Crested Gecko Suddenly Died – 9 Possible Reasons
Crested geckos are notorious for being able to live up to 20 years in captivity, 10 at a minimum. This is among the main reasons why people love them, aside from their cuteness, temperament, and relative ease of care.
This is why pretty much no one is ready when their gecko dies without any apparent explanation or buildup. It’s always shocking and heartbreaking to have your pet gecko die, often soon after getting it home. Fortunately, there are ways to identify the reasons so you know how to protect the future gecko you might be getting.
But first, let’s see how you can tell whether your gecko is actually dead, resting, or only sick and in need of help.
How to Tell if Crested Gecko is Dead?
Typically, geckos experience slow and gradual deaths, depending on the factor at play. This gives you time to identify the problem and maybe offer your pet the assistance it needs to recover. Sometimes it works, sometimes, it doesn’t.
But there are cases when crested geckos die suddenly, in which case you need to learn how to tell they’re no longer alive. Here are some good indicators to consider:
- Body position – It’s easier to tell whether crested geckos are dead than other gecko species. This is due to the fact that crested geckos are arboreal reptiles that spend most of their time climbing on branches and various decorations in their habitat. They also maintain an alert body pose with their head raised and their eyes vivid and mobile. A dead gecko will most likely fall or, if secure on the branches, lose its body control and position. You may see your gecko hanging freely with its head and tail down and legs inert.
- Lack of breathing – This is the first sign to look for because geckos only breathe when they’re alive. It sounds like something Captain Obvious would say, but what can you do? Check the reptile’s thoracic area and look for breathing signs. The gecko’s breathing may be less visible if it’s sleeping or simply relaxing, but it should be there. If there’s no sign of breathing, you’ve got your answer.
- Check pupil autonomy – Gecko’s pupils react to light naturally since this is a biological response that they cannot control. If you’re unsure whether your gecko is still alive or not, point a strong light beam into their light to look for that automatic pupil response. If the pupil remains of same size, your gecko is clearly dead.
- Response to touch – Touch or lift up your gecko gently and look for any physical reactions to your presence. If the gecko doesn’t react and doesn’t breathe, the verdict is in.
But why do geckos die suddenly, and is there a way to prevent that? Let’s check it out!
9 Reasons Crested Geckos Suddenly Die
Unfortunately, crested geckos can die for a variety of reasons. Fortunately, these ‘sudden’ deaths are rarely sudden. I would rather call them unnoticed deaths because geckos always display foretelling signs that something’s not right prior to their death.
Sure, in some cases, there’s nothing you can do anyway, even if you do observe those signs in time. But there exists no such thing as a healthy and vivid gecko falling dead one second later.
With this point clarified, let’s look into the 9 most compelling reasons why geckos die:
– Physical Injury
This generally happens due to improper terrarium layout, causing the gecko to either fall, have something fall on it, or experience cuts or punctures from branches and other hazardous materials.
In many cases, the blunt trauma may be severe enough to deliver a swift death if the result is a crushed spine or skull. In other cases, the gecko may experience organ damage that will deliver the same result within a day or two.
When it comes to cuts and puncture wounds, death is almost never immediate but slow and painful. Such injuries are prone to infections due to the humid and warm environment, especially if the gecko’s habitat isn’t exactly sterile and clean. If you pay attention, you can observe the signs of infection in time; if not, it will appear as if your gecko has died overnight without any explanation.
Geckos can also experience injuries due to aggressive terrarium mates, but we’ll discuss this point later on.
– Disease or Parasite
The most common health disorder in the gecko world is MBD (Metabolic Bone Disease.) This is more prevalent among captive-bred geckos because their diets are more rigid than wild geckos. To remain healthy, geckos require an omnivorous diet with plenty of fruits, insects, worms, optimized commercial gecko food, and vitamin supplementation.
MBD is the result of D3 and calcium deficiency, and it is an aggressive and deadly condition. Fortunately, it is curable in its initial stages, provided you can diagnose and treat it correctly. When advanced, MBD has no cure and will often cause sudden death at the end of several days of physical torment.
This isn’t the only problem that geckos have to face. Other potentially deadly conditions include impaction, respiratory infections due to improper temperature and humidity, cryptosporidiosis (parasitic), floppy tail syndrome, mites, etc.
