Why is My Leopard Gecko Pale?
As you may know, leopard geckos can’t change their color the same way a chameleon does. However, they will change their color under certain circumstances, albeit it’s not intentional.
Today, we will discuss a rather worrying color change in leopard geckos: paleness. Healthy leopard geckos should have vibrant colors; if yours appears pale or white, today’s article is for you.
Natural Color Changes in Leopard Geckos
It’s important to differentiate between the natural and unnatural color changes in leopard geckos. This is to know when you need to intervene and look for a solution. The following are 3 reasons why leopard geckos change their color naturally:
- Age-related color change – Leopard geckos simply lose pigmentation as they age. Their colors will get blander over the years, causing old geckos to appear washed up. This is a natural color progression similar to what happens in mammals and other animals. It’s nothing to worry about.
- Seasonal color change – Leopard geckos don’t necessarily change their coloring with each season, but it can happen. Many specimens appear paler or darker, depending on environmental temperature and season.
- Change in diet – Dietary changes can affect the gecko’s coloring based on the items being introduced or removed.
- The shedding process – Leopard geckos become paler when getting close to shedding. This is because the outer skin layer begins to separate from the new one, causing the gecko to take on a milky appearance. Whenever geckos begin to turn pale, 9 times out of 10 is due to incoming shedding. Unless you have evidence that something else might be the cause.
Obviously, these reasons aren’t always at the heart of the matter. Leopard geckos can also experience paleness for a variety of other reasons, which we will discuss in the following section.
Health Issues That Can Cause Paleness
Leopard geckos can experience a variety of issues responsible for subtle or more drastic color changes, such as:
- Dehydration – Leopard geckos require a humidity level of 30-40%. This is typically lower than most other species, but it still needs to remain stable to keep the lizard healthy and comfortable. Paleness is the least of your lizard’s problems if it becomes dehydrated, given that dehydration can quickly lead to organ failure and death.
- Malnutrition – Either your gecko isn’t eating enough, or the food isn’t as nutritive as it should be. These are both common problems among inexperienced gecko keepers who haven’t figured their gecko’s feeding requirements yet. They either don’t feed their gecko enough, the meal size is suboptimal, or the food isn’t quite right. Leopard geckos should have 2-3 insect meals per week as adults, along with proper vitamin and mineral supplementation. Always assess and adjust the lizard’s diet plan based on its appetite and nutritional needs.
- Infections – Infections can be of many types, primarily respiratory and skin-related. Respiratory infections are usually linked to improper humidity or temperature due to the gecko’s skin being very sensitive to fluctuating environmental parameters. Skin infections generally occur during the shedding process due to incomplete shedding or humidity issues. These problems can cause the gecko to experience significant discomfort and visible paleness along the way.
- Parasites – Leopard geckos can experience parasitic infections due to poor enclosure husbandry and improper long-term maintenance. These are generally mild at first but can aggravate fast, causing the gecko to experience malnutrition, secondary infections, and other more severe health problems.
- Liver or kidney problems – If your gecko is experiencing liver or kidney problems, the paleness is just one of the many symptoms. If your gecko shows signs of stress and pain, refuses to eat, loses weight, and shows difficulty breathing or moving, contact your vet immediately.
Environmental Factors That Can Affect Leopard Gecko Color
If your gecko doesn’t show signs of sickness, its sudden paleness may relate to various environmental factors. These include:
- Incorrect lighting or temperature – Leopard geckos require precise lighting, temperature, and humidity to remain healthy, calm, and happy in their enclosure. If these parameters fluctuate too drastically or too often, the gecko will begin to exhibit signs of discomfort. The overall paleness is usually the first sign of trouble.
- Stress – Gecko stress is a complex topic due to the numerous potential causes to consider. Leopard geckos can get stressed for various reasons like sickness, poor diets, dehydration, unstable parameters, improper enclosure layout, etc. The challenge is not to identify whether your gecko is stressed but to figure out why.
- Lack of hiding spots – Leopard geckos are reptiles, which automatically means that they require a handful of hiding spots throughout their lush ecosystem. This is to allow them to hide during the day since leopard geckos are nocturnal lizards. If they have nowhere to hide, they will begin to stress out, and their overall paleness will show that. They may also become more irritable and aggressive, experience poor appetite, and become more lethargic because of it.
