Do Leopard Geckos Need a Heat Lamp? (Pros & Cons)

*This post contains affiliate links, if you buy through a link on this post we may receive a commission.

Setting up a leopard gecko’s tank can be tricky, especially if you’ve never done it before. For instance, you may wonder whether your gecko needs a heat lamp. Fortunately, that’s what we’re going to talk about today. 

Leopard geckos don’t necessarily need heat lamps. As long as you find a way to heat your leopard gecko’s tank consistently, everything should be fine. However, installing a heat lamp can be an excellent way to do this. 

Do leopard geckos need heat?

Yes, leopard geckos need heat to survive, mainly because they need to absorb external heat to carry out essential bodily functions like digestion. However, they can survive without a heating source for a few days, after which they will be forced to enter brumation to stay alive. The brumation process can go on for 30 to 90 days. 

But this process is only possible if the temperatures don’t go lower than 60 degrees Fahrenheit. If leopard geckos are exposed to lower temperatures for a prolonged period, they can get sick.

What health risks are associated with leaving your leopard gecko in cold temperatures for long?

The three most common health conditions associated with prolonged exposure to low temperatures in leopard geckos are:

Respiratory infections

Respiratory infections like pneumonia are common among leopard geckos who are exposed to cold temperatures for long periods. Common symptoms associated with these infections include fast breathing, lethargy, weight loss, loss of appetite, and clogged nostrils.

So if you notice these symptoms in your pet, take them to the vet. Since bacteria usually cause these infections, your vet will probably administer antibiotics and probiotics to treat them.


Since cold temperatures slow down leopard geckos’ digestive systems, they can easily lead to impaction. However, there are some home-based interventions you can employ. For instance, you can place your pet in a warm bath and then massage their belly.

Alternatively, you could orally administer a drop of mineral/olive oil to your leopard gecko to ease the blockage. If things don’t clear up after such interventions, you’ll have to take your gecko to the vet.

Stick tail disease

As its name suggests, this disease is majorly characterized by loss of tail fat reservoirs. Ultimately, it makes leopard geckos’ tails look like sticks. Generally, this disease can only be diagnosed and treated by a vet. Your vet will take stool and blood samples from your leopard gecko to confirm the diagnosis. 

What are the advantages of using a heat lamp in your leopard gecko’s tank?

If you choose to use a heat lamp to achieve the ideal temperature for you leopard gecko, here are some advantages to look out for:

It prevents mold growth

Because heat lamps dry up your leopard gecko’s tank, they can reduce mold growth chances. This is mainly a good thing if you expect your leopard gecko to lay eggs soon

It’s safe

Since it’s harder for leopard geckos to reach heat lamps, they are safer than many other heat sources. These lamps are usually installed on top of tanks, too far away to cause any serious burns.

It can be dimmed

One of the most interesting things about heat lamps is that you can dim them to regulate both their heat and light outputs. This is a particularly common feature among halogen heat lamps.

It is similar to natural sunlight

Heat lamps, particularly halogen ones, are very similar to natural sunlight. As such, using them encourages a natural day-night cycle.

It produces infrared waves

Since heat lamps produce infrared waves, they can heat your leopard gecko to its core. 

How do you choose a suitable heat lamp for your leopard gecko’s tank?

The best heat lamps for leopard gecko tanks have a wattage between 40 to 150 watts. Specifically, a 50-watt heat lamp is needed for nighttime heating, while a 100-watt bulb is suitable for daytime heating. However, keep in mind that the larger your leopard gecko is, the higher the wattage it will need. 

What do you need to install heat lamps in your leopard gecko’s tank? 

Whether you are looking to install an external or internal heat lamp, you are going to need :

  • Wire cage
  • Ceramic socket
  • Lamp dome
  • Dome clips
  • Lampstand
  • Plug-in dimmer
  • Clamp lamp
  • Outlet timer/plug
  • Thermostat 

Because it takes a lot of accessories to install a heat lamp, it is usually costly to do so. However, it’s important to note that you can get great package deals from reptile specialty stores or local exotic pet shops. 

What can you use instead of a heat lamp in your leopard gecko’s tank?

Instead of a heat lamp, you can use a heat mat. These mats are particularly great because they can easily heat your gecko’s belly. It also helps that they are easier and cheaper to install than heat lamps. You only need a thermostat to install a heat mat, while you need several accessories to install a heat lamp. 

While you can also choose to get a holder for your heat mat, it is not compulsory. Moreover, finding these holders is difficult, particularly in the United States. Other ways in which heat mats and heat lamps differ include:


While heat mats only produce heat, heat lamps produce both heat and light. This makes the latter better for daytime heating and lighting, especially since it mimics sunlight. Some heat lamps even produce ultraviolet radiation too. Just ensure that you turn them off at night so that you don’t mess with your leopard gecko’s day-night cycle. Ultimately, heat mats are better suited for nighttime heating, especially in places that experience night temperatures below 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

Produced heat

Heat lamps produce thermal radiation that encompasses infrared A (38%), B (39%), and C (12%). When combined, these produce heat that penetrates deeply. On the other hand, heat mats only produce infrared C radiation, leading to only superficial heating. 