Sometimes, even the milder problems, like mites, can become deadly. These skin parasites can actually weaken the reptile significantly in advanced stages if they multiply enough. They can cause loss of appetite, irritability, drastic weight loss, infections, and death.
You should learn as much as you can about gecko diseases and parasites and understand the primary symptoms and causes so you can prevent and treat them. The earlier the treatment, the shorter the recovery process and the higher the treatment’s success.
– Chemical Poisoning
This may sound like an unusual one because how can your gecko get poisoned, right? Unfortunately, there are several ways by which you can poison your gecko without realizing it. These include:
- Wild-sourced insects and fruits – Many people feed their geckos wild-caught insects based on the idea of providing them with natural and clean food. Wild insects are natural, all right, but they’re by no means clean. Many of them contain environmental contaminants that don’t hurt the insect but hurt the gecko. These contaminants seep into the insects via their food and even the atmosphere around them. It’s one of the downsides of living in an urban environment. The same problem exists with fruits, only now you also have insecticides and herbicides to worry about.
- Improper terrarium cleaning – You probably know that geckos require daily and monthly cleaning, depending on how dirty their habitat gets. You also need to use chemical solutions to sterilize their habitat so you can combat bacteria, viruses, and fungi more effectively. Unfortunately, some chemical solutions, like bleach, are highly toxic, capable of emanating vapors that your geckos will inhale. Some of these solutions kill via an accumulation effect, while others are so dangerous that they can actually cause your gecko to go into shock and experience sudden death. Only use reptile-friendly cleaning sprays and disinfectants to prevent this issue.
- Improper decorations – It’s always tempting to decorate your gecko’s habitat with a variety of novel elements. Some of these contain artificial paint, which can pollute the gecko’s habitat. This is more likely than you would think, given the habitat’s temperature and humidity. Avoid decorations that aren’t meant for reptile use.
– High Temperature
High temperature is a common culprit in sudden gecko deaths. You clearly know that geckos are cold-blooded animals, which means they cannot self-regulate their body temperature. So, they rely on their habitat to do that for them.
The problem is that more inexperienced gecko keepers believe that that translates to ‘geckos need high environmental temperatures.’ In reality, they don’t; they need a temperature gradient.
The notion of ‘geckos cannot regulate their body temperature refers to the fact that they cannot increase or decrease it. So, their habitat should deliver a temperature gradient that allows them to do that. Here’s how that temperature gradient looks like in a crested gecko habitat:
- Upper area (basking zone) – 80-90 °F – The reptile will only spend limited time here to increase its body temperature.
- Middle area (dwelling zone) – 72-77 °F – This is where the gecko spends most of its time. The 72-77 range is the gecko’s comfort zone.
- Ground area – 60-71 °F. Geckos go near the ground when they need to cool off, drink some water, bathe in their water bowl, or eat.
If the temperature is too high, your gecko will dehydrate and experience brain issues that will result in death. Fortunately, you can tell that the gecko is uncomfortable with its temperature due to it showcasing signs of stress. Check the temperature if the reptile spends too much time near the substrate and tries to dig holes to bury itself.
While high temperature is the main cause of dehydration, it’s not the only one. Another would be the low humidity level and the lack of water which happen more than you’d think. You should always spray your reptile’s habitat and have a water bowl with fresh water always available.
The gecko will drink water off of its surrounding plants and even bathe in the water bowl when too hot. A hygrometer is key in this sense, allowing you to monitor environmental humidity to prevent dangerous swings one way or the other.
Dehydration is deadly in geckos, causing skin problems, respiratory infections, organ failure, and death.
Impaction is a complex issue, but not that difficult to understand and prevent. Impaction is a digestive disorder that occurs due to several issues, most often swallowing large objects that clog the large intestine. In most cases, it’s an insect too large for the gecko to consume safely. In other cases, it’s a mealworm with a hardened exterior that the juvenile gecko cannot digest.
Geckos can also swallow substrate particles like rocks that get stuck into their digestive tract. Dehydration can also cause impaction due to the feces not being humid enough and getting stuck in the tract. Impaction comes with several symptoms, including straining to poop, inflamed cloaca, runny poop, loss of appetite, bloating, etc.
The treatment is easier if the gecko simply ate an oversized insect. You should simply allow your reptile to fast for several days until the digestive system breaks down the food. But if the gecko’s system is blocked by a rock or other hard material, contact your vet. The gecko may require surgery to remove the foreign object.
