Reptiles can stop eating for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it's due to something we've done or fed them previously and other times it's because of an illness. If your leopard gecko has suddenly stopped eating but is still active, there are things you can do at home before rushing him into your vet's office.
Why Do Leopard Geckos Stop Eating?
Leopard geckos can lose their appetites for a variety of reasons. Most can be resolved with appropriate care or a quick trip to the exotic vet. Some, however, are tougher to handle.
The number one reason why leopard geckos stop eating is that they are too cold. Perhaps your heat bulb burned out, perhaps the heat mat stopped working, perhaps there's a draft going into the cage, or maybe you never had a heat source for your leopard gecko and now it's just gotten too cold. The change of seasons from fall to winter often brings a lot of anorexic geckos into the animal clinic, but, more often than not, a simple fix to their environmental temperature will make them start eating again.
If your leopard gecko's metabolic rate is decreased due to temperatures dropping below 70 degrees Fahrenheit then it will most likely stop eating. Supplemental heat is necessary if you don't keep the room where your gecko is located around 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and not many people keep their homes this warm. A heat mat works well but will not warm the air as well as it does the cage flooring, so it is hard to monitor what temperature it is where your gecko is sitting. It is much better and more cost-effective to have a simple heat light on the enclosure. This way you can properly monitor the basking temperature and make sure it isn't getting too cold in your leopard gecko's cage at night.
If your leopard gecko hasn't defecated recently, it may be impacted with fecal matter. This fecal impaction could be due to a recent large or hard meal your leopard gecko ate, such as super worms, or from bedding material that was accidentally ingested. Urate plugs can also cause a blockage of fecal matter. If your gecko is having these problems, try soaking it in a warm water bath twice a day. The water should be deep enough to cover your gecko's hips. While your gecko is submerged, you should gently massage its belly. If that doesn't help your gecko pass their stool and urates, you should take your gecko to a vet. Your vet may need to administer an enema to your leopard gecko, or they may discover it has intestinal parasites or needs other medical attention.
If your leopard gecko recently got a chill from a draft or had a decrease in their environmental temperature, it could have a respiratory infection that has caused them to stop eating. Respiratory infections are common in reptiles and can cause one to lose its appetite. If your leopard gecko is sick in some other way, there may be a different reason for their inappetence. Your exotics vet can diagnose growths that affect or block the intestinal tract, mouth ulcerations, and other ailments. If you suspect an illness is a reason for your gecko to not be eating, visit your exotics vet for assistance.
If your leopard gecko has a wound or is in pain because of an injury, it may stop eating. Abscesses, eye injuries, tail problems, and toe problems can all be pretty uncomfortable and make your gecko not want to eat. If you know your gecko has an injury, be prepared that it may not want to eat until its pain is controlled and it is feeling better.
Retained skin on the eyes can block your gecko's ability to see it's food, especially if it's trying to catch a cricket. This usually occurs after an incomplete shed and is often due to a lack of humidity in the cage. Other eye problems include corneal ulcers and retrobulbar abscesses that would cause your gecko to stop eating.
The best approach to treating lack of appetite in a leopard gecko is to examine your pet's environment, behavior, and physical appearance and make your best guess as to the problem. Ask:
- Is my gecko behaving normally or might it have an infection, injury, or illness? If your pet is sluggish or has other symptoms, a trip to the vet is a good idea.
- Are there issues with my gecko's vision? If so, a trip to the vet is the only way to resolve the problem.
- Is my pet defecating properly? If not, try the hip bath and massage approach described; if you're not able to resolve the problem, check with your vet.
- Could my pet be cold? If the weather is chilly and you haven't installed a heat lamp, now is the time to do that. Check the temperature regularly. This may resolve the problem in just a few hours.
Of course, your gecko may have stopped eating for a different reason than is listed, so if you've tried all the tips above with no improvement, make sure you schedule a visit to your exotics vet so they can help you figure it out.
How to Prevent Lack of Appetite in Leopard Geckos
While it's not possible to absolutely prevent loss of appetite, these measures can help.
- Be sure your pet's enclosure is warm and free of items that could be accidentally ingested.
- Avoid foods like super worms that have the potential to cause digestive issues.
- Handle your gecko carefully to avoid injury.
- If you see signs that your leopard gecko is not well, bring it to the vet earlier rather than later.
1. Schumacher J. Respiratory diseases of reptiles. Seminars in Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine. 1997;6(4):209-215. doi:10.1016/s1055-937x(97)80007-2
Disorders And Diseases Of Reptiles. Merck Veterinary Manual.