If you own a pet leopard gecko, it is important to understand their diet so that you are sure to provide them with balanced nutrition. The type of food that you feed your leopard gecko depends on their age, and the amount of food provided is also important. A well-balanced and nutritious diet will help keep your pet happy and healthy.
Leopard geckos are omnivorous reptiles and will eat a variety of insects and small invertebrates. To keep your leopard gecko healthy, it's important to make sure they get enough protein from their diet. You can achieve this by feeding them insects such as crickets or mealworms (which are high in protein) and supplementing with calcium powder.
These small reptiles are not picky eaters and will eat almost anything that moves and that fits in their mouths. A good rule of thumb is to only feed your pet what it can consume in one sitting so there is no waste left behind, which might attract other pests, such as flies or ants, into your home.
These insects are often the first live food choice to serve as a dietary staple for many leopard gecko keepers, mostly because they are so readily available and inexpensive. However, crickets vary in quality, depending on where they are purchased. Also, crickets may not be nutritionally complete, especially if they have been kept in poor conditions at the pet store.
Crickets from reputable breeders and retailers are likely to be healthy and in good condition. Even if they are in good shape, they are still not nutritionally suitable as the sole long-term dietary staple for your pet. Either gut load your crickets with a commercially prepared cricket food at least 12 hours prior to feeding, or dust them with a calcium powder supplement before feeding.
Lastly, crickets typically do not live for a long time after you bring them home, unless they are well taken care of and maintained under appropriate conditions. For this reason, plan to purchase only as many crickets (of the appropriate size for your leopard gecko) as you will feed in a week. Also, do not leave these insects in your pet's enclosure unsupervised. They can injure your leopard gecko if not consumed within a short amount of time.
Offer roughly four to seven small crickets if your leopard gecko is a juvenile. For mature leopard geckos, choose crickets that are larger, and offer a few more, roughly five to seven, every three days. If your leopard gecko does not feed within 10 to 20 minutes, remove the crickets and try again later.
These insects are increasingly popular as a primary staple food source for leopard geckos. They are more nutritionally complete, and provide higher levels of protein, higher levels of calcium, and lower levels of fat than nearly any other feeder insect that is readily available. They are much more hardy than crickets, and can live and thrive for some time in their own enclosure.
You still need to feed dubia roaches fresh vegetables or possibly even oats, whole-grain bread, or cereal grains, such as barley, corn, or millet. However, do not feed them meat, fish, dog or cat food, or other foods that main contain artificial ingredients or that may harbor bacteria. This will keep your dubia roaches healthy and in top shape for your leopard gecko.
You still need to gut load your dubia roaches by feeding a commercially prepared nutritious powdered or gel-based food 12 hours before feeding your gecko, but this applies to all live feeder staples. In most cases, you should also dust your dubia roaches with a calcium and mineral supplement for each feeding. Put the powder on a fresh vegetable, such as a piece of cut potato, to help increase your dubia roaches' water content. Do not feed dubias that are larger than ¼-inch long, as these may harm your leopard gecko if they get stuck in your pet's mouth.
Feed your gecko two of these ¼-inch long dubia roaches for each inch of your pet's length. This means that, if your leopard gecko is 4 inches long (still a juvenile), you would feed roughly eight dubia roaches on a daily basis. If your leopard gecko is mature and measures anywhere from 8 to 12 inches long, feed between 16 and 24¼-inch long dubia roaches every other day or every three days. Watch your leopard gecko's weight and adjust feeding amounts as necessary.
Dubia roaches are more expensive than some other live feeder insects. However, you typically have to feed fewer of these insects because they are more nutritionally complete and overall better for your reptile. They do not jump and are not the escape artists that crickets are. Also, they won't die off after a week at your home like crickets will. Lastly, dubia roaches do not smell nearly as bad as crickets do, they don't make noise, and because they generally don't escape (at least, very easily), you won't find yourself hunting for a rogue cricket friend who has decided to take up residence in your kitchen and serenade you at 2 a.m.
Do not feed mealworms as your gecko's primary dietary staple. Mealworms are an excellent source of protein and can be fed to your gecko as a treat, roughly once a week. They do not have any calcium or vitamin D3, so you should not feed mealworms exclusively on a regular basis. Feeding too many mealworms will cause your gecko to become overweight, which may lead to health problems. Mealworms also carry mites that can bother your leopard gecko, so be careful about how many of these you feed.
Mealworms are delicious for leopard geckos, but they need to be handled with care. The mealworm can bite or sting the leopard gecko and escape from its cage when not properly contained in an insect-safe container.
Caution; feed waxworms only as an occasional treat to your leopard gecko, and do not rely on these as your reptile's primary food source. Waxworms are a fatty treat that you should feed your leopard gecko only twice a week. Feeding too many waxworms can cause obesity, which can lead to other health problems. Only offer one or two waxworms at a time, and your pet should have plenty of exercise space so they don't get bored and overeat. If your pet has been eating too many waxworms, remove all food from their terrarium for two days before reintroducing the worms.
As with crickets, there are live mealworm cultures available online if you don't want to purchase them from your local pet store. You can also buy frozen mealworms online or at some specialty stores, such as PetSmart or Petco (some locations may only sell them frozen).