Impaction can get deadly in severe cases, as it can cause infections. To prevent the problem, provide your gecko with regular fruit meals for a plus of fibers, feed it small insects, and remove any hard particle that the gecko can swallow.
Also, provide your gecko with sufficient food and nutritious meals to prevent it from eating things it’s not supposed to due to starvation or nutrient deficiency.
– Egg Binding
Egg binding (dystocia or ovostasis) only occurs in gecko females and is often the result of poor husbandry. Improper temperature, humidity, and diet or dehydration can all contribute to this issue. In short, the female cannot pass its eggs, as these will get stuck in the birth canal. The gecko will experience pain and visible discomfort and can face infections and even death.
The proper way to diagnose the condition is via X-rays to remove all doubt, but the treatment isn’t exactly straightforward. Re-hydration, supportive therapy, hormonal injections, and even vitamin supplementation may be used in conjunction to counter the issue. Always contact your vet if your gecko shows signs of egg binding.
Also, note that egg binding is often linked to calcium deficiency, which triggers MBD.
– Aggressive Mate
This is a rather atypical cause of death among crested geckos simply because most people house the reptiles solo. Geckos are not social animals, so they don’t require company. Especially when it comes to other crested geckos, as their presence will increase their territorial behavior.
You should only keep two geckos if you plan on breeding them, in which case you will have a male and a female. No matter the layout or available space, you cannot house two males in the same habitat.
The two will most likely kill each other over space and dominance, and it’s unlikely that the winner will be in a much better shape, either. Gecko scuffles often cause physical injuries, and we’ve already discussed what those lead to.
– High Stress
While geckos are adaptable and easy-going, they can get stressed quite easily in the right circumstances. Some of these include:
- The gecko is still accommodating to its new habitat
- The temperature and humidity are inadequate, causing the gecko discomfort
- There’s too much noise or movement around the gecko’s terrarium
- The light is too bright
- You handle the gecko too much, and crested geckos aren’t fond of that
- The gecko is struggling with a parasite, bacteria, or a disease
- The enclosure is too large, in which case the gecko feels unsafe
- The improper layout, lacking climbing areas, vegetation, or other components that geckos require for safety and comfort
While it’s normal for geckos to experience some mild stress occasionally, constant and high stress can actually kill the reptile. Fortunately, you should be able to notice your gecko’s discomfort in time and work to figure out the cause(s).
Stressed geckos may become irritable and aggressive, even trying to bite you when you pick them up. They will also hold their bellies next to the substrate and raise their tails aggressively. The gecko may also hide more often than usual, showcase low appetite, and dig constantly, among other things.
How to Dispose of a Dead Crested Gecko?
If you’ve decided that your gecko has died despite all your efforts and hopes, it’s time to move on. You should now think of a way to dispose of your dead gecko, which may not be as easy as it seems. You can’t just throw away your gecko wherever it may be. The reptile’s body will decompose and produce dangerous pathogens that could contaminate the surrounding area.
A pet might find it and become contaminated as well. You also can’t throw it in the garbage bin for pretty much the same reasons. Then you have the emotional aspect to consider since some disposal methods are more humane and less demeaning than others. With this said, here are some options at your disposal:
- Bury it – This is easy, generally safe, and allows you to pay respects to your deceased pet friend. Make sure you dig a hole deep enough to contain the body’s scent so other animals won’t pick it up. Most importantly, dig the small grave in an area where your pets cannot access.
- Burn it – This is probably the most effective and sterile procedure, as it completely destroys the gecko’s body. Cremation services are perfect in this sense, as you will also get some of your gecko’s ashes back if that’s something you desire. If you think cremation services are too expensive, which they sometimes are, you can burn your gecko yourself, provided you have the means for that. You require a temperature of around 1,400-1,800 F for that.
- Contact your vet – Most, if not all, vets handle dead pets as well as live ones. If you don’t have the heart to get the job done yourself, contact your exotic pet vet and let the professional handle the matter.
- Contact authorities – This is only an option in an area where authorities handle such matters. They will dispose of your gecko’s body for you.
A crested gecko dying suddenly is both unfortunate and quite unlikely. You shouldn’t worry about this issue so long as you monitor your gecko constantly and care for it properly. If your gecko does die, despite all your efforts, you, at least, now know how to identify the cause and what to do after.