As anyone who has ever had a leopard gecko before will tell you, these reptiles do a lot of strange things. For instance, they sometimes lick their vents. But why do they do this?
Leopard geckos lick their vents as a way to clean themselves, especially after defecating. However, they can also do this to soothe pain caused by constipation and impaction. It’s also common for female leopard geckos to lick their vent after laying eggs.
What is a Vent?
Before we dive into the various reasons a leopard gecko would be licking its vent, we need to ensure you understand what a vent is. If it’s your first time keeping one of these reptiles, you may not know this. Fortunately, we’re here to illuminate you – a gecko’s vent is its genitalia.
It’s located on the leopard gecko’s rear end at the base of their tail. It houses circular pores through which your pet passes reproductive matter and feces. As such, it is normal to be grossed out when you find your leopard gecko licking its vent. However, this is mainly a natural thing for them and is usually nothing to worry about. There are only a few cases where this behavior would indicate a health issue.
Related: Why leopard geckos sometimes drag their back legs
9 Reasons why your leopard gecko is licking its vent
The top 9 reasons why leopard geckos lick themselves include:
1. To clean themselves after defecation
Many animals lick themselves to stay clean, leopard geckos included. It’s therefore not surprising that your leopard gecko can lick its vent to keep it clean, especially after defecation. As such, it’s important to always wash your hands after handling your pet. This will keep you from getting any germs from your pet all over yourself and spreading them to others.
This is particularly important because leopard geckos have been known to harbor salmonella – a bacteria that doesn’t affect them but makes humans sick. So if you or someone near you has a weak immune system due to sickness or advanced age, you should be particularly careful.
Fortunately, leopard geckos have a ritual around their defecation and post-defecation cleaning, so it’s easy to know when it’s not advisable to handle them. Whenever they need to poop, they will use the same corner of their tank. Afterward, they will go to a quiet and isolated spot nearby and lick their vent for a few seconds or even minutes. So if your leopard gecko does this every day, you have nothing to worry about -it’s normal
2. To cope with shedding
It’s common to see leopard geckos licking themselves after they shed. They probably do this to ensure that they’ve gotten all the old skin off and ease any discomfort caused by the shedding process. Ultimately, considering how long and uncomfortable shedding is for leopard geckos, it’s not surprising that they do this.
The process usually starts around the head and neck areas before spreading all through the gecko’s body – the tail and vent areas are usually the last to go. Eventually, the skin comes off in a single piece. But before that happens, many leopard geckos will rub themselves on surfaces and even tug on their skin with their feet. So if you see your leopard gecko licking its vent during or after shedding, just know they’re trying to cope with what’s happening.
3. To clean up after marking their territory
When male leopard geckos want to mark their territory, they release a waxy secretion from their vent, lick it, smear it all over their bodies, and then rub their bodies all over the objects they want to claim. So when you see your adult male leopard gecko licking its vent, it could be that they are trying to clean it after marking their territory.
Usually, male leopard geckos mark their territory when they encounter a rival male and feel like they need to defend themselves. Sometimes, this behavior is even accompanied by hissing, snarling, lunging, and body arching. It’s however important to note that some male leopard geckos are still territorial when they’re alone.
Also called scent-making, this behavior is usually used to signal to female leopard geckos that a male is ready to mate. However, it’s important to note that it’s only possible among leopard geckos who are six to eight months old.
4. To clean themselves up after mating
During mating, leopard geckos touch their vents together and stay in that position for 5 to 10 minutes. Afterward, they lick their vents to clean them up. While this seems gross, it’s part of their nature.
5. To soothe themselves after impaction/constipation
While most of the reasons that your leopard gecko would lick its vent are natural, a few aren’t. For instance, your gecko can lick its vent when it’s constipated to offer lubrication so that its poop can pass more easily and painlessly. Also, your leopard gecko can lick their vent when it’s impacted.
This is because impaction plugs up your gecko’s vent and can even make it swell up. Ultimately, your leopard gecko can lick it to soothe the discomfort caused and even as an attempt to clear out the area. So if you notice that your leopard gecko hasn’t passed stool in a while, has eaten some substrate particles, and is licking its vent, know that they could be impacted.
To help them ease their pain and finally poop, you could rub their belly and even soak them in warm water. But if this doesn’t work, you have no choice but to take your gecko to the vet.
6. To masturbate or remove semen plugs
A lot of times, male leopard geckos lick their vents as a way to masturbate. They can also do this as an attempt to clear semen plugs. These plugs are usually the result of the hardening of seminal fluids that are produced during breeding season and have not been used. If they are not removed, they will make it hard or impossible for your leopard gecko to poop.
This is not only unhealthy but also uncomfortable for your leopard gecko. That’s why your leopard gecko can even go as far as rubbing itself on a foreign object to get a semen plug out. To help your pet, you can soak it in a bowl of warm water and gently work the softened semen plug out.
7. To ease the discomfort caused by laying eggs
If you have a female leopard gecko, you may notice that it licks its vent just before or after laying eggs. These geckos usually do this to ease the discomfort they feel before laying eggs or to clean up after. If there’s one thing you need to know about the egg-laying process in female leopard geckos though, it’s that it’s not reliant on them mating. As such, even geckos who’ve not mated can produce eggs, albeit infertile ones. They will often eat infertile eggs after laying them.
8. To ease the pain caused by parasites
In rare cases, leopard geckos can lick their vents to ease pain caused by parasite infestations.
Fortunately, if your leopard gecko has any internal parasites, you will figure it out quickly because they will have other symptoms like:
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Loss of tail fat
- Regurgitation or vomiting attempts
So if you notice any of the above-mentioned symptoms, take your leopard gecko to the vet immediately. Just keep in mind that the vet may need a stool sample from your pet to make a proper diagnosis. Some common parasites they may look for include coccidia, pinworms, and cryptosporidium.
9. To ease pain caused by an infection
If your leopard gecko licks its vent and exhibits symptoms like lethargy, swelling, redness, and irritation, it could have an infection. So immediately you notice this, take them to the vet for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Should you be worried when your leopard gecko constantly licks its vent?
The fact that your leopard gecko licks its vent frequently isn’t by itself a source of concern. Generally, you should only be worried if this behavior is accompanied by symptoms of constipation, impaction, infection, or parasite infestation. Otherwise, consider it a normal gecko behavior, as gross as it may be. You can always look away if it makes you feel queasy.
Is vent licking a grooming practice among leopard geckos?
Yes, vent licking is an important part of your gecko’s grooming process. However, this is not the only or even the main way leopard geckos groom themselves – they generally depend on shedding for this. That’s why they shed their entire top layer of skin every few months. It’s however important to note that baby leopard geckos shed more frequently than juveniles and adults – every two weeks or so. This is because they grow much faster.
As strange as it may seem, vent licking is a natural behavior that helps leopard geckos clean themselves and even ease their discomfort. As such, you should never try to stop your pet from doing this – it’s best to embrace it instead. As long as your leopard gecko isn’t exhibiting any health problems and you always wash your hands after handling it, everything will be fine.