I went through this very recently with our Leo (Jack, who was recently confirmed as Jackie by our vet) and am happy to save you the hours I spent studying the Internet and visiting the vet by putting everything into one concise list for you.
Don’t panic! Yes, this is easier said than done, but there are several mundane reasons a leopard gecko may decide to stop eating for a short time.
Why Might Leo Suddenly Stop Eating?
Over conditioning: We were recently told that our leopard gecko, Jackie was overweight, (welcome to the family!). Sometimes, a Leo will stop eating until their body gets down to a healthier weight for them. It’s their way of dieting!
Shedding: If your gecko is getting ready to shed, it may stop eating for several days. And, as gross as it sounds, they will most likely eat their shed skin and then get back into their normal routine. Be sure they have a moss pit and that it is hydrated for them to hang out in during this time.
Weather changes: As the seasons change, particularly towards winter, a gecko can be more hibernation-like in its actions. It may start eating a bit less and sleeping a bit more. It’s important during this change to be sure that the habitat has the proper temperatures, even if it means getting a heating pad for under the tank.
Habitat issues: Leopard geckos cannot produce their own body heat so it’s most important to watch the temperature in their habitat. Temperatures should be around 80-85 degrees during the day with an 88-90 degree sunning area. Night temperatures should be in the 70s.
What’s on the floor of your habitat? Sand or wood chip substrate (flooring) is not recommended for younger geckos as it can cause impaction if eaten. The safest floor for all ages is the roll out mat sold at the pet store.
Have you cleaned your Leo’s home lately? Fresh moss and water can do wonders for Leos that have that “not so fresh feeling.”
Illness: If your gecko has gone a week without eating, it’s time to call the vet and make sure there isn’t something more serious going on. The most likely illness culprit will be impaction, but they will be able to guide you on next steps regardless.
Some Things to Try:
Note: always call your vet to make sure they agree beforehand
Vitamin Water: If your Leo hasn’t been eating, they are most likely not getting enough nutrients in. One way to supplement that is to feed them plain electrolyte water. Easily found in the grocery store in brands like Propel and Pedialyte, this water will help boost their caloric intake and provide nutrients needed to help keep them from getting dehydrated.
We also used this water to spray Jackie’s moss pit and habitat.
Hot baths: It was also suggested to us that if there were to be a small impaction that might work its way through on its own, warm water baths in the electrolyte water might help.
1) The warm water may break up an impaction.
2) The water also is providing the nutrients we discussed above. Yes, we put Jackie in what we deemed “the hot tub.”
Oil: As odd as it sounds, if you can get a hint of olive or mineral oil into your Leo, the people at PetSmart told us this can also help move an impaction. What we did was put a little on our finger and rub it around her mouth. Yeah, she was annoyed, but she licked it off and ingested it.
Force Feeding: This one is not fun, but it may be necessary. When Jackie reached a point where she had lost 10% of her weight, the vet said we had to resort to force feeding. You can weigh your gecko with a food or postage scale, just be consistent in what you use.
In regards to force feeding, you can try any of the usual foods. If that doesn’t work, it was also suggested to try a syringe with a mix of applesauce/pumpkin/squash baby foods (apparently that lovely combination contains a good mix of nutrition).
People, this is not an easy task and Leos have a stronger bite than expected. Jackie actually latched onto my finger and did not want to let go! So, lesson here is not to let your young children try this.
Diet: What does your gecko normally eat? Try something new for them. If they eat waxworms, try getting some butter worms. The kind people at PetSmart who were guiding us told us they are the “Twinkies of the reptile world.”
Do you ever give your gecko crickets? Many geckos get crickets a time or two a week dusted with vitamin powder and consider it a treat. According to our vet at All About PetCare, geckos need to be sure and get plenty of Vitamin A in their diet and dusted crickets is the easiest way to get it in.
Diet Re-visted: What happened with Jackie? After about a month and a half of trying all of the above and JUST ABOUT caving to do an X-ray or blood test, the vet suggested one last thing, Pinkies, baby mice that are less than 5 days old.
While I was completely disgusted by the idea of feeding a baby mouse to our Leo, I was more upset by the look on my son’s face when the vet said she didn’t know what else to try. Dad stopped at the pet store on the way home to pick up a frozen “dinner” for Jackie.
We also deemed it his job to feed this to her. After nearly 6 weeks of not eating, she decided that this was what she had been waiting for. She took a small sample and then latched on and would not let go.
Suffice to say, our Leo now gets a couple pinkies per week and seems to be happy as pie with herself. The rest of us are not thrilled with the pinkie situation, but we are ecstatic that our Jackie didn’t appear to have anything more serious going on than a picky palate.
Have you gone through this with your leopard gecko? Have any other tips to share with our readers? We’d love to see your comments.