If your gecko dropped its tail...
In my 5 years of working with leopard geckos, I have never had a leopard gecko drop its tail, until this year. While changing my leopard gecko hatchlings from my old rack to my new one, one of my tangerine leopard gecko hatchlings dropped her tail.
It startled me a bit.
When transferring the gecko from the holding container to the new rack, I picked up the gecko and it tried to jump out of my hands, but I grabbed the gecko with my other hand. Big mistake, as I grabbed the tail.
The tail quickly started shaking and wriggling, and at first my thoughts were "I'll quickly put her in tub so that she doesn't drop her tail."
Well, what I didn't notice was that the tail was already halfway of, as it was torn half way through. The second I put the gecko in the tub, the tail flopped right off.
Since this was my first experience with a leopard gecko dropped tail, I was slightly worried, but I knew exactly what to do, as I have been working with reptiles for 5 years.
You may find different treatment options for your leopard gecko if it drops its tail, but the following are the basics to caring for a leopard gecko that has recently dropped its tail. Plus this is what has helped my tangerine leopard gecko hatchling heal up and recover nicely.
Why do geckos drop their tail?
Tail dropping is a defense mechanism that helps the reptile escape predators.
Many geckos and smaller lizards do not have any real defense mechanisms, such as secreting nasty oils when bitten or playing dead when harassed, so they rely on their tails to help them get away from predators in the wild.
When the bird, mammal, larger reptile, or any other predator tries to grab at the small gecko, it can drop its tail to distract the predator long enough to dart off into safety.
When the gecko, or small reptile, drops its tail, the tail continues to wriggle and flop around (as seen in the videos to the right) to distract the predator, giving the gecko enough time to find safety.
(The videos are not right after the gecko dropped its tail, so you are not seeing the full extent of the tail flopping and wriggling, which is definitely a sight, but you can see how it does move on its own before slowly losing steam.
When caring for geckos, the gecko really doesn't have to worry about predators, unless your cat can get into the enclosure or you are inappropriately housing the small gecko with a larger reptile (which is BAD and you should separate them). But, pet geckos will still drop their tails when they are stressed or threatened.
Common reasons that a gecko will drop its tail in captivity can include:
- bullying from cage mates;
- sick gecko with an already lowered immune system;
- grabbed by the tail;
- stress and fear;
- skin issues and retained skin on the tail;
- bacterial, fungal, or protozoan infections;
- abscess or swelling in the area.
What to do if your leopard gecko drops its tail
First off, if you are housing your leopard gecko on a loose substrate such as play sand, calci- sand, dirt, and wood shavings, you want to remove it all and throw it in the trash or outside (however you want to dispose of it). If you leave the gecko on the loose substrate, it will be hard to keep the wound clean, as the substrates can get into the open wound and cause an infection.
Next, if you house the gecko with a mate, you want to set up a hospital tank with paper towels as the substrate. Make sure that you have appropriate heating and overall housing in the hospital tank. You want to enclosure to mimic the regular enclosure to reduce stress.
The key to making sure that your leopard gecko successfully regenerates its tail is to keep the area clean and keep the leopard gecko at appropriate temperatures of 90F.
You want to continue feeding the gecko as normal, removing any uneaten crickets after 15 minutes, give or take.
You also want to check on the leopard gecko daily, so that you can closely monitor the wound for signs of infection. If you think that you see signs of infection you can apply a very thin layer of Neosporin to the base of the tail. The Neosporin will also help relieve any pain as well as help fight off infection.
If the tail IS infected, and the Neosporin did not help, you want to take the leopard gecko to a qualified reptile veterinarian as soon as you can. I would watch the tail for about 3 to 5 days after you first see signs of infection and after you have started using the Neosporin before you decide to see the vet. Just make sure that you do not let it get too serious before acting on it.