Leopard Gecko: Eye Infections – Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

Leopard gecko eye infection

Eye infections can be an absolute nightmare to Leopard Geckos owners. I suppose you want to know what an eye infection is, how it looks, and why it appears in those pets. Plus, it is vital to discover typical symptoms on time and ways of treating each particular condition. Let’s take a look.

Leopard Geckos are prone to bacterial, viral, fungal, and less frequently parasitic infections. They occur for various reasons but often follow dysecdysis, trauma, and vitamin A deficiency. When noticing eye discharge, swelling, or unusual behavior, you should be alarmed and ask a vet for advice.

The purpose of this article is to introduce you to the most frequent eye infections in Leopard Geckos, why it is essential to consult a vet once it appears, and how to identify an eye infection.

What Is an Eye Infection in Leopard Geckos?

Leopard Geckos from the family Eublepharidae have too large eyes in proportion to their head size. They are probably adorable to you, but such eye physiology is a primary reason these lizards develop infections so often.

Once the harmful agent attacks Leopard Geckos’ eyes, mainly the conjunctiva, cornea, and the surrounding area, an infection will occur.

In most cases, viruses, bacteria, or fungi invade an eye after a cornea or pupil injury or when a foreign body damages its surface. However, some ocular problems can occur due to inadequate nutrition, poor living conditions, or are congenital.

Additionally, some systemic diseases can cause eye changes, creating the illusion that it is only a local problem.

For instance, calcium deficiency typically causes skull malformation and a consequent bug-eyed look. This deformity will stay permanently even after treating the underlying disease.

Edema, vascular obstruction, retrobulbar abscesses, and tumors are primary reasons for bulging eyes (exophthalmia). You can see eye changes, but only the vet can make the final diagnosis.

On the other hand, an excessively retracted eye (enophthalmia) is not a disease but a symptom of:

  • Weight loss
  • Dehydration
  • Septicemia

Only detailed examination and adequate diagnostic tests can determine the cause of such a condition.

Unfortunately, all these accidents and problems happen more often in lizards held in captivity because of:

  • Low humidity and temperature in a terrarium
  • Poor shedding
  • Food without the necessary nutrients, primarily vitamins and minerals

In some cases, they may lead to long-term eye damage when left untreated on time.

how do you treat eye infections in leopard geckos
The eye of this leopard geckos seems to be healthy. It is not swollen, there is no redness, and there is no fluid coming out of the eye. So this is most probably a genetic defect of the eye lid (which are quite common in leopard geckos as we’ll show you later) and not an eye infection. However, this may also be the result of shedding problems.

Different Kinds of Eye Infections and other Eye Problems in Leopard Geckos

Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis (pinkeye) is an inflammation of the tissue lining the geckos’ eyelids. It is often a result of poor hygiene and a consequent secondary bacterial infection. Unfortunately, inadequately treated long-term infections often result in septicemia and eye loss.

Experts from a veterinary teaching hospital conducted a long-lasting study from 1985 to 2013. The goal was to determine risk factors for the ophthalmic diseases in 112 Leopard Geckos, their occurrence rate, and outcome after diagnosis and treatment.

In that period, 52 observed geckos, or 46%, had some kind of ophthalmic disease. Of these animals, 77% had ocular discharge, while 12% or six geckos had a diagnosis of conjunctivitis.

Nonulcerative keratitis

Nonulcerative keratitis is a cornea inflammation without retaining fluorescein stain. A recent study on 26 male geckos tried to establish reference ranges for ocular diagnostic tests commonly performed in reptiles.

It showed that nonulcerative keratitis is the most common eye syndrome in Leopard Geckos besides conjunctivitis, anterior uveitis, and ulcerative keratitis.

Corneal ulcer (Ulcerative keratitis)

Corneal ulcer (eye ulcer) is the painful cornea inflammation diagnosed in Leopard Geckos by retaining fluorescein stain. The primary causes are chronic inflammation, eyeball trauma, and a foreign body stuck in the eyeball.

For instance, a group of scientists studied a 6-year-old male Leopard Gecko with fungal keratitis. This lizard had a long history of a bilateral abnormal shedding pattern (dysecdysis).

