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How to Setup a Leopard Gecko Enclosure

Updated on September 28, 2010
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Whitney has raised and bred different species of geckos, snakes, lizards, tortoises and other exotics since 2003

Caring for Leopard Geckos

Leopard geckos are one of the most popular pet reptiles because they are relatively small and docile. Because of their size, they require small enclosures, but that doesn't mean that they can be neglected in terms of proper husbandry.

There are many different opinions about how a leopard gecko should be housed. Some are accurate, some semi- accurate, and some just plain wrong.

When I say wrong, I mean that in order to house a leopard gecko properly, there are just some things you can't do. Those things can shorten the lifespan of the leopard gecko and cause many health concerns while the gecko is in your care.

Below, I will give you the most accurate way to house your leopard gecko to ensure that he lives happy, healthy, and safely, in your care.

Do remember that leopard geckos can live for up to 20 years, and the most important key to that longevity is to have a properly set up enclosure, but there can always be unexpected occurrences that may cause a shorter lifespan. Just make sure that you do all that you can do to raise your leopard gecko to his longest year by provided a safe enclosure.

Enclosure Size

Because leopard geckos are relatively small reptiles, you can get away with a 10 gallon aquarium with a screen lid. A better option would be to purchase a 20 gallon long aquarium with a screen lid.

The reason I suggest a 20 gallon long versus the 10 gallon is because after you add the hides and bowls, there is very little room left for the leopard gecko to walk around, which can stress him out.

Too little walk around room can potentially stress out your leopard gecko, but too much extra room can, also, potentially stress out your gecko.

So, if you choose a larger sized enclosure, you'll want to add a few extra hides or decoration pieces, such as wood pieces, bridges, fake plants, etc.

Proper Substrate

Ok, this is usually the biggest mistake that people make when decorating their leopard gecko enclosures. Many people assume that because leopard geckos are dessert reptiles, they should be housed on sand. Well, I hate to break it to you, but not all the dessert is composed of loose sand; leopard geckos are naturally found in dessert's composed of compacted sand and rocks.

You can house older geckos on very fine play sand, but you want to stay away from housing baby and juvenile geckos on sand because they tend to be clumsy when catching their prey and tend to catch mouthfuls of sand that can compact in their digestive system. This is still common with older geckos, just not as common.

Calci-sand, or any calcium- based sand, is another common mistake. Many pet store employees recommend that you purchase the digestible sand. I mean, it even says on the bag that it's good for reptiles... Well, again, I hate to break it to you, but when calcium- based sands get wet, they tend to clump, so in a reptile's digestive system, it tends to do the same. Plus, because it is calcium based, reptiles tend to lick at it, so they ingest the sand, which really isn't the purpose by any means. Overall, you want to avoid all calcium- based sands as though it were the plague.

Wood shaving and bark chips can 1) raise humidity slightly and 2) give hiding cover for crickets, making it hard for the gecko to find his food.

In general, you want to avoid any and all loose substrates. These can include:

  • Playsand (often marketed as vita-sand in pet stores, otherwise regular playsand in any form)
  • Calcium- based sand
  • Potting soil
  • Silica sand
  • Wood shavings (cedar and pine especially)
  • Cat litter
  • Bark chips
  • Crushed corn cob
  • Walnut shells

What you want to remember is that loose substrates can cause impaction, which can be fatal if you don't notice the signs early on.

Substrates that you want to use in you leopard gecko's enclosure, include:

  • Paper towels
  • Reptile carpet
  • Indoor/outdoor carpet
  • Slate tiles
  • Rollout liner

Proper Temperatures

Probably the most important aspect of a proper enclosure is to make sure that you have accurate temperatures within the enclosure.

Remember that leopard geckos need temperatures on the hot side of their enclosure around 88F to 90F during the day.

The best way to provide this temperature is to use an Under Tank Heater. UTH's are also great because leopard geckos are terrestrial and they absorb heat via their bellies. So by using an under tank heater, you leopard gecko will be able to get the best heat.

Use a digital thermometer with a probe to measure the temperatures in the tank. You can attach the meter on the outside of the tank and have the probe on the hot side of the tank on top of the substrate.

You do not want to use the stick- on thermometers of any size, shape, or brand because they do not read temperatures accurately by any means. When you use a stick- on thermometer, you are measuring the wall temperatures, anyway, which aren't the temperatures that are affecting your leopard gecko. Even if you place the thermometers on the surface of the tank, they are still not accurate.

