Do Leopard Geckos Like To Be Petted? (Vet Tech Answers)

Do Leopard Geckos Like To Be Petted

With their spotted scales and lovable demeanor, leopard geckos have become increasingly popular as pets over the years. If you’re a proud leopard gecko, owner, or considering bringing one into your home, you’ve probably wondered if your gecko likes being handled.

It can be difficult to tell when a reptile is happy and enjoying something. These animals tend to be stoic, and it’s not always obvious whether they like to be touched.

So, do leopard geckos like to be petted?

The answer isn’t as straightforward as you might think. Leopard geckos are one of the easiest pet reptiles to handle. These little lizards can bond with their owners and eventually enjoy being petted and spending time with their humans. However, not all leopard geckos like handling, and for many new geckos, being petted is terrifying.  

This article will do a deep dive into if leopard geckos like to be petted. We’ll also talk about how we know they’re enjoying themselves, and what the best way to pet them is.

Do Leopard Geckos Like To Be Petted?

It’s almost 2nd nature to give a dog a belly rub or give a cat a scratch under their chin. It’s pretty obvious that these fluffy, domesticated animals enjoyed being petted. We can tell by the way they push our hands for more and lean in for attention.

With reptiles, it’s a little more difficult to tell when they like something.

The easiest way to know when your pet reptile is enjoying themselves is to observe their response to a stimulus. If your reptile retreats and runs away it’s a good sign they’re not enjoying something. But if your pet stays in place or tries to get closer, that probably means they like whatever is going on!

Many leopard gecko owners claim that their lizards like to be petted. Their reasoning for this is that when they pet and scratch their geckos, the animals will approach them or even lean in for more when the scratching stops. This would indicate that these geckos do in fact enjoy being petted.

But, it’s crystal clear that some leopard geckos don’t like being petted. Certain geckos will do anything they can to escape being touched or handled by their owners. This can happen especially in geckos that are new to a household. Some geckos may also just have a skittish personality and strong wild instincts.

Leopard geckos might even bite you if they’re surprised or scared. Even though the bite isn’t painful, it’s best to avoid triggering this sort of behavior.

Should You Pet Your Leopard Gecko?

It’s definitely not a bad idea to try and pet your leopard gecko. Getting your leopard gecko used to you can make life a lot easier in the future. Your gecko won’t be afraid of you or your hands. If you ever need to do something like give them medication or a bath. If your gecko is afraid or stressed out by getting petted, you’ll need to take things very slowly!

It’s important to understand how you should pet your leopard gecko in order to make them feel confident and safe.

How Do Leopard Geckos Like To Be Petted?

You should never confuse a leopard gecko with a puppy or kitten when it comes to petting.

Rough scratches and play don’t work well with pet reptiles. That’s because even though many reptiles are captive-bred, they’re not necessarily domesticated animals. These reptiles often still have a strong fight-or-flight response. It’s in your leopard gecko’s nature to be afraid of a large predator like you.

Leopard geckos like to be petted in a way that doesn’t startle them. When petting your leopard gecko, you should always make attempts to move super slowly and make sure your pet can see where your hand is headed. Leopard geckos like to be lightly petted or scratched but won’t tolerate any rough handling. The gentler you are, the more receptive your gecko will be to pets.

Where Do Leopard Geckos Like To Be Petted?

The spot where you choose to pet your gecko can play a significant role in whether they enjoy the experience.

Many leopard geckos seem to like to be petted on their heads or backs. These areas aren’t vulnerable and geckos feel safe when petted here. Some geckos enjoy being petted or scratched lightly along their jawlines. Others might like a light pet along their spines.

One place to avoid petting is probably on a leopard gecko’s tail. Leopard geckos have a defensive behavior that allows them to drop their tails when stressed. This means that their entire tail will fall off in order to help them avoid predators. Sometimes, improper handling or stress can cause geckos to drop their tails. Even though these amazing creatures can regrow their tails over time, they’ll never be the same and it’s generally best to avoid petting this area.

Do Leopard Geckos Like Their Head Rubbed?

It’s true, that leopard geckos prefer being pat on their heads, as opposed to other parts of their bodies. This might be because their head is a less vulnerable place to be pet, as opposed to somewhere like their tail or belly.

If you do rub your leopard gecko’s head, you should never do it with too much force. That’s because leopard geckos have something called the parietal eye or third eye which sits directly between the two visual eyes. This isn’t a typical eye and doesn’t have a pupil or a cornea, but it helps leopard geckos detect light and shadows. So, if your finger or hand presses on top of it, your gecko will feel like they’re in the dark.

Do Leopard Geckos Like Being Held?

Being petted on the head is one thing, but being picked up and held is a whole other level of handling for a leopard gecko.

Leopard geckos are one of the most handleable pet reptiles. This has a lot to do with the fact that they’re not overly skittish or aggressive. Whether leopard geckos actually like being held depends on their individual personality and experiences. Some geckos might tolerate being held for short periods while others might find it incredibly stressful.

When a leopard gecko doesn’t want to be held, they’ll find a way to let you know. Leopard geckos might run away and hide as you try to pick them up if they don’t want to be handled. Even though leopard geckos rarely bite, they might if they’ve had traumatic handling experiences in the past.

