Crested Gecko Curled Toes – Causes & Solutions
If you’re still getting acquainted with your gecko’s anatomy, physiology, and behavior, as a first-time gecko keeper, this is the right place for you. Crested geckos showcase various behaviors and features, making it difficult to differentiate between normal and abnormal.
As you can imagine, this can be problematic because this lack of awareness and knowledge can cause you to overlook potentially serious health issues.
Causes of Crested Gecko Curly Toes
Some crested gecko owners may encounter an issue with their pet’s toes: a condition known as curly toes. This disorder can cause the gecko’s toes to curl or hook due to calcium deficiency, vitamin D3 deficiency, arthritis, and other factors. Knowing the causes of this condition is key in preventing it from occurring in the first place.
Calcium deficiency is one of the most common causes of crested gecko curly toes. Geckos need adequate amounts of calcium to maintain healthy bones and toe structure; if they don’t get enough calcium in their diet or supplements, their bones can become brittle leading to weak toe structure that could cause them to curl up into a hook shape.
There are also other causes of curly toes in crested geckos, which you can read more about in the following section:
– Normal Walking Behavior
Not many people know that geckos curl their toes when walking. This is primarily due to their sticky toe pads, which have an interesting adhesive-like effect. The gecko’s toes contain microscopic hairs called setae, which are also formed of hundreds of even smaller hairs called spatulae.
These are coated in a thin layer of molecules that adhere to pretty much any surface via electromagnetic attraction.
This electromagnetic effect is the result of the contact between the setae and the hard surface, and it’s automatic. This means that the gecko cannot control or shut off this feature. This can cause problems during a normal walk, as it could create extra drag, forcing the gecko to increase its efforts when walking.
To counter this effect, the gecko curls its toes upwards when walking on straight surfaces and doesn’t need to stick. The curling of the toes reduces the surface of contact between the toes and the walking surface, allowing the gecko to move around with less effort.
This is normal behavior that should never be visible in geckos when climbing. If that’s the case, you have other problems to consider.
– Lack of Humidity
This is a reason for serious concern, because the lack of proper humidity can cause the gecko to become dehydrated and experience respiratory infections, to name just a few issues. The gecko’s skin will also become drier, causing the reptile discomfort and preventing it from moving properly. The curled toes are just one of the effects and, I would argue, the mildest one.
Low or lack of humidity causes skin problems and respiratory infections, which can spell death fast. Prolonged dehydration is also responsible for organ failure.
Fortunately, your gecko will exhibit several symptoms when stressed due to low humidity. These include irritability, lethargy, lack of appetite, dry skin, sunken eyes, etc. You should always have a hygrometer to assess and properly adjust environmental humidity. When it comes to maintaining proper humidity, consider the following tips:
- Spray the gecko’s ecosystem at least 2-3 times per day
- Add a bowl of fresh water so your gecko can drink or bathe when necessary
- Add live plants to boost humidity levels naturally
- Use a moisture-retaining substrate like coconut husk
- Use a personalized humidifier, especially if you plan on leaving home for several days
– Shedding Problem
This is among the most serious issues to keep an eye on. Geckos shed approximately once or twice per week as adults, with the frequency decreasing as the reptile keeps aging. The shedding process can last between several minutes to hours or even more than a day, depending on each case.
This is a time when the gecko is vulnerable and delicate and requires optimal environmental parameters and peace.
The gecko will experience distress and difficulty shedding if the temperature or humidity is too low or too high. The last part is worrisome because it can lead to the old skin getting stuck around various parts of the gecko’s body. The most standard areas are the toes, feet, tail, and mouth.
The skin that remains stuck around the toes and feet can actually cut the blood supply to the region, in which case the curled toes are the least of your concern. The lack of blood will cause tissue death and gangrene, which becomes obvious as the toes turn black. This will most likely trigger septicemia and death fairly fast.
Always monitor your gecko’s environmental conditions and assess the shedding process as it unfolds. If your gecko has stuck skin anywhere, consider helping with that to eliminate the risk of complications. I’ve already detailed how you can do that safely and effectively in another article, so make sure to check that.
– Physical Injury
Geckos can injure themselves at times, despite not being as active, to begin with. These reptiles like to chill at elevated resting spots but also like to explore their habitat and jump between branches. This can sometimes lead to accidents, causing the gecko to fall and experience minor (hopefully) injuries in the process.
If you suspect such an incident, you might want to discuss the issue with your vet. The gecko may have one or several broken toes, which will impact its ability to properly climb and move around its habitat. Not to mention, the broken toes will also cause the reptile to experience pain and stress, impacting its quality of life and even health, should the injuries aggravate with time.
– Lack of Calcium
I rank calcium deficiency as a matter of life and death in geckos. Most crested geckos experience calcium deficiency due to incomplete nutritional plans, which is why most of them require supplementation.
Calcium deficiency is dangerous not only due to its immediate effects but long-term health problems as well. This issue is responsible for triggering Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD), which is deadly among geckos.
MBD has no cure in advanced stages and will cause a slow and agonizing death; most gecko owners resort to euthanasia to spare their pets of suffering. Fortunately, the disorder is reversible when detected early on, primarily because it all begins with calcium deficiency.
Your gecko will showcase specific symptoms that should inform you of the issue fairly early. These include lethargy, unstable walk, floppy tail syndrome, weak jaw, curled toes, etc. These are generally signs of calcium deficiency, not MBD, which means there’s still a chance for your gecko to recover fully.
Contact your vet immediately for adequate diagnosis and treatment. I even suggest assessing your gecko’s overall condition as soon as you buy it.
Weak bone density is a genetic condition in geckos, so if your gecko’s parents had it, your gecko most likely has it as well. In this case, you may need to monitor your gecko’s status more closely and supplement its diet with calcium and vitamin D3 for proper nutrition.
How to Treat Curled Toes in Crested Geckos?
You can only begin to treat your gecko’s curled toes once you identify the cause. Here are some recommendations in this sense:
- In case of calcium deficiency – Supplement your gecko’s food with calcium and vitamin D3 powder. But I recommend speaking to your vet either way just to get a professional’s invaluable input over the matter.
- In case of fractures – There’s nothing you can do yourself. Contact the vet and let the professional do the work.
- In case of shedding problems – It’s always better to prevent shedding problems, to begin with, but issues may occur nonetheless. If your gecko has skin stuck around its toes, place the pet in a 2-3-minute sauna with high humidity to moisten the skin residues for ease of removal. You can also place a warm and humid piece of cloth over the area to produce the same effect. Whatever you do, don’t use force to remove the skin residues, as this can hurt your gecko.
I would say the best way to prevent your gecko from experiencing health issues, including toe-related, is to go by the three tenets of gecko care:
- Ensure optimal environmental parameters
- Supplement the gecko’s meals with vitamin D3 and calcium
- Monitor the gecko’s health status to detect any health issues in time
In case of curled toes with no apparent cause, speak to your vet, just to be sure.