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The Gecko: An Owner's Guide To A Happy Healthy Pet
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Choosing Your Gecko
Geckos are beautiful and amazing creatures, and many humans are drawn to them.But before you run out and buy one of these animals, there are a few care and keepingissues you need to take into consideration.
Responsibilities of Gecko Ownership
Compared to a dog or cat, a gecko is a fairly easy pet to own. The owner of agecko can leave his or her pet alone for several hours a day or even for days withouthaving to worry about the need for bathroom breaks. There's no need to go to a veterinarianonce a year for preventative care, such as examinations and inoculations, and there'sno hair to wipe off your couch before company comes over.
On the other hand, geckos are not entirely maintenance-free pets. Some speciesare very demanding and need a lot of specialized care. Even geckos that are easyto keep need to (at least) have their water changed daily. You can't just ignorea gecko for days at a time. If you do, your pet won't be around for very long.
WILL YOU HAVE TIME TO CARE FOR A GECKO?
To determine whether or not gecko ownership is right for you, think about yourlifestyl e. Will your job, school or other commitments allow you to set aside timeevery day to care for your gecko? With even the easiest species to keep, your petwill need to have its water changed, its enclosure cleaned of waste and dead in-sects,and the temperature checked every day. Every other day or so, your gecko will alsoneed to be fed. If you are providing your pet with commercially bred insects, youwill have to make a trip to the pet supply store every two weeks to purchase theinsects and will have to care for the insects from the time you buy them to the timeyour pet consumes them. If your lizard is also to eat wild-caught insects (that havenot been sprayed by insecticides), you will have to find time to go outside and collectthem.
Moreover, if you have chosen one of the more demanding species of gecko, you willhave to make time to spray its terrarium with water one or more times a day. Youwill also need to carefully monitor the temperature and humidity in its enclosure.
Each species demands its own level of care, but all geckos need some dailyattention. (Barbour's Day Gecko)
And don't forget vacations. Some gecko species can go a few days without muchin the way of attention as long as they have food, water and a reliable heat source.But the more demanding species will need to be checked on more than once a day.
Take all of this into consideration when you are making the decision about whetherto add a gecko to your household. If you have some time to care for a reptile pet,but not a significant amount, consider purchasing one of the species that is easierto care for. These geckos are not only less work, but they are more likely to surviveto a ripe old age.
You should also consider whether your home can accommodate a gecko's housing.Depending on the species you choose and the number of lizards you intend to keep,do you have enough room in your home for the appropriate-sized terrarium? Don't shortchangeyour gecko because you want to economize space. Geckos are happiest in roomy enclosures,and it is unkind to deprive them of the space they need.
You may like the way geckos look and that's why you are attracted to them. Butif you want a lizard that you can handle on a regular basis, you might want to consideranother kind of pet. Geckos are primarily considered display lizards and should notbe subjected to constant handling.
JOIN YOUR LOCAL HERPETOLOGICAL SOCIETY
Enhance the educational value of your pet lizard by joining a local herpetological society. These groups will conduct seminars and provide literature on all aspects of lizard care. Other experienced lizard owners can share their tips with you. Best of all, many societies work to ensure the safety of lizards in their natural environment. By getting involved, you can learn about lizards and help to protect them at the same time.
GECKOS AND KIDS
If you are buying a gecko for your children, think very carefully be-fore youmake your purchase. Consider whether your kids are old enough to learn to respectthe gecko and admire it only from afar. Geckos should not be handled by young children.A gecko's delicate skin is easily damaged, and a fall can kill or seriously injurea gecko. A lost tail, something that can occur with rough handling, can jeopardizea gecko's health in certain situa tions.
Very young children cannot be expected to understand that a gecko should not betouched. If you can't find a way to keep the gecko out of the reach of a small child,you should consider waiting until your child is older. If you already have olderchildren, will you still take on responsibility for the gecko's care, despite theirpromises that they will care for the pet themselves? Even though they have the bestof intentions, most children do not have the attention span required for the careof a gecko or any pet.
Geckos are best kept as display lizards--they are not rough- and-tumble petsfor children. (Phelsuma quadriocellata lepida)
If you decide to give your child partial responsibility in caring for the gecko,you should always be there to monitor the pet's well-being. No child should be givenunsupervised responsibility for any animal. Children cannot be expected to recognizesigns of illness. An adult should always be a pet's primary caregiver. Any otherarrangement could result in harm to the gecko, either through neglect or inexperienceon the part of the child. And, when the child eventually loses interest in the pet,as most do, it will be your responsibility to take over completely.
GECKOS AND OTHER PETS
If you have other pets, such as a cat or dog, you also need to think about keepingyour gecko safe from them. Cats and dogs should not be allowed unsupervised accessto your gecko's enclosure. A cat or dog with strong predatory instincts can makeshort work of a gecko. Even if your cat or dog doesn't outwardly harm the gecko,constant harassment can result in a fatal dose of stress for your lizard.
