Two years ago, I noticed that my leopard gecko, Sally, was losing weight. It started with her tail getting skinny. This was then followed by losing weight all over her body. She looked really poorly and I was worried she would die. I soon found out that her withered tail was due to a condition called “stick tail”, and that I needed to act fast to save her.
Poor feeding habits are the most common reason for a leopard gecko getting skinny and having stick tail. This can be due to offering the wrong foods or not enough of them. It can also be caused by an underlying disease, stress, poor habitat conditions, or a parasite such as cryptosporidium.
In this article, I’m going to help you identify why your leopard gecko is getting skinny and what you need to do about it to save your lizard from further problems. It worked for Sally, it can work for your pet, too.
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Why Your Leopard Gecko is Getting Skinny
Okay, so if you think your leopard gecko is losing weight and getting skinny, what should you do about it? To figure out the best treatment, you need to know the cause so that you can remove the problem.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common underlying reasons for weight loss in leopard geckos.
Note: If your leo is getting skinny and appears to be sick, you should bring it to a vet immediately or book an online vet. We recommend booking an online vet at Vetster since they offer great service at affordable prices + 24/7 appointments. Check out Vetster here!
Parasites live inside other animals. They syphon off nutrients to grow and reproduce. This means that those nutrients are not available to your gecko’s digestive system, even though he/she ate the food. In particularly bad parasite infections, starvation and death can occur.
The most common type of parasite that causes stick tail in leopard geckos is cryptosporidium. This causes a condition called cryptosporidiosis. This is a highly contagious parasite that infests the digestive system, specifically the intestinal tract.
As food passes through the intestines, the parasite removes nutrients that would otherwise be used by the gecko to maintain its functions properly.
Compounding the issue is the fact that this parasite causes watery diarrhea and sickness. This hastens starvation.
Cryptosporidium parasites spread in fecal matter, infecting other leopard geckos in the same habitat.
Leopard geckos have a high metabolism compared to some lizards. This means that they require more calories to thrive. Feeding them regularly is a must.
Likewise, if they do not eat the right diet for a leopard gecko, then they will become malnourished as well.
Serious malnutrition can lead to hypovitaminosis A in leopard geckos, resulting in poor shedding and issues with vision. These problems then create more difficult eating, so the condition spirals out of control.
3. Metabolic Bone Disease
A specific and all too common type of malnutrition is calcium deficiency. This presents itself as metabolic bone disease.
The bones become rubbery and soft. It’s caused by nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism when the body uses up calcium deposits to maintain blood quality. It can also occur when there is a vitamin D deficiency or kidney failure.
Wasting illnesses like stick tail can be caused by impaction. This is when your leopard gecko eats an inappropriate substrate by accident such as fine sharp gravel or sand. Once eaten, the substrate clogs up the intestines making digestion difficult, if not impossible.
This can stop your leopard gecko from wanting to eat, and it is a very serious condition that must be treated quickly.
5. Egg Retention
Female geckos sometimes retain their eggs and refuse to lay them either due to stress/poor habitat or an obstruction. This can cause serious illness, lethargy, and lack of appetite.
When leopard geckos experience stress, they are less likely to eat, which will cause weight loss. Stress can be brought on by a badly thought out tank setup, being housed with other animals they don’t get along with, and abrupt changes to the environment.
How Much Should a Leopard Gecko Weigh?
Let’s now take a more in-depth look at how to diagnose your leopard gecko’s weight loss problems. The first thing you need to know is what your leopard gecko should weigh.
This is one of the most accurate and quickest ways to identify if your lizard is getting skinny. Here’s a table to help you:
|Healthy Male Weight||Healthy Female Weight|
|At Birth||3g – 4.5g||3g – 4.5g|
|1 – 3 Months||15g – 30g||15g – 30g|
|3 – 6 Months||25g – 60g||25g – 60g|
|6 – 9 Months||40g – 60g||40g – 60g|
|9 – 18 Months||40g – 110g||40g – 110g|
|Adult||60g – 120g||40g – 120g|
One thing to keep in mind is that there will be some variability between individual geckos. The above figures are a guide, but depending on your gecko’s genetics, it might weigh slightly outside of those values.
However, if your gecko is more than 12 months old and under 40g, it is always considered underweight.
How to Know Your Leopard Gecko is Too Skinny
There are several ways to find out if your leopard gecko is underweight (but don’t ask them what their weight is, they get touchy about that sort of thing).