Ophthalmic examination showed superficial corneal ulceration. It is actually a hole in the cornea that significantly varies in size, but it always results in potentially irreversible eye damage when not treated in time.

Blepharitis

Blepharitis is a bacterial or fungal infection that causes red, swollen, and almost always itchy eyelids. In most cases, it occurs when bacteria that normally inhabit the skin multiply in excessive numbers.

It is not a severe condition but often causes conjunctivitis, dry eyes, or cysts when not treated appropriately. The infection may destroy the eyeball and sometimes lead to immunosuppression and systemic disease.

Subcutaneous abscess

Leopard Geckos are prone to abscesses, but seeing a sub-spectacular bump located under the eye is relatively uncommon. The primary causes for this condition are:

  • Gram-bacterial system infection
  • Bite
  • Trauma

Magdalena Zajac and her collaborators published an article in 2020 intending to show the cause of the abscesses. They concluded that opportunistic bacteria living on reptiles’ bodies cause abscesses, including gram-negative bacteria Salmonella.

This bacteria is a natural part of the gastrointestinal tract flora in approximately 80% of lizards. Once tissue damage occurs, Salmonella begins to multiply quickly, leading to pus formation.

This painful condition may lead to blindness when not treated on time. You can’t solve this problem on your own, and it is crucial to take the gecko to the vet for surgical abscess removal.

Conjunctivitis and vitamin A deficiency sometimes results in a pseudo abscess, but it is not the same condition.

Uveitis

Anterior uveitis is an eye inflammation that affects the uvea (eyewall) middle tissue layer. In such a case, blood or pus will fill the anterior chamber under the cornea. Typically, you can notice this health issue in lizards associated with:

  • Trauma
  • Post hibernation disease
  • Hyphema
  • Hypopyon
  • Local infection
  • Systemic infection
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Neoplasia

However, it is impossible to identify a primary cause of this condition in all cases. Regardless of the reason for the occurrence, uveitis often leads to severe consequences, including permanent vision loss.

Dry eyes

According to Martin P.C. Lawton, dry eye (Keratoconjunctivitis sicca) in reptiles is related to vitamin A deficiency. Consequent changes in the Harderian and lacrimal glands will cause a reduction in tear production.

Once there are not enough tears in the Leopard Gecko’s eyes, they will become too dry.

Vitamin A deficiency

Even though Leopard Geckos require a common diet, their vitamin requirements are insufficiently known. Scientists have discovered that these reptiles often suffer from hypovitaminosis A.

This deficiency is linked to a few eye disorders similar to conjunctivitis in lizards kept in captivity. Initially, you will notice skin color changes, a decreased appetite, and shedding issues in your gecko.

The next step is eye squinting, excess tear production, pseudo-abscess forming, and the film under the eyelids development. As a result, your pet will have problems with eyesight and eye-bulging.

The best solution for this health condition is adding supplements to food or providing enough living insects in everyday diet.

Ophélie Cojean and associates discovered that the β-carotene supplement diet allows vitamin A storage in the liver. The results of their research imply that sufficient vitamin A hepatic storage may prevent the development of epithelial squamous metaplasia in geckos.

Even though oral supplementation can prevent eye complications caused by vitamin A insufficiency, you should be careful with supplements.

The safe vitamin A dose is 5,000 to 10,000 IU/kg, but levels higher than 50,000 IU/kg are risky and may cause overdosing. Giving too much vitamin A for a prolonged period may cause hypervitaminosis and additional issues with dry and flaky skin.

Thomas H. Boyer, DVM, DABVP, concluded that the prognosis of long-lasting vitamin A deficiency in insectivorous lizards, including Leopard Geckos, is not good. Most will end up blind or will suffer from corneal fibrosis.

This condition is similar to keratin accumulation in the conjunctival sac in geckos suffering from retained shed.

Parasites

Parasites can cause eye issues in Leopard Geckos kept in captivity only in rare cases since they live far away from larger populations. Some reports show it is possible to see thin, string-like worms inside their eyeballs or in conjunctival sacs.