Another consideration when thinking about gecko ownership is cost. The price ofthe gecko and its cage will be your primary financial commitment, but these itemscan cost you hundreds of dollars, depending on the type of species you choose andthe number of geckos you want to own. Once your pet is set up in its new home, theamount of money you will have to spend on food for your pet will be negligible. However,should your gecko become ill, it is your responsibility to take it to a veterinarian.Depending on what is wrong with your pet, this may cost you a good amount of money.
Responsible gecko ownership includes caring for its health needs, includingveterinary visits when necessary. (African Fat-Tailed Gecko)
But most important of all, are you willing to make an emotional commitment toyour gecko? Are you prepared to accept responsibility for a living creature thatis solely dependent on you for its well-being? Are you willing to make your pet'shealth and safety a priority in your life? If your answer to these questions is yes,then you just may be ready to join the ranks of gecko owners everywhere.
Where to Get Your Gecko
Do not purchase a gecko impulsively. All pets need and deserve a certain levelof commitment from their owners. Some geckos can live as long as twenty years. Theattractive little gecko in the window may be tiny now, but in six months to a year,it may be eight inches or larger, depending on the species. Whatever its size, thelizard will require daily care. Impulse purchases of pets often result in unhappinessfor the owner and a sorry fate for the pet.
In most situations, you will have to actually purchase your gecko. There are exceptionsto this: Y ou may know someone who wants to give away a gecko because they can nolonger take care of it. Your local reptile veterinarian may have a gecko that wasabandoned by its owner and needs a new home. On occasion, your local animal sheltermay have a gecko available for adoption, or you may know of a reptile rescue groupin your area that is trying to find a home for a gecko. These situations are relativelyrare.
One good place to buy a gecko is from a responsible breeder. These are gecko expertswho keep their animals in clean and healthy environments. They are authorities ontheir species of choice. Because some species do not breed readily in captivity,it may be hard to find them. However, some of the more popular species, which arebest suited to novice gecko owners, can be purchased from breeders fairly easily.
Another fine source for purchasing a gecko is a retail pet store that specializesin reptiles. These reptile stores usually purchase their animals directly from breedersand wholesalers, and employees are often adept at caring for the lizards until theygo into permanent homes. The geckos that have been imported and are to be sold throughthese shops have usually been acclimated and therefore tend to be healthy.
Buying your pet from a responsible breeder or reptile store will help to ensurethat you are obtaining the species of gecko that is best for you. There are manydifferent gecko species, each with its own special qualities and needs. A breederor reptile store employee can talk to you about the level of care for the speciesin which you are interested and help you determine whether or not you have the timeand experience to take on the job.
Most gecko breeders are located in Florida and California. If a reputable breederis within driving distance to you, you may want to go there in person to select yourgecko. Be aware that a responsible breeder will welcome you, as a prospective buyer,into his or her breeding facility, allowing you to see first-hand the environmentin which the gecko has been living. This way, you will be able to gauge whether ornot your prospective pet has been well cared for and is living in clean and healthyconditions.
Buying from a breeder also offers an added bonus. Once you purchase your gecko,you go home with the name and phone number of an experienced contact who can answeryour questions and provide you with help should you need it.
While being able to visit the breeder in person is the best scenario, in mostcases buying from a breeder means buying your pet sight unseen and having it shippedto you by air. This is not complicated and is done frequently in the reptile world.When the time comes, your breeder can explain to you the mechanics of receiving yourpet via air shipment.
There are several ways to find a breeder. Start by trying to get a personal referralfrom a friend, relative or acquaintance who has done business with the breeder. Youcan also contact a reptile association (see chapter 10) and ask for a referral. Checkadvertisements in reptile magazines or newsletters, call a local reptile veterinarianor do a search on the Internet.
ATTEND A HERP SHOW
Herp expositions, where breeders display their wares, are frequently held all over the country. To locate a herp show, where you're bound to find lots of geckos for sale, check the listings in reptile-related magazines (see chapter 10).
Eventually, you will have the name and phone num-bers of several breeders. Unlessyou have a personal reference from someone who has purchased a gecko from the breedersyou are considering, ask the breeders for some references. Call these people andask them about how they were treated before and after they purchased their geckoand how their pets are faring. If you get positive information from these references,chances are you have chosen a responsible, quality breeder.
A responsible gecko breeder can help you decide which species is best suitedfor your lifestyle and the climate you live in. (Giant Day Gecko)
Choosing the Right Gecko for You
Now that you know where to go to get your gecko, what exactly should you lookfor when you are picking out your pet (or asking your breeder to select one for you)?
Your first and most important consideration is the species of geckos. There areover 700 species of geckos in the world. Not all of them are available in the pettrade, but a good many are. There are 20 species profiled in this book (see chapter7, "Types of Geckos"), and there are also rarer kinds available. You willneed to research these different species to figure out which ones are most appealingto you and easiest to care for. Do your homework and get to know the needs of thespecies you like.