Food to Avoid
Your leopard gecko should not eat any insect that is too big for it to handle. While a few crickets may be fine, it's important to avoid feeding your gecko large insects such as roaches or grasshoppers. This is because the skin of these larger insects can break off while inside the stomach and become lodged in the animal's throat, causing choking or suffocation. However, dubia roaches that are ¼-inch long or smaller are safe for leopard geckos, and are considered nutritionally superior to crickets.
You should also avoid insects that have been treated with pesticides. These pesticides have been shown to cause serious health complications in leopard geckos and other reptiles. Your best bet is to buy your insects from a reputable breeder who doesn't use pesticides on their stock.
Another factor most people don't realize is that many commercially bred insects are fed animal products like meat or dairy products as part of their diets, including some species that are normally considered vegan-friendly! The good news is you can buy vegetable-based feeders from many online companies.
Leopard geckos should solely eat insects. Contrary to popular belief, they should not be offered vegetables or fruits. They lack a cecum, which is the part of the body necessary to break down the cellulose in plant matter. Their jaws and teeth are also designed to eat insects and would have difficulty with fruits and vegetables.
To keep your pet healthy, there should be a sufficient amount of essential minerals, Vitamin D3, and calcium in your leopard gecko's diet. These compounds are necessary to prevent a condition common to reptiles known as Metabolic Bone Disease. If you believe your gecko is deficient, you can purchase powdered vitamins and calcium, generally available at the local pet store, and pour the mixture in a container. Then, add the insects prior to feeding and shake gently so the insects become coated in the powder.
You can then proceed to feed them to your leopard gecko. Dusting should be done based on the gecko's age. Many keepers choose to dust with a supplement formulated to offer a balanced mix of minerals, calcium, and vitamin D3 at every meal. Consult with your local reptile store retail staff and follow manufacturer recommendations for the supplement you use.
Gut loading is the practice of feeding insects with nutritious food before offering them to your pet. This will help increase the nutritional value of insects for your pet. Sweet potato is good food for gut-loading crickets because it's high in sugar and amino acids, making it great for conditioning their bodies.
Prepare 24 hours' worth of sweet potato slices. Cut up enough slices to feed your crickets once per day for a week. Place the crickets and the slices in a separate container away from your gecko. Once they have eaten for a week, you can consider them gut-loaded and ready to feed to your gecko.
The quantity of food depends on the age of your leopard gecko. Baby and juvenile geckos should eat daily. Leopard geckos that are one year old or older, as a general guideline, should be fed every two to three days. Once their tails are wider than the gecko's neck, switch to every five days.
Determine the appropriate cricket size to feed your leopard gecko based on the size of your pet's head. They should eat bugs that are no larger than the width between your gecko's eyes. The number of insects you feed can be based on the length of their body. Approximately two insects for every inch of body length is appropriate.
Another method to determine the amount is simply to allow the leopard gecko to eat for 15 to 20 minutes prior to removing the food from their habitat. This process allows them to eat to fill their stomach without over-feeding.
These reptiles also prefer to be fed at night due to their natural instincts to hunt while it's dark. If you are feeding during the day and your leopard gecko won't eat, changing the time of day you feed may be necessary to reflect their natural behavior.
Overfeeding and Obesity
Leopard gecko obesity is a common problem for many owners. The problem is that leopard geckos are naturally very small, and their metabolism is very fast. This means that they do not need to eat a lot of food to stay healthy. However, if you feed your leopard gecko too much food, they can become overweight and have health issues.
The first step in preventing this from happening is to make sure your leopard gecko does not overeat. You should only give your gecko as much food as they can eat within one sitting. If you notice that your leopard gecko is not eating all of their food, you should cut back on the amount that you are feeding.
Once you have determined how much food your leopard gecko needs to eat, you can begin developing a feeding schedule. If they seem hungry between feedings, try offering more frequent small meals instead of fewer large ones.
Keep an eye on your pet's tail. This is where they store fat, which is why it can be difficult to tell if they're becoming obese. Unless they have recently eaten, their stomach should be flat with a tail that is wider than the width of their body from side to side. If you notice lethargic behavior or regurgitation, this is another sign they can be over-eating or you can be over-feeding.
Similarly, if your leopard gecko's tail looks emaciated or very thin, you are likely underfeeding, or your leopard gecko has an underlying health condition or disease that is preventing it from gaining weight. Adjust your feeding regimen as a first step and seek veterinary assistance from a vet who specializes in exotic animal medicine if the problem persists.
Leopard geckos should have a shallow water bowl in their habitat. To ensure it's always fresh, take a look throughout the day and change the water if soiled. Unlike with other reptiles, their water shouldn't be treated with a conditioner as these are not healthy for this particular reptile. The bowl must be shallow enough so the lizard doesn't get stuck inside, and made of a heavy-enough material that it will remain upright and not be tipped over when they're entering or exiting.
Simple Steps for a Balanced Diet
With a little attention to detail, your leopard gecko will live a long and happy life with you. They are easy pets to care for and are entertaining companions. Their dietary needs are not complicated but do require some thought so that they get the proper balance of nutrition. Paying close attention to their body to avoid obesity, gut-loading their insects, and dusting to supplement will provide them with the optimal diet.