Generally, infrared C radiation is the least penetrative while infrared A radiation is the most penetrative. On the other hand, infrared B is only moderately penetrative. It’s important to note that the sun also produces all three types of radiation like heat lamps. It has approximately 32% of infrared A, 14% of B, and 2% of C. On the other hand, all of earth’s inanimate objects that absorb sunlight emit infrared radiation C into their surroundings. 

Temperature regulation

Once you turn a heat mat on, you can’t regulate the heat it produces without turning it on and off. That’s why these mats are usually used with mat thermostats. These thermostats work by turning on your gecko’s heat mat until it reaches your set temperature and then turning it off until the temperature drops. One major challenge comes with this kind of setup, though – it can be difficult to figure out if the thermostat is working. This is mainly because it doesn’t feature any visual cues such as lights. 

Another type of thermostat that you can use with heat mats is a pulse thermostat. While these thermostats work similarly to mat ones, they don’t completely shut down heat mats when the set temperatures are reached. Instead, they alter the frequency at which electric current is supplied to the mats. 

So when you initially turn on your heat mat, this type of thermostat will ensure that your heat mat is supplied with rapid energy pulses to reach the set temperature. But once the temperature is reached, the energy pulses slow down and only speed up again when the temperature drops. But if there’s one thing that mat and pulse thermostats have in common, it’s that they shouldn’t be used with heat lamps – they will make their lights flicker.

Ultimately, dimming thermostats are the only thermostats that are suitable for heat lamps. These are the only thermostats that can regulate the heating and lighting of heat lamps without causing any blinking lights. The way that these thermostats dim lights is usually organic. 

Power rating

While most heat lamps for leopard gecko tanks have a wattage of 40 to 150 watts, heat mats have only 10 to 50 watts. It’s important to note that heat lamps require more electrical energy, mainly because they produce both heat and light. Also, it would help if you remembered that the larger your gecko’s tank is, the higher the ratings you’ll need, regardless of the heat source you use. 

Positioning in the tank

Usually, heat mats are placed below tanks or beneath a thin substrate layer of around 0.39 centimeters. On the other hand, heat lamps should be placed at the top of your leopard gecko’s tank, at a height of at least 12 inches from the top of the substrate. Ideally, these lamps should be placed on the ceiling of your gecko’s tank. However, both heat mats and lamps should be placed on the warm side of your leopard gecko’s tank. 

Can you use heat lamps and heat mats together?

Ultimately, it’s best to use both heat lamps and heat mats in your leopard gecko’s tank. While you can use heat mats 24/7 in your gecko’s tank, you can’t use heat lamps 24/7 – the light they produce will negatively affect your gecko at night. So you can turn on both your heat mat and heat lamp during the day and use the heat mat only at night. Just remember that your gecko’s tank will still need heating when it’s warm outside.

What heating sources should you avoid for your leopard gecko’s tank?

No matter how tempting it is, don’t use fireplaces, hand warmers, heat packs, or plastic bottles filled with warm water to heat your gecko’s tank. Ultimately, these heating alternatives are dangerous. 

For instance, direct contact with heat packs and hand warmers can burn your leopard gecko and even kill them. On the other hand, fireplaces can crack your gecko’s enclosure and expose it to extreme heat. And plastic bottles containing warm water aren’t better either – they can spill water all over your gecko’s tank and even lead to respiratory infections. 

What should you do when a power outage turns off your tank’s heat mats and lamps? 

The major challenge that both heat mats and heat lamps face is that they’re dependent on electricity availability. So when your power goes out, they go out as well. Ultimately, the best way to combat this is to get a generator.

Beyond this, you should always have an emergency plan for when you know you’ll have a power outage. For instance, you can stop feeding your leopard gecko 24 hours before the scheduled power outage. This will keep food from rotting in your pet’s gut, causing disease and even death in some cases. Another thing you can do is add substrate layered to your gecko’s tank – it will keep the enclosure warmer for longer.

You can even move the entire tank into a confined space such as a bathroom or a wardrobe to further enhance heat retention. You can take things a step further by increasing the temperature on your thermostat. Increasing the temperature by 2 degrees can help the tank stay warm for longer. When faced with an emergency, it’s advisable to try creating a candle space heater. 

Such heaters are particularly suitable in cases where your leopard gecko is sick or external temperatures have gone below freezing point. However, they are only safe to set up in rooms that pets and children can’t access. 

Final thoughts 

Ultimately, while leopard geckos don’t necessarily need heat lamps, they can benefit from them. These lamps can provide deep-penetrating heat that your gecko can’t get elsewhere. So when possible, use these lamps together with heat mats to ensure that your pet gets the heat they need 24/7. This will keep them healthy and happy for years to come. 

Leave a Comment