It is not uncommon for newbie reptile owners to be unfamiliar with the significance of calcium in their Leopard Gecko’s diet. Learn all you need to know about your gecko’s age-specific calcium requirements and how to identify calcium deficiencies promptly.
Leopard Geckos require calcium and vitamin D3 supplementation to remain healthy. Calcium quantities and supplementation approaches differ for juvenile, mature, and breeding geckos. Calcium deficiencies need to be addressed promptly to avoid life-threatening conditions.
How Calcium Helps Leopard Geckos
Leopard Geckos require calcium in and out of captivity for their continued health and wellbeing. Calcium is vital for maintaining a healthy metabolism, muscle function, and bone development in reptiles.
Here are the key reasons calcium is critical for a healthy Leopard Gecko:
Regeneration of body parts
Leopard Geckos are unique in that they can regenerate parts of their body.
They are well-known for regenerating their tails after losing them in conflict or when feeling threatened. Researchers have also discovered that Leopard Geckos can regenerate parts of their brains and spinal cords.
Calcium is required for this multi-tissue regeneration. A deficiency can lead to injury, an inability to heal, and other more severe concerns.
Maintenance and growth of teeth
Problems with their teeth can be life-threatening as they rely on them for gripping and tearing their meat and hunting for food.
Female Leopard Geckos have higher calcium requirements as they need to compensate for the loss of calcium caused by egg production. A female will lay a clutch of eggs every two or three weeks over four to five months.
Excess calcium is imperative to avoid female Leopard Geckos depleting their calcium resources and becoming calcium deficient. Calcium deficiencies can severely affect their health and lead to more complicated illnesses.
MBD is a common concern for breeding females that are not supplemented sufficiently.
Prevention of life-threatening diseases
Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) is a life-threatening, painful disease that is quick to develop if improper calcium levels are present in your Leopard Geckos diet. It usually occurs when phosphorus levels are too high, vitamin d3 levels are too low, and insufficient calcium is present in their diet.
A lack of calcium in your gecko’s diet forces them to utilize the calcium in their bones to survive. Adult Leopard Geckos will lose bone density, and juvenile geckos will experience a lack of bone density formation and stunted growth.
The main symptoms of MBD include lethargy, loss of appetite, crooked or bowed legs, tail thinning, swollen, deformed, or fragile limbs, difficulty raising the body off the ground, lower jaw flexibility, and in severe cases, seizures, and death.
Fortunately, MBD is preventable if you provide your Leopard Gecko with a varied diet with the correct supplementation.
How has captivity altered things?
In their natural habitat, Leopard Geckos source their calcium by licking various mineral deposits off rocks and other surfaces. They also eat various wild insects rich in minerals and vitamins that consume various wild plants.
The natural sunlight they are exposed to also helps them get the vitamin D3 required for proper calcium absorption.
These conditions are not naturally available in a terrarium environment and are impossible to replicate completely. Leopard Geckos cannot source their calcium from their surroundings and rely on their owners for supplementation.
Feeder insects lack the minerals and calcium required for healthy gecko development. Leopard Geckos also grow more rapidly in captivity, increasing their demand for calcium to maintain healthy bones and metabolisms.
How to choose the correct calcium supplementation
Leopard Geckos all require calcium and vitamin D3 supplementation. The amount of calcium and D3 you provide depends on the age of your gecko and whether they are breeding.
Supplements are available both online and in local reptile stores.
It is essential to choose a good supplement that will help to adjust your Leopard Geckos intake to maintain a calcium to phosphorus ratio of 2:1. This is the optimal ratio to support their metabolism.
Before choosing a supplement, consider how rich in phosphorus your main staple feeder insects are. Most feeder insects are low in calcium and high in phosphorus.
Phosphorus, unfortunately, hinders proper calcium absorption. So, the higher phosphorus content your Leo consumes, the more calcium they will need to consume to absorb the optimal amounts.
If you have breeding Leopard Geckos, they will require a more potent calcium supplement.
4 Ways to Give Your Leopard Gecko Calcium
There are several ways to provide your Leopard Gecko with calcium. Fortunately, these methods are relatively simple.
Gut loading feeder insects
Gut-loading is simply the process of feeding your feeder insects with mineral and nutrient-rich foods approximately 24 hours before providing them to your Leopard Geckos. The geckos will benefit from absorbing these essential nutrients when consuming these gut-loaded insects.
You can purchase specially formulated gut-loading mixes that you can provide to your feeders if you are concerned about providing the necessary supplements. Alternatively, add calcium supplementation to the high-quality fresh foods you provide to your feeders. You can learn how to gut-load mealworms here.
Dusting is the practice of dusting your feeder insects with a vitamin or nutrient powder before feeding them to your Leopard Gecko.