Foreign body

In most cases, a foreign body in the Leopard Geckos’ eye comes from a loose substrate, mainly sand you use in a terrarium. It is an excellent solution for preventing injuries, but dust can also bring many eye issues due to particle size.

Besides sand, other foreign objects entering the eye include food particles, retained skin, and bedding material.

Once a foreign body enters the eye, it gets stuck in the conjunctival fornices that protect the eye against environmental impact. As a result, the injury to the outer eye layer can result in:

  • Infection, including conjunctivitis
  • Corneal perforation, resulting in uveitis
  • Ulcerative keratitis

In most cases, Leopard Gecko will solve the problem by blinking and increasing eye secreting. You can help it by flushing the eye with saline to remove debris, but it is an effective solution only when you notice the problem on time.

Otherwise, you should take your pet to the vet, especially if the first signs of infection, abrasion, or ulceration occur.

Retained spectacle (eye cap, retained shed, dysecdysis)

Sometimes Leopard Geckos have difficulties with shedding that may cause eye problems. Basically, this condition is not a disease but a symptom and result of potential ailments and an inadequate environment.

For instance, it often appears when:

  • The humidity and temperature levels in the aquarium are not high enough
  • There are not enough surfaces to rub and remove skin
  • Your pet doesn’t get enough vitamin A or calcium in food
  • Handling your gecko during shedding
  • Your pet suffers from systemic bacterial diseases, internal parasites, dermatitis, or mites

Incomplete shedding will result in dysecdysis on geckos heads, mainly around their eyes. This eye cap covers the eyes and makes it hard for lizards to see correctly.

In such a case, your pet may accumulate keratin in the conjunctival sac or retain the inner eyelid lining skin that will irritate an eye. You can solve this in the early stages by flushing the eye with sterile saline until removing the shedding skin.

We recommend bringing your leopard gecko to the vet instead of trying to help your leo yourself. Especially if you are not a very experienced owner.

When left untreated, new spectacle layers will build up with each additional shed. This condition leads to cornea damage, eyelid hyperkeratosis, thickening of its outer layer, and a dead skin plug’s formation.

Finally, it will probably lead to fusing the cornea with the plug and permanent eye damage. Leopard Gecko’s affected eye will be grainy-looked and cloudy.

Trauma

Reptiles often injure their eyelids, and Leopard Geckos are not an exception. These lizards have movable eyelids lined with a thin skin layer.

If you keep two geckos in the same aquarium, they may fight each other, particularly if at least one of them is a male. You can expect them to end up with severely damaged eyelids your vet needs to solve surgically.

For instance, falling on a sharp substrate like sand, peat moss, ground walnut shells, or dusty mulch may result in:

  • Eye scratches
  • Eyelid abrasion
  • Bruises on surrounding tissue

Corneal lesions in reptiles

A healthy lizard cornea is clear, so any color change, cloudiness, or swelling is a sign of a health issue. You can solve the problem with topical antibiotics in most cases, but the untreated area often becomes a base for secondary bacterial infection.

Genetic eye defects

Sometimes reptiles, including Leopard Geckos, are born with congenital eye abnormalities due to unprofessional inbreeding. Congenital ocular malformations can involve one or more tissues and will manifest at birth. The most common includes:

Microphthalmia – This abnormality occurs in reptiles born in captivity as a result of inbreeding. When an inadequate gene combination occurs, hatchlings are born with tiny eyes.

Cyclopia – This autosomal dominant genetic trait typically occurs with skeletal abnormalities. In this case, you will get a gecko with one median eye.

Anophthalmos – It is a congenital defect when a gecko is born without one or both eyes, usually due to improper breeding. It seems that eyeless reptiles do well in captivity since they can locate prey in limited space, thanks to chemical clues.

Albino or lighter colored hatchlings – These geckos are almost always oversensitive to bright lights.

Ankyloblepharon – This congenital deformity represents the eyelids fused together. Congenitally deformed or fused eyelids usually lead to infection and ulceration. Since the result of this irregular genes’ combination becomes apparent early on in Geckos’ development, vets solve this problem through surgical procedures.

