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What To Do If Your Leopard Gecko Drops Its Tail

Nicole Cosgrove

Leopard geckos are fascinating little creatures. The small lizard is a land-dwelling gecko that is nocturnal and because it is considered lower maintenance than other lizards and reptiles, it is also widely acknowledged as being an easier lizard to care for compared to other pet reptiles.

Part of the appeal of the leopard gecko is that many of its habits and its characteristics are alien to us. They shed roughly every 4-8 weeks, as adults, because they outgrow the skin they’re in. They have large eyes and are one of the only reptiles with eyelids and that can close their eyes. Another characteristic they possess that we would consider unusual is the ability to drop their tail.

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What Does It Mean?

If you grab your gecko’s tail a little too hard or hold it tightly while the lizard tries to escape, it might come as a surprise when you’re left with the wriggling tail in your hand while your gecko is on the other side of its terrarium.

This ability to shed a limb to escape is known as autotomy. Essentially, within the leopard’s tail is a breakable section of tissue that can be easily broken off when required. Blood vessels constrict and the creature loses very little blood in the process, and a new, albeit different-looking tail, will replace the lost appendage. But it is a stressful experience for your little lizard and you should try to ensure that it doesn’t happen.

close up leopard gecko lost its tail
Image Credit: PHOTO FUN, Shutterstock

Why Do Leopard Geckos Drop Their Tail?

There are, in fact, several reasons why a gecko might drop its tail:

  • Defense – In the wild, this autotomous process is a defense mechanism. If a predator or attacker grabs the gecko by its long tail, it sheds the tail and keeps running. The predator is left with nothing but a tail and the gecko usually lives to fight another day. Although your pet gecko doesn’t have any predators, it may get into a fight with another gecko or even a family pet, and it will drop its tail in the same way as a wild gecko would.
  • Stuck – Whether in its enclosure or out, if the gecko gets its tail caught, it may drop it as a means of getting away. It could get its tail caught in a door or any other closing mechanism, and the lizard will shed its tail rather than being stuck in that spot.
  • Stress – The most worrying reason for a gecko to shed its tail is through stress or worry. Loud noises, bright lights, and threatening behavior from other animals or people could cause your lizard to become so stressed that it drops its tail as a defense mechanism.

Is It Painful?

The gecko does not feel any pain when its tail is shed, but it can be considered a stressful experience for your little one. It certainly shouldn’t be encouraged and, where possible, you should try to prevent your Gecko’s tail from being dropped.

leopard gecko inside terrarium
Image Credit: Vladislav_Bagnyuk, Shutterstock

What Do You Do When Your Leopard Gecko Drops Its Tail?

  • The first thing you should do if your gecko drops its tail is to identify the cause. Determine whether the tail got stuck or your gecko was stressed when it happened. Once you know the cause, you can take action to try and prevent it from happening again. You can also ensure that your leopard isn’t ill or suffering in some other way.
  • Following this, you should swap loose bedding for paper towels. Bedding can get into the former tail site and cause infection. Change the towels regularly to ensure cleanliness.
  • Remove the tailless gecko from others because they may pick on it.
  • Look for signs of infection. Bedding isn’t the only thing that can get into the tail site. If it starts to look infected, consult a veterinarian that specializes in reptiles and g
  • Losing a tail is stressful, and heightened stress depletes the fat sources of your Gecko. Ensure that they eat properly to replenish these levels and even consider increasing the amount you feed until the tail has grown back.

How Long Does It Take To Grow Back?

It will take approximately 30 days for the injury site to close up and heal, and once this occurs, your gecko’s new tail should start to grow back. It will not look exactly the same as its previous tail and it is likely to be a little shorter and with a more rounded end than the original, but it will take another 30 or so days to grow back, so it will take around 60 days from the day the tail drops to a new one having grown in its place.

Lateral view of a leopard gecko
Image Credit: MattiaATH, Shutterstock

How Many Times Can A Leopard Gecko Lose Its Tail?

There is no set amount of times that a leopard gecko can lose and regrow its tail, but it can happen multiple times over the life of a gecko. As your lizard ages, it may lose the ability to regenerate the tail, although the wound should heal in time, which means that an old Gecko that loses its tail could be left tailless.

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What To Do If Your Leopard Gecko Loses Its Tail

It is a natural defense mechanism for a leopard gecko to drop its tail. They do this as a means of shaking off a predator and, in captivity, they may do it if they get their tail stuck or even if they are stressed or surprised. While it doesn’t hurt, it can be stressful, and if you do not carefully manage the injury site, it can get infected and lead to illness and serious complications.

Swap bedding and loose substrate for something more stable and ensure that nothing gets in the injury while it heals. Keep an eye on the injury, and expect to wait 30 days before the wound heals and another 30 days before the tail grows back. Your gecko can drop its tail multiple times over its life, but it may lose the ability to regenerate when it is old and considered a senior.


Featured Image Credit: PHOTO FUN, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.