Despite being native to the arid deserts of the Middle East and northern India, leopard geckos can only go roughly two or three days without water. Depending on your leopard gecko’s age, size, and health, dehydration will typically set within 48 and 72 hours of being without water.
But before you start filling up a water dish to place in your leo’s enclosure, there are a few things you should know about how leopard geckos stay hydrated.
Do Leopard Geckos Drink Water?
The short answer to the question of whether or not leopard geckos drink water is… Sort of…
Because their natural habitat is the arid deserts of the Middle East and northern India, leopard geckos have adapted to absorb and conserve moisture in several different ways. This enables them to go for longer periods without drinking water directly.
Leopard geckos get the bulk of their hydration from their food. This is one of the many reasons you should never offer your leo dead or dehydrated insects. Instead, your leo needs highly nutritious live insects that also have high moisture content.
Dubia roaches are one of the best staple feeders you can offer your leopard gecko to keep it both well-nourished and hydrated. They have a moisture content of 65.6% to 71.5%, depending on the size, making them an even better source of hydration for leopard geckos than crickets!
To further supplement the hydration your leopard gecko will absorb from staple feeders like Dubia roaches and crickets, you can offer it occasional high-moisture treats, like hornworms and wax worms. Although these worms have almost no nutritional value for your leopard gecko, and should therefore not be used as staple feeders, their high moisture content can be a great help in keeping your leo hydrated.
Signs of a Dehydrated Leopard Gecko
Even when you’re feeding your leo high-moisture feeders, you’ll want to be on the lookout for signs of dehydration. If you’re concerned about how long your leopard gecko has gone without water, there are a number of signs you can observe that will indicate whether you’re dealing with a dehydrated leopard gecko.
Signs of leopard gecko dehydration include:
- Dry, wrinkled, or puckered skin
- Loss of skin elasticity
- Dull color
- Sunken eyes
- Lethargic behavior
- Sticky or dry mucous membranes
- Trouble shedding
- Constipation or infrequent bowel movements
- Lack of appetite
In addition to the above, here’s a simple skin elasticity test you can perform to see if your leopard gecko is suffering from dehydration:
- Gently pinch a small amount of your leo’s skin between your thumb and forefinger.
- If the skin is highly elastic and easily returns to normal, it’s either fine or has mild dehydration.
- If the skin bunches and does not quickly return to normal, this means that your leopard gecko’s skin elasticity is low. This is a sign of moderate to severe dehydration.
In addition to feeding high-moisture feeder insects, you may wonder if there are other things you can do to help protect your leopard gecko from dehydration. Many new leopard gecko keepers wonder if they need to put a water dish in with their leo, or if misting is sufficient. So let’s ask…
Do Leopard Geckos Absorb Water Through Their Skin?
Since leopard geckos may often go for two or three days without encountering a direct water source in their natural habitat, their bodies have adapted ways to absorb moisture from any available source – including the air around them.
Although they get the majority of their hydration from the insects they eat, leopard geckos can also absorb water through their skin. It’s not uncommon, for example, to see a leopard gecko absorbing water by standing in a shallow puddle. They may also lick the dew off of plants in their environment to supplement their hydration.
When it comes to your leopard gecko’s enclosure, therefore, it’s important to maintain proper humidity levels so that your leo can absorb some of the moisture from the air.
Proper Humidity Levels for Your Leopard Gecko
The optimal humidity level for adult leopard geckos is between 20% and 40%. Anything lower than 20% humidity, and you risk quicker dehydration and difficult sheds for your leo. Anything higher than 40% humidity, and you put your leo at risk for respiratory infections.
Baby and juvenile leopard geckos need slightly higher levels of humidity than adult leos. Since they are growing so quickly at this stage, maintaining proper hydration will be an important part of your leopard gecko’s care routine.
Because babies and juveniles shed more often than adults, they require higher humidity levels to aid in the shedding process. You should maintain humidity levels of between 50% and 70% for younger leopard geckos.
The best way to maintain proper humidity levels within your leo’s enclosure is by misting.
Pro Tip: If you notice your leo’s skin color turning a dull gray, this could be a sign that it is beginning the shedding process. To help it along, gently mist your leopard gecko with room temperature water using a mister designed specifically for reptiles and amphibians.
Do Leopard Geckos Need to Be Misted?
Misting is a great way to help your leopard gecko stay hydrated by keeping its environment at just the right humidity level. It’s also a good way to help your leopard gecko with difficult sheds. Although you don’t necessarily need to mist your leopard gecko directly, you should at least mist its enclosure regularly.
- For baby and juvenile leos, this will mean misting the enclosure daily.
- For adult leos, this typically means misting the enclosure somewhere around three times per week.
It’s important to bear in mind, however, that the number of times you mist your leopard gecko or its enclosure isn’t as important as maintaining the right humidity levels within the enclosure. You’ll want to use a functional digital hygrometer to get the most accurate reading of the enclosure’s humidity levels.
Be aware also that the humidity levels both in your home and in the weather outside will affect how often you’ll need to mist your leopard gecko’s tank. For example, if your weather tends to be very humid in the summertime, you may only need to mist your leo’s enclosure once a week. If it then gets very dry in the wintertime, you may find yourself misting your leo’s enclosure daily.
In addition to misting, there are a number of other things you can do to either increase or decrease the humidity in your leo’s enclosure, and thus make sure it stays properly hydrated throughout the year.
Ways to increase humidity:
- Decrease ventilation by partially covering your enclosure’s screentop
- Add a larger water dish to the enclosure
- Use a substrate that retains moisture
- Use a humidifier in the room where you keep your enclosure
Ways to decrease humidity:
- Increase ventilation by uncovering your enclosure’s screentop, or replacing a glass top with a screentop
- Use a smaller water dish in the enclosure
- Mist less frequently and use less water
- Use a substrate that doesn’t retain as much moisture
- Use a dehumidifier in the room where you keep your enclosure
In short, you’ll meet the bulk of your leopard gecko’s hydration needs simply by offering it highly-nutritious, gut-loaded feeder insects like Dubia roaches and mealworms, both of which have high moisture content. You can further supplement your leo’s hydration by maintaining the right humidity levels in its enclosure, and by occasionally misting your leopard gecko directly.
Takeaway: A healthy adult leopard gecko can go up to three days without water. However, leopard geckos generally get their hydration from sources other than a water dish. In addition to providing a shallow water dish, maintaining a proper diet and optimal enclosure humidity levels is the best way to keep your leopard gecko hydrated.
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