“Help! My Gecko’s Face is Coming Off!!” – And other curious things that freak out new gecko owners…

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Note:  The information provided here is in no way meant to replace veterinary advice.  If you believe your gecko is in need of medical attention, please see your veterinarian as soon as possible.

 

Crested geckos are fascinating pets.  Their brilliant colors and patterns, sweet dispositions, and ease of care have made them one of the top reptile-pet choices for the past several years.  Still, your crested gecko may have some “quirks” or behaviors that seem rather odd…or even down right alarming.  These are some of the most common questions I get from new crested gecko owners.  Hopefully the answers here will prevent a “freak-out” before it starts!!  If you would like any additional information on any of these subjects, or if you have another question that you think should be added to this list, please Click Here to Contact Us!


 

My gecko’s skin is loose and has looks grayish.  Is he sick?

Above: Puck in Shed                       Below: Puck after shedding

It sounds to me like your gecko is about to shed…and you’ve been lucky enough to see it!  Crested geckos will shed their skin from time to time, and while they are usually pretty secretive about it, every now & then you may catch a glimpse of the process.  Shedding is usually completed within a few hours, but sometimes you can see the first stages of shed a few days before.  Crested geckos can feel pretty vulnerable while they are in the process of shedding, so it would be best to refrain from handling him until the process is completed.  If your gecko has an incomplete shed (pieces stuck to the body, most commonly on the tail & toe tips), please see our blog “Common Shed Issues – How to Safely Offer Your Gecko a Helping Hand” for some simple tips on how to assist your gecko with his shed.  If your gecko’s skin is loose & appears white/gray in color, in combination with some other “symptoms” (skin feels dry/crisp to the touch, eyes sinking in, waves in tail, hip bones visible), your gecko may have a medical issue that will require a visit to the vet ASAP.

 

My gecko stays on the floor.  He can’t seem to stick to anything & his colors are not as bright as they usually are.  Is there something wrong?

Once again, it sounds to me like your gecko is about to shed.  As your gecko gets ready to throw away his old suit, he may spend more time on the floor of his enclosure.  There are two reasons for this.  First, this is generally where the most moisture/humidity is held, and this will help soften your gecko’s skin so its easier for him to remove.  The second reason is that once the skin begins to loosen, your gecko will temporarily lose the ability to “stick” to the surfaces in his enclosure.  His colors will appear white or grayish during this time as well.  Don’t worry.  Once his shed is complete, your gecko will be able to climb again & he will regain his beautiful vibrant color.  If after his shed is complete your gecko still is unable to stick to surfaces in his enclosure, please refer to our blog “Common Shed Issues – How to Safely Offer Your Gecko a Helping Hand” for some quick tips on assisting your gecko with his shed.  Chances are he has a bit stuck on his toe pads!  If, however, in addition to his dull color & inability to “stick” there are other “symptoms” (such as sunken eyes, dry/crisp skin, or visible hip bones), a more serious medical condition may be present, and you will need to take your gecko to the vet right away.  It should also be noted that while a gecko may sleep or spend time on the floor, he will never do so on his back.  If your gecko is sleeping belly-up on the floor, please seek immediate medical attention.

 

I think my gecko’s insides are falling out his backside!  What is going on?

 

Congratulations!  You have a boy!  Male geckos are equipped with 2 hemipenes, which are generally kept inverted, nestled snuggly inside of his hemipenal bulge (that handsome bump between the base of his tail & his vent).  During mating, one or both of the hemipenes will pop out so your fella can insert into the Female’s vent.  The hemipenes come out of the body through the vent & look kind of like two fat little worms dangling on either side of the hemipenal bulge. Sometimes, boys get aroused, stimulated, or otherwise excited (even if there are no ladies around!), and his hemipenes will become visible.  The hemipenes will usually look fairly dark in color, like a reddish-purple, or if you are catching the tail end of the show, you may see a slight bit of white…uh…“goo” oozing either from the hemipenes or, if the hemipenes are inverted already, just hanging out from the vent area (as pictured above) …something we simply refer to as a “Male Present”.  His hemipenes should re-invert naturally & with ease in a short amount of time.  Your boy may lick, or even tug at them a bit with his mouth to promote them to move back inside of his body, and this behavior is totally normal.

