If your leopard gecko is having trouble eating and has lost a lot of weight, you will have to force-feed it. But how are you going to do this? Well, that’s what we’re going to talk about in this post.
The Best Foods for Force Feeding a Leopard Gecko
The best food options for force feeding are baby food mixtures and crushed insects.
The best baby food mixture to use is chicken or turkey.
The best feeder insects to crush are larval ones like mealworms, wax worms, silkworms, black soldier fly larvae, and hornworms.
These feeder insects are usually easier to grip and handle than fast ones like crickets, roaches, and grasshoppers. Also, they are fatty, making them great for leopard geckos who have lost weight due to their refusal to eat.
However, leopard geckos who have stopped eating because they have fatty liver disease should be offered less fatty options. Consult a vet to ensure that you choose the right insects.
Whatever insects you eventually go with, the process of crushing them and making them into a slurry is the same.
How to Crush and Prepare the Insects
To start, you’ll have to choose 5 to 8 insects and then coat them with calcium and vitamin supplements.
Afterward, you’ll need to mix them with water and crush them using a pestle and mortar. Alternatively, you could use a blending stick or mini blender to get this done.
Just ensure that the resulting slurry is smooth – if it’s too thick though, you can add some Pedialyte to it. You can do this to thick baby food mixtures as well.
This will not only thin them out but also help rehydrate your leopard gecko. Once you have added it, it’s time to fill up a syringe with your chosen slurry.
How to Force Feed Your Leopard Gecko
Afterward, pick up your leopard gecko, remove it from its cage and hold it.
Once you’re steady, gently push out some of the food slurry from the syringe and deposit it on your leopard gecko’s face, particularly near its nose and mouth.
You can gently stroke the side of your gecko’s mouth to encourage it to open.
At this point, you should notice your reptile licking the food off its face and sometimes even trying to lick the tip of the syringe.
Once your reptile licks all the food deposited, offer more and more until they get full.
Repeat this process for all your reptile’s meals until they start to eat on their own.
You can test their willingness to do so by offering a bowl of worms and seeing how they react.
Whatever you do though, don’t open your leopard gecko’s mouth by force. This will only stress them out and make them more likely to reject food.
If force-feeding doesn’t work on your leopard gecko or you’re not sure whether to go ahead with it, you need to see a vet. Such a professional can help you figure out how to get your leopard gecko to eat and even diagnose any underlying issues.
When should you force-feed a leopard gecko?
Generally, force-feeding should be a last-ditch effort to get your leopard gecko to eat. It is usually done when a reptile loses a drastic amount of weight or has gotten dehydrated.
This is usually a result of the continuous refusal or inability to eat. If things get dire, it’s best to go to a vet – they can prescribe something that works better than a homemade food slurry.
On the other hand, if your leopard gecko has only rejected food a couple of times, you can hand feed them some live insects.
You can do this by holding the insect a few inches from its mouth and waiting for them to come for it.
Alternatively, you can hold your leopard gecko with your non-dominant hand and hold the insect near its mouth using the dominant hand.
Ultimately, these methods of feeding are more suited to leopard geckos who want to eat but are struggling with hunting.
On the other hand, force-feeding is reserved for those who are beyond this stage and even struggle with appetite and chewing/swallowing.
Are there other ways a vet can force-feed your leopard gecko?
If your vet discovers that your gecko’s appetite/weight loss has become chronic, they may opt for more forceful or invasive ways to get them to eat.
They usually do this by first holding your leopard gecko, restraining it, and then stroking the side of its mouth to prompt it to open up.
Once your gecko does this, the vet will probably place their fingers at the sides of its mouth to keep it open as they place food inside.
Finally, the vet will remove their fingers, allowing your gecko to shut its mouth.
Generally, this process is hazardous and should only be performed at home when under the instruction of a vet. Doing it on your own accord can easily lead to choking, jaw injuries, and overfeeding.
Another type of force-feeding that vets can use to help your leopard geckos is through intubation.
This is a method of delivering food directly into your reptile’s stomach using a tube. Since it’s invasive and quite severe, this nutritional support is usually reserved for reptiles who have lost 10% of their body weight.
It’s also worth noting that you shouldn’t intubate your Leo at home by yourself. This procedure should only be conducted by professionals with anatomical knowledge and specialized medical equipment.
What are the risks associated with force-feeding your leopard gecko?
The major risk associated with force-feeding your leopard gecko is that of injury.
You can easily hold your leopard gecko too tightly when feeding them, causing a crush injury or even triggering them to drop their tail.
Your leopard gecko can also get injured while being force-fed by a vet through the mouth or via intubation. This is particularly dangerous for a leopard gecko who is already ill, dehydrated, or malnourished.
Why is your leopard gecko not eating?
There are several reasons, including:
Chronic stress due to changes
If you have recently purchased your leopard gecko or placed them in a new tank, they may stop eating for a while as they adjust.
But if they are also bombarded by other stressors like an aggressive tank mate, they may not eat for longer.
This will eventually force you to force-feed your leopard gecko.
When the humidity levels in your leopard gecko tank go below 30% to 40%, it can lead to shedding problems.
These problems can lead to prolonged periods of loss of appetite. After all, even regular shedding can make your reptile not eat for 1 to 3 days.
That’s why it’s important to maintain proper humidity levels in the tank and provide humid hides. Providing rough surfaces that your reptile can rub against when shedding is also integral.
If your leopard gecko is infected with parasites, it can lose its appetite, vomit, and even regurgitate food.
This can eventually lead to severe weight loss and even leave your reptile with a thin tail.
So when you notice these symptoms, you need to do more than force-feed your gecko. You’ll need to take it to the vet as well so that it’s properly diagnosed and treated.
Metabolic bone disease
This disease is caused by a lack of calcium and vitamin D3 in your leopard gecko’s diet. Its symptoms include lethargy, deformed limbs, and mobility problems.
Such symptoms can eventually lead to loss of appetite and weight loss. So if you notice them, take your reptile to the vet immediately.
Fatty liver disease
As its name suggests, fatty liver disease is characterized by fat cells invading your gecko’s liver. It is usually caused by overfeeding and obesity.
Once this disease develops in your reptile, it will become lethargic and eventually stop eating. This gives way to diarrhea and then rapid weight loss.
So when your leopard gecko exhibits these symptoms, it’s integral to take them to the vet immediately.
Not only will they treat your reptile, but they’ll also advise you on how to feed them going forward. Ultimately, the dietary requirements of a leopard gecko with fatty liver disease are not the same as those of other underweight geckos.
When it comes down to it, force-feeding is something you should only do when your leopard gecko is underweight and getting worse. Whatever you do, always opt to involve your vet.