Why is My Crested Gecko Not Eating?
Crested geckos are fairly easy to keep, are docile and peaceful, and showcase amazing adaptability to life in captivity. That being said, caring for your geckos properly over the years can be tricky, especially as a beginner.
If you’ve never had a crested gecko in your care before, you may not be familiar with the reptile’s behavior and requirements.
When it comes to eating, geckos only require a meal once every 2-3 days as adults. Their metabolism is rather slow, and the reptile requires time to digest the food properly.
Due to this low feeding frequency, it can sometimes be more difficult to tell when your gecko has appetite problems.
But if you do notice that the gecko eats less than usual, or not at all, finding out the reason fast is vital.
7 Reasons Your Crested Gecko Is Not Eating
It’s normal for geckos to display a low feeding frequency. The lizards will eat daily as a juvenile, but they will begin to eat less as they grow. But what if your gecko stops eating altogether?
This may or may not be a reason for concern based on other factors that accompany the gecko’s behavior. So, let’s look into those.
Here are the 7 primary reasons why geckos will lose their appetite:
There’s a lot to discuss here because geckos’ wellbeing depends largely on their habitat’s layout and environmental parameters.
Here’s what I mean by that:
- Vertical space – Geckos require vertical instead of horizontal space. That’s because these reptiles are climbers that feel safer and more comfortable elevated. It’s not to say you should rely on a tubular terrarium because crested geckos also need substrate. But they require more vertical space overall.
- Just enough space – An adult crested gecko only requires approximately 20 gallons of space which should also include plants, tree bark, and other decorations. That’s because geckos don’t move much around their habitat. Especially if all the food and water they need are right there. Interestingly enough, geckos can actually stress out when kept in a large tank. This may sound counterintuitive, but it’s because the larger the environment is, the more difficult it will be for the gecko to find food and water.
- The temperature gradient is a must – Many beginners take notes of the geckos’ temperature requirements, go for the optimal value range, and hope for the best. However, that’s not how things work. While crested geckos require temperatures between 72 and 80-85 F, they also need a balanced gradient. This means that their tank should have cold areas (70-73 °F), warm areas (75-85 F), and a basking area (90-95 F). Crested geckos are ectotherms, so they rely on their environment to regulate their body temperature. Aside from this, the temperature should also vary between day and night.
- The New Tank Syndrome – This syndrome affects almost all geckos, and it’s generally harmless. NTS is just a pretentious acronym for a gecko that’s unfamiliar with its new setting. This will cause the reptile some stress, cutting its appetite, and triggering a more noticeable hiding behavior.
In short, some environmental-related factors may cause the gecko to lose its appetite temporarily.
Fortunately, it’s nothing you can’t handle, and your gecko’s appetite should return soon after tweaking the issue.
2. Stress / Aggression
This applies to gecko pairs or gecko communities, where multiple geckos need to share the same space. It’s not uncommon for crested geckos to share space in the wild as well, it’s just that they’re not social creatures.
So, they will tolerate each other’s presence within certain limits but won’t interact as part of a group.
Them cohabiting on the same piece of land isn’t a problem in the wild (so, an open system). But it can become a problem in captivity, in a closed system. If geckos don’t have sufficient space, food, water, or climbing and hiding areas, they will begin to fight.
The situation is much more serious if you have 2 males in the same enclosure. Which, if you know anything about geckos, you know that shouldn’t happen.
But gecko pairs will also fight on occasion, primarily due to the male’s overactive mating tendencies, stressing the female as a result.
Conversely, females will fight rarely, but it can happen if their basic needs aren’t met.
In this case, geckos will get stressed and experience a lack of appetite as a result. They may also grow lethargic or display higher-than-usual irritability. When that happens, monitor your geckos’ interactions for a while.
If they display poor dynamics and show aggression towards one another, consider mitigating the problem however possible. This may sometimes mean removing the aggressor(s) from the terrarium if nothing else works.
Impaction is a term describing the ingestion of a hard object that blocks the digestive system.
Geckos can experience this problem for several reasons, such as:
- Constipation – Constipation is often the result of lacking sufficient water. The feces will become dry and clog the gecko’s digestive tract. The result is compaction which can be quite severe in some cases.
- Improper food – Feeding your gecko large chunks can cause it to choke on them. If that doesn’t happen, the chunks will simply block the digestive tract later down the line, causing compaction.
- Substrate ingestion – Geckos will often go near the substrate to eat, which can cause them to ingest some of it in the process. This is why you should avoid gravel or sand, which can get compacted in the reptile’s digestive tract. It’s normal for geckos to ingest some substrate occasionally, but it shouldn’t be a problem, provided the substrate is adequate (soil, peat moss, coconut husk, orchid bark, etc.)
Impaction can solve on its own, or it may require some assistance. In more severe cases, your gecko may require surgical intervention.
All geckos will undergo shedding, typically every month. The shedding frequency drops as the gecko ages since its metabolism will slow down accordingly. The shedding process is necessary to allow the gecko to grow.
Before and during the process, the reptile will not eat due to the physiological changes it’s going through.
The shedding may last between several hours to 2 days, depending on the gecko’s age, shedding prowess, and whether there are any complications along the way.
Don’t worry, it’s natural for geckos to refrain from eating during this time. They will generally consume their old skin as they’re shedding it since this contains much of the nutrients they need.
The reptile’s appetite should resume shortly after the shedding is complete.
Crested geckos are prone to some health problems. One of them is MBD (Metabolic Bone Disease), resulting from improper calcium and vitamin D3 intake.