Blindness

Blindness in Leopard Geckos may occur as a congenital issue that is typically a result of inbreeding. However, sometimes these lizards go blind after surviving trauma or eye infection.

In general, there is no need to worry since lizards can quickly adapt to the new circumstances and live a quality life without their sight. You, as an owner, should learn how to look after a blind pet.

Eyes Proptosis

Proptosis (Exophthalmos, bulging eyes, eyeball protrusion) is a disorder noticed in Leopard Geckos that occurs for various reasons. It causes the impossibility of closing the eyelids and the cornea overexposure to air, making it challenging to keep eyes moist.

Eye-bulging is often a mysterious phenomenon in reptiles, and scientists presume it can sometimes be a way of yawning, a ritual before preparing to molt.

Additionally, eye-bulging may occur due to a foreign body, rough eye cleaning, or rubbing the head against a hard surface. Results of one research show that eye-bulging is a regular thermoregulation mechanism in captive Iguanian lizards.

It actually allows the head temperature to reduce when surpassing the particular body temperature levels. As a result, blood flows from the head to the rest of the body, increases blood pressure in the sinus orbitalis, and causes eye protrusion.

Even though eye-bulging often occurs due to a local problem, it can sometimes be a symptom of more severe health issues. Be careful not to miss an underlying condition like high blood pressure, respiratory infection, or vital organ dysfunction.

In extreme cases, bulging eyes occur as a result of extraocular muscles abnormality. It often results in high pressure on the optic nerve and blindness.

Nasolacrimal duct blockage

When granulomas, fibrosis, or neoplasia block a nasolacrimal duct, Leopard Geckos face the retention of tear secretion.

You can notice turbid flocculent fluid around the lizard’s eyes, and tests will detect bacteria present in it. The most common pathogens found are gram-negative bacteria like Pseudomonas and Aeromonas.

Light issues

Incorrect light setup will negatively affect your Leopard Gecko’s eyes and lead to their closing. Initially, squinting is the natural reaction to protect the eyes from too much reflection.

However, you can expect the lizard to get severely ill if a too strong stimulus lasts too long.

The study results published in 2018 show that exposure to UVB light stimulates vitamin D photo-biochemical synthesis in geckos. Such bulbs also protect lizards’ eyes and prevent possible light issues.

Neoplasia

Neoplasia that occasionally occurs in Leopard Geckos may or may not be cancerous. In most cases, the primary cause is viral infections. The most-reported uncontrolled cell growth in lizards are:

  • Fibrosarcoma
  • Fibromas
  • Papilloma
  • Fibropapillomas

However, there is no reported case of primary ocular tumors in reptiles. Only a few cases of periocular tumors have been officially described in veterinary practice.

Typical Symptoms That Come With an Eye Infection

There is a comprehensive list of symptoms you can notice in your Leopard Gecko when it has a particular eye problem. Some are common to several infections, while others are typical to a specific disease. Most often, the first reaction is to close the affected eye.

Еye problemsSymptomsWhat to do
Corneal ulcer  Inability to open eyes; eye squinting; excessive eye rubbing and scratching; licking eyesTake the lizard to the vet for topical antibiotics therapy, eye drops; surgery
ConjunctivitisOcular dischargeTake the lizard to the vet for ointments and antibiotic eye drops
AbscessesInability to open eyes; ocular discharge; nonsymmetrical swollen eye; white or yellow cloudy eyeTake the lizard to the vet for lancing the abscess and rinsing with a salt solution; long-term therapy with broad-spectrum antibiotics; surgery
Dry eyeOcular discharge; inflamed eyelidsEye drops (artificial tears)
Foreign bodyEye redness; excessive eye rubbing; bulges under the closed eyelid; bloodshotEye rinsing or taking the lizard to the vet for physical foreign body removal
Retained shedFrequent blinking; excessive eye rubbingTake the lizard to the vet for warm water soaking and manual peeling off skin pieces; antimicrobial spray; prevention
ProptosisDifficulty with entirely moving the eyes and closing eyelids; cornea drynessTake the lizard to the vet for eyeball removing
Hypovitaminosis AExcess tear production; eye squintingSupplementation with vitamin A after consultation with the vet
ParasitesRed-eyeTake the lizard to the vet for anthelmintic therapy
UveitisRed-eye; blurred visionTake the lizard to the vet for long-term therapy with broad-spectrum antibiotics

