Crested Gecko Diseases, Parasites, and Treatments
Crested geckos rank as adaptable and resilient animals that require specific environmental conditions to thrive. Temperature, humidity, diet, and overall environmental cleanliness are critical to keep your gecko in good health and even better mental state.
But what happens when the gecko gets sick despite all of your preventive efforts? If that’s the case, you need first to identify your gecko’s condition, diagnose it correctly, apply the correct treatment, and learn how to prevent the problem in the future.
It all sounds easy enough when you explain it like that, but reality is a bit more complex than that. So, let’s get into it.
Identify a Sick Crested Gecko
This may be trickier than it sounds, especially if you’re not familiar with your gecko’s temperament and normal behavior. Geckos display a variety of symptoms when sick, many of which are almost unnoticeable or confusing to a beginner. Here are some of them for a clearer picture:
- Irritability and aggression – If your gecko looks irritable or aggressive towards you, something’s not quite right. Geckos can display this behavior when stressed, including when new to their habitat and they didn’t get the chance to know you better. But, if your gecko looks aggressive, hisses at you, waves its tail up high, and tries to bite despite having the reptile for months or even years, something else is at play.
- Refusal to eat and weight loss – A healthy adult gecko requires one consistent meal every 2 days, give or take. Juvenile geckos need one meal every day. These are standard eating requirements for crested geckos. While the gecko will refrain from eating before and during shedding, it should have a healthy appetite otherwise. If the reptile suddenly stops eating and begins losing weight, it’s time to look into it.
- Tiredness and lethargy – Geckos aren’t particularly active, but they should look lively and precise in their movement. If your gecko has difficulties walking, cannot climb, and seems weak and out of balance, consider speaking to a vet about the symptoms.
- Runny stools – Runny stools can have multiple causes, from parasites to bacteria or compaction. You can’t tell the exact cause simply by inspecting the reptile’s poop visually, but you know something’s not right. The gecko’s poop should be compact and brownish with a white urate piece on one end. Runny poop is always a sign of disease.
Other noticeable symptoms include vomiting, eye discharge, white patches around the mouth, discoloration, duller coloring, etc.
Common Crested Gecko Diseases and Parasites
Now that we’ve determined some of the symptoms, let’s check several of the health problems geckos face:
– Metabolic Bone Disease
This is among the most widespread disorders among captive-bred crested geckos. Geckos require a diverse and healthy diet, consisting of multiple food sources.
These include fruits, worms, insects, larvae, some occasional veggies, although not mandatory, commercial gecko food, and supplementation. Wild geckos have access to many more food sources, but captive ones depend on you to fix their diet.
Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) is dietary-related. This condition results from calcium deficiency, which results from vitamin D3 deficiency. Too much phosphorus in the gecko’s diet can also impact the body’s ability to metabolize calcium, further contributing to an increased risk of MBD.
Some of the core symptoms of MBD include:
- Reduced mobility and weak stance
- Spinal kinking (awkward bending) other than genetic causes
- Soft and rubbery lower jaw
- Deformed and swollen limbs and humped back
- Crooked tail, often in a zig-zag shape, etc.
The main problem is that MBD only becomes visible months after the actual problem has occurred. So, you need a good prevention plan to keep the risk low. Always use D3 supplementation via gut-loading your feeder insects before feeding them to the gecko.
If your gecko begins to show signs of MBD, speak to a vet and begin calcium and D3 supplementation, according to the expert’s instructions. The gecko should recover unless the disorder is severe, in which case the reptile may suffer irreversible damage.
– Necrosis (Scale Rot)
Scale rot is common in reptiles, including crested geckos, and is almost strictly related to poor environmental conditions. Unclean and humid habitats promote bacterial and fungal growth, which can cause skin sores and open skin wounds. These will get infected quickly, causing the bacteria to enter the bloodstream and even leading to septicemia (blood poisoning) and death.
Some of the foretelling signs include skin sores and redness, dead skin patches, and pustules (liquid-filled pimples) that eventually become ulcers. The good thing is that this condition is progressive and shows signs right from the get-go. So, you can detect and address it early, before any irreversible damage occurs.
