To choose a Heat Pad for a Leopard Gecko, you need to consider three factors: The size of the tank, the size of the gecko, and other heat sources. Beyond that, the proper setup of your heat mat is crucial – you’ll need a thermostat to regulate the temperature, and place the pad correctly to avoid putting your reptile in danger.
Heat pads are a popular choice of heating for Leopard Gecko habitats for a good reason: They are easy to install and regulate while providing a natural heat source for the gecko. Heat lamps are also a common choice, but as they mimic the sun, they should not be the only source of heat. After all, Leopard Geckos are crepuscular, meaning they are active during dusk and dawn. At this time, the sun/heat lamp should not be fully active anymore. The heat pad, though, can be active all day and night. More on temperature control for Leopard Geckos here.
You may also find heat pads be called “Under Tank Heaters” or “UTHs”, as that’s exactly what they do.
Do Leopard Geckos need a Heat Pad?
Leopard Geckos absolutely need a heat source – and a heat pad is a good choice for that. Their tank should have a cool side, about 70-77° F (21-25° C), and a warm side, 90-92° F (32-33° C). The heat pad is what creates and regulates this climate.
There are other heat sources like hat lamps and heat rocks, and we will get into a comparison between the three later in this article. The short answer remains though: A heat pad is your best option for heating, but can very well be used in combination with a lamp or rock.
What heat pad size you should buy
The size of the heat pad should be chosen depending on your gecko’s size and your tank size. The general recommendation is that your heat pad should cover about one third of your tank. This way, by placing it on the right or left edge of the tank, you have one third of the tank with full heating (the warm side), and a natural temperature drop-off towards the other side of the tank.
Here are some common sizes of gecko tanks, and the rough size of heat pads to buy:
|Tank Volume||Tank Size||Heat Pad Size|
(50cm x 25cm x 30cm)
|4″ x 5″|
(10cm x 13cm)
(76cm x 30cm x 30cm)
|6″ x 8″|
(15cm x 20cm)
(90cm x 45cm x 45cm)
|8″ x 12″|
(20cm x 30cm)
To choose the right size of the heat pad, one side should be about as long as the depth of the reptile tank (to cover most of the area), and the other side should be about one third of the width. This way, you can nicely create the two different heat zones in the tank while providing ample heated space for the gecko to warm up in.
What heat pad wattage you should buy
The type of wattage you choose for your heat pad should generally be based on the size: A larger heat pad will need a higher wattage. A smaller heat pad like a 4×5 inch will only need 4 Watt or so, while a larger one, like 8×12 inch, will need up to 16-20 Watt. Otherwise, it might not get hot enough to heat up the tank properly.
How to set up your heat pad
The common way to set up your heat pad is to install it under your tank, on the “warm zone”. For this, you need a raised tank – just enough to make sure the mat does not touch whatever surface your vivarium is placed on. Since the mat heats up, this can cause damage to furniture, and even lead to overheating and damage the heat pad. There are knobs you can get that, when placed on each corner, safely raise your tank by an inch or so.
Interior Heat Pads
If you don’t have a glass tank, you won’t be able to install the heat pad below the tank. The heat pad can be placed on the inside of the enclosure as well, but never without plenty of cover. Your gecko should not be able to touch the heat mat directly. Instead, there should be heat-conductive substrate above the mat. You might read about sand being a good choice for that, but we recommend not using sand as substrate, as it can lead to dangerous impaction in your gecko. Instead, tiles and slabs work well with heat pads.
Heat Pads & Thermostats
It is absolutely necessary to set up your heat pad in combination with a thermostat. This regulates the temperature to prevent excessive heat to harm your gecko. Leopard Geckos are prone to warming up on a heated surface, even if the surface is too hot and hurting or even burning their skin. Similarly, both too high and too low temperature can cause health issues and distress.
Connect your under-tank-heater with a thermostat in the gecko tank. The thermostat should be placed above the heating pad, roughly where the gecko would sit. This way, it can measure the temperature accurately. If you place it higher, the measured temperature would be lower than it is for the gecko, which can lead to excessive heating of the pad.
This digital thermometer set includes a thermostat and a timer function, which you can use to control all heat and light sources.
Heat Pads & Thermometers
It’s also a good idea to have one or two thermometers in your gecko enclosure – one on the cool and one on the hot side. This way, you can see at once glance if your gecko has comfortable temperatures in their environment. There are very easy-to-install thermometers you can simply stick to the walls of the tank.
Heat Pads & Infrared Thermometer Guns
Another good investment is an infrared thermometer gun. With one of these, you can not only measure overall temperature, but measure at any spot you choose. This is important to make sure that no spot over the heat pad, for example, exceeds the comfortable zone for your gecko. A combination of under tank heat and heat lamp, for example, can lead to some spots getting hotter than intended. A thermometer gun makes it possible to identify these spots.
How hot should a heat mat be for a leopard gecko?
A heat mat or under-tank-heater for a Leopard Gecko tank should raise the temperature to about 88-92°F (31-33°C), and thus should be a little hotter than that. The exact temperature depends on how well the substrate above the heat mat conducts heat, though. What matters most is the temperature in the place the gecko sits.
Heat Pads vs Heat Lamps vs Heat Rocks
Heat pads are a great source of consistent, safe heating that emulates the source of heat in a gecko’s natural habitat – the ground and rocks that have been warmed from the daytime sun. Since geckos prefer to come out once the sun is setting, overhead heating like from a heat lamp can be used, but should be inactive during night time. Since the gecko will still be active in that time, a heat pad is needed. For more information, read our full guide on heat lamps.
Similarly, heat rocks can be good, but need to be checked regularly. The can be prone to overheating, which will hurt your gecko. A thermometer gun is good for this. Additionally, Leopard Geckos like to be hidden from predators while getting warmed up, which they can’t do well while sitting on a heat rock.
Can you leave the heat pad on all night for Leopard Gecko?
If the temperature doesn’t drop much, heat pads can be turned off, especially if there are elements like rocks or tiles which retain the heat for a few hours. However, a popular choice is to leave under tank heaters on throughout the night.
Lamps should be turned off at night, since lighting and overhead heat would be unnatural after the sun has set, but heat from below is perfectly fine and may aid your gecko’s digestion.
Do I need a heat lamp and heat mat?
Using a heat lamp in combination with a heat mat can make it easier to warm up and regulate the tank’s temperature, since heat mats are not ideal at heating the tank. Also, if the mat stays active 24/7, the heat lamp adds to a natural day-night cycle. Just make sure to watch the overall temperature both on top of the heat map and the air temperature in the tank. You don’t want it to get too hot for your little gecko! I would also recommend getting a Hygrometer to keep track of the humidity, as heat lamps can dry out the air. Leopard Geckos need their humidity at about 30-40% to feel comfortable.