Like many pet reptiles, Leopard Geckos have specific nutritional needs that their normal diet in captivity simply doesn’t meet. This can lead to many health issues and diseases, most commonly known, metabolic bone disease – which is fatal, if left untreated. To keep your gecko healthy, you need to offer your Leopard Gecko supplements, mainly Calcium and Vitamin D, and additional multivitamins from time to time.
Calcium for Leopard Geckos
Leopard Geckos need Calcium for two main reasons: For healthy growth and maintenance of bones and teeth, and for females while laying eggs. If a Leo is lacking in Calcium, their bones become weak and may eventually fracture, a common problem in geckos with MBD (metabolic bone disease, caused by Calcium deficit).
During the first year, while the gecko is still growing, it also needs more Calcium than as an adult, as they are still growing and developing their skeleton. Similarly, females need additional Calcium supplements while laying eggs, as the egg shells need the mineral to be formed.
In nature, Leopard Geckos get Calcium from many natural sources. It is more commonly available in the wild in soil and mineral deposits, as well as in feeder insects. While mass-bred feeder insects are safer than wild insects (which should never be fed to your gecko), they lack the diverse diet that wild insects tend to have.
To make up for this, pet Leopard Geckos need to get additional calcium through supplementation.
On supplement packaging, you might see calcium carbonate or calcium citrate listed. These are just different forms of calcium, both of which supply the mineral adequately. Calcium carbonate has a higher concentration of “elemental calcium”, though, which is what you ultimately want when you need calcium.
This calcium powder is supplied to the gecko as follows:
- Dust feeder insects in Calcium powder before feeding them to your gecko.
- (Optional) Placing a small bowl with Calcium powder in your gecko’s enclosure. Many Leopard Gecko owners prefer calcium without vitamin D here, as this can lead to excessive vitamin D intake. However, this should not big a big concern.
Vitamin D for Leopard Geckos
Keeping Vitamin D in mind is crucial to keep your gecko healthy: Leopard Geckos, like humans, can’t produce Vitamin D without sufficient UVB light (like from the sun or special UVB light bulbs). Without sufficient Vitamin D, your gecko’s body is unable to absorb (process) Calcium and Phosphorus from food sources – which then leads to a deficiency, even if enough Calcium /Phosphorus is provided as a supplement.
How Vitamin D works in Leopard Geckos
While Vitamin D in humans is often a little deficient, we still usually get acceptable amounts from sun exposure – just about 15 minutes per day is enough for people. But this does not apply to your Leo. Leopard Geckos are crepuscular, meaning they are mostly active during the twilight of dusk and dawn. Direct exposure to sunlight throughout the day can be quite harmful, which is why you should never keep your gecko tank exposed to direct sunlight next to a window, for example.
Apart from the intense sunlight and brightness in summer, most of the UVB rays in natural sunlight are filtered through glass. (source) This makes sunlight through windows and tank glass mostly useless for Vitamin D production.
Instead, Leopard Geckos can have a UVB lamp in their enclosure, unblocked by glass, that provides a UVB source throughout the day. However, the opinions are still split on the importance of this approach. While studies show that Leopard Geckos can use UVB rays to produce Vitamin D, these geckos have been kept and bred for many years without UVB lamps without issues, as long as Vitamin D was supplemented properly in their diet.
One note on UVB lamps: Albino Leopard Geckos and breeds that are part Albino might not light UVB light, as they are more sensitive to it than other breeds.
How to provide Vitamin D to your Leopard Gecko
Your gecko’s most important source of Vitamin D should be through their diet – supplemented with Vitamin powder. Dust your Feeder insects in this powder before they are fed to the gecko. Additionally, if you provide a Calcium powder bowl in your gecko’s habitat, some owners decide to use a Calcium-Vitamin D mix, providing additional Vitamin D this way.
The recommended schedule is providing Vitamin D with every meal for baby and juvenile Leopard Geckos, and only once a week (especially if you use a UVB lamp) for adult geckos. Click here to learn more about the feeding schedule for Leopard Geckos.
Vitamin D Overdose – Danger or Myth?