The treatment consists in a two-part approach:
- Environmental hygiene – Clean the gecko’s habitat to remove feces, bacteria, parasites, food leftovers, etc. You may need to perform generalized cleaning, replace the substrate, and use a reptile-friendly spray to sterilize the habitat.
- Antibiotics – These are necessary to attack any bacterial or fungal infection, allowing your gecko’s immune system to take over. Make sure you discuss the issue with the vet to implement a safe and effective antibiotic treatment.
When it comes to prevention, regular cleaning and maintenance are vital. Perform daily cleaning by removing feces and food leftovers and monthly cleaning for generalized sterilization and in-depth scrubbing.
– Respiratory Infection
Respiratory infections are common in crested geckos, and geckos in general, due to improper environmental parameters. Excessively cold and humid environments increase the risk of respiratory infections in geckos, ranging from mild infections to life-threatening pneumonia. Some of the symptoms associated with respiratory infections in geckos include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Unexplained weight loss and low or lack of appetite
- Low energy levels
- Mouth and nose discharges
You can tell that your gecko is struggling to breathe and produces a wheezing sound. You need to act fast when that happens because respiratory infections can aggravate fast. Pneumonia is deadly among geckos. Unfortunately, you cannot tackle the issue on your own, as you require the assistance of a professional. Contact a reptile vet for proper diagnosis and targeted antibiotic treatment.
Moving forward, learn your gecko’s comfort zone in terms of temperature and humidity and keep these parameters within the ideal range. Most crested geckos require a neutral comfort temperature around 72-77 °F (see my article on temperature gradient for geckos) and environmental humidity between 60% and 80%, depending on the time of day.
– Eye Infection
Fortunately, eye infections are not as severe as other conditions on this list, but they, too, can aggravate in some cases. These conditions occur primarily due to poor environmental conditions, combined with a low immune system or even an eye injury. In some cases, the gecko will present eye discharges, swelling, redness around the eyelids, and even abscesses.
Conjunctivitis is also a problem that falls in the same category.
The treatment mostly comprises of localized ointments and antibiotics, depending on the disorder’s severity and nature. Contact your vet for proper antibiotic treatment planning if the symptoms are too severe, or the infection doesn’t give in after the ointment treatment.
Depending on the situation, some cases even require surgery to drain the abscess.
In terms of prevention, keep your reptile’s habitat clean and always check the gecko for potential injuries around the eye or mouth.
– Ear Infection
Ear infections are also mild in nature and quite common among geckos held in dirty habitats. The culprit is bacteria, combined with local injuries that act as a gateway for the harmful microorganisms. The condition will display several symptoms, depending on its progress. These include localized swelling, discharge, or even necrotic tissue in the area.
Contact a vet for adequate treatment. The affected gecko may need to undergo surgery to flush the middle ear and eliminate any dead and infected tissue. You should also act fast because ear infections can become deadly if ignored for too long.
– Mouth Rot (Infectious Stomatitis)
This is another health issue linked to unhygienic environments and bacterial infections. The condition affects the lining of the mouth, causing local swelling, redness, and even dead tissue in the area. There are 2 primary problems with mouth rot:
- It advances fast and can spread between other geckos
- It complicates equally as fast, leading to respiratory and gastrointestinal infections shortly
The infection can destroy both soft and hard tissue present in the upper and lower jaw. Immediate treatment is necessary to mitigate the condition, contain its spread, and prevent irreversible damage.
You absolutely need to contact your vet for this one. Vitamin supplementation (A and C) may be necessary to mitigate some of the symptoms, but antibiotics are key to containing the disease. In more advanced cases, the gecko may also require surgery to remove the necrotic tissue.
Naturally, prevention is preferable, so keep your gecko’s habitat clean in the long run.
– Amebiasis (Protozoa)
Amebiasis is caused by Entamoeba invadens, an aggressive and invasive protozoan that’s responsible for a high death count among reptiles. Snakes are more prone to this condition, but geckos can fall victim as well. It turns out that meat eaters are particularly at risk compared to herbivorous reptiles, which places crested geckos in the middle.