If your boy seems to have some trouble getting those puppies inverted again, you can help him out by giving him a gecko “sauna”.  To do this, take a deli cup or Tupperware with a tight-fitting lid and check that it is large enough for your gecko to fit comfortably inside.  Punch a few vent holes into it (in the sides or the lid…either will work fine) so your gecko will be able to breathe easily once you place him in there!  You will need something sharp to punch the holes with, so if you are a youngin’, be sure to have a parent or guardian help you with that.    Wet some paper towel with barely warm water (NOT HOT) & place inside the deli cup.  Place your gecko onto the damp paper towel & close the lid securely.  He is probably not going to like this very much, so its important not to stress him any more than he already is.  Keep an eye on him, but do not tap or handle the cup too much while he’s in there.  After about 15-30 minutes the hemipenes should invert.  For particularly stubborn hemipenes, instead of the paper towel, just pour a bit of water directly into the deli cup (not too much…you just want enough to allow him to soak his belly…he’s not going for a swim!!).  You can also add a little bit of honey to the water.  Honey should help reduce the swelling, and the sweetness of it will promote your gecko to lick, which should in turn encourage the hemipenes to invert.  If your boy is being housed on a natural substrate (soil, moss…really anything other than paper towel) or if his enclosure is a bit dirty at the moment, it would be a good idea to remove him from his enclosure & place him in a sauna until his hemipenes are completely inverted.  Bits of soil/debris can get stuck to the hemipenes & be pulled up inside of his body as they are inverted.  This can cause scratching, blockage, and can lead to some nasty infections.

If the hemipenes remain visible for several hours, or if they consistently invert but then slip back out, your boy may have suffered a prolapse.  You will need to take him to the vet as soon as possible to have this corrected.  Until he is seen by the vet, keep him inside of a “gecko sauna” on damp towels.  It is important to keep the hemipenes moist, and to keep the tissue clean & healthy.  Your vet may be able to reinsert your gecko’s hemipenes manually.  If the tissue is allowed to dry out, the risk of infection becomes too great & your vet will likely have to surgically remove the hemipenes.

Female geckos DO NOT have hemipenes.  If you have a guaranteed female gecko & she has tissue protruding from her vent area, she is most likely suffering a prolapse & immediate medical attention is necessary.

 

I have never seen my gecko eat or shed.  What’s the deal?

Crested geckos can be very shy when it comes to eating & shedding…and often you won’t see much evidence of either happening!

Crested geckos eat their shed skin, so after the process is complete there may not be any signs that it ever happened.  Okay…I know…its kind of gross that they eat their skin, but its an instinctual thing (in the wild, predators would smell the shed skin & know that a tasty gecko is nearby – eating the shed helps keep them hidden from those sneaky hunters!), and at least they have the courtesy to keep that moment private!

As for that untouched food dish – well, there could be a few things going on here.  First of all, crested geckos don’t really eat all that much.  Sometimes, they will go to town & completely clean their bowls, but other times a couple small licks is all they need to fill their bellies up.  Crested geckos also tend to fast when they are stressed.  Geckos can stress when they are moved to a new home, so be sure to allow him some time to settle in & start to feel comfortable in his new surroundings.  A change to your gecko’s enclosure (ex: new decoration, or simply rearranging the decorations in his enclosure) may also cause your gecko to hunker down for a bit until he is certain all is safe.  Also, unlike us humans, crested geckos do not eat every single day.  We offer crested geckos fresh food every other day because…well…their food will spoil after that amount of time.  Even though your gecko may not eat every time you offer him a fresh dish of food, he has the right to munch on unspoiled food when he does become hungry!  Keeping fresh food available to him ensures that when he does eat, he’s taking in a good healthy meal.

The general rules to follow are: 1) If he’s pooping, he’s eating…and 2) If he’s growing, he’s shedding.   Fully grown adult geckos will shed their skin as well, but not quite as often as the growing babies.

If you still are concerned that your gecko is not eating or growing, one way to put your mind at ease is to weigh him regularly to monitor his growth rate.  Be sure to use a scale that will accurately measure in grams.  You don’t want to go overboard with weighing him or you’ll drive yourself mad!  A gecko’s weight will fluctuate normally (even throughout a single day…he’ll weigh more after he eats, and less after a bowel movement), so frequent weighing will most likely result in you getting a headache!!  Plan on weighing him every 2 weeks – 1 month.  At that rate, you should see steady growth in a young gecko, and a fairly maintained weigh in an adult.  Regular weigh-ins as part of your routine will also alert you to problems if they do arise.  A significant drop in weight may be a sign of a medical issue that would require veterinary attention.

If you do not see evidence of a bowel movement in your gecko’s enclosure, if there are visual signs of weight loss (ex: hip bones showing), if your gecko’s vent is swollen, if there are any hard lumps in his belly (be careful here – a lump in a female’s belly may be an egg!), or if there are any foreign bodies protruding from your gecko’s vent, seek immediate medical attention.  These could be signs of intestinal impaction or entamoeba invadens.

NEVER attempt to force-feed your gecko (without specific medical instruction).  This will usually cause more harm than good.  If you would like to hand-feed your gecko, you can do so by simply dipping your finger in some Crested Gecko Diet & then placing your finger in front of your gecko’s nose.  Once he smells it, he’ll start licking (if he’s hungry).  If you want to encourage licking, place a small (SMALL) dab of Crested Gecko Diet over one (ONE) of your gecko’s nostrils or on the tip of his nose.  Within a few seconds he should begin licking it off.  This is not a practice I recommend making a habit of though!  While it will definitely get some food into his belly, it is not necessarily an enjoyable experience for him.  How would you like it if your parents shoved broccoli up your nose every time you didn’t feel like eating it?!?

