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Leopard Gecko Not Eating

leopard gecko

Thanks to their small size, relatively low-maintenance care and adorable spotted faces, leopard geckos are one of the most popular pet reptiles. Leopard gecko habitats, tanks and terrariums don’t take up much space, and this reptile can be a fantastic pet for both beginner and experienced reptile parents. With the appropriate diet and care, they can live up to 20 years in captivity. However, leopard geckos not eating can become a concern. There are many possible reasons for a leopard gecko to stop eating, so  it’s important to try to understand the  specific reason your leopard gecko is not eating so that you can seek proper treatment.  

Check out our leopard gecko care sheet to learn more about what your leopard gecko needs to thrive. Without the right leopard gecko supplies, you may be left saying, “Help! My leopard gecko won’t eat.” Read on to discover potential reasons why your leopard gecko won't eat and what you can do about it.  

Table of Contents: 

Why is my leopard gecko not eating?  

Temperature and lighting issues 

As soon as you notice your leopard gecko not eating, take a look at their habitat. Like all reptiles, leopard geckos are cold-blooded, meaning they can’t regulate their own body temperature but instead rely on the temperature of their environment to set their internal temperature. Body temperature affects metabolism and digestion, so leopard geckos need specific heaters and lights to keep their body temperature constant and their metabolism and digestive systems working properly. 

If a leopard gecko gets too cold, their metabolism will slow down and they may lose their appetite. They may also become lethargic and inactive. Alternatively, if they get too hot, they may avoid eating as they hide in the cooler spots of the tank. If your gecko is hiding, a too high body temperature could be the cause. 

Shedding 

The answer to, “Why won’t my leopard gecko eat?” isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There are a few nonpathogenic reasons your gecko might not eat—one of the most common being shedding. Adult geckos shed—or replace their skin—about every four to eight weeks.  

About a week before they start shedding, your leopard gecko’s skin may look milky or gray and they may hide in their cave. They’ll start scratching on rocks and accessories in their habitat to help their skin peel off. They may not eat for a few days during this process or eat their shed skin, both of which are normal.  

Breeding  

Another period during which some leopard geckos won't eat is breeding season. Captive geckos can breed at any time, but in nature, they typically breed from January until as late as September. While they typically won’t stop eating for that entire time, male geckos can get distracted and consume less. 

Female leopard geckos often produce eggs during breeding season—even if there is no male present and the eggs aren’t fertilized. As they prepare to lay eggs, or if they can’t find a suitable spot to lay their eggs, they may stop eating. You can encourage egg-laying by providing moist, soft substrate such as clean vermiculite in a quiet dark place where she’ll feel comfortable. 

Age 

Your gecko’s age also impacts their appetite. Knowing the age and life stage of your pet is helpful in determining an appropriate eating frequency for them.  

Is your baby leopard gecko not eating? If they’re newly hatched, they may be absorbing nutrients from an external yolk sac through their umbilical cord. So, if they have this yolk sac, it’s often normal for them not to eat for as long as a week. Once they absorb all of the yolk sac, baby geckos should eat once a day. Adult geckos, who are often less active than their younger counterparts, may only eat every other day.  

Geckos (especially males) who are reaching sexual maturity—at around 8 to 10 months to a year old—and females who are getting ready to breed often become so preoccupied with breeding that they may experience a period in which they don’t eat. Other telltale signs that your gecko is becoming sexually mature are territorial behavior in males and skittish behavior in females. 

Stress 

If you notice your new leopard gecko not eating, one of the most common reasons is stress. When you bring your gecko home, they need to adjust to their new environment. Initially, they may hide and refuse to eat. Adding a new gecko to an existing gecko’s habitat can also stress the original gecko, as reptiles are often territorial.

Another potential cause of stress in leopard geckos is excessive handling. Geckos don’t typically like to be handled. If you are going to handle your gecko, start slowly with about five minutes per day. Add a minute or two to each handling session each week. Ultimately, try to limit handling your gecko to less than 15 minutes per day.  

Nutritional deficiencies 

Leopard geckos require calcium and vitamin D3 in order to grow, metabolize and properly digest food. Pet geckos need nutritional supplements, including vitamin and mineral powders, sprinkled on their food to ensure they receive all the nutrients they need. You should also “gut load” the insects you give your gecko, which means feeding the insects a commercially available, nutritionally balanced diet so that they pass on the right nutrients to your pet.  

Sometimes, leopard geckos just don’t like certain foods. If they refuse to eat a particular type of feeder insect, try something else. If you have tried a variety of different insects but your leopard gecko won’t eat anything, contact your veterinarian to determine if an underlying problem is causing your pet to lose their appetite. 