Fortunately, this condition can be prevented by controlling the gecko’s diet and making sure there’s no outside contamination. Unfortunately, this protozoan is extremely aggressive and often deadly, causing aggressive weight loss, bloody diarrhea, quick dehydration, and death.
Amebiasis is also highly contagious and can transmit to humans. This is why you should always contact your vet if your gecko shows signs of bacterial infections and diarrhea. You never know what the cause may be.
The treatment consists of antiprotozoal drugs under the supervision of a professional. So, rely on your reptile vet to handle the situation. Your job is to identify and diagnose the condition as early as possible to prevent its spread and increase the treatment’s success.
– Stargazing (Enigma Syndrome)
This is a peculiar one because stargazing isn’t necessarily evidence of a health problem. The behavior itself refers to the reptile keeping its head and gazing up as if it’s waiting for something. In most cases, the gecko does that when it expects food, monitors its surroundings or is distracted by its reflection in the terrarium’s walls.
Every once in a while, though, the culprit is the Enigma syndrome. This is a neurological disorder causing the gecko to exhibit spinal and brain problems, resulting in abnormal body position. I have 2 bad news and 1 good one in relation to this condition. The bad news is:
- Enigma syndrome has no cure, but only ways to mitigate its symptoms mildly
- The primary cause is genetic fault due to improper selective breeding
The good news is that:
- The disorder is noticeable early on, allowing you to simply avoid buying the sick animal
If your gecko shows signs of stargazing, you should contact the vet immediately. The professional will run some tests to assess the reptile’s condition and inform you of your options. If your crested gecko does have the Enigma syndrome, you may need to hand feed it at some point, as the reptile will become unable to feed on its own.
You can also consider humane euthanasia if your gecko’s condition is severe and impacts its quality of life.
– Egg Binding
As the name suggests, this is a female-specific condition consisting of the eggs getting stuck in the reproductive canal. This common problem remains mild in some cases and solves itself after a while. In some cases, egg binding can become severe, impacting the reptile’s quality of life and even putting its life at risk.
This condition is easier to diagnose if you’ve bred your geckos yourself because you have a timeline of events. If you purchase your gecko female already gravid, there’s no way of telling whether the condition is normal or not.
The gecko female experiencing egg binding can become restless, dig around the substrate often, showcase mild bloating, and have a swollen cloaca. In extreme cases, tissue may come out of the cloaca, while the reptiles become depressed and lethargic. Some of the potential causes of egg binding include inadequate diet, overly large eggs, weak abdominal muscles due to lack of exercise, illness, etc.
Speak to your vet if your gecko shows signs of egg binding. You can gently massage the reptile’s abdomen to force the eggs out, but the best approach is to have the vet consult the reptile.
– Vent Prolapse
The vent prolapse is generally a mild condition that can worsen fast. We’re talking specifically about the prolapse of the hemipenes (the geckos’ reproductive organs.), which can happen for a variety of reasons. These include constipation or compaction, accidents during mating, inadequate environmental humidity, and even physical trauma to the cloaca.
You know your gecko is experiencing vent prolapse if you notice a red or pink bulge extending out of its vent. In this case, you need to act fast because the hemipenis cannot stay out for too long. Otherwise, it will dry out or become infected, putting the reptile’s life at risk.
You can try some DIY treatment methods, such as:
- Placing the reptile in a warm bath with a bit of sugar to decrease inflammation
- Applying honey on the hemipenis as this also reduces inflammation
If nothing works, contacting your vet is the best move.
Mites are skin parasites that affect pretty much all life forms, including reptiles like geckos. These organisms are not dangerous in small numbers, but prolonged infestation can degenerate into life-threatening conditions fast. Not only do mites cause microtears in the skin, increasing the risk of infection, but can also transmit diseases when moving from sick to a healthy animal.
You can usually observe the mites with the naked eye crawling on your gecko’s skin and notice them swimming in the water bowl. Your gecko will bathe more frequently, trying to peel them off and ease the itches and discomfort. The problem with mite infestations is that they are difficult to combat.
