Leopard geckos are adorable, reptilian companions that are known for their distinctive appearance and docile nature. However, as many reptile enthusiasts know, these enduring creatures can exhibit odd behaviors at times. One of the strange things you might notice your leopard gecko doing is biting itself. This behavior can be both puzzling and concerning for pet owners.
So, why do leopard geckos bite themselves?
Leopard geckos bite themselves occasionally. Sometimes this behavior is normal and is most often associated with shedding. At other times when a leopard gecko bites itself, it might mean that they’re dehydrated, have a skin infection, or have external parasites. Leopard geckos can also bite themselves when they’re stressed.
This article will go over everything you need to know if your leopard gecko is biting itself.
6 Reasons Why Leopard Geckos Bite Themselves
We know how disturbing it can be when your pet starts to do something you don’t understand. Here are a few reasons why leopard geckos bite themselves. Hopefully, with the list below, you can start to make a little sense of this confusing behavior!
1. They Might Be Shedding
Shedding is one of the unique traits of all the animals in the reptile family. There isn’t a single reptile that doesn’t shed in some capacity. Reptiles shed their old skin periodically throughout their life.
Shedding often begins when the skin starts to appear dull or white. Eventually, that skin will fall off either in one big piece like in snakes, or in a few smaller pieces like in many lizards.
Leopard geckos are one of the reptiles that shed their skin in a few different pieces at a time. Shedding skin can be itchy and even painful so leopard geckos may tend to bite themselves as they’re shedding. Biting is sort of a way for leopard geckos to groom themselves and help remove old skin.
Odd as it may sound, it’s also completely normal for leopard geckos to eat their own old skin. According to the University of California, Santa Barbara, when a leopard gecko eats its own skin, it’s a sign that they’re in good health.
By eating their skin, leopard geckos can ingest some of the nutrients stored there. It’s also an instinctual behavior so that they don’t leave a trail behind them for predators to follow in the wild.
So, if your leopard gecko is biting themselves, they may just be shedding.
2. They Could Be Dehydrated
Dehydration is another factor that can lead to self-biting behavior in leopard geckos.
First of all, dehydration is one of the biggest reasons why a leopard gecko will have a difficult shed. When their skin isn’t hydrated, it’s more difficult for it to shed properly and come off easily. Beyond that, dehydration itself causes reptile skin to become dry and tough.
This dry skin is irritated and itchy. It’s natural for leopard geckos to bite themselves when they’re dehydrated because they don’t feel comfortable. But, it’s not normal for your leopard gecko to be so dehydrated that they’re biting at their own dry skin.
We’ll talk below about some of the ways to help relieve skin issues, like dehydration, for leopard geckos.
3. They Might Have A Skin Infection
Bacterial dermatitis, or skin infections aren’t very common in reptiles. However, if your pet leopard gecko does have a skin infection, they’ll definitely be biting at themselves nonstop!
So, what is bacterial dermatitis?
Bacterial dermatitis is a shallow or deep skin infection or shell infection caused by bacterial organisms. Usually, skin infections are focused on one or two small areas of a reptile’s body. Skin infections might present as pustules that will rupture and cause open sores. As you can imagine, this condition can be painful and itchy.
Leopard geckos with skin infections will either scratch or bite at themselves to relieve pain. They might even rub themselves against rough surfaces to help relieve the pressure of the infection. Skin infections often occur because of poor husbandry practices or appear secondary to some other sort of disease.
If you think that your leopard gecko has a skin infection, you’ll need to take them to see your veterinarian as soon as possible.
4. External Parasites Might Make Them Itchy
Even though leopard geckos can’t get fleas, there are other external parasites that can plague these tiny reptiles.
Mites are the most common external parasite that affects reptiles. Mites are super tiny tic-like arachnids that act as parasites. Mites love to attach themselves to dark soft areas on a leopard gecko. You might notice them around your gecko’s ears, nares, armpits, and even on their eyelids.
If you’ve never dealt with mites before, it can be difficult to know what to look for. This video shows a room that’s been infested with mites and fruit flies.
Mites can make leopard geckos very uncomfortable and can make them bite at the body parts they’re on. If it seems like your gecko is just biting themselves in one specific area, make sure to inspect for the presence of parasites.
Of course, if you think your leopard gecko has external parasites, get them into the vet as soon as you can. External parasites aren’t life-threatening but can cause declines in health and are incredibly contagious to other reptiles in the house.