The most striking sign that your gecko is losing weight, is when they develop a condition called “stick tail”. If you know the signs of stick tail, you’ll catch the weight loss early.
What is Stick Tail?
Rather than being the cause of your leopard gecko’s weight loss, stick tail is a general symptom of weight loss. It simply means that your gecko’s tail is getting thinner and beginning to resemble a stick.
What Happens During Stick Tail?
When stick tail occurs, your gecko’s tail will do one or more of the following:
- Get thinner
- Change color
- Become more transparent
- Look dried out
- Shrivel up until almost only the skin remains
If you see other unusual tail behavior, don’t worry: Leopard gecko tail wagging, for example, is healthy.
Why Pay Attention to Your Gecko’s Tail?
Your leopard gecko needs to store fat somewhere in its body. Like other animals, it has a thin layer of fat across its entire body, but the vast majority of its fat deposits are stored in the tail.
When your leopard gecko loses weight, it’s usually in the tail first because the fat deposits are being used up to keep your gecko alive.
Other Signs Your Leopard Gecko is Losing Weight
As well as physically weighing less and suffering from stick tail, there are other things to look out for if you’re worried that your leopard gecko is getting skinny. These include:
If you look at your leopard gecko’s belly, there’s a chance you might be able to see white spots on its liver. These can actually be seen through the skin.
Your gecko may become more elusive. He/she will hide more often and sometimes in different places than usual.
Some leopard geckos will prioritize the coolest parts of their habitat when suffering from stick tail or weight loss.
This is because, in cold-blooded animals, at least, a cooler body temperature requires fewer calories. It also means that the lizard will be less active, again making their fat deposits last as long as possible.
Depending on the underlying cause of the weight loss, watery and frequent bowel movements are common. This can be due to disease, parasites, or simply the digestive system breaking down because all fat and muscle tissues are being exhausted.
If your leopard gecko is sick or put off its food, it may not eat.
As the tail withers, you will start to see weight loss across the entire body of your leopard gecko.
Your gecko might develop soft bones that feel spongey and are easier to break even when handled gently.
The skin of your gecko may thin and become more translucent.
A common thing to look out for is the health of any other geckos in your setup. Stick tail usually affects other geckos at the same time. This is because the same underlying problems are present.
How to Treat Stick Tail and Weight Loss in Leopard Geckos
If your leopard gecko is experiencing extreme weight loss for an unknown reason always consult a vet.
However, you can treat many of the above causes of weight loss with great success. Try the following:
1. Fix the Habitat
Ensure that your leopard gecko’s environment is correctly set up. That means the right humidity, temperature, basking light, and substrate. Give the gecko plenty of places to hide and explore as well. This is the number one thing you need for a healthy little lizard.
2. Remove Stressors
As part of fixing the habitat, identify anything that might stress the animal and remove that from the situation.
3. Offer the Right Foods
Your gecko will be more likely to thrive and keep a healthy weight with the right foods on offer. Crickets, waxworms, and mealworms are great. Fresh is best.
Buy a supplement for your gecko’s food. Dust each meal as instructed. Calcium and vitamin d supplementation are especially important to avoid health issues.
Do not overdo it with the supplements, however. I know a friend who had a very sick gecko on her hands for a while because the poor lizard suffered from vitamin toxicity. If feeding dried food, make sure it’s not already dusted with a supplement.
5. Correct Feeding Intervals
Very young geckos need to feed every day. Fully matured geckos only need to feed every other day. However, if your gecko is particularly thin and seems to want more, you could try every day for a short while to build up its strength.
6. Treat Parasites
If parasites are the cause of the weight loss, speak with a vet. They will prescribe medications to try and kill the parasites. Never trade or breed geckos that test positive for cryptosporidium.
7. Isolate the Gecko
If you have other leopard geckos in the same habitat, remove the ill gecko to a tank of its own. This will stop the spread of any disease, and it might also over time relax the gecko if it’s being stressed out by its companions.
8. Be Patient
Fattening a skinny gecko takes time. If the poor wee thing is very ill, it could take several weeks before you see a marked difference in the animal. Keep with it, and if you’re concerned, consult a vet.
If you don’t live near an exotic vet, book an online vet at Vetster here!
Hopefully, your lizard buddy will be back up and running about with a little TLC. For those interested, my leopard gecko Sally made a full recovery after following all of these steps, so I hope each of you has the same outcome. Good luck!
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