If your lizard starts to wag its tail when you go to pick them up, it’s not a sign of affection. Usually, tail wagging is another sign your pet doesn’t want to be held and can indicate stress or aggression.

Despite this, many leopard geckos will welcome being held if they’re in the mood for it! Just like with any other animal, you’ll want to be mindful of what your pet is doing when you go to hold them.  Try to avoid picking them up while they’re in the middle of a meal or basking.

It’s even better if you can make handling part of your pet’s daily routine. Picking your gecko up around the same time every day will help them understand what’s going on. They’re less likely to be surprised or scared and can learn what to expect when you reach into their enclosure.

Handling your pet too much will also make your gecko less likely to enjoy the experience. Even the most relaxed lizards might experience stress when held too long. This was shown in a study completed on bearded dragons and ultimately encourages reptile owners to keep handling time to a minimum.

How To Hold A Leopard Gecko

Holding and handling reptiles is a skill that you’ll need to practice. You can’t just go in and grab a reptile for the first time. If you handle your leopard geckos properly and with care, they’ll reward you by allowing you to pick them up more often. But, if you rush into handling, you may traumatize your pet and make them dread being held.

Leopard geckos are insectivorous predators. But, more often than not, leopard geckos are hunted as prey for even larger predators. Because of this, leopard geckos are instinctively defensive and skittish. Geckos need to be approached slowly and calmly for handling.

Make sure they can always see your hand and that you’re not coming down from directly above them. If you do try picking them up from above, you might startle them and ruin cuddle time!

Before you hold your leopard gecko, give them a few pets to feel out their mood. If they seem receptive to being pet, you can start to lift their front legs up onto your hand. Then you can move your hand further under their body so that you’re supporting all of their limbs.

Once you’ve got your leopard gecko in your hands, make sure not to drop them or let them jump away. Leopard geckos can fall about 5 feet without sustaining damage but can easily hurt themselves if they land the wrong way.

This video shows a great example of how to properly hold your leopard gecko.

Once you’ve picked your leopard gecko up, they may want to relax and cuddle with you!

Do Leopard Geckos Like To Cuddle?

It’s hard to make a general statement answering whether or not geckos like to cuddle.

Mammals are engineered to enjoy cuddling. It’s a survival technique and something that many species do from birth to death. Cuddling helps mammals stay warm and keep their young protected and safe. Reptiles don’t have as many biological reasons to cuddle and usually won’t be found huddled up in the wild.

That being said, some leopard geckos do truly seem to enjoy spending time with and basically cuddling with their owners. This will likely come down to your gecko’s individual personality and comfort level. Geckos are more likely to enjoy cuddling if they trust you and have a strong bond with you.

Can You Bond With A Leopard Gecko?

Building a bond with a reptile is very different from bonding with a cat or a dog. Reptiles take much longer to form bonds, and the bonds they create aren’t as strong. The bonds they make aren’t as strong either.

But, it’s worth putting in the time to establish a good relationship between you and your pet reptile. Once you’ve bonded with your pet, you’ll probably find that they like to be petted and held more than they used to!

Ways To Bond With Your Leopard Gecko

Here are a few steps to help you build a better bond with your pet leopard gecko.

1. Practice Good Husbandry

If your leopard gecko’s basic needs aren’t taken care of, there’s no way they’re going to bond with you or enjoy being petted by you.

Make sure that your leopard gecko has the proper environmental conditions to thrive in. Adjust the humidity and temperature as needed. Make sure to provide them with a quality substrate and plenty of places to hide.

2. Start Using a Special Sound

You should start working on a sound that your gecko can recognize as a sign something good is happening.

This is similar to telling your dog “good boy” when they’ve made you happy. You can use a click or a snap that’s easily recognizable to your pet. Use the sound when feeding them or during any other moments they enjoy during their day.

Eventually, you can start to use that sound to keep your gecko calm during stressful situations.

3. Food Time Is Bonding Time

Leopard geckos love food! You can use that to your advantage and make sure that you’re present when your leopard gecko hunts. They’ll start to associate you with the positive experience of a good meal.

4. Minimize Stress

Leopard geckos can’t bond or enjoy extracurriculars if they’re under stress. Try to think about their environment. Is there any stimulus around your gecko that might be upsetting them? Try to consider bright lights, foot traffic, and other pets that might cause your gecko to feel stressed or threatened.

5. Handle Them With Care

To get your leopard gecko to trust you and start to like being petted, you always need to handle them with care. That means that you’ll never move too fast when handling. Don’t ever let them fall or jump out of your hands. Pay attention to your pet’s behavioral cues and if they are acting like they don’t want to be touched, don’t touch them!

6. Keep It Crepuscular

Though leopard geckos are often called nocturnal, they’re really crepuscular. This means these lizards are most active during dawn and dusk. If you want your gecko to bond with you, try to respect their natural sleeping schedule.

Even if you can’t commit to the late evening and early morning time frame, you should establish a daily routine for your pet. This will allow them to anticipate what’s coming and relax a little bit.

Final Thoughts

By nature, leopard geckos aren’t programmed to like handling or petting. But, in captivity, many leopard geckos can like and even look forward to close moments with their owners. It all depends on your leopard gecko’s personality and how you choose to handle them. With a little patience, you should be able to start to see your gecko enjoy being petted.