide some key nutrients your gecko needs, such as calcium and vitamin D, it is critical that you provide vitamin and mineral supplementation daily
- Gut-loading product – To improve the nutritional value of the insects you feed your gecko, you will need to keep insect food on hand that is designed to “load” the reptile prey with key nutrients
- Calcium – Usually in powder form, reptile calcium supplement is critical for preventing a range of health conditions in your pet
- Substrate – This vivarium ground covering constantly builds up bacteria from the gecko and vivarium humidity, making it important to regularly replace the 50:30:20 mix of organic topsoil, play sand and clay
- Décor – Over time, you will likely want to make changes to your gecko’s vivarium setup by changing décor, such as plants, hides and hocks
- Reptile-safe disinfectant – This cleaning solution is ideal for cleaning your pet’s vivarium and will require periodic refills or replacement
Exercise and Ongoing Care
Geckos have many unique needs within their vivarium habitat and throughout their lifetimes. These needs include temperature, humidity and light of the vivarium. Their tank also requires frequent cleaning. The substrate used in their habitat must be of a good quality and healthy for your pet. You also must handle your pet carefully and manage shedding and brumation, as well.
Like any living creature, your gecko needs exercise to keep it healthy, stimulated and strong. To provide for exercise it cannot get within its tank habitat, take your gecko out of its vivarium and let it crawl on you while you are in a safe and quiet area of your home.
Temperature, Humidity and Light
Your gecko needs a range of temperatures within its habitat. This means you must create a thermogradient by supplying heating at one end of the vivarium and enabling slight cooling at the other end. This is achieved by placing the 60 to 100 watt basking lamp or ceramic lamp at one side with a basking area created beneath it. Ensure your gecko cannot come into contact with the bulb and suffer burns from it. Use a thermostat with your heat source to regulate the temperature.
For a leopard gecko, for example, you must keep the temperature on the warm end of the vivarium to a range of 82 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit. The cool end of the tank must stay within the range of 75 to 78 degrees during the day with a drop to about 68 degrees at night for sleeping. Use a thermometer to track these temperatures. Ideal humidity for a leopard gecko is 30 to 40%.
Light is critical for keeping your reptile’s circadian rhythm in check. UVB bulbs help the animals produce necessary vitamin D, too. Check with your veterinarian or other species experts to understand your gecko’s lighting needs.
It is very important to set temperatures, light and humidity for your specific gecko species. These requirements vary from one type of gecko to the next.
Cleaning the vivarium is another critical aspect of caring for your pet on an ongoing basis. Bacteria grows quickly within a gecko’s habitat and can cause a range of serious ailments. Invest in reptile habitat cleaning solution for monthly habitat deep cleaning. During this deep cleaning, throw out old substrate and replace it with new material.
On a daily basis, remove solid waste from your reptile’s home. Remember, geckos can carry salmonella, making it very important that you wash your hands thoroughly any time you access their habitat or touch the animal.
You must be careful with the substrate used in your gecko’s vivarium. Using the wrong type of material can cause impaction in the animal’s gut, potentially leading to death. The ideal ground cover mix is a 50:30:20 mix of organic topsoil, play sand and clay. Never use beach sand, builder’s sand, calcisand or beech chips. You can use children’s play sand or reptile sand.
It is important to note that handling your gecko can cause it stress. For this reason, you need to give the animal time to get used to you being around and touching it. Start by interacting with the animal during feeding or by gently offering your hand in the vivarium for it to crawl over and on. It can take time for your pet to recognize you as safe. When you have achieved calm and stress-free interactions, try gently and slowly picking up the gecko. Be careful not to grab its tail because this, and any stress, will make the tail fall off.
Shedding and Brumation
Your reptile will shed its skin from time to time. The precise timing varies. You will first notice a dull look to your pet’s skin as the top layer of skin separates from the new layer beneath it. Your gecko will retreat into one of its hides where conditions are more humid. Once shedding, it will eat the old skin. You should never pull at the shedding skin or clinging remnants because this can cause injury and bleeding. But if you notice dead skin remaining on the toes or around the eyes, call your vet for advice and assistance.