 

My gecko’s face is coming off!  What should I do?

My best advice here is to sit back & enjoy the show!!  It sounds to me that your crested gecko has just begun his shed, and this is something you probably won’t see very often.

When your gecko’s skin is ready to come off, it will generally start at the nose tip/upper lip area.  You may also see splits/tears in the skin around the knees, elbows, armpits, and hips.  As the skin starts to pull away, your gecko may pull at it with his arms or feet, or he may begin to brush up against objects in his enclosure.  Once the shed skin clears the head area & starts down the neck, your gecko may turn & grab the skin in his mouth.  He will pull at the skin with his mouth & often eat the shed skin as it pulls away.  He will continue with this – rubbing, pulling, and eating the skin – until it is completely removed.  The tail & feet are usually the last areas to lose their old skin.  Unlike some other reptiles, crested geckos do not shed in patches.  They will completely shed their entire body all in one go.  Get that camera ready…(no flash please!)…because crested geckos usually look their best just after a shed!  Most of them will fire up during the process, and nothing looks prettier than a fired up crested gecko in his fresh new skin!!

Crested geckos feel pretty vulnerable while they are shedding, so you should give him his space & refrain from handling until his shed is completed.  As tempting as it may be, NEVER pull loose skin off of your gecko.  The shed will begin to lift naturally when it is ready to come off…and your gecko knows what to do from there.  Pulling the skin may cause tears to the new skin underneath.  This is terribly painful for your gecko & can leave scars, or worse yet…lead to a nasty infection!!

 

My crested gecko keeps chirping, twitching, and shaking his tail.  Is this normal?

I have had several people contact me after witnessing this type of behavior, concerned that their gecko is having seizures.  Crested geckos can have seizures, so its important that you don’t take this lightly.  That said, my Step Dad always used to tell me “When you hear hoof beats, think Horse, not Zebra,” which simply means to consider the more common answer first…and if that’s not it, then you can move on to considering the more extreme.

The more likely answer here is that your gecko is using his communication skills.  So what is he telling you?  That can be a little trickier to figure out!

If your gecko is shaking his tail, opening his mouth wide, and making sharp little barks:  Your gecko is saying “Leave me alone!”.  You’ll see this behavior more in babies than adults, usually after being handled for a long period of time, handled roughly, or being startled out of sleep.  Your gecko is frightened or frustrated and he’s letting you know that he’s ready to bite or drop his tail if he doesn’t get some peace & quiet.

If your male gecko is making quick soft chirps in combination with short sharp body twitches and/or quick little shakes with his tail:  Your fella has reached maturity & he has seen something that he’s found to be quite sexy!  A male crested gecko will usually save this little song & dance for a female gecko, but if none is around he may find your hand to be equally inviting!  He may even attempt to bite down on your hand (usually the fleshy part of your palm), as this is part of the courtship & breeding display.  He won’t bite hard…just enough to hold on…and he’ll usually let go as soon as he realizes you’re not a lady gecko!  Not all boys will put on a show like this, but if your boy starts up, get ready for a good laugh.  A male gecko trying to make himself appear sexy is maybe one of the most hilarious things I have ever seen!

If your gecko shakes his tail rapidly when you try to pick him up or when he is outside of his enclosure:  Your gecko is scared.  He is fairly certain that you are a predator and he is trying to make his tail look tastier than his head.  It would be best to put your gecko back into his enclosure for now & just leave him be for a little while.  If your gecko continues to feel threatened, he may drop his tail & run.  To make him feel more confident about handling in the future, try turning down loud music or television, turning down any bright lights, and limiting handling to about 5 minutes until he starts to get more comfortable with it.  Do not grab your gecko out of his enclosure, but instead place your hand inside & encourage him to walk onto it (a light touch to the hind leg will usually encourage him to walk forward).  With regular gentle handling your gecko will begin to feel more comfortable about leaving the safety of his enclosure.

If your female gecko makes soft rapid chirps/barks in combination with slight body twitches and/or quick little shakes of her tail:  Your little girl is all grown up & this display is letting everyone know that she is ready for a mate.  She will usually save this display for a male, in response to his courtship display, but sometimes a human touch may bring out this behavior.  When a male crested gecko is attempting to attract a female, in addition to a fancy little song & dance (described above), he will gently nudge her with his nose up & down her body.  If she is receptive to this, he will begin to gently bite her – usually on the fleshiest part of her crest.  When you pet your female gecko (especially around her crest area), she may mistake your touch for the courtship nudges of a male, and chirp or twitch her approval in response.

 

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