Looking at your gecko wobbling around in its enclosure, you might be wondering why do leopard geckos have fat tails.
The rest of its body, assuming it’s in good health, is pretty slender, but the tail is downright bulbous, a strange shape compared to the thin, tapered tails of most other lizards.
So, why do leopard geckos have fat tails? The short answer is that they store fat in their tails to use as an emergency energy source, particularly during cold seasons or when they’re sick.
But there is much more to know about your leopard gecko’s fat tail, so much so that it can save their life—read on to find out!
Why Your Leopard Gecko Has (And Should Have) A Fat Tail
Besides having an emergency energy source when food and warmth are scarce, having a fat tail aids your leopard gecko in balance when climbing or crossing narrow passages.
It also prevents skin damage via their belly scraping the ground, as the weight of the tail brings their center of gravity backward, relieving them of the reptilian need to hug the ground.
But most importantly, a fat tail is a good indicator of overall health and low stress. That is because your gecko would have used the fat if it felt it was in danger (low or fluctuating temperature, inadequate humidity, or not enough nutrients in their food).
This diagnostic effect can also be useful in the reverse situation; if your leopard gecko has a thin tail, something isn’t right.
Or, if you have multiple leopard geckos and only one doesn’t have a fat tail, it’s time for quarantine—they may be suffering from a parasite or bacterial infection that could spread to the others.
Leopard Gecko With A Thin Tail Is A Bad Sign
A fat tail is a sign of good health for your leopard gecko. But what does it mean when it’s thin or looks shriveled and dehydrated? The phenomenon you’re witnessing is known as Stick Tail Disease.
This condition can be fatal if not properly treated. And it’s more of a catch-all term for poor overall body condition. There are a few reasons why this may be happening:
- Poor diet
- Lack of water
- Wrong heating and humidity conditions
- Parasite invasion in the gastrointestinal tract (cryptosporidium)
- Bacterial infection (salmonella)
The first three causes are easy to treat by simply making sure your leopard gecko is well-hydrated, well-fed, and has proper conditioning (heating and humidity).
If it’s not eating, engaging their natural sense to hunt may bring back their appetite—use live insects if you’d previously used freeze-dried ones. Occasional treats may also help, like a delicious (objectively speaking), gut-loaded mealworm.
What About A Parasite?
This is a little more complicated. Crypto parasites generally do not respond to medications meant to kill them. If your leopard gecko is found to contain cryptosporidium, they should be assumed contagious from then on.
Avoid pairing them with other geckos in the same enclosure, and be careful not to cross-contaminate between enclosures during feeding, cleaning, or playtime.
Particular attention should be given to a crypto-infected gecko to mitigate symptoms, with extra sanitizing precautions, care in feeding, and close monitoring of temperature, light, and humidity in their enclosure.
And of course, go to the vet as soon as possible.
What About An Infection?
Salmonella can be effectively treated with medication (made for lizards, prescribed by your veterinarian), but milder cases might not even require it.
Make sure you disinfect their enclosure and keep them away from any other pets for a few weeks. Keep a close eye on your gecko over those few weeks, as their risk of dehydration is high.
A trip to the veterinarian is the best course of action. They will identify if it’s a parasite or bacteria, and if it isn’t, they’ll recommend a proper diet for your gecko based on its age and weight.
In the future, take care to keep your leopard gecko’s enclosure clean, disinfecting both inside and out as well as your own hands before and after you handle them.
How To Fatten Up A Leopard Gecko’s Tail
Stick tail disease at any severity or reason is taxing on a gecko. They may suffer severe dehydration, painful hunger, and diarrhea. They’ll likely be in a weakened state for a while after treatment begins.
You’ll want to supplement their diet with a multivitamin or mineral (usually sold as a powder) added to their favorite foods.
Be sure that your insects are loaded with a range of fruits and vegetables, let them eat for least 24 hours before feeding them to your leopard gecko (they cannot properly digest produce on their own, so they rely on insects to give them these nutrients).
Keeping a close eye on your gecko is a must during this time. If they continue to have diarrhea or do not maintain a good appetite, there could be other issues at hand. See your veterinarian right away if this occurs, as medication or other treatment may be necessary.
Best Diet For A Fat Tail
So what can you do to protect your leopard gecko’s healthy tail?
Diet is, of course, the number one factor in maintaining a fat tail, as there needs to be an excess of energy to allocate some to storage. Keep your gecko on a varied, nutrient-rich plan by including all or most of the following:
- Pinkie mice
- Store-bought gecko vitamin and mineral supplements, blended with their other foods.
- Bonus! A homemade nutrient supplement mix, including dried egg yolk, powdered milk, sunflower seeds, wheat germ, fortified rice baby cereal. These ingredients can be ground in a food processor with a bit of water to form a thin paste. This option may be ideal if your gecko is showing disinterest in eating live food
Waxworms, superworms, and butterworms are the highest-fat insects you can feed your leopard gecko. While maintaining good moderation, incorporating these into your gecko’s diet will ensure they have enough excess energy to store as fat.
Enclosure environmental factors should be stable to reduce your gecko’s stress. Be sure that temperature and humidity are optimal, and that the tank is cleaned and disinfected regularly.
The enclosure should also be placed in a room free from loud noises and bright lights, as these can also stress your gecko and make them use their reserves.
What To Do If Your Leopard Gecko Dropped Its Tail Completely
Various stressors, illnesses, infections, and fighting can cause your gecko to drop its tail.
While leopard geckos and many other reptiles can drop their tails without fear of injury or death, they do not come away from the event without some disadvantages:
- The stump has the potential to become infected, leading to gastrointestinal symptoms and pain.
- Balance and center of gravity are altered.
- Bedding can enter the site of the wound, causing pain and infection.
If your gecko drops its tail, first evaluate the situation:
- Did this occur because he got his tail caught in a part of his enclosure?
- Were two of your geckos engaged in hostile activity?
- Has your gecko been exhibiting signs of stress or illness?
Once you have concluded what the reason is, you can proceed:
- If you have multiple geckos, put the tailless one in his own enclosure.
- Remove bedding and replace it with clean paper towels to avoid substrate getting into the wound.
- Maintain a healthy diet and enclosure environment.
Now you hopefully have a better understanding of the importance a leopard gecko’s fat tail has to its health and wellness.
Overall, leopard geckos are quite resilient little creatures, but when they’re sick, they require your full careful attention. So if you notice any of the signs we pointed out in this article, a trip to the vet would be best.