Leopard Gecko Dying Signs & Causes of Sudden Death

By Frank Miller •  Updated: 10/05/23 • 

Leopard geckos are tiny pets that can take up a huge space in your heart. Processing the shock and disbelief of losing your scaly companion can be incredibly challenging, especially if death happens suddenly or unexpectedly. Because dying is an inevitable part of the life cycle, every reptile keeper should be well conversant with the typical leopard gecko dying signs.

A dying leopard gecko will show signs like loss of appetite, drastic weight loss, abnormal droppings, lethargy, and muscle loss. The top causes of death include impaction, bad pairing, parasitic infections, and poor environmental conditions caused by the wrong temperature or humidity levels.

Read on as we unveil the five critical signs of a dying leopard gecko. We will also discuss potential causes of death and what you can do to ensure your pet has the best chance of living a long and happy life.

Let’s get right into it!

What Is The Average Life Expectancy Of A Leopard Gecko?

Leopard geckos are relatively long-lived pets with an average life expectancy of 10 to 20 years. With proper care, some live well past the 20-year mark. The oldest leopard gecko on record was 32 years old. This is quite the feat, considering the oldest dog on record was 30 years old.

Unfortunately, a leopard gecko in the wild typically lives for 6 to 8 years. These reptiles have better chances of survival in captivity, provided they receive proper care.

Here is what you should do to ensure your beloved scaly companion has maximum chances of enjoying a long and happy life.

> Recommended Reading: Leopard Gecko Size Guide

5 Critical Leopard Gecko Dying Signs

Although leopard geckos are long-lived, they are not invincible. An illness, injury, or old age can eventually lead to death. 

If you suspect your pet is on the brink of death, it is best to consult your vet to determine the best course of action. When treatment is not an option, the expert can help you devise the best strategies for alleviating pain and providing comfort, peace, and safety as your scaly friend flips the final chapters of his life. In some cases, euthanasia may be a humane option to consider.

Here are five telltale signs that your leopard gecko is dying.

1. Loss of Appetite

A drop in appetite in leopard geckos doesn’t always lead to sudden death. This is especially true if your pet still drinks water and has a few bites. 

Leos are hardy reptiles, and those in the wild adapt to going without food for several days. Adults can survive for several months without eating a thing. In captivity, where their bodies are not well adapted to long hunger strikes, adult Leos can survive for 4 to 5 days without food.

Lack of appetite in a leopard gecko is common, especially during breeding season or when the reptiles undergo brumation in winter. Although the problem can frustrate any responsible gecko parent, it is no cause for alarm.

Conversely, skipping several meals can be a red flag, indicating your pet is dying. Lack of appetite is one of the major indicators that a Leopard gecko is severely stressed or critically ill  by improper diet or environmental conditions.

Some diseases and health conditions that can cause a lack of appetite in leopard geckos include but are not limited to the following.

2. Drastic Weight Loss

Another critical dying sign is drastic weight loss. Right after losing interest in food, a Leo suffering from sickness or stress will likely lose a lot of weight quickly. First, the tail will seem slimmer because this is where the reptile’s fat reserves are situated.

A healthy leopard gecko adult should weigh anywhere between 50 and 80 grams. Males weigh slightly more than females and are marginally longer by a few centimeters.

A Rescued Leopard Gecko That is Skinny and Dehydrated

A Rescued Leopard Gecko That is Skinny and Dehydrated

Contact your vet immediately if your Leo seems to be losing weight fast. Ensuring proper husbandry practices can also go a long way in enhancing your pet’s appetite and restoring his health. 

You can also jog your leopard gecko’s appetite using the following tips.

3. Abnormal Droppings or None At All

Did you know that the shape, size, and texture of your leopard gecko’s poop can be a key indicator of his health?

Knowing what normal poop looks like is the key to keeping your pet happy and healthy. Unfortunately, any significant changes in the poop color or texture could indicate that your beloved pet is dying of a health-related concern.

Understanding poop is not as complicated as many may assume. The stool of a healthy leopard gecko should be cylindrical in shape and solid brown on one end and white on the other. Size-wise, it should measure about half an inch long. 

The brown stuff that is roughly three-quarters of the waste is regular poop, while the smaller, chalky white section is solid pee (urate). Both poop and urate are relatively firm and not wet or runny. Although it is common for Leos to pass a small amount of fluid to make excretion easier, this should only create a damp patch. It will not make the poop runny or overly soft.

You should consult your vet immediately if your leopard gecko is passing runny or blood-stained poop. Be sure to carry a sample of the stool to make diagnosis easier.

Also, timely medical care is crucial if your scaly friend is not passing any stool. The issue often arises because of impaction, digestive problems, or other health concerns. Fortunately, changes in poop are not necessarily a death sentence if you take notice quickly and consult your vet.

> Recommended Reading: Understand Leopard Gecko Poop

4. Dehydration

Leopard geckos need water as much as they need food. A dying Leo will have no interest in food or water. You may begin seeing signs of dehydration, which include the following.

Dehydration in leopard geckos can occur if the retile has no access to drinking water. It can also arise because of health issues or incorrect temperature and humidity levels in the vivarium. At best, your scaly friend can only survive a few days while dehydrated.

Leopard gecko drinking

Before panicking, ensure your pet has access to clean drinking water. You should also check the humidity and temperature levels in the enclosure and make adjustments if need be. If nothing works and your pet does not drink water, consult your vet immediately.

5. Loss of Energy and Enthusiasm

Leopard geckos are nocturnal creatures that are primarily active after nightfall. During daylight, they sleep 12 to 13 hours like retired folk on a well-deserved vacation. However, they remain awake and active at night.

