Leopard geckos have large, round eyes that make them very cute, curious-looking pets. Unfortunately, they frequently suffer from eye ailments, most of which are due either to poor husbandry or environmental factors.
It's important that you're able to recognize a developing eye problem in your gecko so that you can provide the appropriate care and understand when to contact your exotics vet for help. However, you can prevent many eye issues altogether by maintaining optimal conditions in your pet's habitat.
Why Do Leopard Geckos Have Eye Issues?
Leopard geckos' eyes are large in proportion to the size of their heads. This is one reason why they tend to get things stuck in their eyes, develop abscesses or infections, and generally have more ocular problems than other animals. Otherwise, they may have congenital issues or some aspect of their diet or environment may be lacking.
A foreign body is something in your leopard gecko's eye that shouldn't be there. This could be a piece of gravel or bedding, food, retained skin, or anything else that isn't normally found around an eyeball. The material can get stuck or lodged in the eye socket and cause a variety of issues if it's not removed promptly.
The actual eye may be punctured, become infected, or develop an abscess. More commonly, the area directly under the eye swells due to an abscess from a wound that doesn't involve the eyeball.
You'll be able to identify an abscess if you notice a bump under your leopard gecko's eye that suddenly appeared. This abscess could be because of a cricket or mealworm bite, or your pet may have scratched itself on a branch or other object in its tank. Sometimes geckos that live together fight, and any resulting wound may cause an abscess to form.
When a foreign body gets stuck in the eye or the eyeball suffers some other trauma, an ulcer may form. This happens when the cornea (the clear outer coating of the eye) is damaged. An ulcer is a hole or tear in the cornea, which may be small or very large.
Eye ulcers are very painful. If your gecko has an eye ulcer, it may be holding its eye shut, trying to clean the eye with its tongue, or scratching the ulcer with its foot.
"Conjunctivitis" is the technical name for pinkeye, an inflammation of the pink tissue that lines the lids around your gecko's eyes. This pinkish-red, fleshy part of the eye is called the "conjunctiva," and bacterial conjunctivitis is common in leopard geckos, who can get it from dirty water or any dirty environment that harbors bacteria. One of the primary causes of conjunctivitis in a leopard gecko is an unclean terrarium.
Retained Eyelid Lining
Check your gecko after it sheds its skin to be sure it also shed its eyelid lining. If the conditions in its terrarium aren't humid enough, the eyelid lining may stick to the eyelid and be retained after shedding, which can lead to an infection.
Proptosis is probably the worst type of eye issue a leopard gecko can have. However, it's also the least common. Proptosis means the eyeball actually comes out of the eye socket. Really the only way this can occur to a leopard gecko is if it's squeezed so hard that its eye pops out.
Sometimes leopard geckos are blind due to congenital issues, but other times trauma or other situations may cause blindness. Regardless of the reason, leopard geckos should be okay without their sight.
You may need to help a blind leopard gecko eat, since it could have a difficult time catching moving food such as crickets. Otherwise, a blind gecko can easily live out its life in a regular enclosure without issues.
Since leopard geckos can have such a wide variety of eye issues, treatment depends on the problem. Quite often, these matters are serious and your exotics vet will need to diagnose the issue and prescribe treatment. Sometimes you'll need to handle follow-up treatment at home.
Foreign bodies: By using cotton-tipped applicators, saline rinse, and sometimes eye lubrication, your vet should be able to remove an irritating foreign body from the affected eye. Occasionally, when the foreign body is too difficult to remove or the leopard gecko won't open its eye, light sedation or anesthesia may be necessary. This will relax your gecko and allow your vet to work more quickly without accidentally damaging the animal's eye.
If you attempt to remove an item from your leopard gecko's eye, be extremely gentle and cautious. Try rinsing the eye with a sterile, preservative-free saline eye rinse while you gently restrain your gecko.
Just be very careful not to hurt your gecko or stress it out enough to cause it to drop its tail, which is also stressful to your pet. If you have any doubts about your ability to do this correctly, it's best to take your gecko to the vet rather than cause it any further harm or pain.
Abscesses: Regardless of the reason for an abscess, your vet will need to drain it and clean it out. She may use a scalpel or a needle to open it and then gently remove the infected material. Depending on how bad the area around the eye is, your vet may send you home with eye drops, pain medications, anti-inflammatories, and/or antibiotics.
Ulcers: To diagnose a corneal ulcer, your exotics vet will use a special eye stain or topical fluorescein dye that sticks to the ulcer if one is present. She will then use a black light to identify the ulcer on the surface of the cornea.
If she finds an ulcer, your vet will prescribe special eye drops and your gecko will need to be rechecked in a few weeks to make sure the ulcer is going away. There are no home remedies for an eye ulcer.
Pinkeye: Because conjunctivitis in leopard geckos is typically caused by bacteria, treatment often requires an antibiotic eye drop or ointment.
Retained eyelid lining: Never attempt to remove a retained eyelid lining yourself. This is a job for an experienced veterinarian only.
Proptosis: If proptosis occurs, the eye usually has to be removed by your exotics vet.
How to Prevent Eye Issues
Being proactive can prevent a number of eye issues and help to keep your leopard gecko safe and healthy.
- Provide a consistently clean, stable environment in your gecko's enclosure and know how to handle your pet properly.
- Maintain optimal conditions in the terrarium, including temperature, humidity, and light.
- Keep your gecko's water and substrate clean, which is critical to its health and safety.
- Be very selective about the substrate you choose for your gecko as well. Never use certain types of material, such as crushed walnut shells, gravel, and wood chips, as they can cause eye injuries and other problems with your pet. If you're uncertain about which substrate is best for your gecko, don't be shy about asking your exotics vet for guidance.
- Ensure that any items in your leopard gecko's enclosure are smooth, with no sharp edges or points that could poke or scratch its eyes.
- To avoid retained eyelid linings, be obsessive about the humidity levels in your gecko's enclosure and consider providing it with a humidity hide box.
- Give your leopard gecko a varied gecko-appropriate diet and ask your exotics vet about giving it vitamin and mineral supplements, as nutrient deficiencies may contribute to shedding problems.
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Gamble, Tony et al. Into The Light: Diurnality Has Evolved Multiple Times In Geckos. Biological Journal Of The Linnean Society, vol 115, no. 4, 2015, pp. 896-910. Oxford University Press (OUP), doi:10.1111/bij.12536
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