Brumation is a period of time during cooler weather of winter when your gecko eat less and sleep more often. If you notice your gecko losing weight during this time, consult your veterinarian. The animal should hold onto a steady weight under normal brumation circumstances.
Feeding Your Gecko
Geckos are strict carnivores that feed only on live insects. This means than an owner of one of these reptiles must provide it with the live bugs to eat. This process also involves “gut loading” of the prey by feeding it dense nutrient-packed gut loading food before placing it in the gecko’s habitat.
Foods your gecko eats include:
- Waxworms (occasionally due to high fat content)
- Other insects no larger than your pet’s head
The process for feeding your pet starts with acquiring the live insects at a pet supply store. Place the insects in a well-ventilated separate tank, such as a small covered aquarium. Add the gut-loading feed, a water source and vegetables in the tank with the insects for 24 to 48 hours before gecko feeding. Just before reptile feeding, dust the insects with the proper, vet-recommended dose of calcium and other supplement powder.
It is best to remove your gecko from its vivarium for feeding, if possible. This prevents swallowing of substrate in the feeding process. If your insect container has a lid, such as on a small aquarium or other tank, you can place the gecko in the tank with the insects until it has eaten its fill. Then remove the reptile and return them to their own home. If you feed live insects in the gecko’s vivarium, it is important to remove uneaten live bugs to ensure your pet is not bitten by them over time.
How long will your gecko live?
Most geckos live 10 to 20 years in captivity. This is a longer commitment than many pet owners expect from their reptile. It is important to consider the time, financial investment and lifespan when choosing any species of gecko as a pet.
Common Health Issues for Geckos
Geckos can experience a range of health issues, just like any pet. Some of these health issues include:
- Salmonella virus
- Metabolic bone disease (MBD)
- Egg binding
- Constipation and impaction
- Respiratory ailments
It is important to pay attention to your gecko’s appearance. There are physical signs that often can indicate your pet is unwell. Look for clear eyes that move around well. Also ensure their belly is not dragging on the ground. They should have a thick tail when well-fed and dry droppings that are both dark and white. The best way to prevent metabolic bone disease is to provide your pet with UVB lighting for vitamin D production. Symptoms of MBD include swollen limbs, muscle twitching, fragile bones and deformities on parts like the jaws, limbs, spine or tail.
Where to Buy Your Gecko
You can buy a pet gecko in major national pet supply stores, local pet shops, breeders and your local animal shelter. You can also find these pets through online suppliers and in local directories. There are generally no special permits or licenses required for ownership.
Pet Gecko Guide: What You Need To Know FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Do geckos make good pets?
Geckos make very good pets for responsible owners willing to invest the time and money required to care for them. It is important to know that most geckos live 10 to 20 years in captivity, making them a long-term investment. While they require a lot of daily care and attention, geckos can bond and develop trust with their owners. They are fun to watch as they live and grow within their vivarium.
Where should I get my gecko?
You can find a pet gecko in many major retail pet supply stores, local pet shops, breeder operations and animal adoption shelters. You can also look online for listings in directories and on gecko-specific websites.
Can I handle a pet gecko?
The ability to handle a pet gecko and associated responsibilities is an individual decision. These pets require a lot of care, making them best for owners in teen and adult years. But if you are willing to provide a quality vivarium habitat, live insect food, nutritional supplements and ongoing care like habitat cleaning, you could be a great owner to one of these intriguing reptiles. As far as reptile ownership goes, geckos are a great first choice.
How big are geckos?
Most species of geckos are between 0.6 inches and 24 inches long. But the most common pet species are 12 inches long or smaller.
What do geckos eat?
Geckos eat live insects. Their favorite foods include mealworms and crickets. But they also like waxworms, cockroaches, beetles, butterworms, tomato hornworms, silkworms and sow bugs. From time to time, some species can be fed a fruit puree but they are primarily insectivores.
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