“I just saw my leo licking his lips, does it mean that they are dry?” It is easy to come to this conclusion since we humans sometimes do this to moisten our dry lips. Is it the same with leopard geckos? Why do they actually lick their lips and is this considered to be a problem?
Leopard geckos normally lick their lips to get a better sense of their environment or when they are about to shed. On the other hand, they can also lick their lips when they have an abscess or mouth rot. Further, this behavior can be an early sign of Metabolic Bone Disease.
As you can see, this licking behavior is both a good and bad sign. Before you jump to any morbid conclusions, let us give you more information on the matter. Keep on reading to find out why your leopard gecko is licking his lips!
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Nose Licking And Lip Licking In Leopard Geckos
Before we discuss the possible reasons as to why your leopard gecko is licking his lips and nose, we should first talk about how this lip-licking behavior came to be and what it exactly looks like.
This may sound too simple, but you will be surprised by the number of owners (even long-time and experienced owners) who mistook lip-licking behavior for other behaviors.
Leopard geckos have a Jacobson’s organ or what others call a vomeronasal organ. This organ gives them the ability to detect and decipher odor particles that are heavy in moisture in their environment.
Simply put, this allows them to taste, as well as determine certain characteristics about their prey and environment (ie: if the feeder is dead or alive) This organ is present in some mammals, amphibians, and reptiles, except for those in tetrapod groups.
Sometimes, animals with this organ will do the “flehmen response” wherein they will expose their tongues outside their mouths to catch certain pheromones or scents in the environment.
In turn, they will be provided with more information about their current environment. Usually, this is done by a snake, but leopard geckos also do this.
What It Looks Like
Lip licking behavior is characterized by the slight or wide opening of the mouth in order to expose the tongue of the leopard gecko. Usually, they do not expose their entire tongue. Alternatively, they stick out the tip to quickly drag it along their mouth or lips.
The licking can just be a quick drag in one direction and then they will pull back their tongue. It can also be continuous dragging of the tongue with a back and forth motion and its eventual return inside the mouth.
This process goes by quickly, so if you are not really observing your leo closely, you might miss it. Take a look at the video to see the different ways in how leos can go about their licking behavior.
Reasons Why Leopard Geckos Lick Their Lips And Nose
Now that you can distinguish lip-licking behavior over other leopard gecko behaviors, it is now time to discuss why your leo is licking his lips.
Assessing Their Environment
We discussed earlier that leopard geckos have Jacobson’s organ that they use to taste and also determine certain information in their environment. Therefore, your leo will do the same thing to get a feel of what is happening in its environment.
It does not necessarily need to be stressed to do it. In fact, leos do this in controlled environments such as their long time enclosures, just for the habit of doing it.
Usually, owners observe this lip licking behavior when there are people or other animals outside the enclosure or if their enclosure was recently opened to put in feeders.
On the other hand, if there is a change in their environment, they would automatically lick their lips. A good example is the video above. As the leo was put in a different environment (sink with warm water in that case) it licked its lips to have a better feel of its environment.
Further, there are also cases where your leo will lick its lips before, during, and after feeding it. This is just normal as that is Jacobson’s organ doing its thing.
Just be wary of any signs that your leo is finding it hard to ingest the feeder while licking its lips as that is an indication of other problems that we will discuss later on. (Spoiler alert: It is an early sign of MBD)
Some owners also observed that their leos would lick their lips or their noses after a meal as a way of cleaning up after a meal.
Leopard Geckos That Are About To Shed Lick Their Lips Quite Often
Leopard geckos will start to occasionally lick their lips when they are nearing shed. They do this especially when they are about to shed the skin on their heads.
The wetness of their tongue adds moisture to the skin around their lips. Therefore, it will be easier for the skin to shed on that area. Moreover, the motion from the lip-licking behavior can loosen the skin on the head, further making it shed with ease.
If this is the case, you do not have anything to worry about as this behavior is normal. If you want to be sure, you can take a closer look at your leo if something foreign is on its lips that is causing it to lick it, but if all the signs point to an impending shed, then everything is okay.
Note: Keep in mind that the head will be the last area that will turn into a different color during the shed. So if the head of your leo is still the same color while the other parts of its body already changed in color, but it is already licking its lips, then this is still considered normal.
Lip Licking In Leos Can Be A Sign For Mouth Rot
Mouth rot is often caused by stress. Stress can then weaken the immune system of your leopard gecko. The result is, bacteria can easily grow and spread inside and outside its mouth.
Other causes of mouth rot are the following:
- Wrong humidity level
- Incorrect temperature
- Poor nutrition
A leopard gecko with mouth rot will almost always constantly lick its lips. Even when you see that there is absolutely nothing there, they will still try to lick something off of their lips.
When a leo has mouth rot, it does not necessarily have to be so obvious where you can see scabs and sores on their lips. It can still look normal despite the bacteria sitting on their lips. It may be possible that “normal-looking lips with constant lip-licking” is the early stage of mouth rot.
Owners have also observed that even though they could not visibly see anything wrong with the lips of their leo despite the constant lip licking, their leos would also keep on trying to scratch the area by rubbing their lips on the substrate or scratching them with their feet.
In turn, this may cause tears in the lips where the bacteria can easily infect.
Your Leopard Gecko Might Have An Abscess
Abscesses in leopard geckos can be a bit tricky as they can be caused by a bacterial infection or a viral infection. Further, it can also be an indication of parasites. It gets trickier as abscesses in your leo’s lips are not that easy to spot except when they are already swelling.
During the forming stage of an abscess, it will simply look like a piece of skin or even that pinkish membrane in the mouth of your leo. It is only when it starts to inflame that one can see that there is actually an abscess.
When an abscess is caused by mouth rot, your leo will not stop at anything to lick its lips. Therefore, it can be a bit easier to spot. However, if it is caused by something else, the frequency of the lip-licking behavior is varied.
You can also take this lip-licking behavior as a clue as to where the abscess is forming. This is because your leo will lick the same spot as it is causing it discomfort.
Nose And Lip Licking In Leopard Geckos Can Be An Early Sign Of Metabolic Bone Disease
If you see that your leopard gecko habitually licks its lips when everything in its environment perfectly meets the right enclosure conditions, then it might be an early sign of Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD)
As your leo is lacking calcium or Vitamin D3, it can weaken the jaws. Thus, your leo cannot close its mouth properly which will lead it to lick the surrounding area of its lips. A quick test to know if this is the case is to gently check the mouth of your leo to feel if it is spongy and soft.
If this is the case, then you need to consider upping the calcium and Vitamin D3 intake of your leo. Better, yet, you should consult your vet to be sure.
This is also the time when they struggle to ingest any type of feeders as their jaws are too weak to handle big or even small feeders.
Keep in mind, not all leopard geckos who are suffering from MBD will lick their lips. Therefore, it is vital for you to always provide proper nutrition to your gecko by choosing the right feeders and dusting them with supplements.
Leopard geckos will lick their lips due to normal and abnormal reasons. The key to distinguishing between the reasons is to observe the behavior closely.
If there is nothing wrong with their environment and they are given care and proper nutrition, then most probably, lip-licking is normal.
Once you observe that lip-licking becomes aggressive or there are other disturbing behavior paired with occasional lip-licking, then it is best to consult your vet.
Usually, in cases of mouth rot, abscess, or MBD, flushing and antibiotics are prescribed. So early detection is vital.