As the first step, you need to quarantine your gecko in a separate enclosure with a paper towel for substrate. Then, you need to dismantle, clean, and disinfect the main enclosure, potentially using a safe insecticide in the process. You might want to ask your reptile vet about that.
You can then brush your gecko gently and bathe it in warm water to drown and eliminate the mites.
Flatworms are trematodes, and there are 5 different species that can infect your gecko and reptiles in general. They mostly inhabit the gecko’s intestinal tract but can also be present in the oral cavity, the respiratory system, and even the circulatory system. The latter are particularly dangerous because they can create blood clots that could cause tissue necrosis.
The problem is that you cannot always diagnose flatworms on your own. You can check the gecko’s feces to look for signs of the flatworm, but respiratory and circulatory infections remain difficult to diagnose. You can, however, assess the reptile’s overall health state. An infected gecko shows weight loss, anorexia, lethargy, difficulty breathing, mouth gaping, etc.
A vet’s assistance may be necessary to diagnose the gecko properly and set up a good treatment approach. Mild cases are relatively easy to combat, while more severe or advanced ones – not so much.
Simply put, abscesses are sores filled with puss and are bacterial in nature. They generally result from physical injuries, poor environmental conditions, and subpar immune systems. Abscesses are more common among older reptiles or those with compromised immune systems, but all animals can experience them.
You can usually identify abscesses visually, even in their incipient phases. The ideal treatment consists of antibiotics and surgical interventions to remove them. This is to prevent the abscesses from returning, which is often the case.
Contact the vet immediately if you notice abscesses on your gecko’s skin. Especially since you don’t know the triggering pathogen.
Other Crested Gecko Health Problems
We’ve mentioned some of the more severe gecko health problems, but are there mild ones you should know about too? Sure, there are. Here are a couple:
- Tail loss – Geckos typically lose their tails when feeling threatened and attempting to flee the situation. The tail loss is a naturally defensive behavior, as the gecko uses its caudal extremity as diversion to keep the potential predator occupied until the reptile reaches safety. The problem is that the gecko cannot distinguish between an actual life-or-death situation and a case of ‘my owner held me too tight.’ Always handle your gecko with care and place it back in its enclosure if the reptile expresses stress or discomfort.
- Weight loss – This is a symptom that can have many causes. Some are mild, like shedding, egg laying, or mild stress due to a new home. Others are more severe, like constipation, parasitic or bacterial infections, or a number of other conditions. Always assess your gecko carefully if you notice it losing weight without explanation.
- Impaction – Impaction is the result of swallowing a large particle that clogs the large intestine. It may be a large insect with a hardened chitinous shell, a pebble, or another substrate particle that’s not meant to be swallowed. You can tell that your gecko is impacted if it produces runny poop, stops eating, and has an inflamed cloaca and an inflated belly.
- Shedding problem – Shedding geckos are sensitive and vulnerable, so they need space and pristine environmental conditions to complete the process safely. Improper environmental parameters like excess (or extremely low) humidity and temperature lead to skin infections and partial shedding. The latter is often responsible for localized infections and even tissue necrosis due to restricting blood flow to the region. Parameter stability is critical to prevent this problem.
- Malnutrition – Adult geckos require up to 3 full meals per week, but that’s not all that matters. What makes up the meals themselves also matter a lot. Geckos are omnivorous animals, so they eat insects, worms, and fruits and demand a varied diet for optimal nutrient intake. Malnourished geckos will experience health problems like MBD and low immune systems, leaving them vulnerable to infections and parasites.
- Dehydration – Geckos should have sufficient drinking water, much of which they will drink off the live plants decorating their enclosure. Low humidity and high temperatures can cause the gecko to lose water faster than it can take in. This results in dehydration which can become deadly in reptiles.
This article makes it seem like crested geckos are extremely sensitive and stay sick more often than they’re healthy. But this isn’t true. There’s a reason why geckos live between 10 and 20 years in captivity – they are adaptable and resilient. But they also need stable environmental conditions to remain healthy over the years.
Hopefully, today’s article taught you a thing or two on how to keep your gecko healthy and happy for years to come.