No matter which type of pet you have, seeing them vomit is alarming. And since leopard geckos rarely vomit, it is much scarier to see them do so. Not to worry, though – today’s post will explore all the different reasons this happens.
Leopard geckos can vomit due to stress, unfavorable tank conditions, exposure to pathogens, diseases, or even just eating quickly. It may also indicate that your gecko’s digestive tract is obstructed.
Why is your leopard gecko vomiting?
Since leopard geckos don’t usually vomit, this can be a sign of a serious problem, especially if it happens severally. Your leopard gecko is in danger if its vomit has some blood in it, which could indicate internal injuries.
However, you need to understand that there’s a difference between vomit and regurgitation – understanding this difference is integral to getting your leopard gecko effective treatment.
Generally, regurgitation is the passive process by which food is expelled from your leopard gecko’s upper gastrointestinal tract. The product of this process is usually solid food and isn’t accompanied by any lip licking, vocal sounds, or abdominal muscle contractions. When your leopard is regurgitating, it will just lower its head and let the regurge fall out freely.
On the other hand, vomiting is usually accompanied by lip-licking, vocal sounds, abdominal muscle contractions, and restlessness. Beyond that, vomit may be solid or liquid and contain a greenish liquid called bile. It may also contain digested food.
9 Reasons why your leopard gecko is vomiting
Here a the top 9 reasons why your leopard gecko is vomiting:
Silly as it may seem, stress can cause your leopard gecko to vomit. It can also make them yawn, sneeze, and even eat poop. So if you want your leopard gecko to live a healthy life, you need to find a way to reduce its stress. Some of the ways you can do this are by avoiding:
- Sudden, excessive, or rough handling
- Playing loud music – can shake your gecko’s tank
- Being aggressive
- Reaching in to grab the leopard gecko from above often
- Temperature issues
- Humidity levels that are too high or too low
- Unexpected disturbances
- Traveling with your gecko by vehicle
Low tank temperatures
Another reason why leopard geckos vomit is low tank temperatures. This is because these pets are cold-blooded and need heat for their bodies to perform everyday functions. Your gecko needs its tank to have conducive temperatures all day and night to properly digest food, especially since its belly is always in contact with the floor.
While each leopard gecko is different, most will need above 86 degrees Fahrenheit to properly digest their food. That’s why your leopard gecko’s tank needs to have a warm area accessible both during the day and night.
When the temperatures are too cold, leopard geckos can even refuse to eat altogether until the temperatures pick up. And if they do try to eat, they won’t be able to keep the food down.
Ultimately, your leopard gecko’s tank must have a stable heat source that is on 24/7 and a thermometer to monitor temperature changes. While a heat mat is great for under-tank heating, heat lamps provide better heat gradients.
Also, keep in mind that if the temperatures on one side of the tank are too hot (like 120 degrees Fahrenheit), your gecko will run to the cool side even if it’s unconducive for digestion and makes them vomit.
One of the most common causes of vomiting among leopard geckos is substrate ingestion. In fact, having the wrong substrate in your leopard gecko’s tank can cause a slew of health problems such as skin irritation, respiratory problems, and digestion issues. While the first two problems are usually caused by substrate contact and inhalation, the last one is caused by substrate ingestion.
Some of the substrates that can cause digestive complications when swallowed by leopard geckos include:
- Silica gel
- Calcium sand
- Wood shavings
Since these substrates have small particles, they are easily swallowed by leopard geckos, even though they can’t digest them. So when your leopard gecko eats such substrates, they will likely vomit them or suffer from impaction. Generally, it’s better for your gecko to vomit the substrate than to get impacted – the latter has worse and longer-lasting consequences.
While you can force out some substrate particles out of your impacted gecko’s stomach using belly rubs and warm baths, it doesn’t always work. Ultimately, it is quite common for impacted leopard geckos to pass away.
Handling immediately after eating
Like human babies, leopard geckos are not supposed to be handled immediately after they eat – doing so will make them vomit. This is a reflex that is inherent to leopard geckos and has been passed on from generation to generation. Even in the wild, leopard geckos are accustomed to staying still in secluded, warm spots after eating their meals.
They could stay there for days even, slowly digesting their food. In fact, they could even avoid mating and hunting during this time. So if you hold your leopard gecko immediately after they eat, they can take this as a predatory act and decide to vacate their stomach so that they can be lighter and escape faster. Ultimately, it’s best to handle your leopard gecko after they defecate.
When a foreign body obstructs your leopard gecko’s digestive tract, it can make them vomit. The foreign body could be loose substrate particles, small decorations, or even tumors/tissue growths. Whichever the case, you need to take your gecko to the vet immediately if you suspect that they have an obstruction.
Once you’re there, your vet will diagnose your pet using various analyses and tests before recommending a treatment plan. In some cases, surgery may be the only viable treatment option even though it’s both risky and costly.
