Leopard geckos generally need to be fed every couple of days, and because there’s a significant gap between feeds, your gecko will always be keen for the next meal when it arrives. Once you’re in this routine it can be alarming if your gecko suddenly stops eating.
So why might a leopard gecko stop eating? It might be because of a blockage in their digestive tract, stress, temperature changes, shedding, injuries, or even an infection.
Read on to find out how to identify why your leopard gecko is not eating, and what you can do about it.
Reasons Why A Leopard Gecko Is Not Eating
There are a number of potential reasons that your gecko might have stopped eating, and most of these will come with other tell-tale signs so you can know exactly what you’re dealing with.
Impaction is the name for a blockage in the digestive tract which stops your gecko from defecating. The blockage is most commonly caused by eating the wrong foods, eating too much food, or accidentally eating sand or soil from the floor of their terrarium.
The first thing to do is give them a bath in warm (not hot) water. The water should come up to their knees, giving them the comfort that they can touch the bottom, whilst allowing you to gently massage their stomach under the water.
The warm water can loosen any hardened stool in there and might allow them to pass it.
How To Prevent Impaction
To avoid the issue in the future, make sure you only allow your gecko to eat crickets that are about half the size of their head. One of the leading causes of impaction in geckos is insect casings.
Allowing them to have larger mealworms or crickets might mean that they don’t chew up the food properly before swallowing, which can cause these issues later on.
Stress can be a massive factor in your leopard gecko’s loss of appetite and might be caused by a multitude of different reasons.
Consider anything that has changed in their surroundings recently. It might be:
- A change to an object in their habitat.
- A change in their diet.
- The introduction of a new gecko into their environment.
- Another pet around their terrarium.
- A change to the humidity or temperature.
- Perhaps even a change in your behavior.
Leopard geckos aren’t fans of change. For them, the unknown is quite scary, so whatever they have that’s new – even if it seemed like a good idea at the time – should be put back to the way it was before the onset of the stress to keep the peace.
Other ways to determine stress might be:
- Your gecko sitting in different places.
- Hiding at the back of the terrarium.
- Irregular shedding.
3. Temperature Changes
Leopard geckos are fairly low maintenance in comparison to other lizards. They don’t necessarily need a heat lamp on all the time and can survive with just a heat mat overnight as long as it’s at the right temperature.
This means that they don’t need to bask and can stay hidden away in a warm hole as they would do in the wild.
However, they are really sensitive to temperature changes from the ground, and if the temperature drops too low, they won’t have the energy or inclination to eat.
The fact that they don’t need a heat lamp on all the time can make it more difficult to notice when there’s something wrong.
You should regularly feel the floor to check that the heat mat is still in working order and it’s a good idea to keep a thermometer pressed against it and monitor it regularly.
Also, the heat inside the terrarium should never fall below 18°C (65°F) and should ideally be at around 25-30°C (77-86°F) with a heat mat available at all times.
4. Respiratory Infection
Respiratory infections can be really dangerous, especially for such small animals. You’ll be able to recognize a respiratory infection as it’s likely to come with a whole host of other behaviors that aren’t normal:
- Mucus discharge
Respiratory Infection Treatment
A respiratory infection cannot be treated at home and will require medical attention. If you suspect that this is the issue, get them to the vet right away!
If your gecko has had previous medical concerns and is on medication, it can be difficult to get them to eat as the medication itself, though making them better, actually may make them weak or affect their sense of taste.
Stopping the medication is probably not an option, but perhaps you can make the food a little more tempting?
Feeding the live food with sugary fruits like apple or banana before feeding them to your gecko can actually heighten the taste and smell and might appeal to your gecko a little more.
If you’re still struggling to get them to eat anything, consult your vet. They might be able to give an alternative medication that agrees with them.
6. Vision Issues
Geckos have a vision that’s mainly based on movement. Although they can see things vaguely, it’s difficult for them to differentiate the background from the food unless the food moves.
It may be that your gecko’s appetite is completely normal, but if you’re trying to feed them dead crickets, or crickets that aren’t moving, they can’t actually see them.
Vision Issues Treatment
Avoid feeding your gecko food that’s already dead. Not only does it start to rot immediately, meaning it could be bad for your gecko, but it’s just difficult for them to see and they might just ignore it.
