Do you think your Leopard Gecko has tail rot? Learn more about this health issue in the article below.
In this guide, you’ll learn:
- What is tail rot?
- How do you identify it?
- What are the causes of tail rot?
What is Leopard Gecko Tail Rot?
Tail rot or tail necrosis is a common health issue affecting captive reptiles. This is when a part of the tail, usually starting from the tip, becomes damaged and the tissue starts to degrade and rot.
Tail rot can have various causes including trauma or injury, infection, blood clots, shedding issues (dysecdesis), and hypothermia.
Tail rot progresses up the tail and can have serious consequences when left untreated. Most cases require surgery.
How To Identify Tail Rot
Tail rot usually begins with a distinct color change on the tail. The affected area becomes dry, dull, and brittle or less flexible. Its coloration can change from bright yellow or brown to a darker shade or even black. Sometimes, the tail loses color and appears white.
In cases caused by shedding issues, you may notice a piece of dead skin wrapped around the tail, constricting blood flow.
Wounds or visible injury may be seen if the trauma was due to a fight or an accident in their tank. Swelling or dermatitis can also be a symptom of tail rot.
In advanced cases, plasma or pus may be coming from the dead tissue and it will probably start to smell rotten.
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Behavioral Symptoms Of Tail Rot In Leopard Geckos
Lethargy is often a sign of an underlying health issue in lizards. Since tail rot can use up your gecko’s energy reserves as it fights the infection, it can become less active and lethargic.
Excessive hiding can also point to a health issue as your Leopard gecko tries to protect itself as it heals or tries to recover. If you notice your gecko hiding too much without any reason, then you should check for other signs of tail rot or another health issue.
Loss of Appetite and Weight Loss
As the infection progresses, your Leopard gecko can become too weak to be interested in food. If you notice your gecko eating less and losing weight rapidly, always check for signs of possible illness.
Three to four days after the shedding process, geckos will usually refuse to eat. If your Leopard gecko is still not eating after a few days, double-check for any shedding trouble that can also lead to tail rot.
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What Causes Tail Rot in Leopard Geckos?
Trauma or Injury
Trauma or injuries to the tail from an accident or a fight with a cage mate can progress to tail necrosis if left untreated. Blood clots can form from the injuries thus restricting the flow of blood to the tip of the tail which prevents the damaged tissue from healing. Wounds can become infected which can lead to tissue damage.
Make sure your Leopard gecko’s cage mates (if there are any) are not aggressive and clear its tank of any furniture or items that can cause injuries (trapped under heavy items, tail caught on the cage door).
Dysecdesis (Shedding Issues)
Shedding issues can cause tail rot when the dead skin is not sloughed off properly causing a “tourniquet effect” on the tail. The dead skin tightens as it dries up, restricting blood circulation to the tail. This can also happen to the limbs and toes of a Leopard gecko.
To prevent dysecdesis, make sure your gecko is well hydrated. Provide a water dish, moist hides, and rough tank furniture to aid it during shedding. Vitamin A supplements also help since a deficiency in vitamin A has often been linked to shedding problems.
Necrotizing dermatitis can cause tail rot. When an irritation on the gecko’s skin is left untreated, it can worsen and affect the underlying tissue which can progress to tail rot. Skin irritation or dermatitis can come from dryness, insect bites, or an infection.
Proper hydration, good hygiene, and overall good health help prevent dermatitis. Keeping your gecko’s tank clean is also a good way to prevent any skin irritations.
Spinal osteomyelitis or an infection in the bone can travel into the bloodstream and affect healthy tissues nearby. The damaged tissue can then progress into necrosis if left untreated.
Parasitic, viral, fungal, or bacterial infections that affect the tissue or muscle on the Leopard gecko’s tail can also cause tail rot if the infection spreads.
The best way to prevent infections is to keep your gecko healthy and keep its cage sparkling clean.
Poor nutrition and health
A weakened immune system due to poor health and poor nutrition can cause an aggressive onset of tail rot since the recovery of the damaged tissue becomes too slow. Always make sure your gecko is in the best of health to help it fight any infections.
How to Treat Leopard Gecko Tail Rot From Home
Most cases of tail rot require attention from a specialized veterinarian. Often, the tail rot has advanced to a stage where surgery is required before symptoms show up. Treatment usually needs to be quite aggressive to prevent any further damage so it’s usually best to seek the help of a vet.
If tail rot is caught early, a course of antibiotics may help treat the damaged tissue internally. If it’s a case of dysecdesis, a warm bath can help the dead skin come off. You can also try improving your gecko’s health by providing the proper diet, vitamins, and supplements to help it fight the infection.
With the Leopard gecko’s ability to regrow its tail, amputation is usually the best course of action to prevent the necrosis from damaging more tissue. After amputation, an infection should be avoided at all costs by keeping its cage clean, cleaning the wound with dilute betadine, and applying a topical antibiotic such as Neosporin.
