Is My Leopard Gecko Stressed: Signs & Solutions That Work

leopard gecko stressed

As reptile parents we often want to provide the best for our leopard geckos. When changes in behavior or problems arise, we often feel helpless. The sheer confusion causes frustration as we scour the internet for answers.

Leos are generally hardy animals but can often become stressed for a variety of reasons. The most common factors include improper cage temperatures, new environment, breeding season, lack of food, dehydration, and illness.

This troubleshooting guide will help identify the reasons why your reptile has or can become stressed and offers solutions to tackle those issues.

1) Newly acquired geckos

Purchasing a new pet can be an exciting venture. We spend days if not weeks planning for our new lizard setting up their enclosures, purchasing heat mats, and food. Often times we overlook the importance of acclimation.

Like all animals, leopard geckos need time to get situated to their new environment both physically and socially. For the first couple of days, I can guarantee that your leo will be more than likely stressed out due to the move. Don’t fret however as this is completely normal. They might act lethargic, temperamental, or even flat out aggressive.

Refusal of food is also a common indicator that there is something wrong. Being nocturnal they will often only want to come out at night so don’t be alarmed if they spend most of the time hiding away. To ease them into their new setting you should:

    • Limit any interaction with your herp including handling, touching, or disrupting them for the first few days.
    • Minimize cleaning for the first week, as they probably won’t be defecating or eating much
    • Try to keep them in a quieter area of the house away from loud noises or distractions
    • It’s best to keep other household pets like cats and children out of sight for the first two weeks
  • Have adequate food options such as mealies or roaches and water available at all times.

2) Temperature gradient

One of the most important aspects of husbandry is correct temps. Leos cannot regulate their own body heat and thus need an external source such as a heating pad. This also aids with digestion. High humidity and low temperatures can cause your leopard gecko to become stressed and catch a reptile “cold” otherwise known as an upper respiratory infection (RI).

RI’s clog the nasal passages with mucous making breathing difficult and harsh. Left untreated, symptoms will get worse eventually leading to death. Ulcerative Stomatitis or mouth rot can also develop from respiratory infections which will cause your gecko to stop eating. Dangerously high temps will cause them to overheat and lead to organ failure.

Abnormal fluctuations can lead to restlessness as your lizard tries to find the best spot to thermal regulate. This will negatively impact their sleep cycle and feeding schedule. Improper gradients can also lead to food rotting in the gut and damaging the digestive system or worse.

    • Provide a “hot side” of 88F – 92F and a “cool side” of 78F – 82F at all times. This way they can choose the best gradient for their current situation.
    • Leos best regulate heat through their bellies so be sure to use flexwatt heat tape or any undertank heater available (UTH) covering one third of your enclosure.
    • Take both air (ambient) and floor (surface) temps for better accuracy.
    • Keep relative humidity levels at a maximum of 20%.
  • Provide a humid hide with slightly moist (damp not wet) peat moss to aid with shedding on the cool or middle side of the tank.

3) Feeder issues

leopard gecko feeding issues

One thing I used to do was toss prey items like crickets into my leo’s tank allowing them to roam freely. I thought it was natural and fun to see them hunt their food. What I did not know was by doing this, any leftovers or survivors would be constantly bugging (no pun intended) them. Being territorial animals, leopard geckos can become pressured if even small bugs are in their space.

Not to mention, some feeders will bite or harm your pets. Others will accidentally drown in water bowls which can contaminate the water if not removed within a day. Another issue I used to encounter was constantly offering the same bug every feeding. Sure some lizards don’t mind having the same thing every day however offering a variable diet is important to the health of your animals.

Often times, your gecko will go off feed which puts a strain on their bodies. They do this to indicate that they are either getting too much of one nutrient or not enough of it. Lastly, if they are exhibiting signs such as restlessness, constantly roaming out in the open, or pressing upon the glass, this can indicate that they are hungry.

Some keepers will provide a bowl of insects daily only refilling it when empty. Others choose to feed for only 10-15 minutes before removing the bugs. Both methods work but the important thing to remember is what your pet prefers. I try to let them show me what they want.

    • Always provide a dish shallow enough to contain your feeders
    • Place enough food to last them throughout the day
    • Check for and remove any escapees as they can harass your leos
    • Offer mealworms, dubia roaches, BSFL, and red runners for a balanced diet
    • Try not to interrupt or disturb them when feeding
  • Always offer the right size prey, about the length of the space between their eyes

4) Proper hydration

leopard gecko hydration

It’s easy to overlook hydration when it comes to husbandry. Being a desert dweller, they can easily become dehydrated. Water allows for proper absorption of vital nutrients such as calcium and protein.