5. They’re Stressed
General stress is a common trigger for various behavioral changes in leopard geckos, including self-biting. Sadly, self-harm and self-mutilation are common side effects of bored or stressed animals in captivity. There’s plenty of documentation of animals that have bitten off their own body parts while living in a cage.
Active leopard geckos can experience stress due to changes in their environment, introduction to new cage mates, or overly frequent handling. Stress can also be caused by poor husbandry which places pets in a constant state of biological imbalance.
Leopard geckos that seem to bite at their skin, for no reason may be experiencing some level of stress. Stress can’t be fixed overnight but can be addressed by creating a more stable environment.
6. They Have A Wound Or Skin Irritation
The last reason to explain why leopard geckos sometimes bite themselves is some sort of wound.
Leopard geckos are not immune to accidental injuries or skin irritations. Leopard geckos can get injuries from encountering, sharp or abrasive objects in their enclosure, or while handling. Wounds can also occur from rough interactions with cage mates. Even if one of these things doesn’t cause a wound, it can cause a bit of irritation on the skin.
In response to discomfort caused by an injury or irritation, geckos may bite at the affected area. It’s always a good idea to give your pet reptile a once over. Reptiles are very good at hiding pain from us and sometimes you need to look a little bit closer in order to see that your pet has been hurt.
The only thing you’ll need to do if you notice your leopard gecko has a wound is take them to the veterinarian where they’ll be diagnosed and treated.
Should You Worry If Your Leopard Gecko Is Biting Itself?
Now that we know, some of the reasons why your leopard gecko might be biting itself, we can start to think about if the behavior is problematic or not.
In most cases, there’s no need to worry when your leopard gecko bites itself. More often than not, when leopard geckos bite at their skin, they’re just shedding. Or, your leopard gecko might be biting at itself because its skin is dry and dehydrated.
However, if your leopard gecko is already done shedding, and is still biting on its skin, something might be wrong. If this is the case, the best thing you can do is take your leopard gecko to the veterinarian. We know we’ve already mentioned it a few times in this article, but even small pet reptiles can experience medical emergencies. Taking care of these medical issues at home is never recommended and you should always seek a professional for help with treating skin issues.
Why Do Leopard Geckos Bite Their Tails?
In general, leopard geckos might bite their tails for all of the same reasons they bite their skin.
But, when leopard geckos are focused on biting their tails, they may actually be trying to bite or lick their bums. Leopard geckos may lick or bite their own anuses to clean up after defecating or because they’re constipated. If your leopard gecko seems to be focused on biting its tail area, make sure to read our article all about it by clicking here.
How To Help Relieve Skin Issues For Leopard Geckos
If your gecko just seems like they’re a bit itchy and have dry, wrinkly skin, here are a few quick things you can do today to help relieve their discomfort and hopefully reduce their self-biting behavior.
Give Warm Water Soaks
Warm water soaks are something you can give your pet leopard geckos to help rehydrate their skin.
Soaks also help old, stuck-on pieces of shed fall off easily. A warm water soak can be given as needed for about 10-20 minutes. You’ll want the water to be a little warmer than room temperature but not feel hot to the touch. The water level should be shallow since leopard geckos aren’t great swimmers.
Even though a quick bath won’t fix any true skin issues, it will make your little lizard feel a lot more comfortable afterward!
Provide A Proper Environment
Another way to help relieve skin issues and discourage biting is to provide your leopard gecko with the correct environment in their enclosure.
Leopard geckos are natural desert dwellers and need enclosures that mimic this environment. Leopard gecko tanks should be around 75 to 85°F with a basking area around 90°F on one side of the enclosure.
Leopard geckos should have an enclosure that falls somewhere around 30 to 40% relative humidity inside. Leopard geckos need comfortable substrate and plenty of places to hide in order to feel relaxed and safe.
The better your leopard gecko’s enclosure is, the more comfortable they’ll be in their skin, literally!
Geckos truly are unique and charming, reptiles, but like any pet, they can display peculiar behaviors that concern their owners.
Self-biting is a behavior that can have many underlying causes. The most common reason why your leopard gecko bites itself is that they’re shedding. But, leopard geckos that bite themselves may also be dehydrated, have skin issues, or external parasites, be stressed, or have a wound.
Understanding these reasons and addressing them appropriately is essential for maintaining the health and happiness of your pet gecko.