Apart from vomiting, symptoms of bowel obstruction in leopard geckos include lethargy, anorexia, weight loss, bloating, and darkened intestines.
Exposure to pathogens
If your leopard gecko lives in a dirty tank or regularly eats dirty insects, it can easily be exposed to pathogens that can make them vomit. This can also happen when you feed your leopard gecko insects that have eaten spoiled gut load or leave food in their tank for hours on end. Some of the pathogens these processes expose your leopard gecko to include:
- Viruses – these pathogens are known for attacking the internal organs of leopard geckos. They cause symptoms like chronic vomiting, respiratory issues, and neurological conditions. One of the most common viruses that attack leopard geckos is ranavirus.
- Fungi – while these pathogens generally don’t hurt leopard geckos, they can if they get into their stomachs. Once they do so, they can cause vomiting and other symptoms.
- Bacteria – these pathogens can cause a lot of gastrointestinal issues in leopard geckos. Over time, they can even damage their stomachs and cause vomiting.
- Parasites – These are the most common pathogens responsible for vomiting in leopard geckos. The most common ones are protozoans like Giardia, Amoebas, and Cryptosporidium.
Ultimately, only a vet can determine what pathogen is causing your gecko to vomit. To help them quickly diagnose your pet, they may even ask for a stool or vomit sample.
Diseases that affect internal organs
While it isn’t common, diseases that can damage your leopard gecko’s internal organs can also make them vomit. These diseases affect these reptiles’ brains, livers, kidneys, and pancreas. Sometimes, accidents or improper nutrition can cause disorders that make your leopard gecko vomit.
Ingestion of spoiled food
Just like eating spoilt food can make you vomit, it can make your leopard gecko do so. It can even make it have runny feces. That’s why it’s always important to provide your gecko with fresh live insects. Rotten ones will only upset your gecko’s stomach and force it to eject them.
When leopard geckos are hungry, they tend to eat quickly. But while this is understandable, it can make them eat more than their stomachs can handle, leading to vomiting. This is particularly common among juveniles and baby leopard geckos as they are still learning their limits. However, it can still happen to adult leopard geckos sometimes.
So when you are feeding your leopard gecko, don’t do it too quickly. Instead, hand it one serving of food at a time and ensure that it chews all its food before offering something else. Since it can take a while for these pets to notice that they are full, this is an effective way to prevent overeating.
Reasons why your leopard gecko is regurgitating their food
Eating large insects
When you constantly feed your leopard gecko insects that are too large for them, they will regurgitate them. You should never feed your gecko insects that are larger than the space between their eyes – these are too wide to fit in its esophagus comfortably.
This means that baby geckos can only handle feeder insects around ⅜ inch wide, while juveniles can handle those around ¼ inches wide. On the other hand, adults can comfortably eat insects that measure ½ to ¾ inches wide.
Beyond this, there’s one thing that you need to keep in mind – large insects are challenging for leopard geckos to swallow when they have a rough texture. That’s why these geckos particularly struggle with eating giant mealworms. These insects have a prickly, scaly exterior that irritates the esophageal lining of your leopard gecko and makes them gag.
What’s more? Mealworms are generally tough to kill and require several bites to kill. So the simple act of swallowing a large mealworm and keeping it down is an achievement for your leopard gecko.
Can vomiting make your leopard gecko dehydrated?
Since vomiting ejects both food and water from your leopard gecko’s body, it can lead to dehydration, especially when it’s accompanied by diarrhea. Generally, regurgitation is less dangerous to your gecko’s health than vomiting because it only ejects solid food.
What should you do when your leopard gecko vomits?
When your leopard gecko vomits, you should first separate them from other geckos they share a tank with. This prevents the transmission of any pathogens and diseases, but it also eliminates the stress induced by competition for food.
Secondly, get your gecko to drink water or a sports drink as you schedule an appointment with a reptile vet. You can also give them some calcium powder to lick as they wait. But remember, the sooner you get them in the vet’s office, the better.
How to tell your leopard gecko’s vomit/regurge apart from its poop?
If you spend a lot of time away from your leopard gecko, it can be challenging to figure out whether they vomited, regurgitated, or pooped while you were away. This is particularly difficult because all the liquid elements of any vomit left behind will have dried up.
However, there’s a way to tell dried vomit/regurge apart from poop – the former will look like crushed-up feeder insects while the latter will look like wet blobs or hard conical-shaped matter. Also, poop is usually accompanied by pee. It is common to see a dry white streak of gecko pee near its poop deposit. Generally, it will be easier to identify insect parts in regurge than in vomit or poop.
While occasional vomiting and regurgitation may not be something to worry about, frequent events are. Whichever situation you’re in, though, it’s always best to get your leopard gecko checked by the vet when they vomit or regurgitate. This allows you to catch any serious conditions early and make adjustments to ensure the continued health of your leopard gecko.