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Do Leopard Geckos Like To Be Petted And Stroked?

a photo of a leopard gecko resting on a rock.

Dogs definitely enjoy belly rubs. What of other animals, what about leopard geckos?

It seems that a favourite pastime of many gecko hobbyists involves handling (petting) their pets. Is this practice good for your leopard gecko, or should you confine your interactions to the terrarium?

Today, we’ll look at whether Leos like to be pet and held and offer some suggestions about how to safely hold your leopard gecko.

Here is the quick answer for anyone who does not have time to read the full guide:

leopard geckos do not have the emotional capacity to be able to like or even love things. They can however feel trust, if you offer trust and reward your leopard gecko will let you pet and stroke it. It may take time to build the bond first before your leopard gecko will let you pet and hold it.

Do leopard Geckos like to be pet and stroked?

Geckos are not really domesticated animals; they have never been bred by people, and therefore they are still very much wild animals with wild needs and desires.

In the wild, these lizards spend most of their time perched in trees. When they move around on the ground, their movement is slow and deliberate, unlike the erratic movements of an unfamiliar human hand trying to handle them. Leopard Geckos are generally solitary animals, and a caged gecko is therefore no different from one in the wild.

The first thing to keep in mind when asking if leopard geckos like to be pet is that they don’t actually “like” anything. Animals can experience pain, hunger, fear, etc., but they cannot feel pleasure or like and love. Eliciting a response in an animal by petting it may be more rewarding for us as humans than for the gecko.

How to hold and show affection to your leopard gecko 

The best way to handle your gecko is by picking it up from underneath. They will often curl into a ball when picked up, making them less likely to fall out of your hands. As you gently stroke your hand over the gecko’s body (moving slowly to avoid startling it), it may lose its tail grip and fall into your hand.

It’s good for them to be exposed to being lifted off the ground like this every now and then, but don’t make it a regular practice because you run the risk of stressing out the animal by hauling him around too much. There are several ways that you can pet your Leopard gecko without actually picking him up with your hands:

  • Shine an ultraviolet light on him, and he may stick out his tongue in response. This is a very relaxed position for him; he can still see to watch for predators but he’s not so uneasy that he wants to jump away from you. He may also extend his dewlap if he is comfortable with you.
  • If your Leo is chilled, place him on a heating pad set on low. After a while, he will begin to move around slowly and may come into contact with the pad. He will have to work his way around the sides of the tank.
  • If your Leo is chilled, you can also offer it a mealworm. This will relax it much like the heat pad will and make it easier for you to pet your gecko without frightening it.
  • You can also try stroking your gecko firmly but gently along its body (just make sure that you don’t linger too long in one place or it may become irritated).
  • If you do hold your gecko for a few seconds or longer, support its body gently with two fingers under its belly. This will also help to keep hold of the reptile should it suddenly squirm out of your grasp and begin to fall.
  • As you hold and pet your Leo, make sure that it can still move its legs freely and lift its tail.
a photo of a leopard gecko being petted
Leopard gecko will let you pet them once you have gained their trust.

Signs that your leopard gecko does not want to be held 

Reptiles can be very sensitive and may not be as comfortable being held as other animals. If you see any of the following signs, do not panic; rather, know that your Leo simply needs some extra time to warm up to the idea of being handled.

  • If your gecko immediately jumps away in response to being picked up, it’s a sign that she or he is frightened and confused. Allow her or him time for this reaction to pass before attempting more petting. If you keep trying, a fear response might escalate into an attack response and hurt both gecko and handler.
  • If your Leo is digging at the bottom of the cage or moving her limbs spastically, she may also be in distress. Don’t try to handle her at this time.
  • The gecko may also make a wheezing or snuffling noise as you hold it.

How to approach and handle your leopard gecko 

A scared leopard gecko will not likely bite you, but if it does feel threatened by being picked up, it can lash out with its tail and should never be grabbed near the base (the tail should either be held or gently stroked with two fingers underneath). Always approach an animal slowly and calmly; this will help it to adjust more quickly to a new situation. When you’re first trying to get used to handling your Leo, leave him alone for a few days after bringing him home so that he can adjust from living in a pet store cage to living in his new home. Afterward, begin offering him food treats while he’s being held.

What to do if your leopard gecko does not like being held 

Leopard geckos are solitary animals, and even though you may be a responsible keeper, spending time with your Leo is not the same thing as being in nature for him.

There’s no reason to worry if your gecko seems disinterested or even alarmed by your attempts at petting. Some lizards have been raised by humans their entire lives and are accustomed to human interaction in a controlled setting. These animals do not need to be handled on a regular basis.

Others have had little or no human contact in their lives and may never approach you for handling. If you’re not sure if your Leo is comfortable being handled, don’t try it. If the animal seems uncomfortable at all, definitely don’t hold him or pick him up and get bitten.

It’s possible that your Leo will not like to be petted in the first place. In this case, try these alternatives:

  • Offer food treats while he is being handled; this can help build a bond between you while still allowing him to remain independent.
  • Place her on a heating pad set on low and wait until she ventures more onto the pad before picking her up and petting her. As with the heat pads, make sure that she’s relaxed before picking her up so that she doesn’t panic and squirm out of your grasp.
  • Offer your gecko a mealworm over food tongs under his head or just behind his head; as with human babies, an animal may take something by force when it wants it very much.

Conclusion

It’s important to keep in mind that you can’t force your gecko to like being held. Exposing it to handling can be especially stressful for this species of lizard, and even if it desperately wants to be held, it may not respond very well when touched or handled. If you think a gentle petting might help him, try offering him some food treats while he is being handled or placing him on a heating pad.

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