Some owners oppose having a Vitamin D supplement readily available in the gecko enclosure, as this may cause an overdose of Vitamin D, which is harmful long-term. However, there is no scientific evidence of this yet – but also none opposing it. Since there are so few, if any, confirmed cases of a Vitamin D overdose, this remains a personal choice for now. Keep in mind though that a slight oversupply of Vitamin D is relatively harmless – only in large amounts can a gecko build up an overdose. If you stick to the recommended supplementation schedule, an overdose is likely impossible.
Multivitamins for your Leopard Gecko
In addition to the calcium and vitamin D supplementation, you should also regularly add a Leopard Gecko multivitamin mix. These usually contain all necessary vitamins and minerals and are used every one or two weeks. For these, follow the instructions on the product and read the information provided by the vendor.
One important note on vitamin A: Some supplements contain vitamin A, while others only contain beta-carotene. This pigment can be converted into vitamin A, is found in many vegetables and is a part of a healthy diet in humans, too. However, the opinions on beta-carotene and Leopard Geckos are mixed.
While a study found that beta-carotene provided sufficient vitamin A in Leopard Geckos, others assert that beta-carotene is not suitable as a vitamin A replacement for insectivorous reptiles. Similarly, there are reports of confirmed vitamin A deficiencies, even though beta-carotene was supplemented.
For now, it is a good idea to make sure that you supplement vitamin A, and not beta-carotene, as the latter is not yet proven to be sufficient.
Healthy diet through gut-loading feeder insects
It’s worth mentioning that beyond the supplements, a healthy diet is foundational. This means mostly two things: A diet that consists of a variety of different feeder insects, and gut-loading these with nutrient-rich food before feeding them to your gecko.
In general, depending on the exact feeder insect, you want to provide your worms, crickets, and roaches with healthy foods like vegetables and leafy greens throughout their entire lives. This can be as simple as dropping a few pieces of veggies into their box and letting them eat them at will. Mealworms are very easy to gut-load this way, for example.
Additionally, there are special pre-made insect food mixes you can buy for this purpose – but make sure you buy one specifically made for Leopard Geckos unless you know what you’re doing. Pre-made mixes for Bearded Dragons, for example, may contain ingredients that aren’t healthy for a Leopard Gecko.
How do you treat vitamin A deficiency in Leopard Geckos?
Without proper gut-loading and multivitamin supplementation, a vitamin A deficiency can develop. Treatment includes extra supplementation of vitamin A, administering extra fluids, and anti-biotic ointments. Keep in mind that these should be done by a professional.
What are the symptoms of a vitamin A deficiency in Leopard Geckos?
Vitamin A is needed for healthy skin growth and maintenance. Symptoms for a deficiency include a dull skin color, excess thickening of skin, increased tear production and sight problems, or trouble while shedding skin. However, without proper diagnosis, these symptoms do not guarantee an actual vitamin A deficiency. Consult an expert if you notice any of these as soon as possible, as a gecko with a long-term deficiency is unlikely to recover.
Can leopard geckos overdose on calcium?
Similar to Vitamin D, Calcium is hard for Leopard Geckos to overdose on. Some geckos may lick Calcium from a provided Calcium powder bowl excessively, but that is the exception. If you notice this, your gecko may be deficient in Calcium and is self-regulation. This should be checked properly by a vet. However, if it is not deficient and still consumes excessive Calcium, it can lead to a harmful overdose and should be managed. (like by removing the Calcium bowl)
What are the symptoms of MBD (metabolic bone disease)?
With a deficiency in calcium and/or vitamin D, a gecko’s body will start absorbing calcium from bones, which leads to metabolic bone disease. Symptoms include
- Bowed legs
- Hard lumps along the legs, spinal column, or jaw
- Softening and unusual flexibility of the lower jaw
- Difficulty raising the body off the ground
- Decreased appetite
Over time, as the deficiency and MBD become more intense, depression or lethargy may set in, as well as twitches, tremors, hind-end weakness, or even seizures. If you notice any of these, take your reptile to the vet immediately for treatment for the best chance at survival. (source)