Actually, choosing your pet gecko is really the easy part. You have probably already decided which species you want based solely on your own personal preferences and animal experience. However, because buying a pet is an emotional decision, we can often make an unsuitable choice, underestimating the time requirement and ending up by making a rod for our own backs. So, before you make the commitment to gecko ownership here is a little background info to help you make great choices.
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Geckos are a type of lizard that are very long lived. If well cared for you can expect a 20+ year lifespan – so forward planning is very important. They are mostly nocturnal, being active at dawn and dusk (crepuscular) but will hide and sleep during the day: not exactly an interactive pet. Owner boredom is the number one reason why they are given up for adoption. But don’t be fooled into thinking you should have multiple geckos, as they are very prone to fighting. So each animal needs to be housed separately.
Geckos are insectivores, they eat both live and dead insects. So make sure you are prepared to keep a stock of live insects and be willing to feed them safely. Having a chirping cricket loose in the house is not fun when you are trying to sleep! Insects tend to be mineral deficient, so they need to be fed on a high calcium diet and then coated with calcium/vitamin powder prior to feeding. Some large insects can be difficult to eat and can cause injury. So choose a suitable size for your gecko and do not leave them in the tank. Watch your gecko eat to ensure they are getting the correct nutrition.
All of this extra preparation can make feeding time labour intensive.
If money is no object, then you can spend thousands of pounds providing the optimal environment, otherwise be aware that the correct care of any animal is very time and labour intensive.
You cannot cut corners with any aspects of care
Remember, most diseases of geckos are due to poor environmental conditions. Even though a nocturnal species, they still require a 5% UV/B light bulb and these last less than a year then need replacing. Hygiene is very important, so purchase easily cleanable items such as ceramic bowls for food, water, bathing and hiding houses. Luckily, Geckos will often use the same area for toileting which makes it easier to keep spotlessly clean.
Do not use sand or other fine substrate that can be ingested
Sand impaction can be life threatening; it is much safer to use a mix of large flat rocks, ceramic floor tiles or Gecko specific substrate.
The vivarium will need to be large enough
It must accommodate 2 different temperature zones or gradients, and have space for hiding and climbing. Don’t forget to calculate the room needed for food and water bowls! The average young leopard gecko needs at minimum a 15-gallon, long tank. But this is a situation where bigger is better. If you can, buy a purpose-built vivarium with a front opening. This can be less stressful for the gecko than reaching in from the top.
Most geckos evolved in hot arid environments, but they still require some humidity, especially when shedding (dysecdysis). Allow extra room in your vivarium for a “moist hide” lined with paper towels that can be sprayed with water every few days. Budget for ongoing costs such as electricity; Geckos require dual temperature areas (heat gradient) that are easily adjusted and a lower nighttime temperature. So expect to provide multiple heat sources such as mats and lamps, and because it is so important to provide the correct temperature in a consistent manner, ensure you have an alternative energy source in case of power failure.
How to Choose a Gecko
It is fundamental to animal husbandry that we recognise geckos are still wild animals, even though all UK geckos are nowadays captive bred and not wild caught. Reptiles are ancient animals that have kept the same form for millions of years, and they are at expert level when it comes to hiding illness. When it comes to exotic pets, 99% of illness and disease are the result of inadequate husbandry, so it’s important that you source a healthy animal – don’t skip on this step. Register with a veterinary surgeon who is happy to treat exotics and ask them for recommendations of gecko breeders or reptile rescue groups – never buy online! And always see the animals in their own vivariums, this way it will be easier to spot poor husbandry.
Choosing a gecko can be tricky, but there are obvious things you can check; make sure there are no missing toes and the gecko has a nice plump tail, but for complete peace of mind arrange to have your gecko checked over by a vet on the same day you plan to purchase. Your vet will do a thorough health check, including checking for internal parasites and sexing your gecko. If your vet is not happy with the health of your gecko it is important to return it to the breeder for a full refund. Don’t be tempted to “rescue” or accept a discount because this just encourages bad breeders.
If you are brand new to keeping reptiles and don’t have a lot of free time, take into account the age of your gecko. Younger juveniles will require up to 3 daily feeds and frequent cleaning so it might be best to start with an adult, but the trade off may be they are less amenable to handling.
Preparing to bring your Gecko home
Finally, before you bring your gecko home, set up your vivarium at least 2 weeks beforehand so you can choose a suitable location and check the temperature and lighting. Use thermometers and adjust the position and height of heat lamps and mats to get the optimum range. Ensure the vivarium is escape proof (!) and that the lid is secure. Work out all the kinks and ensure the habitat is suitable before you put your gecko in your vivarium.
Well, if you haven’t been put off by now then you are ready for your first Gecko. Good luck and if you have any concerns or questions always call your vet for help and advice. The internet is a fantastic resource, but it should never be your first choice for expert help.