Other conditions include parasites, bacterial and fungal infections, digestive issues, skin conditions, etc. Some skin infections may also occur as a result of improper shedding or inadequate humidity and temperature.
The gecko will always display signs of stress when sick, including lack of appetite, lethargy, hiding, irritability, physical issues like discoloration and visible infections, etc.
In most cases, the lack of appetite is the first sign, but this can be difficult to assess given the gecko’s naturally low feeding frequency.
So, I always recommend checking on your gecko regularly to detect any health problems in time. By the time the lack of appetite becomes apparent, the condition may already become advanced.
6. Mating Season
The mating season is a constant reason for stress among geckos. The males are overly active and fidgety and will harass the females even after the mating process has finished.
This may cause the females to stress out, at which point you may need to remove the male from the habitat.
The hormonal activity during this time will also naturally cut the geckos’ appetite. It should return to normal once the mating is complete and geckos resume their natural lifestyle.
If your gecko is dealing with dehydration, the lack of appetite is the least of your concerns. Dehydration can be a true killer since it causes respiratory infections and skin conditions, among other issues.
Geckos like higher humidity levels, especially during shedding. Unfortunately, getting a 70-80% humidity level is more difficult than it sounds.
You require a variety of techniques to achieve those values, including:
- Spraying the habitat regularly – This will not only keep the humidity up but will also spread water over the habitat. This will help geckos get easier access to water since they prefer drinking water droplets off of plant leaves. You probably need to spray your gecko’s habitat once or twice daily, depending on the time of day, habitat size, and other factors. You may need to spray the terrarium more often if the gecko is shedding, for instance.
- A moisture-retaining substrate – Soil is the best in this sense. It retains moisture quite well, and it’s soft enough for the gecko to bury in it occasionally. Something which geckos are known to do at times.
- Live plants – Adding live plants to your terrarium will improve humidity and provide geckos with a more natural setup.
If humidity levels are suboptimal, geckos may experience health problems such as respiratory infections and skin issues.
The resulting stress will affect the geckos’ appetite and overall behavior.
What do You do If Your Crested Gecko Won’t Eat?
If your gecko stops eating suddenly, you need a plan of attack. First, you need to assess the situation to identify the causes. The list of potential causes I’ve provided should be pretty compelling in this sense.
In most cases, geckos will display low appetite due to the new tank syndrome or because they’re experiencing temperature or humidity-related stress. If you have several geckos sharing the same habitat, the situation is even clearer.
If your gecko shows no visible symptom of any health problem and appears just normal, maybe shedding is approaching. I recommend keeping a written schedule of your gecko’s shedding routine to keep track of your reptile’s physiological changes.
This will help you identify any inconsistencies along the way, so you can tell whether your gecko is growing normally.
Other than that, this isn’t rocket science. If the gecko isn’t eating, assess the situation and approach it accordingly.
Will a Crested Gecko Starve Itself?
Crested geckos won’t starve themselves on purpose, except maybe during the mating season or when shedding.
However, these don’t really fall under the umbrella of ‘starve themselves.’ In other words, geckos won’t refrain from eating if they’re hungry, no matter the reason.
If they’re not eating, no matter the reason, it means they lack appetite, which is a different thing.
How Long Can a Crested Gecko Go Without Eating?
A strong, healthy, and young crested gecko can go up to 3 weeks without eating. This probably sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t, considering that geckos only eat once every 2-3-4 days.
That’s because their metabolism is on the slower side, so the reptiles don’t need to eat that often.
It’s normal for geckos to sometimes refrain from eating for one week or more in some cases. The reasons for that vary and include new tank syndrome, shedding, temperature-related stress, etc.
The gecko’s lack of appetite in these cases shouldn’t concern you, provided the situation goes back to normal soon.
If it doesn’t, and your gecko still has no appetite by the mid of the second week, contact your vet. Especially if you can’t determine the cause of your gecko’s behavior.
Remember that only gecko specimens in peak condition will go 3 weeks without eating. Every other gecko won’t last as much.
Can You Force-Feed a Crested Gecko?
Yes, you can and should force-feed your gecko in some situations, but there’s more to talk about on the issue. First, the very notion of force-feeding is rather improper. An even better one would be guided feeding.
Calling it forced feeding sounds like some constriction and force are being applied, and that’s not the case.
In essence, the force-feeding process should go like this:
- You grab the gecko gently and hold it in a comfortable position
- You grab the food item, say a mealworm, allow the gecko to see it, then rub it against its mouth gently
- This will activate the gecko’s feeding behavior and cause it to instinctively open its mouth
- Place one end of the mealworm inside the gecko’s mouth, not too deep, just enough for the reptile to grab hold of it
- The same feeding instinct will trigger the gecko to trap the prey and ingest it
Please note, that this feeding method only works in the case of stressed geckos suffering from new tank syndrome. Or maybe those who have difficulties consuming new foods or can’t find the food around their environment.
It will also work in most cases of sick geckos who lack the energy to feed themselves.
But it may not work in more severe cases of geckos experiencing digestive issues or other health problems.
So, I always recommend consulting your reptile vet regarding force-feeding your gecko. You will get a more valuable input on how to proceed in your particular situation.
Crested geckos usually display a healthy appetite and only refrain from eating in specific situations. These can be normal, like shedding or some mild environmental discomfort, but they should come around.
As a closing note, consider that some geckos will refuse commercial gecko food altogether.
Or will only prefer some foods over others. In this case, you should respect your gecko’s preferences and go from there.