Leopard geckos are a great first pet! They are generally pretty docile and can enjoy being handled by their owners. Like most reptiles, however, they do not necessarily need handling to thrive.
It is necessary, therefore, to introduce touching and holding in a careful way in order for your gecko to feel safe and secure. Some geckos are more skittish than others, but there are things you can do to tame them and make them comfortable with being handled.
General Rules to Handling Leopard Geckos
Handle your gecko with care, never holding them by their tails — lizards can drop their tail in response to a threat. Have an open hand, keeping one hand in front of the other.
Don’t restrain your gecko in your hand. Let them roam as they please. If you find your gecko is nervous or trying to escape your hand, it may mean they are not ready or comfortable. Calmly return them to their tank.
Try holding your gecko in the evening hours. Don’t wake them up in the middle of the day just to hold them. Handle them on a regular basis, around a couple of days a week, so they are constantly socializing! The more you have them out, the calmer they will be in your presence.
Have confidence! Geckos can sense timidity and nerves. Use smooth, even motions, picking them up under their body (never by the tail!) and supporting their bodyweight evenly.
Never leave your gecko alone being held by someone who is a stranger to your pet, especially if the person is inexperienced with geckos. It is easy to mishandle, be too rough, or spook a gecko!
Should I pet my leopard gecko?
Though every gecko is different, in general, leopard geckos do not enjoy being stroked or pet along their back. They will usually express any discomfort or irritation by closing their eyes. Though this may seem like your gecko is enjoying your petting, eye contact is a form of aggression in nature.
By closing his eyes, your gecko is showing he wants to disengage from the interaction because he is uncomfortable and would like to be left alone.
Alternatively, try petting them on the top of their head or under their chin.
How to handle a leopard gecko for the first time
The best method to handle a new leopard gecko is, ironically, not to handle them! Let them first get acclimated to their new environment. A new home can be intimidating, and it will help your gecko’s confidence immensely if they are able to explore uninterrupted.
Leave them alone for a week or two except for care like feeding, tank cleaning, etc.
You might want to stay nearby while they eat, watching from outside the tank while they finish feeding. It can be easy to drop food into the tank and walk away, but food is a great opportunity to create trust with your gecko before handling them!
After this phase, you can start putting your hand near your gecko, letting them explore and sniff as they please. They may take a few days to get used to your hand, but have patience. Soon you will be able to handle your new pet with ease!
How do I bond with my leopard gecko?
It is important to be patient when creating a bond with your leopard gecko. You want your gecko to know you are not a threat or a predator, so help them associate your presence with positive things like food.
When approaching your gecko, have a sound you make every time like a click or even repeating their name. This will reinforce in their brains the association of you with food and safety.
Always avoid unnecessary stress!
Keep your gecko’s tank warm and full of cozy hiding spots. Don’t leave feeding insects in the tank too long, and never make sudden loud noises or pick them up with no warning. When taking your gecko from its tank, always remove other pets or reptiles from the room. Even though you might know these animals are no threat, your gecko will view them as potential predators.
Adhere to a pretty regular schedule. Leave them in peace and quiet throughout the day, and try to feed them at the same time every day, usually in the early evening. Predictability leads to better settled and happier geckos!
How do I know if my leopard gecko is uncomfortable?
Although leopard geckos can be very easygoing, they can also get stressed as well. This not only affects their willingness to be handled but also their overall wellness.
We can’t ask our geckos what is causing them stress, but fortunately, there are some pretty easily noticeable signs that your leopard gecko is unhappy:
- Acting skittish or agressive when you attempt to lift them
- Wagging their tails
- Eating less than usual
- Hiding for long periods of time
- Looking dull in color
- Issues with shedding
- Closed Eyes
- Excessive stress licking
- Irregular digging
The best way to keep your gecko happy and comfortable is for you to be familiar with them! Know what is normal for them to do throughout the day, how much they typically eat. At the end of the day, having a connection with your gecko will encourage them to feel comfortable in your hands!