Crested Gecko Floppy Tail Syndrome

Crested geckos can deal with a variety of health problems, but there’s one, in particular, that’s more peculiar and concerning. We’re talking about the floppy tail syndrome because this one is especially confusing for so many gecko keepers.

So, let’s get into it.

What is Floppy Tail Syndrome?

Floppy tail syndrome (FTS) is a condition that affects many reptiles, especially geckos. This condition has many potential causes, but the result is almost the same: the gecko cannot control its caudal appendix properly. You can tell that something’s not right if your gecko’s tail takes on weird positions, especially when the gecko is hanging upside down on the tank’s walls.

Normally, the gecko’s tail should stick to the surface, the same as the gecko’s entire body. In geckos affected by FTS, the tail makes a 90-degree angle with the tank’s wall or even hang towards the reptile’s head sideways. This shows that the gecko has no control over its tail which can be due to many causes, as we will discuss shortly.

Symptoms of Floppy Tail Syndrome

The symptoms of the floppy tail syndrome include:

  • Awkward tail positions when the reptile hangs upside down (90-degree angle or hanging sideways)
  • Pelvis deformities which could appear as lumps or depressions
  • Difficulty defecating or laying eggs, symptoms which are more visible in females
  • Irritability if the tail twist, especially when hanging, causes pain which it often does

It’s important to note that, despite these concerning symptoms, most geckos will retain control over their tail. However, some don’t, in which case you need professional assistance fast. Geckos with no control over their tails have difficulty hanging or climbing at their favorite vantage points, leaving them vulnerable and sloppy.

This can stress them out and decrease their quality of life with time. Not to mention, the underlying causes of FTS can be equally concerning and trigger more serious health problems.

Causes of Floppy Tail in Crested Geckos

Now would be the time to learn that FTS isn’t a condition but a symptom of one. There are several potential causes for FTS, including:

  • Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) – MBD results from calcium deficiency triggered by vitamin D3 deficiency. The reptile’s body cannot metabolize calcium if vitamin D3 isn’t present. Similarly, vitamin D3 won’t help much if there isn’t sufficient calcium available. The gecko’s diet should contain sufficient calcium and vitamin D3 to lower the risk of MBD. This is why many gecko keepers supplement their reptiles with vitamin complexes by gut-loading their feeder insects.
  • Partial caudal autotomy – This rare condition could explain some cases of FTS but not all. Caudal autotomy refers to the gecko’s ability to detach its tail when in danger. This evolutionary feature allows the gecko to escape predators by leaving their tails behind as dummies. The tail’s automatic wiggle will keep the predator distracted, allowing the gecko to make its grand escape. But some caudal separations are incomplete, as only the bone separates, while the skin remains intact. In this case, the tail may no longer be functional, causing FTS and requiring immediate intervention.
  • Genetic causes – There hasn’t been any specific genetic condition linked to FTS, so nobody can say for sure that some or all FTS cases have genetic triggers. However, it has been observed that FTS is more prevalent among captive-bred geckos, which suggests a potential connection. Inbreeding is particularly dangerous in this sense, as it’s known to produce genetic abnormalities, with FTS being among the mildest ones. Sourcing your gecko from healthy and strong parents should minimize the risk of genetic-related FTS.
  • Poor husbandry – This primarily refers to the gecko’s overall layout. Most gecko keepers ignore the gecko’s climbing needs and keep it in a standard reptile terrarium. With nothing to climb on, geckos will innovate. Most of them will climb the tank’s walls and hang upside down for most of the day. This prolonged upside down hanging increases the risk of FTS due to the tail eventually coming down under the effect of gravity. With time, the gecko’s caudal spine will deform, worsening the symptom and potentially causing an array of additional health issues.

Needless to say, immediate treatment is necessary to fix the problem before it worsens.

Treatments of Floppy Tail Syndrome

Unfortunately, the treatment options for floppy tail syndrome are limited, especially if the condition is in advanced stages. And, in most cases, you can only detect FTS in advanced stages, making full recovery even more difficult to achieve.