The Zoo Med under tank heaters to the right are sized for 1 to 30 gallon enclosures, so make sure that you know which size equals to which enclosure:

Mini: 1-5 gallon

Small: 10-20 gallon

Medium 20-30 gallon


Lighting is an optional feature for your leopard gecko's enclosure. Because they get their heat from the surface of the enclosure, the light really just raises the air temps a few degrees.

The one good reason to opt for a clamp light, is to create a day/night scenario. If you decide that you want to use a clamp light, you will want to the light and the under tank heater on the same side of the enclosure.

You do not need to use UV lighting. Leopard geckos are nocturnal, so they do not benefit from the UV rays.

How many hides?

This is probably the most simple aspect of a leopard gecko's enclosure. You want to have at least 3 hides in the cage- 2 dry hides and 1 humid hide.

You want to have 1 dry hide on the hot side of the enclosure, and 1 dry hide on the cool side of the enclosure. This allows your gecko to thermoregulate his body temperatures. If he gets too hot on the how side, he can seek refuge in his hide on the cool side, and vice versa.

Now, for the humid hide, you want to place it on the hot side of the enclosure. Humidity tends to be caused by moisture and heat. So, basically what you can do, is cut a hole in a Glad tupperware container.You can use peat moss, Bed-A-Beast, or vermiculite within the humid hide, or you can use paper towels or a small piece of a towel. If you use a loose substrate (moss, dirt, etc), you will probably want to cut the hole in the top of the container because the gecko may dig or kick out the bedding all over the tank. Otherwise, if you use paper towels or a piece of a towel, you can cut the hole on the side.

The humid hide aids in shedding, so when you gecko is going to shed, you'll want to make sure to mist the inside of the hide. You gecko will use the hide if he wants. Don't force him to use the humid hide. You don't need to mist the hide every day; usually your gecko will begin to dull a day or so before he turns the white-gray color.

Cage Placement

At this point, you should know:

  • What size enclosure to use.
  • Proper substrate.
  • Proper heating and how to accurately read the temperatures.
  • Lighting.
  • How many, what kind, and where to put hides.

The only other thing I should mention is where you place the enclosure.

You want to make sure not to put your leopard gecko's enclosure in direct sunlight, which means that you shouldn't put the cage directly in front of a window. This can increase temperatures in warmer months and create a slight chill during cooler months.

In general, try to stick with placing the enclosure on interior walls, versus exterior ones.

Miscellaneous Notes & Suggestions

In regards to the:

Under Tank Heater:

  • I find that not attaching it to the enclosure makes for easier cleaning. Because you do not have to worry about the UTH being attached to the enclosure, you do not have to worry about the cord getting wet.
  • Make sure to prop the aquarium up on something, so that you give the UTH room to breathe. By blocking the heat from UTH underneath the cage, the heat can build up under the cage and cause stress cracks.


  • Make sure not to over decorate the enclosure. Remember too much can cause stress.


  • Remember that you should add a small bowl of calcium in the enclosure, in addition to dusting feeder insects in calcium, because it allows the gecko to get the calcium that he needs at any time of the day.
  • I like putting calcium bowls near the water bowl, but you can put it anywhere.
  • Also, you may consider keeping the bottle cap to your milk or gatoraid because it's the perfect size to use as a calcium dish.

Setting up a leopard gecko enclosure

Paper towels
Paper towels
Add hides
Add hides
Added decor (fake plant and hammock) and calcium dish beside water bowl.
Added decor (fake plant and hammock) and calcium dish beside water bowl.


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    • profile image

      Crystal 5 years ago

      I would like to add, as I've seen in a few comments that ppl say that a heating rock is ok, it is not, they tend to overheat and have caused several burns on reptiles, under tank heater is the best option for leopard gecko's

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      ryan mills 5 years ago

      i have 1 gecko i am thinking of buying another one where can i get the one for the least

    • Whitney05 profile image

      Whitney 5 years ago from Georgia

      an under tank heater is most ideal.

    • profile image

      michael 5 years ago

      i have a heat lamp is that ok or do i need to get a different heat source

    • profile image

      Penny Richardson 5 years ago

      It's about time! We need some one someone other than our mostly uniformed pet stores,giving accurate info to their customers concerning this issue!!

      Thankyou so much!!!

      I will be bringing this info to my local pet store today!