Illness or injury 

 Other reasons for a leopard gecko not eating include illness and injury. For example, infection causing sores in the mouth (a condition called stomatitis) can make eating painful, while other injuries may prevent geckos from moving around normally to catch their food. Respiratory tract infections may make it hard for your gecko to breathe and decrease the energy they have available for hunting.

Other medical conditions can decrease geckos’ appetites,  including: 

  • Gastrointestinal (GI)parasites like cryptosporidium, pinworms, nematodes and coccidia 
  • Gastrointestinal tract obstruction or impaction, which is a blockage due to ingestion of foreign objects (such as indigestible bedding or sand)
  • Skin infections 
  • Metabolic bone disease, which is a life-threatening condition in which  lack of dietary calcium or vitamin D causes bones to soften and fracture and the GI tract to function improperly
  • Kidney or liver failure 

What should I do if my leopard gecko is not eating? 

Provide the right habitat 

Leopard geckos are crepuscular, meaning they’re most active at twilight, the time in nature when they typically hunt for prey. Unlike many other reptiles, in nature, leopard geckos don’t bask in sunlight and they get most of their heat by lying on warm rocks. As pets, they require a warm zone in their habitats ranging from 88 to 93°F to keep their bodies warm. An under-tank heater or ceramic heat emitter attached to a thermostat to regulate temperature can be used to provide heat. While geckos who live outside are more active during darkness and don’t bask in sunlight, pet geckos do better when provided with ultraviolet (UV) light. UV light helps pet geckos make vitamin D in their skin, which aids in absorption of dietary calcium. UV light should be provided to pet leopard geckos for eight to 12 hours a day.  

If your habitat is heated properly but you’re still wondering, “Why is my leopard gecko not eating?” their environment might be too dry. Leopard geckos need their habitat humidity to be maintained around 35% in order to shed properly, so mist their tank a few times a day and monitor tank humidity with a humidity gauge. Provide snug hiding places and caves where your gecko can go to feel safe, and create a humid hide by placing moist sphagnum moss in their favorite hiding spaces to help them shed properly. Finally, make sure you’re not using indigestible substrate such as wood chips, walnut shells or sand that they might eat or accidentally ingest and develop a GI tract impaction/obstruction.

Tempt them with tasty foods 

If you notice your leopard gecko not eating but the conditions in their habitat are ideal and they don’t appear ill, you may be able to tempt them to eat by offering them their favorite foods. Common feeder insects include crickets, silkworms, hornworms beetle larvae and Dubia roaches, but leopard geckos can also have treats.  

Mealworms provide a satisfying crunch but shouldn’t be offered regularly because their hard exoskeletons are difficult for geckos to digest. Most geckos simply can’t resist delicious, plump waxworms, but they are very fatty and should be given only in moderation. Feeder insects should be no larger than the space between your gecko’s eyes. 

Geckos in nature only eat live insects, as hunting and catching live prey is part of their normal behavior. Pet leopard geckos not eating  may be due to their rejecting dead insects. Pet geckos may also be more likely to eat if you feed them in the evening to mimic their natural hunting behavior. 

 Encouraging your gecko to eat

If your gecko is not eating, there are a couple of things you can try to help pique their appetite:

  • If your gecko is comfortable being handled, you may be able to feed them by hand. Hold your gecko in one hand and present a live mealworm close to their face. If your gecko tends to nip, consider using tweezers or tongs rather than your fingers
  • Place a mealworm inside a small paper cup laying on its side so that it can’t easily escape. Allow your gecko to hunt inside the cup

Never force your gecko to eat, as that can cause them to choke. If they don’t respond to the hand feeding or feeding inside the cup, it’s time to visit your veterinarian.  

Consult your veterinarian 

Leopard geckos’ slow metabolism and fatty deposits—which they store in their tails—mean they can sometimes survive a month or more without food. It’s a unique ability, but it can make it hard to know when to be concerned when your leopard gecko won’t eat.  

If your gecko shows no interest in their favorite foods for a week or so, rapidly loses weight or shows other signs that something is wrong—like lethargy, hiding or skin issues—it is time to consult your veterinarian. Bring a stool sample, if possible, to help them diagnose any issues. They’ll examine your pet, create a diagnostic plan to review with you and provide tips on how to encourage your gecko to eat.  

If your leopard gecko is not eating, don’t panic. You may be able to figure out why your pet is not eating and simply make adjustments in their habitat. However, if your pet isn’t responding to habitat adjustments, has not been eating for a long time or is exhibiting any other unusual signs, see your veterinarian right away.  

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Reviewed by Petco’s Animal Care, Education and Compliance (ACE) Team

Petco’s ACE team is a passionate group of experienced pet care experts dedicated to supporting the overall health & wellness of pets. The ACE team works to develop animal care operations and standards across the organization and promote proper animal care and education for Pet Care Center partners and pet parents, while also ensuring regulatory compliance.