They can go weeks without food but only a few days without water. Fresh water is also important as feces or foreign items can contaminate the source resulting in illness.

Moisture content in bugs help cleanse the blood and rejuvenates the digestive system. Items like hornworms, silkies, and reptigrubs (black soldier fly larvae) contain high water content.

    • Provide a shallow water bowl to avoid drowning
    • Occasionally offer high moisture food items
    • Change out water every other day to maintain freshness.
    • Check for folds in skin and change of overall appearance as this can sometimes indicate dehydration.
  • Prolonged (spending most of the day) soaking in water can indicate mites.

5) Breeding cycle

As they mature, females and males will go through hormonal changes that puts stress on their bodies. Males will go off feed and solely focus on breeding especially if there is a female around. Females will seem to gorge themselves and then suddenly stop eating for months at a time. This type of behavior is completely normal however.

Light cycles and temperatures can also force your geckos to go into brumation. This is their way of taking a break and prepping for the breeding season. If you don’t decide to breed however, they do not need to go through this cycle.

    • Maintain temperatures constantly throughout the year.
    • Try to provide 12 hours of day and 12 hours of night
    • Always have food available for them
    • Do not introduce any females or males to each other
  • Night time lows or dips signal winter time which can make them go off feed

6) Illness

leopard gecko illness

Infections and parasites will strain your herps physically and psychologically. Metabolic bone disorder caused by inadequate absorption of calcium leads to weak limbs and immobility. Limping, trouble standing, dragging of limbs can all point to MBD.

Changes in behavior such as lethargy, loss of strength, bloody stools, and regurgitation can all be signs of sickness. Mouth open breathing other wise known as “gaping” can hint an infection in the lungs. Severe pailing or color change can also mean that your animal is ill.

Sunken eyes or swelling of limbs mean that husbandry needs to be accessed. Sometimes providing a water bowl that’s too deep or difficult to reach can cause dehydration.

    • If you notice any of these signs, I advise you get a fecal/stool sample to determine the underlying factor which could be parasites or bacterial infections.
    • Dust your feeders once or twice a week with a balanced mineral mix such as reptical to ensure proper absorption. This will prevent MBD.
    • Make sure to check the tail girth as it often correlates with health. Plump and fatty tails are a good sign.
    • If you notice gaping, sneezing, or weezing remove humid hides and check humidity levels (remember 20%).
  • Try not to feed waxworms as too many can cause fatty liver disease.

21 Responses to “Is My Leopard Gecko Stressed: Signs & Solutions That Work

  • Amanda Lagueux
    9 months ago

    Hey my name is amanda and my sister thought it would be cool to get a leopard gecko. But she ended up getting one without doing research. Its about a year and a half later, and im kind of worried something happened with her gecko. He doesn’t come out as much anymore and gets scared when we try to hold it. What do we do?

    • Anonymous
      5 months ago

      You should not try to hold him to much and try to read up on Leo’s and let him sort of take a vacation and try to meet his needs as much as possible. P.S. if your sister has any other pets or kids try to keep them away from his tank they might be spooking him

  • Katelynn F.
    6 months ago

    I just got a leopard gecko, and I already handled him a lot and only feed him at night. I’m also technically a child…. whoops– ( I named him Nico, from Twenty One Pilots 🙂 )

  • Anonymous
    5 months ago

    You should not try to hold him to much and try to read up on Leo’s and let him sort of take a vacation and try to meet his needs as much as possible. P.S. if your sister has any other pets or kids try to keep them away from his tank they might be spooking him.

  • my friend got a leopard gecko and the leopard gecko is angry and not eating what should we do

    • Hey, I have a leopard gecko and he’s doing the same thing. I did some research and found out that he is stressed. Some things that helped him were not handling him as much, make sure the templates is correct, taking him to a darker and quieter room and always have food available for him. He gets better each day

  • Isabelle
    5 months ago

    So I’ve had my leopard gecko for a few months now actually, and I knew not to handle them for a while after getting them. So I’ve left him alone for a few weeks when I got him. I tried putting my hand in the cage from time to time when feeding or just plainly interacting with him a while afterwards. Today after feeding, I got him to climb on my arm for a while before he retreated off calmly, but it seems more so like he was trying to trustingly use me as a stool to get out. As I’m currently typing, he’s glass surfing and trying to get on high places in his cage to try to get out.. I know glass surfing is a sign of bad stress, but I’m not sure how to make him stop either. I can’t exactly make constant contact with him yet because he’s not fully tamed, but how can I get him less stressed? I just feel so bad for him, and since I can’t fully contact with him or let him roam my room safely yet.. I’m really not sure how to help him. Do you have any tips? I just feel like he’s extremely stressed and wants to leave, but I’m not able to let him SAFELY do that yet. I also want to know how I can get him to stop being as stressed as he is right now without big contact with him. Please respond as soon as possible, thank you. I just hate seeing him so distressed and anxious. he is still trying to climb the walls of his cage. He crawls onto my hand looking for a way to get out, and when I kinda bring him to the surface of his cage, he starts trying to climb out of the area when I’m not able to let him do that yet. As I said earlier, if you could just help me figure this out I’d be so grateful, thanks again.