If you are new to gecko keeping, your wisest move would be to choose one of themore common, easily kept geckos. While some of the more brightly colored or uniquelyshaped species might appeal to you, these are often difficu lt to care for, and evenmore difficult to find. Once you gain experience in gecko ownership, you can alwaysadd another more exotic species to your collection later on. If you select an "easykeeper" now, you are more likely to have a happy and successful experience withgecko ownership.
CAPTIVE-BRED OR WILD-CAUGHT?
Another point to consider when thinking about species is whether you prefer acaptive-bred or wild-caught animal. Captive-bred geckos are generally healthier,live longer and are usually free from parasites. Unlike wild-caught specimens, theydon't require an acclimation period and are usually easier to care for. Captive-bredgeckos also come guilt-free to those who don't like the idea of taking a wild animalfrom its home.
On the other hand, only a few gecko species are bred in captivity, and you willbe limiting yourself significantly if you choose to only purchase a captive-bredlizard.
WHAT ABOUT CLIMATE?
When determining which species to select, you should also take your geographiclocation into consideration. If you live in a warm, arid climate, you will find careof a desert or semi-arid species the easiest. Species that hale from desert climatesneed very little humidity, and your local air temperature won't be much differentfrom the gecko's natural environment. On the other hand, if you live in a hot, humidarea, a desert-dwelling species will be harder to maintain. You'll need to watchthe humidity and temperature in your pet's terrarium to make sure it is right foryour pet.
Time is another factor to consider when choosing a species. If you don't anticipatebeing home a lot, one of the more demanding tropical species that ne eds regular mistingwith water may not be a good choice. On the other hand, if you plan to spend a lotof time at home caring for your new lizard (and don't anticipate the situation changingin the future), you may be in the position to acquire a more care-intensive species.
It's important to start out on the right foot by selecting a gecko that is ingood health. A gecko's general health can be determined in a number of ways. First,take a look at its eyes. They should be bright, and in the case of lidded geckos,they should be wide open. The eyes should be clear, with no discharge in the corners.If the gecko is awake, its eyes should not be sunken in.
A healthy gecko will have bright eyes that are clear and wide open. (Geckoniachazalie)
Look at the gecko's nostrils, too. Check to see if they are clean and free ofdischarge. The mouth should also look neat, without sores or loose tissue. It shouldbe closed if the animal is relaxed. Geckos with mouths constantly held slightly openoften have a respiratory ailment.
The gecko's body should not be too thin for its species. You should not see anyribs or other bones under the skin. All the toes and claws (depending on the species)should be intact and look healthy. Geckos sometimes get infected feet when they don'tadequately shed all their skin, with old skin bunched around the toes.
Attitude is also important when determining a gecko's health. Look for an animalthat is alert and active. While nocturnal species will seem a bit listless duringthe day, if they are stimulated, they should perk up and look wide awake. Learn aboutthe behavioral habits of the species in which you are interested, and observe theindividual geckos you are considering to see if they are behaving normally.
Be sure to take notice of the gecko's enclosure. Is it clean and relatively odor-free?Are all the other animals kept in spacious, adequately set-up enclosures? Do theother geckos in the facility appear healthy? (This is important because certain geckoailments are contagious.) Are there just the right amount of geckos in the enclosure?A gecko that has been subjected to overcrowding is more susceptible to illness.
Examine the gecko for external parasites such as ticks and mites. These pestslodge themselves under a gecko's scales, and can be seen most clearly on the undersideof the animal, often near the base of the tail. Mites will look like small brownor red spots, while ticks will appear as lumps under the skin. Notice if the othergeckos in the enclosure are plagued by these pests. Even if the individual you areconsidering does not appear to have mites or ticks, if the other geckos in the tankdo, yours probably has them as well.
Check the gecko's enclosure for fecal matter. The stool should be firm, and willsometimes be accompanied by a white strip of urea. A small damp area around the stoolis normal, but if the stool is watery, watch out: The gecko probably has digestiveproblems. Another sign of this is crusty stool around the gecko's vent, just underthe tail.
Consider taking an experienced reptile keeper along with you on your quest toselect a gecko. A trained eye can be very valuable as you are trying to determinethe health and general status of an individual animal.
SIGNS OF GOOD HEALTH
The gecko you choose should be in the best of health. Here's what to look for:
Clear eyes (free of discharge)
Clean nostrils (free of discharge)
Closed, clean mouth
Well-developed body (not bony)
Intact toes and claws (free of infection)
Alert and active
The sex of the gecko you buy is only important if you plan to breed the animal,or if you plan to house it with other geckos. Male geckos are territorial and shouldbe kept alone or with one or two females. Sexual characteristics differ among species,and the breeder or a reptile store employee can help you determine the gender ofthe individual you are considering.
If you plan on keeping more than one gecko, keep in mind that males are territorialand should be housed separately from other males. (White-Lined Geckos)
Age is not a very important factor when buying a gecko, although you don't wantan animal that is too old because you want to have it around for awhile! On the otherhand, while baby geckos are cute, they are also more fragile and prone to ailments.