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What to Do if Your Leopard Gecko's Tail Falls Off

6 minutes
Do you know what to do if your leopard gecko's tail falls off? Don't worry, because here we'll tell you how to act effectively.
What to Do if Your Leopard Gecko's Tail Falls Off
Last update: 21 December, 2022

The leopard gecko (Eublepharis macularius) is an increasingly common reptile in homes as a pet. This is due to its beautiful appearance, the extensive amount of chromatic phases presented by the species, its docility, and the ease of care. It’s an excellent first exotic animal for inexperienced keepers but is also prone to some diseases. One of the most common unpleasant events that keepers face is when their gecko’s tail falls off after improper handling or a sudden fright.

This is a very difficult situation to manage on an emotional level, as the animal will bleed and lose an important part of its body. Anyway, the situation is less serious than it seems.

Autotomy in the leopard gecko

The phenomenon that concerns us here is known from a scientific point of view as autotomy. Many reptiles (whether they’re geckos or not) are capable of autonomy and, during this process, they detach part of their tails from their bodies in order to entertain predators and escape. In some species, the tails move autonomously for a few minutes to attract even more attention.

Leopard geckos have a special connective tissue between the base of the tail and the rest of this limb, which allows separation with minimal damage. When these reptiles feel in danger, the blood vessels in the area constrict and the tail drops off suddenly. Due to the physiological preparation of the animal, very little blood is lost in the process.

The gecko may look very healthy after caudal autotomy, but you must take into account that the tail is 1/4 of its body mass and it’s a very important fat reserve. As studies indicate, the tail-less specimens must adapt on both dietary and a locomotor level to live without its caudal end for a short period of time.

Just the same, it’s important to note that the tail of the animal grows back in about 30 days at a very fast pace if it’s well fed. A sort of new spinal cord is formed at the site of the injury, consisting of an epidermal layer surrounded by nerve structures. It’s a less complex and morphologically more basic tail than the previous one, but it does its job as an energy reserve.

Autotomy takes place with minimal blood loss, as the blood vessels constrict when it’s about to happen.

A leopard gecko.
Why a leopard gecko’s tail falls off

As we’ve said previously, these reptiles practice autotomy when they perceive a serious danger. It’s easy to recognize the moment before disaster strikes: If the animal’s planning to lose its tail, it will bend its body and start to move its tail limb upwards, trying to draw attention to it. If the negative stimulus continues, it won’t be long before your gecko’s tail falls off.

How is this behavior encouraged in the home environment? Here are the most common reasons:

  • Mishandling: Grabbing the gecko by the tail will cause it to lose the limb in almost all cases. It’s always best to handle it with delicacy and by cupping your hand under its belly, never grabbing it by the limbs. If for any reason, you need to hold the animal, it should be done at the level of the trunk.
  • Trapped tail: It’s possible for the tail to get trapped in some decoration or narrow passageway and the animal has to get rid of it even if it hasn’t perceived a threat. This is one of the reasons why it’s best to keep terrariums as basic as possible (2 shelters, a couple of logs, and toilet paper as substrate).
  • Fear and being startled: It’s not common, but a gecko may lose its tail as a response to a thunderous sound, a sudden bright light source, or extreme trembling. The presence of a cat outside the terrarium usually greatly encourages this mishap.
  • Poor coexistence: A vulnerable animal may lose its tail if it’s continually harassed by other terrarium companions. It’s essential that you separate the weak animal from the rest if aggression towards it is detected.
  • Diseases: An infection or a systemic disease may cause the gecko’s tail to fall off. Diseases are seldom the cause of autonomy, but they should be taken into account if everything else is ruled out.

Without a doubt, the most common cause of this event is poor handling. Remember not to grab the animal by the limbs (including the tail) under any circumstances and, if you don’t feel safe, don’t handle it at all. You can push it into a plastic container or the like while you clean its terrarium, for example.

What to do if the leopard gecko’s tail falls off

Although it seems a very traumatic event, a leopard gecko that loses its tail will live perfectly well without it and will grow a new one. However, you can help your damaged specimen by following these tips:

  1. Separate it from the other specimens immediately: If your terrarium is communal, you should remove the animal urgently. Other geckos may see it as vulnerable and try to attack it.
  2. Change the substrate for toilet paper: If you have any organic substrate in the installation (such as coconut fiber or calcium reptile sand), we recommend that you replace it with several layers of toilet paper. This will prevent the injured area from rubbing against the ground and minimize the chances of infection.
  3. Watch for infection: You can disinfect the area yourself using a cotton swab and human-grade vaginal Betadine (or another reptile disinfectant). In any case, if you see that the tissue near the tail starts to turn black or emits pus, you should go to the vet.
  4. Maintain the proper temperature range: Remember that a gecko’s terrarium requires a temperature range, with a high of 89.6°F and a low of 77°F. Be sure to maintain this range, as this will help to keep your gecko’s temperature in check. Your animal needs stability more than ever.
  5. Feed it a little more than usual: Most adult geckos eat 2 large prey items per week or 4-5 small ones in 2 feedings every 7 days. You can feed your pet a little more at this stage, as growing a new tail is a very energy-demanding process.

With proper care, your gecko should have a new tail in a little over a month. It’ll be smaller, stiffer, and more discolored than the previous one, but the important thing is that it performs its biological function without any problems. It will grow and become more normal as the months go by.

The best treatment is prevention

A gecko that loses its tail can live a normal life, but that doesn’t mean that its handling should be neglected or that its autonomy doesn’t pose a physiological risk to the animal. Therefore, it’s best to be cautious and always handle your animal with care and, above all, without grabbing it in any way.

To prevent autotomy you should also be careful with noises, vibrations, and sources of stress around the terrarium. If you still fear that your gecko may lose its tail, please consult a veterinarian for all relevant information about its care.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Lizards Learn a Silly Walk after Losing Their Tails, Scientific American. Recogido a 1 de octubre en https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/lizards-learn-a-silly-walk-after-losing-their-tails/
  • Gilbert, E. A. B., & Vickaryous, M. K. (2018). Neural stem/progenitor cells are activated during tail regeneration in the leopard gecko (Eublepharis macularius). Journal of Comparative Neurology, 526(2), 285-309.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.