    • thegutload
      4 months ago

      Hello Isabelle,

      Glass surfing isn’t necessarily a sign of bad stress. He’s actually more active and alert which means he’s not stressed. I would be more concerned if he just hid all day. Just make sure to keep him fed and handle him occasionally. It’s actually normal for them to roam around their tanks and want to get out. Make sure when you carry him, to approach him from the bottom as grabbing him from the top will spook him. As long as he has adequate space, food, ventilation, and heating your leo will do just fine. A lot of my leos rush the glass as well. As stated, this means they are alert and active which is a great thing!

  • My gecko seems to *yawn* a lot and hes been struggling to shed for four days now.. I’m getting super worried because he sleeps more than usual, refuses to sleep and seems aggressive at all times.. I feel like he is stressed or maybe even sick.. It is march.. so idek i thought maybe it was breeding season but if anyone knows what is wrong I’d love to have some answers.. i changed his surroundings because he got sand lodged in his eyes so it is now paper towels for the time being. I thought maybe that would cause stress.. I need help.. thanks.

    • thegutload
      4 months ago

      Hi Kathryn,

      I would advise to leave him alone especially during shedding. All reptiles are known to be a bit more aggressive during this stage. Make sure he has a humid hide or moist area he can retreat to and shed properly. Shedding is a stressful time for our little leos and it’s important to have the right husbandry to make the process go smoothly. That’s good that you got rid of the sand, paper towels are much safer.

  • I have had my Leo, Goliath, for around two years, and every time I spray the tank when he is shedding he will swing his tail side to side. (I am not spraying him directly.) He also does this when I handle him then leave after a few minutes and shut the door. Does he not like being handled?? Just a random question but, Is there a way to find out how old your gecko is?

    • He might be getting surprised when you spray? The tail wiggle is sometimes defensive, could mean he’s scared of the noise. I’m not sure, do you always spray the whole tank?

  • I just recently bought a fancy leopard gecko. I put 3 live crickets (recommended from store associate) and it’s been 2 days since bringing it home and all it does is sleep. It won’t eat or come out. Is this normal

    • thegutload
      4 months ago

      Hi Brooke,

      Yes this is definitely normal behavior. I would remove the crickets and hold off on feeding for the next week. This will allow your gecko to acclimate to the surrounding environment. Thanks!

    3 months ago

    My geko EB is a few weeks old and the moment i brought her home she immediately started to eat but is panics when i want to use the scoop technic she will let me hold her for a few seconds then does everything in her power to get away from me and so confused she want me to hold her or not?

    • My Leopard gecko is hiding almost all day but he eats very well how can I get him to come out more?

  • Hey, I recently bought a Mack Snow leopard gecko, and all was fine. It was eating calcium dusted meal worms, waxworks, and crickets, until all of the sudden he refused to eat or come out of his hide. I tried to hand feed him and pick him up calmly, but when I did he jumped out of my hand and went right back into his tank. He began shaking his head violently and opening his mouth. What can I do to help this sort of problem?

  • Is my gecko happy? He loves to come out of his hide and bask in the heat all day which I think is good, and he’s good at being handled by me but with others and sometimes with me, he tries to run away. He also is turning pick on his feet and tail? I don’t know what to doo. He seems happy and he eats very well, and stuff. He has fresh water every other day and feeds at night, not a picky eater, but I’m worried about the pink thing. He doesn’t seem to be any different personality wise, his white belly, white feet and white tail, are turning pink. What should I do?

  • So I have 2 Leos and both of their tails are white we just drove 6 hours with them, are they stressed or something?

  • my gecko has a rash on his arm where his skin came of with shedding. im wondering if he will have to lose his arm and if he cold keep it and what we could do to help.

  • Anonymous
    2 months ago

    Hello, My leopard Gecko has never liked to be held, we have had her since 2011, and I’ve recently wanted to start working with it, any tips to work with it to the point i can hold it?

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