It is not uncommon for gecko owners to grow anxious after noticing their Leopard Geckos shake. Shaking can be a natural Leo behavior but can also point to a more severe condition. Learn the causes and recognize the shaking and how to manage it.
Leopard Geckos shake for several reasons. Shaking can be a natural form of communication or a result of shedding. Conversely, shaking can result from stress, choking, or more severe illnesses such as Metabolic Bone Disease or Enigma syndrome.
6 reasons why your Leopard Gecko is shaking
Shaking in Leopard Geckos can be harmless or triggered by environmental factors that can be easily corrected. Other, more serious explanations can be life-threatening if not addressed early on. It is always best to visit an exotic vet if you are unsure of the cause of the shake.
Here are some of the main shaking explanations and some helpful advice on managing them.
Your Leopard Gecko is stressed
Leopard Geckos often wave their tails and sometimes even squeak when stressed or defending themselves. Occasionally this tail-wagging may be incorrectly recognized as a shake by newbie gecko owners. Leo’s whole body can shake and vibrate with an enthusiastic tail wagging.
If Leo is new to its environment or not yet socialized in being handled by its owner, it may feel threatened and respond defensively. Leo may also be responding to larger, older Leopard Geckos that are bullying them. This is particularly common in enclosures with more than one male.
Although stress is unhealthy for Leo, if you recognize that their shaking and tail wagging is related to a threat, it can luckily be easily corrected. Separate your problem Leopard Geckos or invest in a larger enclosure. Adding additional feeding bowls may also help to reduce conflict and threats.
Be patient and slowly let Leo become more accustomed to you. Handle Leo for short periods and try not to make any sudden movements around their enclosure.
Leo is shedding
Leopard Geckos shed every four to eight weeks, and as juveniles, as often as weekly or biweekly.
Shedding is not a stress-free process for your Leo as it can make their skin feel tight and uncomfortable. Your Leopard Gecko may shake while walking to try and shake off their dry skin or simply because it feels uncomfortable when moving.
If your Leopard Geckos’ skin looks dull, a whitish-grey color, and they have lost their appetite, they are most likely shedding, and the shaking is no need for concern. This is a natural process for Leo, and the shaking should discontinue once the shedding is complete.
The only time you may need to intervene is if Leo keeps shaking and continues to look irritated after the shedding process should have been completed. Stuck shed is relatively common in Leopard Geckos. You may need to help Leo remove the skin gently after a warm bath or visit an exotic vet for assistance.
If you notice your Leopard Gecko shaking aggressively and pointing its head to the ceiling, it may be having trouble swallowing food or choking after ingesting something irregular. Adult Leopard Geckos rarely choke apart from choking on loose substrate or foreign objects.
A less developed, juvenile Leopard Gecko is more prone to choking due to its narrow throat passageway. Only offer your younger geckos smaller baby roaches and crickets or soft, easily digestible mealworms.
A good rule of thumb would be only to feed your Leopard Gecko food that is larger than the width of their eyes. This will ensure that they will not have any difficulties swallowing.
Adult Leopard Geckos have teeth and should not have trouble swallowing food. Issues may arise only if foreign objects make their way into the enclosure or loose substrate causes impaction.
In the unlikely event that Leo chokes or has difficulty swallowing, assist them by gently removing the obstruction from their mouth with tweezers or syringing a few drops of warm water into their throat to help soften the food and lubricate the area.
If this sounds too intimidating or you have little success, visit your local exotic vet to help dislodge the obstruction.
Related: Why your leopard gecko is dragging its back legs
Leo is communicating
Particularly new Leopard Gecko owners may have difficulty recognizing the difference between a tail-wagging gecko trying to communicate and a gecko shaking its body for other reasons.
Occasionally Leopard Geckos can shake their tails so much that it may appear that their whole body is shaking. Usually, Leo’s tail waving helps it make its presence known to other geckos or is a courting routine. Younger Leos may even wave their tails out of excitement when hunting or feeding.
A Leopard Geckos tail is a primary method of communication. When noticing Leo shake, look to see whether another female is about or whether Leo is eating or hunting or even looking threatened.
If none of these options seem viable, you may need to visit a vet or consider other explanations for the shaking.
Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD)
Regrettably, Metabolic Bone Disease is a common bone disease in captive reptiles and results from a deficiency in calcium, excessive phosphorus, and low levels of vitamin D3. The first signs of MBD are tremors and weakness in the legs or whole body but can lead to fractures, jaw deformity, distorted vertebrae, anorexia, constipation, and even gut rot.
Other MBD symptoms
MBD caused Leo’s bones to become soft and jelly-like, making it hard to move and perform everyday activities. Your Leopard Gecko will display low energy levels and a lack of appetite. Early signs would be twitching toes or shaking of the limbs, which later progresses to a point where Leo can no longer move.
How to prevent MBD
Fortunately, MBD is easily spotted and diagnosed due to the severity of its symptoms. If treatment is immediate, MBD is easily curable and preventable. Regular veterinary check-ups and nutritional care will help prevent and identify MBD effectively.
Calcium is essential for Leopard Geckos. Typically, Leopard geckos receive their calcium intake from vitamin D3 from the UVB rays from the sun and from consuming calcium-rich insects. By dusting your insects with vitamin D3 and calcium and adding a dish of calcium in your gecko’s enclosure, you can help prevent and even cure MBD.
If, after a month of dusting and providing calcium and vitamin D3 supplements to your Leopard Gecko, you see no improvement, best would be to visit your local vet.
If you are using a UVB light in your enclosure, you may not need to provide vitamin D3 to your Leo. Nevertheless, ensure to replace your UVB bulb every four to six months as they will also degrade over time. Be careful not to overdo the vitamin D3 supplements, as too much can affect Leo’s kidneys and trigger toxicosis.
Likelihood of developing MBD
Juvenile Leopard Geckos are more likely to develop MBD along with breeding females. It can be hard to prevent MBD in female Leopard Geckos as their eggs contain and use up a lot of the female’s calcium supply. As a result, MBD is more prevalent during the mating season.
MBD is a relatively common condition for Leopard Geckos and should always be considered if you notice Leo shaking. It is better to visit a vet to confirm whether MBD may be the problem rather than to leave the shaking to persist for too long.
Enigma Syndrome is another less common condition associated with shaking in Leos. Leopard Geckos affected by this condition will circle, head tilt, stargaze, and flip on their backs. They also lose control of their muscles and shake when trying to stand or move around and even develop seizures.
Enigma Syndrome is genetic and sadly incurable and can only be managed. It is an inherited neurological condition that affects the functioning of the gecko’s brain. It affects their balance and sense of equilibrium and is usually more prominent in adult Leopard Geckos.
If you notice your Leopard Gecko having trouble moving its tail or moving its head up and down or side to side repetitively, it is best to visit a vet as soon as possible to get help.
If diagnosed with Enigma Syndrome, it is best to refrain from breeding your Leo as the condition is genetic. Reduce environmental stressors by removing other geckos from their enclosure and refrain from handling Leo except when necessary.
If Leo shakes, take the time to observe and identify the cause. Stress shaking can be easily resolved with minor environmental changes. Leo may also simply be shaking to communicate their excitement or dislike for something.
Make certain Leo is not having difficulty swallowing their food and if you are still unsure of a cause, visit a vet to rule out other conditions such as MBD or Enigma Syndrome. These conditions, if not treated, can be life-threatening and considerably unpleasant for your Leo.