Use paper towels to line its cage and prevent any debris or loose substrate from touching the infected area.
The best treatment, in this case, would be prevention. Prevent tail rot by providing the proper husbandry for your Leopard gecko to ensure its good health.
When Should You Consult A Vet?
Again, tail rot is usually best treated with the help of a vet. You should consult a vet at the first sign of tail rot because the internal tissue may already have advanced necrosis even if only a part of the tail looks discolored.
Your vet will probably prep your gecko for surgery, administer an anesthetic, and clean out the affected or necrotic tissue. Amputation of the affected area is often the case. Suturing the wound is debatable as it prevents regrowth as it heals. If your vet sutures your gecko’s tail, it should be removed after a few days to allow the tail to regrow.
Once treated, your vet will recommend medication to help with pain relief and prevent further infection of the tissue.
How To Prevent Tail Rot In The Future
The best way to prevent tail rot is by providing good husbandry, excellent hygiene, and ensuring the good health and strong immune system of your Leopard gecko.
Make sure the correct temperature requirements in its enclosure are met. Temperature affects the metabolic processes of reptiles allowing them to absorb nutrients from their diet effectively. Good nutrition affects your gecko’s health allowing them to fight infections successfully.
The temperature on the hotter part of the tank should be 75-88°F over the heat mat (heat pad) or on the rock and 70-75°F at the cooler end. Temperatures at night should not drop below 68-70°F.
UVB lighting is not an essential part of a Leopard gecko’s husbandry but low-level UVB light (13-25 Watt or 2-5%) can help improve their overall health and ward off metabolic bone disease. Lighting can also play a role in their digestion.
Most articles suggest that Leopard geckos do not necessarily need UVB lighting but benefit in terms of health when provided with it. The health benefits of UVB lighting for Leopard geckos were confirmed in a recent 2020 study on vitamin D3 synthesis in Leopard geckos. They found that a Leopard gecko synthesizes vitamin D3 when exposed to UVB light. Low UVB level (UVI ≤ 1.6) exposure for 2 hours daily increased the vitamin D3 levels in their blood by 50%.
Shedding issues can be easily prevented by providing your gecko with moist hides they can stay in to help hydrate their skin before shedding. The occasional warm bath can also aid in shedding as well as vitamin A supplements. In addition, the humidity in their enclosure should be kept between 30-40% RH.
It’s easy to overdose small animals with Vitamin A so make sure you consult with your vet on the dosage or follow the instructions on the packet.
Prevent injuries due to aggression by making sure the enclosure of your lizards is big enough and has multiple hides to ensure isolated territories. However, it is recommended that geckos are housed alone since they can get territorial, especially with the presence of another male. Even in a group of females, the biggest gecko can bully the smaller ones leading to fights that can cause injuries.
Make sure their tanks do not have any items that can cause injuries such as heavy rocks or sharp objects. Secure any heavy items you may have in their tank to prevent accidents. Sometimes, reptile carpets that have looped fibers can cause injuries by snagging on your Leopard geckos limbs or tails.
Finally, a good diet and proper nutrition will go a long way in preventing health issues in your Leopard gecko. Provide quality insects as feed and gut load or dust them before feeding with calcium powder, vitamin D3, and multivitamins.
Make sure you obtain your live insect feeders from responsible breeders to make sure they are free from any parasites that can also affect your Leopard gecko.
Tail rot or tail necrosis is a serious condition that usually requires surgery. In all cases, prevention is definitely better than cure. Preventing tail rot is quite easy as it just involves providing your Leopard gecko with the best care possible to ensure good hygiene, correct tank conditions, and proper health.
Does it hurt a gecko to lose its tail?
Leopard geckos are equipped to lose their tail when threatened so that they can escape their predators. Though it is a natural process, it requires a lot of energy and puts stress on the gecko.
They have planes of weakness on their tails that can cleave with intense muscular contractions, causing the tail to separate. The muscular contractions allow the dropped tail to continue to twitch, providing a distraction for their predator and allowing them to escape.
The tail will regrow after 5-8 weeks but it won’t look the same.
What causes tail rot in leopard geckos?
Tail rot can have various causes including trauma or injury, infection, blood clots, shedding issues (dysecdesis), and hypothermia. Most cases require surgery and need aggressive treatment to prevent further damage to the tail.
Books on Reptile Care
Reptile Medicine and Surgery in Clinical Practice | Wiley Online Books
Handbook of Exotic Pet Medicine
Overview on Leopard geckos:
ADW: Eublepharis macularius: INFORMATION
Management and care of Leopard geckos:
Management, Care, and Common Conditions of Leopard Geckos
Short article on care:
Leopard Gecko Husbandry and Nutrition