You already know that leopard geckos have very different anatomy compared to us.
But you also know that leopard geckos do many of the same things we do such as sleeping, eating, and so on.
What about hiccuping? It might seem like your leopard gecko is doing something that looks like hiccuping but is that what’s really going on?
Can leopard geckos get hiccups?
No, leopard geckos can’t get hiccups. Hiccups are caused by an involuntary contraction of the diaphragm and leopard geckos don’t have a diaphragm. So without a diaphragm, hiccups are out of the question for leopard geckos.
That’s the quick answer but let’s take a closer look at why leopard geckos can’t hiccup along with 5 other things that could explain your leo’s hiccup-like behavior.
Let’s get started!
What (Exactly) Causes Hiccups?
The first thing we need to figure out is what causes hiccups in the first place.
Now, we aren’t going to turn this into an entire anatomy lesson but you do need to know that hiccups are caused by an involuntary contraction of the diaphragm. Your vocal cords are also involved which helps create that characteristic “hic” sound. Leopard geckos do have vocal cords…but they’re missing the diaphragm.
You can learn a lot more about hiccups in this video but the main takeaway is that hiccups require a diaphragm:
Leopard Geckos Don’t Have Diaphragms
While humans use their diaphragms to power their lungs, leopard geckos rely entirely on their lungs to power to breathe. This typically doesn’t cause a problem for little leopard geckos but if they’re flipped on their back the lack of diaphragm means that they can’t breathe.
So keep your little leopard gecko upright, especially after a fall!
But without a diaphragm, there’s no chance of hiccups!
If It’s Not Hiccups…What Is Your Leopard Gecko Doing?
We know that hiccups aren’t the explanation…so what is?
Let’s look at 5 things that could explain your leopard gecko’s behavior.
1. It Could Be Head Bobbing Or Mouth Gaping
While beardies are much more well known for their head bobbing and open mouth displays, leopard geckos can do this too.
The combination of an open mouth along with a bouncing head sure can look like a hiccup even if it’s really just a way of claiming their turf or letting the ladies know that they’re available.
While you could see more head bobbing during mating season (from both male and female leos), it’s more likely to occur when you put your hand inside your leo’s enclosure.
They may decide to let you know that you’re on their turf with a few head bobs that could look like hiccups. Those head bobs are letting you know that your leopard gecko is feeling stressed or anxious at your advance.
In that case, you should probably spend some more time working on your bond with your leopard gecko and teaching your leo that you’re not a threat that needs to be bobbed at. I know, it should be obvious that you’re a friend but leopard geckos aren’t always the smartest and may need a little extra help figuring this out.
2. Your Leo Could Be Panting
We spend a lot of time talking about how leopard geckos and other lizards have to work hard to keep warm but they also be too warm.
And yes, panting is one of the techniques that leopard geckos can use to cool off. You’re not likely to see it very often but it could be confused with hiccups.
If you’re seeing your leo pant, make sure they have some extra space to cool off and get out of the heat. More importantly, you should immediately check the temperature of your enclosure.
There’s plenty of focus on keeping leos from getting too cold but a leopard gecko that’s too hot can be just as dangerous.
3. Your Leopard Gecko Just Ate Something Large
Most of the time, leopard geckos should be eating prey that’s relatively small. Creatures like crickets, various worms, flies and even the occasional roaches make good meals.
But if you’ve given your leo something larger they may have to make a little extra effort to get the meal down.
Bigger prey like young mice (not pinkies) are generally considered too big but a leopard gecko could eat them. And if they do, you may see some hiccup-like movements after the meal as they try to get it down their throat.
4. A Respiratory Infection Could Be Causing It
Leopard geckos, along with most other reptiles, can suffer from respiratory disease that can lead to hiccup-looking behavior.
Veterinarian Juergen Schumacher explains that respiratory disease in lizards can lead to nasal or ocular discharge along with labored breathing. Some inexperienced herpers may confuse that labored breathing with the hiccups.
Respiratory disease is usually caused by poor husbandry but exposure to other infected reptiles could of course cause this too. Long-term exposure to candles, incense, or air fresheners can also cause problems for reptiles.
If you’re seeing anything that looks even close to labored breathing it’s always a good idea to consult your veterinarian.
5. It Could Be Metabolic Bone Disease
Metabolic bone disease (MBD) is caused by a poor diet in leopard geckos. Specifically, a poor balance of the vitamins and minerals that make up your leopard gecko’s bones. This is usually too much phosphorous, too little calcium and often vitamin D3 is involved as well.
While this disease has a variety of symptoms, one of them is a softening of the jaw that’s often referred to as rubber jaw.
It might sound like a stretch, but this can sometimes lead leopard geckos to make weird movements that could be confused with hiccups.
Metabolic bone disease is a serious but very treatable condition so if you suspect it could explain your leopard gecko’s strange mouth movements it’s a good idea to consult your veterinarian.
It can be cute to imagine our little leopard geckos experiencing the hiccups and I imagine it would be fun to give them a little finger tap on the back to help out.
But hiccups just aren’t possible for the little diaphragm-free leo.
Instead, what can look like hiccups or strange mouth movements are more likely to be a normal part of leo behavior or even a sign of a medical condition.
Pay close attention to your little leopard gecko and if you’re ever unsure consult your veterinarian to learn more about what you’re seeing.
What do you think? What reason best explains your leopard gecko’s behavior?