If your crested gecko holds its tail at a 90-degree angle when hanging and appears to have little control over it, amputation may be necessary. This may sound like a radical measure, but it’s really not. After all, geckos can amputate their own tails in given circumstances. However, you should discuss the situation with an exotic pet vet.

Don’t attempt the procedure at home, even if you have the stomach for it. Complications can always occur, causing even more problems down the line. I say your role should be limited to prevention to the degree you can make a difference.

Prevention of Floppy Tail in Crested Geckos

There are several prevention strategies to embrace to keep your crested geckos safe from FTS:

  • Source geckos wisely – Always get your crested geckos from reputed sources like private breeders. Look for knowledgeable and reputed breeders with a solid reputation in the market. Doing so keeps you away from inbred geckos with high risk of genetic faults, including predisposition to FTS.
  • Ensure optimal nutrient intake – Always assess your gecko’s calcium and vitamin D3 intake and provide the reptile with rich and varied meals. Your gecko’s appetite may vary based on the individual, age, size, and other factors, but the nutritional requirements stay the same. A healthy gecko should have varied meals consisting of multiple types of insects and worms, commercial gecko food for optimized nutrition, and fresh fruits. Also, use vitamin D3 and calcium powder to douse and gut-load feeder insects prior to every meal.
  • A natural-looking setup – Crested geckos live in a vegetation-rich ecosystem with plenty of climbing spots. Decorate their tank with wood, branches, some plants, and various climbing areas where they can exercise their muscles and remain in shape. Make sure you don’t overcrowd the terrarium since geckos also need open space in case they need to lurk around the substrate for a minute.
  • Exercise – Geckos need to exercise to stay in shape and keep their muscles, tendons, and joints healthy and strong. The problem is that geckos don’t do much exercise on their own, especially in a closed and rather small ecosystem. This is where you come in. Pick up your gecko and change its place in the terrarium. This will force it to climb back to its preferred spot which can take a bit of strolling and environmental navigation. Next thing you know, your gecko is exercising. Just don’t do it too often, not to stress out the animal. Maybe 2-3 times per day should be enough.

This is about the extent you can go to in order to prevent FTS.

Is Floppy Tail Syndrome Deadly?

The answer depends on the underlying trigger. If FTS is the result of Metabolic Bone Disease, then yes, it is deadly. MBD is deadly in advanced stages, and most people only identify MBD in advanced stages. Consult your reptile pet vet to assess the magnitude of the problem.

If the diagnosis is advanced MBD, you may be better off choosing euthanasia as the best course of action. This will save the reptile of unnecessary suffering, which is bound to happen with MBD with time.

If the cause of FTS is less severe, like calcium deficiency, the condition may be reversible with proper care. It’s all about early detection and treatment. Amputation may be necessary if the condition is already advanced because the tail may be beyond salvation.

That doesn’t mean that your reptile is too. The gecko will recover with adequate supplementation and treatment, according to your vet’s recommendations.

Is Floppy Tail Syndrome Contagious?

Fortunately, no, FTS is not contagious. But it is transmissible via genetic inheritance. More specifically, it’s one of the FTS’s triggers that transmits from parent geckos to their babies, and that’s bone density.

In short, geckos have similar bone densities to their parents. So, if their parents had weak bone density, making them prone to MBD and FTS, so will the offspring.

Conclusion

The Floppy Tail Syndrome isn’t life-threatening in most cases, but it is in some. Fortunately, you can detect the condition fairly early on, allowing you to contact your vet and figure out a solution together. Caudal amputation is the most likely recommendation, which isn’t as bad as it sounds, especially since geckos can regenerate their lost tails.

If the gecko’s condition is too severe, you might need to consider euthanasia to save your gecko from needless suffering. Either way, rely on your vet to make the right call or at least guide you in the right direction.

Crested Geckos   Reptiles   Updated: November 29, 2022
avatar I’m Noah, chief editor at VIVO Pets and the proud owner of a playful, energetic husky (Max). I’ve been a volunteer at Rex Animal Rescue for over 2 years. I love learning and writing about different animals that can be kept as pets.

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