Keep in mind that Leopard Geckos naturally keep one eye close and another open while sleeping. The probable reason is noise or movement that your pet may consider a threat. You should start worrying when seeing other symptoms like:

  • Inability to open eyes
  • Discharge accumulated around the eyelids
  • Cloudy eyes
  • Cornea haziness
  • Excessive blinking
  • Eye squinting
  • Eye scratching
  • Excessive rubbing and licking an eye
  • Eye twitching (blepharospasm)
  • Pus and crust in the eye or around it
  • Swollen eyes and eyelids (blepharedema)
  • Corneal haziness
  • Blindness

Sometimes, Leopard Gecko is born with black eyes, and it isn’t a reason for concern. However, the best option is to visit a vet when noticing that your pet’s eyes suddenly turn black. It is probably a sign of an underlying health issue.

How Do Leopard Geckos Get Eye Infections?

Leopard Geckos have large eyes disproportionate to their head size, resulting in more ocular issues than in other reptiles.

Additionally, they have movable eyelids that allow blinking and closing their eyes, unlike other reptiles. That trait is a primary reason for poor overall eye health, especially when combined with:

  • Non-selective breeding
  • Inadequate diet and sanitation
  • Overhandling
  • Poor environmental conditions, including inappropriate thermal gradient and humidity
  • Congenital issues
  • Overcrowding

Finally, you are responsible for your pet. Therefore, untimely reaction to the first signs that something is wrong with its eyes will almost always lead to complications.

How Can Owners Treat the Infection Themselves?

Many owners keep their geckos healthy and take care of them in the best possible way. However, the money is often the reason why some of them try to help their pets without consultation with the vet.

Unfortunately, eye infections are not health issues where there is room for savings. Most infections you can’t and shouldn’t treat on your own without consulting a specialist.

The rule of thumb is – Never open a gecko’s permanently closed eye! Doing that is a sure way to do potentially life-threatening damage to your pet.

In some cases, you should help your gecko initially, especially if the problem is not too complicated. For instance, you can rinse its eye when some dust or a foreign body enters it.

Experienced owners can also gently remove retained shed with saline solution. If you prefer commercial products for this purpose, it is necessary to pick out a preservative-free one that is safe for reptiles.

If you are not experienced enough, you should let the vet do this to prevent possible gecko blindness.

Another issue you can solve on your own is Dry eye. Improve your pet’s living conditions by maintaining humidity levels in the range of 30% to 40%. Rinsing an eye with saline solution is an easy task, as well.

Finally, if your Leopard Geckos have any light Issues, you should solve them by installing UVB light and setting the operation to 10 hours in winter and 12 hours in summer. Plus, you should provide adequate equipment for the necessary shade.

leopard gecko cloudy eye

When To Visit A Vet And What Might Happen If You Don’t

I need to emphasize one more time! If you want to help your Leopard Gecko suffering from an eye infection, the best option is to consult your exotics vet.

All prevention is on you. So, you should keep a terrarium clean, feed your pet adequately, and provide the required temperature and humidity levels. Once any health problem occurs, particularly eye infections, it is time for an expert.

Only the vet can determine the infection type and whether the agent is a virus, bacteria, parasites, or fungi. After a thorough physical examination, performing necessary tests, and diagnosis, they will prescribe adequate therapy. Your vet should also:

  • Remove the foreign body
  • Lance the abscess
  • Determine vitamin A supplementation when needed
  • Perform required surgery

Sometimes you may believe that you know how to help your lizard, but you will be absolutely wrong in most cases. Improper handling of these delicate animals can lead to further collapse of their health, severe complications, and even death.

Conclusion

Most admirers consider Leopard Geckos’ eyes the most attractive parts of their bodies. Unfortunately, they are highly prone to infections.

Since most eye infections are secondary to inadequate living conditions, you can prevent some by proper diet, regulating humidity and temperature levels, and cleaning the terrarium. Once the health issue occurs, you need to go to the vet.

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