Leopard geckos should be handled in certain ways to prevent them from jumping, dashing and injuring themselves. It's sometimes better not to handle a Leopard gecko.
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Introduction to Leopard gecko handling
Leopard geckos will need to be handled from time to time. They often need to be picked up, shoved, moved from one enclosure to another and/or need to be gripped to be closely inspected or treated.
When considering the fragile nature of Leopard geckos and the potential to transmit diseases, handling should be done in a responsible way and personal hygiene should be practised afterwards.
Although most Leopard geckos will accept being handled(32), untamed ones might attempt to escape by running, dashing or jumping. Some Leopard geckos might even attempt to bite.
It is generally recommended that Leopard geckos should only be handled when necessary.
Incorrect handling can lead to injuries and tail loss.
The correct way to handle a Leopard gecko
Unlike many other reptiles and lizards, Leopard geckos are fairly fragile and should be handled correctly to prevent falls and injuries. Also, note that the tail of Leopard geckos can easily break off during the handling process(57).
Adult and baby Leopard geckos should be handled differently. Even more so than adults, baby Leopard geckos need to be handled with extra caution.
Handling adult Leopard geckos
Larger, adult Leopard geckos need to be handled with two hands. They can be picked-up by scooping one hand under the belly while supporting the rest of the body with the other hand.
The Leopard gecko should be allowed to rest on the palm of your hand while your fingers are gently curled over its back. Gentle pressure should be applied to prevent crushing.
When sitting down, a tame Leopard gecko can be allowed to sit on the body of the handler.
In the case where restraint is necessary (e.g. to prevent biting), the handler should grip the body of the Leopard gecko while placing his/her fingers behind the head in the neck region(40).
Restraining the hind legs and tail of difficult Leopard geckos are generally not required, but the tail should be carefully supported. Even light pressure on the tail can cause autotomy(57).
Handling baby Leopard geckos
Baby Leopard geckos can be picked-up by using your hand to make a ‘cage’ around the body. Tame baby Leopard geckos can also be encouraged by a gentle shove to go and sit in your hand before ‘caging’ your fingers around the body. When handling a baby Leopard gecko, use slow, careful movements and restrict handling to a bare minimum.
Hygiene practices while handling a Leopard gecko
Some diseases can be transmitted from Leopard geckos to humans and vice versa. Human contact can also be the carrier of certain diseases from an infected Leopard gecko to a healthy one.
Irrespective of the risk for transmitting diseases, Leopard gecko handlers are always advised to be mindful and take responsible hygienic precautions.
As a summary, these are good hygiene principles for Leopard gecko owners:
- Do not touch your face while, or directly after, handling a Leopard gecko, the enclosure furniture, the inside of their enclosure, feeder insects or their substrate.
- Protect any open sores or wounds you might have on your hands before touching or handling a Leopard gecko.
- Wash and disinfect your hands (or in-contact skin) before and after handling a Leopard gecko.
- Wash and disinfect your hands (or in-contact skin) after handling enclosure furniture, the inside of the enclosure, the substrate and/or feeder insects.
- Do not kiss a Leopard gecko or bring it close to your face.
- Do not eat while in the proximity of Leopard geckos or feeder insects.
- Use safe, but proven disinfectants to wash, wipe or spray your hands.
- Use disposable medical latex gloves if possible.
For more information, also see our Leopard gecko owner hygiene article.
- Wet your hands with clean running water and apply soap. Use warm water if it is available.
- Rub hands together to make a lather and scrub all surfaces, including under the fingernails.
- Continue rubbing hands for 20 seconds.
- Rinse hands well under running water.
- Dry your hands using a disposable paper towel or a hand dryer.
It is also recommended to wash your hands before and after using protective gloves.
Note: These measures should be routine but are especially important while or after handling Leopard geckos.
Falling injuries are commonly seen in pet Leopard geckos. Although falls from shorter distances sometimes go without injuries, a fall from a significant height (e.g. from a sitting lap or standing person) can lead to serious internal injuries.
Holding and handling a Leopard gecko correctly can prevent unnecessary falls from happening.
Leopard geckos are known to be able to lose their tails (called “tail drop” or autotomy)(32)(57). This commonly happens due to falling injuries or incorrect handling. By grabbing or holding a Leopard gecko by the tail can cause it to break off.
When not to handle a Leopard gecko
Although it is generally recommended to restrict the handling of Leopard geckos to only when it is absolutely necessary, there are cases where this is more important. Leopard geckos should rather not be handled in the following situations:
- During the first couple of days since its arrival
- When a Leopard gecko is sick or injured
- During the skin shedding process(32)
- During the breeding season
Most Leopard geckos accept being handled, but it should be done only when necessary. Handling should be done responsibly and correctly. Incorrect handling can lead to tail autotomy and other injuries.