Beach ball in a swimming pool - can leopard geckos swim?

Can Leopard Geckos Swim? Everything You Need to Know

Everyone enjoys cooling off in the water on a hot summer day, or relaxing in a warm bath with a glass of wine and a good book. But what about your leo? Can leopard geckos swim? Do they enjoy hanging out in the water with a Dubia roach in one hand and a banana-insect cocktail in the other? Let's find out if leopard geckos can swim, if they like water, and if you should give your leo a bath.

Can Leopard Geckos Swim?

No. Leopard geckos can’t swim. They don’t possess the physiological adaptations necessary for swimming. Rather, their large bodies, skinny legs, lack of toe webbing, and limited capacity for floating make them bad candidates for a dip in the nearest puddle, let alone a tub or pool.

However, as with all living creatures, water still plays an important role in your leo’s life and health. Let’s explore what that role is and when it might be ok to mist your leo or soak it in water.

Do Leopard Geckos Like Water?

As desert creatures, leopard geckos don’t like water in the same way that we humans do. Unlike us, leopard geckos can’t swim. Nor do they find it relaxing to soak in a warm bath. Quite the contrary.

Giving your leopard gecko a bath, or trying to make it swim, can cause your leo some pretty severe problems. You risk:

  • Stress and tail loss
  • Respiratory issues
  • Aspiration
  • Weakened immune system
  • Drowning 

Although they don’t enjoy frolicking in water for fun and relaxation the same way that we do,  leopard geckos still need access to water for hydration and body temperature regulation.

Your pet leopard gecko needs access to water for:

Drinking. Leopard geckos’ primary source of hydration is their food. That’s why it’s important to give your leo the occasional hornworm or other high-moisture insect. They only drink water to supplement the moisture they aren’t getting from the insects they eat.

If your leopard gecko is drinking more frequently after feeding, this is a sign that you’re not properly gut-loading your insects. Be sure to use high-quality hydrating fruits and veggies gut-loading your crickets, Dubia roaches, and other feeders.

Shedding. Water can act as a great lubricant to aid in or speed up the shedding process. Sometimes a leopard gecko will soak in shallow water for some extra help during a difficult shed. But this isn’t typical, and they don’t enjoy it. Rather than soaking your leopard gecko during a difficult shed, try lightly spraying or misting it with water. This is still effective yet reduces the stress of soaking.

Thermoregulation. Leopard geckos “thermoregulate,” controlling their body temperature by seeking out warm basking areas and cool hiding spots. Occasionally your leopard gecko might even soak its feet in cool water before heading off to its hide. Again this is not the norm as leopard geckos are desert creatures and typically avoid going into water.

Pro Tip: Place your leo’s water dish in the cooler part of its enclosure to aid its cooling efforts.

Do Leopard Geckos Like to be Sprayed with Water?

As with bathing or swimming, leopard geckos do not enjoy being sprayed with water. Although spraying your leo with water may help with shedding, it will still cause some stress, albeit less stress than soaking.

Spraying your leopard gecko can also be a good alternative to bathing when trying to clean substrate off of your leo’s body. However, this should only be done when dirt, substrate, or fecal matter are hindering your leopard gecko from moving. In addition to spraying with water, you can use a q-tip to remove the dirt from your leo’s body.

As with bathing, however, spraying or misting your leopard gecko should be kept to a minimum and only done when necessary.

Should I Give My Leopard Gecko a Bath?

You should not give your leopard gecko a bath except in a few rare situations. Bathing is not something leos would be accustomed to in the arid, hot, mountainous regions of their native Middle East. 

As mentioned above, bathing your leopard gecko comes with great risks, especially if you aren’t keeping a careful eye on your leo. Leopard geckos cannot swim, and although they have some limited capacity for floating, this requires a great deal of effort on their part. 

Water also seems to confuse leopard geckos. Some leopard gecko keepers have found their leo struggling to “stay afloat” with its tail above the water and its head beneath the water. This is a recipe for drowning.

However, there are some rare instances in which a bath or soak may help your leo.

Leopard gecko soaking in a water dish

When to Give Your Leopard Gecko a Bath

Again, you should generally avoid giving your leopard gecko a bath. However, there are two exceptions when your leo may benefit from a soak: to help with shedding or to help relieve impaction.

We’ve already discussed using water to help your leo with shedding. But what about impaction?

Impaction happens when a fecal mass or a bunch of indigestible material blocks your leopard gecko’s bowels. Common symptoms of impaction include:

  • Constipation
  • Bloating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy 
  • Weight loss
  • Dark blue spot on side or belly

A common treatment for alleviating impaction is to soak your leopard gecko in a warm bath.

How to Soak your Leopard Gecko

Here are a few helpful tips to consider when soaking your leopard gecko.

To help with shedding:

  1. Use a shallow dish
  2. Add cool water – just slightly cooler than the temperature of your leo’s enclosure
  3. Fill to the level of your leopard gecko’s belly
  4. Place in the cool area of your leo’s enclosure
  5. Place your leo in the dish

Spraying or misting your leopard gecko may be a little more effective than soaking.

To help relieve impaction:

  1. Fill a shallow container to belly height with water around 85ºF
  2. Soak for 10-20 minutes while holding your leo and massaging its belly
  3. Repeat twice daily for between three and seven days 
  4. Inspect droppings for traces of hard particles to determine the cause of impaction

Be careful not to fill your soaking container above the level of your leopard gecko’s shoulders at most. And never to leave your leopard gecko alone in the water. Yes it will be able to float for a short time, but since its body isn’t designed for swimming, it will soon tire and may drown.

Signs Your Leopard Gecko Bath is Causing Stress

If you decide to give your leopard gecko a bath to help with shedding or to relieve impaction, there are some signs of distress that you need to be on the lookout for. These include:

  • Glass surfing/dancing
  • Skittishness
  • Aggressiveness when handled
  • Tail wagging
  • Quickness of breath
  • Lots of time in hides
  • Dull color

You never want to put your leopard gecko in a situation where offering water will cause it undue stress. As with all living creatures, leopard geckos need a certain amount of water for survival. However, they are known to refuse water if they’ve been given cause to fear it. So be sure to keep soaking and misting your leo to a minimum.

Takeaway: Leopard geckos can’t swim, nor do they enjoy being in the water or being misted by water. Floating, soaking, bathing, and misting your leopard gecko causes it a great deal of stress and increases the risk of serious health issues. You should only soak or mist your gecko to help with difficult sheddings or to relieve impaction.

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