7 Leopard Gecko Stress Signs & Common Causes

By Frank Miller •  Updated: 09/22/23 • 

Leopard Geckos are docile, making it tricky to understand their emotions fully. However, they are pretty expressive, and even the slightest change in what you consider “normal” behavior could leave you swamped with worry. Is my leopard gecko okay? Could he be stressed? What are the telltale signs of a stressed leopard gecko?

A stressed leopard gecko will show signs like tail wagging, excessive vocalization, glass surfing, and unexplained aggression. If you don’t identify and address the cause of stress, your Leo will also stop eating, have irregular bowel movements, and remain in hiding longer than usual. Prolonged stress lowers immunity, making your pet more vulnerable to disease.

If it piques your interest to know the typical leopard gecko stress signs, you have come to the right place. We will also discuss the common causes of stress and how to address them to ensure your pet’s health and happiness.

Let’s begin!

Is My Leopard Gecko Happy?

To understand the signs of a stressed leopard gecko, we must first decipher what a happy pet looks like. Although we can never truly understand what our reptile pets think, there are many ways to tell if they are healthy and happy.

Leopard geckos make excellent first-time pets because of their minimal care needs. Still, they need specific care to remain happy and healthy. For instance, you are almost assured of having a happy pet if you meet the tank husbandry requirements and provide a varied and nutrient-dense diet.

> Recommended Reading: 8 Signs to Tell Your Leopard Gecko is Happy & Healthy

7 Telltale Signs of a Stressed Leopard Gecko

Like humans, leopard geckos can experience physical and emotional stress caused by different concerns. As a responsible reptile keeper, you need to know the typical signs of a stressed pet to remove possible stressors or create a more conducive environment.

Here are seven telltale signs of a stressed leopard gecko.

1. Decreased Appetite and Weight Loss

Leopard geckos have good appetites and are always happy to get a snack. If your Leo turns the other way at the sight of food, you have reason to suspect something is amiss. Before you panic, try offering your pet his favorite treat. You have reason to suspect he is stressed if he only takes a few bites and returns into hiding.

Prolonged stress and loss of appetite will ultimately cause weight loss. This can be a danger sign, especially if your pet’s tail grows thinner by the day because of overusing the fat reserves. Your vet can help you identify the cause of stress and the ideal way to address it.

2. Excessive Licking

Like many other reptiles and amphibians, leopard geckos have the Jacobson’s organ, also known as the vomeronasal organ. Thanks to this organ, they can detect and decode odor particles in their environments. They commonly stick their tongue out to taste and determine specific characteristics of their surroundings.

Lip licking can also be a sign of stress, especially if you notice your leopard gecko doing it excessively. It could be that your pet is experiencing discomfort from a concern as simple as a stuck shed. Excessive licking, especially when accompanied by mouth gaping, could indicate something more severe, such as mouth rot.

You cannot afford to waste time if you suspect your leopard gecko is suffering from stress allied with a health problem. Start by picking up your scaly friend and examine the skin for a stuck shed. If you notice any, you can provide instant relief by soaking your pet in warm water.

3. Tail Wagging/ Stress Waving

Lip licking, like tail wagging, is normal behavior in leopard geckos. They wave and shake their tails when excited and also as a mating ritual during courtship. In this case, the tail wagging almost resembles tail rattling because of the quick movements.

On the other hand, if you see your Leo slowly moving the tail back and forth, yet he is not stalking prey, this could be a defensive stance. There is a good chance your pet is spooked, feels threatened, or simply does not want to be picked from the tank. The gesture is a fair warning to “keep off.”

To address the possible cause of stress, check the tank to ensure no threat is present. Calmly walk away if you don’t spot any potential stressors. Your beloved pet will soon calm down and assume his usual temperament once he confirms there’s no actual threat.

4. Glass Surfing/ Glass Dancing

Is your leopard gecko spending extended hours running frantically along the sides of his enclosure and attempting to climb the walls? This behavior is known as glass surfing or glass dancing. It can be caused by boredom, hunger, shedding discomfort, or distractions outside the enclosure.

Leopard Gecko Glass Surfing

Generally, there is no cause for alarm if glass surfing happens occasionally. However, you must investigate the cause of the behavior further if it happens too often. Glass surfing can also signify that your pet is stressed, feels threatened, or is uncomfortable to the extent he wants nothing more than to escape his tank.

5. Excessive Hiding

If you have just welcomed a new leopard gecko to your home, congratulations!

Unfortunately, your scaly friend will take some time to adjust to the new environment. He may spend most of his time hiding as he monitors potential threats. During this time, your pet may also refuse to eat and generally flash all the warning signals of stress.

The good news is that the reptile will soon adjust to your home. You can expedite the process by providing a comfortable, safe, and quiet environment. Don’t pick the pet from hiding during the adjustment period, and occasionally dangle a tasty treat to entice your Leo to come out for food. Retreat if he’s not up to it.

Leopard Gecko Hiding

After the adjustment period, excessive hiding also happens when your pet is undergoing brumation or the equivalent of mammalian hibernation. If spending all day and night in hiding is not caused by these two issues and your Leo is also not shedding, it can be a sign of stress triggered by the following concerns.

Again, one of the surest ways to keep your leopard gecko happy and stress-free is to uphold the recommended husbandry practices. An improper temperature gradient, bright lighting, and humidity fluctuations are notorious for causing stress, health issues, and a general feeling of insecurity.

> Recommended Reading: A Comprehensive Guide to Care for a Leopard Gecko

6. Excessive Vocalization

Leopard geckos are relatively quiet when happy and healthy. You can tell that your pet is stressed if he starts displaying emotions through posture and vocal cues. A stressed Leo can get unusually vocal and make various sounds, including clicking, chirping, squeaking, and quacking.