    • Whitney05 profile image

      Whitney 5 years ago from Georgia

      ceramic should be fine

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      Joni 5 years ago

      WHITNEY, you mentioned using slate tiles for substrate. do they have to be actual slate or can they be ceramic tiles? went to Lowes yesterday and they only had one color and style of natural slate. However, there were many beautiful realistic colors of ceramic tiles. Can these safely be used for the geckos?

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      eli 5 years ago

      Hello again. I have a question about a substrate. I want to use slate because it is very natural looking and is safe for her, but how would I keep it warm? Would an under heating pad keep it warm enough?

    • Whitney05 profile image

      Whitney 5 years ago from Georgia

      I'd recommend getting a digital thermometer with a probe. They are about $5-10. Worry more about getting the temperature right than the humidity.

      Add a bottle cap with pure calcium in it. Also, dust the crickets before offering to the gecko.

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      Jen 5 years ago

      I just bought a leopard gecko for my son about a week ago having troublle with lighting and humidity mines at 80 right now is that a proper setting for it to be heat and humidity 40 percent should it be higher or lower so much stuff out there I'm confused what to use what not to use and how to set up terrarium and also my gecko is not so active at night is that normal or not . Also the calcium thing everything this lizard is my first one never had one so what can I do . Also I have the stick on thermometer things should I have different one. Can anyone help who's really familiar with it that I can talk to

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      Kristyn 5 years ago

      So I just got my gecko about 3 weeks ago. She just shed last night and when I seen her later on in the day I seen that her tail was shriveled and I think she might of lost blood circulation in her tail. I'm worried about her and I'm wondering what I should do? I'm just leaving her alone for right now just incase but I don't want her to die, she's just a baby. :/

    • Whitney05 profile image

      Whitney 5 years ago from Georgia

      Nathan, remove the wood chips and remeasure the temperature with a digital thermometer with a probe. Wood chips are not an ideal substrate for leopard geckos anyway, but it could be why you're not achieving proper heat.

      Eli, females can fight and bully each other. I'd recommend two tanks. Try another food for the female you have. Not all geckos like the same foods. Try crickets.

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      eli 5 years ago

      also, my leo is worrying me. she is refusing to eat her mealies and its worrying me. will she just eat when shes hungry? am i overreacting? does she need a wider variety? can tank size affect her eating? because i will get a bigger tank for her.

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      eli 5 years ago

      Hello. I am new to the leopard geckos, and was wondering if you could have 2 females in the same tamk without any problems?

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      Nathan 5 years ago

      If using a 2ft fish tank to hous a gecko where do I put the heat mat I have it under the tank with a thin layer of wood chip ins but I'm not getting a nuth heat should I put it in side

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      Emilyjb 5 years ago

      I am planning on attaining the necessary supplies for my very first leopard gecko this weekend and am so excited. The only problem is that there are so many websites that say so many different things. Can they be exposed to regular lighting or should I cover the tank up while I have the lights on? Is it ok to use the moist box for shedding box as well? How often should the substrate be changed and what should I use for substrate? What is the maximum time I can leave the gecko alone? Can he be taken outside? Is it okay to buy him from a pet store (like Petco)?

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      walker11 5 years ago

      hi i am just woundering if you have to buy the wood from shops for the gheko lizard to climb on or could i go to the woods and get logs and things y self as i have just bought 2 gheko lizards for my son

    • Whitney05 profile image

      Whitney 5 years ago from Georgia

      When the geckos are a little older, it's easier to tell male and female geckos. The male will have distinct bulges and a 'V' above the vent.

      I don't use any lighting, only the under tank heater. You can use a night light or a red light for viewing. There's also no reason why you can't use a regular light, but for heat, I recommend an under tank heater.

      I'm not sure about the foot.

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      Chatkat 5 years ago

      Thank you for answering my question, I really don't know if we have males or females. I think they are around 5months old now. Is there a way to tell? Also you said you don't use lights, Do you also mean the black light at night,too? one of the Geckos has a front white foot with short toes, does that mean anything to you? It just went thru a shedding a couple of days ago but it's little foot was like this before. I'm not sure what it is, Thought I'd ask you.


    • Whitney05 profile image

      Whitney 5 years ago from Georgia

      I recommend using under tank heaters instead of lights, and they generally only heat up the air right around the light, versus where the gecko is actually going to be. Use a digital thermometer with a probe to accurately measure the temps on the surface of the tank where the gecko is. Also, keep in mind that 2 males will fight, 2 females may fight, and a male and female will breed.

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