If they’re struggling even with live food, try waving it in front of them to help them along.
Although geckos are quite hardy little reptiles generally, they do have very thin skin, meaning they can be easily injured. If an injury is painful, itchy or becomes infected, it can make your gecko feel sick and lose their appetite.
Check carefully for torn skin or rashes. Usually, a bath to wash out the injury will help, as it’ll stop any itching and hopefully remove any chance of infection.
There are also specialist reptile antiseptic creams that you can buy at the pet store to help with the healing process.
Generally, reptiles won’t eat a few days before they start to shed. That’s because their body expands with the increase in food, but the top layer of skin that they’re about to shed is already at its full capacity so that it won’t allow for more expansion.
This makes them feel bloated and uncomfortable if they do eat.
No treatment is required in this case as your leopard gecko should go back to eating as usual once the shedding period is over.
Baby Leopard Gecko Not Eating
Baby geckos need to eat more often than the adults to help them grow, so you’re likely going to notice that they aren’t eating much more quickly than with an adult.
Unfortunately, they are also more prone to respiratory infection than adults as their respiratory tracts are much less developed. This is the most common reason for the loss of appetite in a baby leopard gecko.
Make sure the temperature around them is constant. Changing temperatures, even at night, can cause them to get sick. Heat mats are even more important for babies as they allow them to keep warm without the need to bask if you need to turn the lamp off during the night.
Leopard Gecko Not Eating After Shedding
It’s normal for your gecko to stop eating a few days before a shed. The shedding process should take a few days and will be much more comfortable if your gecko has a slightly more humid environment around that time to stop the dead skin sticking to their body.
They should resume eating a few days after a shed, meaning that there would be a total of 5-6 days without food in total.
If your gecko doesn’t start eating again after the shed, it’s possibly because they still have some skin attached to them, so their body thinks that the shed is still going on.
You can place them in a moist box which will cause the dead skin to wrinkle and eventually peel off.
If you still notice some skin remnants, it may be worth giving them a warm bath. Once they feel totally comfortable again, they should resume eating. Further issues may mean that there’s something else wrong.
How Long Can A Leopard Gecko Go Without Eating?
A leopard gecko could last between 10 and 14 days without consuming any food or water.
In the wild, they have to hunt for live food, and it’s not guaranteed that they’ll be able to find a meal every day, so their bodies are equipped to last longer without.
In the case of a baby leopard gecko, the maximum time they could go without food is around 5-6 days. This is because their body requires much more protein, iron, and calcium to help their bones and muscles grow.
However, in captivity, baby or adult, they should never have to wait this long. Live food should be available to them every couple of days to keep them nice and healthy.
How To Get A Leopard Gecko To Eat
If you’re worried that your gecko hasn’t eaten for a while it’s essential to get them to eat; otherwise, they may become gradually more ill and potentially even die.
Try the following steps.
Your gecko might not be eating as the food they normally have doesn’t excite them enough to give them an appetite, especially if they’re ill. Now’s the time to offer them a treat to see if you can tempt them into eating something.
Geckos’ primary sources of food should be small crickets and mealworms. However, they can also have cockroaches, waxworms, butterworms or silkworms.
Giving them something new to taste is more likely to get them to eat. However, you should only give these different foods on a treat basis as they’re much higher in fat and can be bad for your gecko if they eat too many.
As we’ve discussed, leopard geckos have trouble spotting food if it’s not moving.
You may need to animate the food right next to them yourself if they cannot detect the movement. Mealworms, in particular, can be difficult, as they don’t move that much anyway.
Grab the food in some tweezers and wave it at your gecko.
Force-feeding should only be done as an absolute last resort. It’s stressful for your gecko and could put them off food even more. This method should only be used if you’ve exhausted all other options (including consulting your vet).
- Fill a small syringe with a meat flavored baby food.
- Push the syringe against the front other their mouth (where their nose is) and gently tuck it under the bottom lip.
- Once your gecko opens its mouth slightly, you might have to hold the side of their jaw lightly to prevent them from closing it again.
- Syringe a little bit at a time into their mouth.
- Allow them to close their mouth after each syringing to swallow.
Remember always to consult your vet if your gecko hasn’t eaten for a long time and is displaying other odd behaviors. Not all diagnoses can be treated at home, so it’s best to get professional help.