You need a plastic bag, jar, or plastic box to place the insects and supplement powder in. You then lightly shake the container to ensure the insects are coated and place the insects in a shallow feeding tray in the gecko’s tank.
Ensure to not over dust the insects as this may make them less appetizing and add less powder for smaller-sized insects. You can spray the insects lightly with water before dusting them if you are concerned about the dusting not sticking or falling off before consumption.
On rare occasions, the calcium powder can get stuck to the Leopard Geckos’ eyes or eyelids. This usually resolves itself with time, and the gecko will lick it off. If it persists, you can spray or syringe distilled water on the eyes to clear it.
Calcium lick dish
In some cases, such as when breeding, your Leopard Geckos will require an additional source of calcium. It is sometimes advantageous to allow them to monitor and control their own calcium intake.
Adding a dish with pure calcium to their tank will give them the extra calcium boost they require. A teaspoon amount is usually sufficient. It is better only to offer pure calcium and not calcium mixed with vitamin D3 to avoid any possible rare overdose or organ failure.
Most Leopard Geckos do not require a lick dish as they typically get enough calcium and D3 from the gut-loaded and dusted insects.
In some cases, however, your vet may recommend that you leave a dish in the tank. If so, add the dish to their tank when they are most active, in the night and early morning.
Instead of a lick dish, you can also choose to provide your Leopard Gecko with a calcium snack such as cuttlebone or sepia bone. These are not only considered a tasty treat for geckos but an excellent source of calcium.
Sepia bones are formed of aragonite which is a type of calcium carbonate. These snacks are usually only recommended if your Leopard Gecko is deficient or breeding or your vet has recommended an extra calcium boost.
Recommended calcium and vitamin schedule by age
As previously mentioned, vitamin and nutrient supplementation differs according to the life stage of your Leopard Gecko or whether they are breeding or suffering from a health condition.
Below is a detailed guide on the recommended number of gut-loaded feeds required at each Leopard Gecko stage and how many of these feeds need calcium, vitamin D3, or multivitamin dusting.
This is merely a guide and may need adjustment depending on the variety and size of the insects you provide and the health and size of your Leopard Gecko.
Baby Leopard Geckos require daily feeding with gut-loaded staple feeders, and three of these feeds should be dusted with a calcium and D3 vitamin supplement. A weekly multivitamin will also support their rapid growth and development.
Juvenile Leopard Geckos require feeding approximately five days a week with gut-loaded insects. One of the feeds should be dusted with calcium, and two feeds with calcium and vitamin D3 dusting. A multivitamin once a week is sufficient.
Mature Leopard Geckos should be fed on alternate days or at least 3 to 4 days a week with gut-loaded insects. One feed a week should be dusted with pure calcium and two times a week with calcium and D3, much like your juvenile geckos.
A multivitamin is only necessary once a month, and adding a pure calcium lick dish to the tank is not required but can be placed periodically in the tank in the evenings.
Breeding females need extra attention when it comes to supplementation due to the extra nutrients and vitamins needed for egg formation. Feed on alternate days, like your mature geckos. They, however, require at least three of the gut-loaded feeds to be dusted with calcium and D3 vitamins.
Leave a pure calcium dish in their tank so that they can freely help themselves. Leopard Geckos are good at judging how much calcium they require.
Breeding females also benefit from receiving a weekly multivitamin.
|Life stage||Gut Loaded insects||Calcium dusting||Calcium and D3 dusting||Pure Calcium dish||Multivitamindusting|
|Baby||Daily||None||3 x week||None||1 x week|
|Juvenile||5 x week||1 x week||2 x week||None||1 x week|
|Mature||3-4 x week(alternate days)||1 x week||2 x week||Not necessary. (approx. 1 tsp)||1 x month|
|Breeding Female||3–4 x week(alternate days)||None||3 x week||Daily – freely available(approx. 1 tsp)||1 x week|
Can a Leopard Gecko survive without calcium?
Calcium is vital to the healthy life of a Leopard Gecko. A Leopard Gecko can remain healthy for approximately two weeks without calcium, after which they may start symptoms of MBD or other calcium deficiency-related symptoms.
MBD can progress quite rapidly if not addressed; the symptoms can be irreversible, painful, and life-threatening. Always consult a reptile veterinarian if you suspect your Leopard Gecko is displaying signs of a calcium deficiency.
Supplementing your Leopard Gecko with the appropriate quantities of good quality calcium and vitamin D3 is imperative for the healthy development and maintenance of your gecko’s bones and metabolism.
By gut-loading your feeders before every feed and dusting them with calcium and D3 supplements, you can ensure they get the nutrients and vitamins needed to remain healthy.
Keep an eye on your Leopard Geckos’ behavior and act quickly if any signs of calcium deficiency present. Adjustments to their feeding and supplement schedule must be made throughout their lifetime.