Husbandry Mistakes That Can Lead to Paleness
You should consider several aspects when keeping and maintaining your leopard gecko. Ignoring or not being aware of them can stress your gecko, and the lizard will let you know of that soon enough. Here are some poor husbandry practices that can affect your gecko’s physical and mental health:
- Incorrect substrate – Aim for a moisture-retaining substrate and stay away from dangerous options like sand, small gravel, wood chippings, quartz, crushed walnut shells, etc. In essence, you should avoid sharp substrates or those containing small rocks or pebbles. The leopard gecko can swallow these by mistake, which can lead to digestive problems like impaction. The ideal substrate should also retain moisture to keep air humidity balanced.
- Poor hygiene – Leopard geckos aren’t too needy in this sense, but they require regular enclosure cleaning and hygiene work nonetheless. The goal is to keep your gecko’s habitat clean and well-maintained to prevent bacteria, mold, fungi, or parasites that could infect the gecko. As a general advice, remove uneaten food immediately, remove visible feces as often as possible, clean the tank walls, and replace the substrate whenever necessary.
- Overcrowding – You should provide your leopard gecko with at least 20 gallons. This is enough to accommodate the reptile and fit in all of the decorations and equipment necessary to create a healthy and balanced habitat. Ignore those 10-gallon recommendations. A 10-gallon tank may be right for a baby or a juvenile gecko, but not an adult. Also, don’t keep more than one gecko per tank. If you do, consider upgrading your tank to accommodate all lizards. Otherwise, they might feel overcrowded and become stressed and aggressive towards one another.
Leopard Gecko Genetics
This is an area you have no control over. Some leopard geckos are paler overall or become paler as time passes. The main reason is the genetic makeup, which you cannot correct. Leopard geckos have been subjected to extensive selective breeding, trying to create novel morphs with varying physical characteristics.
Many of these variations occur in color and pattern, resulting in many differently-colored geckos. Some are paler than others or get paler as they age.
Medical Practices on Leopard Geckos
Leopard geckos may experience more severe health problems that require the intervention of a reptile vet. The expert generally has 2 treatment approaches, depending on the gecko’s issue and the severity of its condition:
- Medication – Antibiotics are typically the go-to medications for when leopard geckos experience severe infections.
- Surgical interventions – Surgical procedures are generally necessary to cope with digestive problems, impaction being the most prevalent.
Both of these interventions can impact your gecko’s color intensity. Fortunately, this is only temporary, as leopard geckos will return to their normal coloring once they get better.
Other Potential Causes of Paleness
If none of the above explains your gecko’s paleness, try the following:
- Poor quality or expired food – Leopard geckos require fresh and preferably live food. If the insects are dead or contaminated with chemicals, fungi, or bacterial growth, the gecko will soon experience digestive discomfort and health issues. These will transpire via sudden paleness, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, lack of appetite, and other signs, depending on the condition. Only feed your leopard gecko live food and prioritize gut-loaded insects for a plus of nutritional value.
- Improper handling or handling too frequently – You should know that reptiles aren’t keen to be handled or bond with their keepers. These animals are more feral than more common pets like dogs or cats, so they won’t appreciate frequent handling and petting. Holding your leopard gecko too tight or handling it too often can stress the lizard, causing it to exhibit paleness, signs of aggression, hiding behavior, etc. I recommend only handling the lizard when necessary to prevent that.
How to Address Paleness in Leopard Gecko
The solution is simple: identify the cause and take the proper measures to correct the problem. As I’ve already mentioned, the likeliest cause is shedding, but that’s not always the case. You should know that leopard geckos cannot use color changes to camouflage themselves from predators.
If your gecko appears paler and the reason isn’t evident, contact your vet for a professional’s insight into the matter. As a general rule, you should always provide your leopard gecko with optimized care and assistance, including:
- Monitoring temperature, humidity, and lighting to prevent dangerous or frequent fluctuations
- Offer a varied and optimized diet for proper nutrient intake
- Offer calcium supplementation to prevent deficiencies and Metabolic Bone Disease
- Clean the gecko’s habitat to prevent bacteria, fungi, mold, and parasitic infections
- Create a personalized habitat layout with plenty of horizontal space, hiding zones, and terrain variation
- Give your gecko the space and solitude it needs when shedding
- Don’t handle or play with your lizard too much
- Always contact your vet at the first sign of health issue since even life-threatening health conditions begin with mild symptoms
It’s important to note that leopard geckos don’t change color under normal circumstances. If they appear paler, darker, or display colors, they shouldn’t, something is off. The reason may be natural, like shedding, or more ominous, like faulty diet, sickness, etc.
With time, you will learn your gecko’s behavior and physiology to tell when your lizard pet is in trouble. Until then, monitor your gecko’s status regularly to familiarize yourself with it.