Although there’s little research about the reasons behind excessive vocalization, Leos typically get unusually yappy when mishandled, hungry, stressed, or threatened.

If your leopard gecko is stressed, a spree of chirping or squeaking noises will often be coupled with posture cues like tail wagging and tense limbs. Although it can be tempting to pick your pet and help him calm down, this will likely result in aggression. Your agitated leopard gecko will bite your finger or scamper into a hiding spot if he’s not up for a fight.

7. Lethargy

Lethargy in leopard geckos can be triggered by stress, poor husbandry, an illness, or injury. The typical signs of lethargy include sluggish movements, excessive hiding, staying stationary for hours, and keeping the eyes closed often.

If the tank conditions are okay, a quick health assessment by a qualified exotic vet could help you establish the root cause of lethargy. Sluggishness is often a key indicator of serious health concerns like Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD). If your pet keeps the eyes closed, this signifies that he is trying to cope with pain.

Unfortunately, lethargy is one of the top signs of a dying leopard gecko. This is more so if your pet is also visibly weak and showing symptoms like loss of appetite, drastic weight loss, and changes in bowel movements.

5 Common Causes of Stress in Leopard Geckos

Although it is unclear whether leopard geckos are capable of strong emotions, it is normal for them to feel stressed occasionally. Prolonged stress can trigger health problems, making it crucial to identify and address the underlying concerns.

Recognizing the signs of stress puts you one step closer to finding viable solutions. In this section, we will discuss common stress triggers. We aim to make it easier for you to help your scaly friend calm down and prevent possible problems in the future.

1. Poor Husbandry

We cannot emphasize enough the need to uphold the recommended husbandry practices. The following problems can trigger stress and a long list of health problems in leopard geckos.
Loud noises from people, cars, banging doors, etc.

2. Puberty

If you have spent at least one day with a teenager, perhaps you know too well that puberty tags along with serious mood swings. Things are no different for leopard geckos. They reach puberty at around 8 months and may become stressed out or moody as they deal with all the hormonal changes in their bodies.

Male leopard geckos in their prime can refuse to eat and show aggression out of sexual frustration. Females also stop eating and dig excessively during the breeding season. Even with no male in their tank, they may still lay infertile eggs and act grumpy when protecting them.

The good news is that puberty doesn’t last too long. Your scaly friend should enter adulthood at around 12 months old. Whether he is glass surfing, picky with food, or aggressive, be patient and put up with the attitude.

3. Bad Pairing

Leos are solitary animals and don’t need the company of members of their species. Cohabitation is not their thing and will typically end up in one Leo getting bullied if you pair females.

Conversely, males will fight for their turf, and territorial conflicts will ultimately leave one or both Leos dead.

A Thin Leopard Gecko Outcompeted for Food

A Thin Leopard Gecko Outcompeted for Food

If you must keep more than one Leo, keeping them in separate tanks is safer. Wars over food and hiding spots will likely cause more stress than is worth it.

Bugs, especially crickets, aren’t the best roommates for leopard geckos either. They can bite and stalk your pet, causing immense agitation and stress. You must remove any feeder insects from the tank 15 minutes after serving a meal.

4. Health Issues

Like humans, leopard geckos get stressed when sick. They may remain in hiding, refuse to eat, and show aggression if you try to handle them. The body aches from the following common leopard gecko diseases can leave your scaly companion in a nasty, stressed-out mood.

If you suspect your pet is sick, we recommend consulting your vet immediately.

5. Excessive Handling

Proper handling is beneficial to leopard geckos. It allows you to bond with your pet and may help calm down a stressed Leo. Most importantly, it will enable you to do a quick health check on your scaly companion and search for anomalies like stuck sheds, lumps, nasal and eye discharge, and signs of injury.

Unfortunately, excessive handling can hinder your efforts to create a close owner-pet attachment. The same goes for improper handling. Unless your pet feels safe enough to trust you, he will get overly nervous each time you reach out to pick him up.

Leopard geckos are not the lovey-dovey type. They are solitary by nature, and wrong or excessive handling can trigger stress or aggression. Here are a few tips to ensure your bonding sessions are pleasant and comfortable for you and your scaly friend.

Can My Leopard Gecko Die From Stress?

Stress alone is unlikely to cause death in an otherwise healthy leopard gecko. However, prolonged stress can contribute to the untimely death of your pet because it causes loss of appetite, lethargy, and a drop in the reptile’s overall immunity.

Generally, stress can put a Leo over the edge, mainly when caused by poor enclosure conditions, cohabitation, or disease. If you suspect your pet is stressed, it is worth taking a step back, evaluating the situation, and seeing how you can help elevate the reptile’s spirit.

Consult a vet if your efforts seem futile. When the underlying cause of stress is an illness, your leopard gecko’s life may depend on your ability to identify something is off and seek timely medical intervention.

> Recommended Reading: Leopard Gecko Dying Signs & Causes of Sudden Death

Final Thoughts

For reptile keepers, it is crucial to know the leopard gecko stress signs, their possible causes, and how to address them. Leos are very sensitive to their environment. Even things as negligible as a cricket in their tank or a change in the enclosure’s decor can cause immense stress.

If you think your pet is stressed, we recommend first checking the conditions of the vivarium. Don’t assume your scaly friend is being dramatic if you see him ignoring food or stress waving when you approach. Consult your vet if you cannot tell the underlying cause of behavioral changes.

Again, stress can contribute to health problems, leading to early death.

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.