Although Leos are loners, they are curious creatures who love to dart while exploring their home. A healthy pet will be energetic, alert, bright-eyed, and responsive to stimuli in his surroundings.

Lethargy is different from lazing around. The condition is characterized by a higher level of tiredness, and your pet may even appear visibly weak. You have reason to suspect something is amiss if your Leo remains in hiding throughout the day and will not come out for food, water, or a bonding session.

Some top causes of lethargy and loss of enthusiasm include stress, wrong tank temperature, poor feeding, disease, or parasites. If your beloved pet looks sluggish, consulting a vet may save him from impending death.

5 Top Causes of Sudden or Unexpected Death in Leopard Geckos

Arguably, there is nothing as devastating as finding a beloved pet dead. This is more so if your scaly companion seemed relatively healthy and happy the last time you checked.

So why did your leopard gecko die suddenly and unexpectedly?

Although there are many reasons why the reptile might die unexpectedly, here are the five top causes of sudden death in leopard geckos.

1. High Temperature

The temperature levels in your leopard gecko’s vivarium are critical in ensuring the reptile’s overall well-being. A poor balance of heat lamps or placing the tank on a spot prone to direct sunlight can lead to increased temperatures, immense stress, and the sudden demise of your scaly friend.

The first step to ensuring proper temperatures in the vivarium is to invest in appropriate heating equipment. Second, invest in a quality thermostat to help regulate heat from your chosen heat lamps or mats. The third step is to purchase a sturdy thermometer to help you monitor temperature changes within the tank.

When installing your thermometer, place it inside the cage, not over the heating equipment. This should help you identify and address any extreme temperature changes.

The ideal temperature for a leopard gecko on the cool side should be between 75 and 80° F. Temperatures on the warm side should range between 80 to 85°F, and your pet should also have a basking area that maintains temperatures between 90 to 95°F.

2. Impaction

Another cause of sudden death in leopard geckos is impaction. The concern arises when the reptile swallows something it cannot digest. This leads to digestive issues, abnormal droppings, and a myriad of internal problems that can affect the pet’s feeding.

Leopard geckos are prey to numerous predators. As part of their survival instincts, they are pretty good at hiding health problems, and it’s easy to miss the telltale signs of impaction. Although the condition is treatable, your pet’s survival chances depend on how soon you notice the problem and consult a vet.

3. High Humidity Levels

The humidity levels in a Leo’s enclosure should constantly remain between 30 and 40%. Anything higher can encourage moss growth, posing a significant health risk to your pet.

Ingesting moss doesn’t doom your pet to sudden death, especially if it doesn’t happen too frequently. Moss is rich in nutrients, and leopard geckos in the wild eat it occasionally. 

Still, moss can harm your pet’s digestive health if ingested too often. It can lead to impaction, where ingested food cannot be processed, and the pet ends up not eating or pooping.

Maintaining the recommended humidity levels can help reduce the risk of moss growth in the moist hide. We also strongly recommend against using moss as a substrate because your Leo may be enticed to take a bite.

Moreover, high humidity levels can cause dehydration. In leopard geckos, dehydration can also occur when the body loses fluids faster than the reptile can replace by drinking water. If your hygrometer readings show your pet’s tank has high humidity levels, the easiest way to lower it is to open the screen top.

4. Parasitic Infections

Maintaining a clean vivarium can help keep parasitic infections at bay. Although some conditions are easy to treat and generally not life-threatening, others, like stick tail disease, can lead to sudden death.

Stick tail disease is caused by a microscopic parasite known as cryptosporidium, or crypto. The parasite is found naturally in a leopard gecko’s gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Although nearly half of all geckos in captivity have the parasite, not all infections lead to life-threatening stick tail disease.

The most common triggers of stick tail disease are stress, malnourishment, or other underlying health problems that impair the immune system. Chances of a Leo catching the disease are also higher by 9.8% in breeding colonies where two or more reptiles live in the same tank. In this case, one leopard gecko can get stick tail disease from eating cryptosporidium directly from the fecal matter of another gecko. 

The hallmark symptom of a crypto parasitic infection is drastic muscle loss around the tail. Typically, the tail grows so thin that it resembles a stick or pencil before it drops off. Unfortunately, the disease has no cure and can only be slowed down if caught early.

5. Bad Pairing

There are numerous reasons why pairing leopard geckos in the same vivarium is not recommended. Besides the increased risk of stick tail disease, Leos are very territorial, and bad pairing almost always guarantees the death of at least one of your pets.

If you must keep two leopard geckos in the same tank, consider housing females together or one male and female(s). 

Housing two males is a recipe for disaster, and they will fight to the death to claim their territory. Unfortunately, even the winning Leo may be too wounded to survive, especially when he fights against a well-matched opponent.

> Recommended Reading: Can Leopard Geckos Live Together?

Final Thoughts

Leopard geckos are relatively hardy and long-lived pets. However, the mere presence of signs like loss of appetite, weight loss, abnormal droppings, dehydration, and lethargy are cause for concern. 

Fortunately, noticing one of these leopard gecko dying signs often doesn’t mean your pet is doomed. Addressing housing, feeding, or health issues can quickly turn the situation around and afford you more years of happy and blissful companionship.

Grieving the death of a beloved pet is challenging. The loss can leave a hole that’s hard to fill. If you cannot save your Leo, you’ll have an easier time coping if you did everything possible to ensure his health, happiness, and comfort.

Frank Miller

Frank Miller is the Founder of Lizard Advisor and owns several pet lizards, from leopard geckos, bearded dragons, crested geckos, chameleons, and others. The mission of this website is to make owning a pet lizard very easy for everyone, but mostly beginners. And each year, he continues to help more people learn more about lizard care and much more.