Why Do Leopard Geckos Bite Themselves?-Ouch! Gecko Self-Harm Exposed

Leopard geckos are common pet lizards that are known for their docile nature. However, these gentle creatures sometimes exhibit strange behavior like biting their own tails and feet. This article explores the possible reasons behind this self-biting behavior in leopard geckos and provides tips on how to curb it.

Reasons for Self-Biting

Table of Contents

Shedding Skin

One of the most common reasons leopard geckos bite themselves is to help remove dead skin during the shedding process. The old skin tends to hang off the gecko’s body in pieces, especially around the toes and tail. Leopard geckos will grab and pull on these skin pieces with their teeth to speed up the shedding process. This is completely normal behavior.


Certain external parasites like mites can infest a leopard gecko’s skin and cause irritation. A leopard gecko may bite its own body in an attempt to relieve itchy skin or remove the parasites. Signs of infestation include tiny black dots on the skin, excessive scratching, and loss of appetite. Consulting an exotic vet to treat parasites is crucial.

Stress and Boredom

Leopard geckos are prone to biting themselves when stressed or bored. Stress can be caused by various factors like improper housing, inadequate heating, over-handling, or lack of hiding spots. Biting can also result from boredom due to an empty tank with no enrichment. Providing a proper habitat and stimulation is key to curbing stress-induced and boredom biting.

Medical Conditions

In some cases, self-biting may result from an underlying medical condition like metabolic bone disease or mouth rot. Geckos with metabolic bone disease often bite their hindlegs due to pain and weakness. Mouth rot can make chewing painful, causing geckos to bite down on their bodies instead of food. Seeing a reptile vet to diagnose and treat any illness is important.

Territorial Behavior

Male leopard geckos are prone to biting themselves on the legs and tails as part of territorial marking behavior. They have scent glands on their tails which they use to mark their territory. Self-biting spreads their scent around their enclosure. This is normal male behavior, especially during breeding season.

How to Stop Self-Biting

If leopard gecko self-biting seems abnormal, here are some ways to curb this behavior:

  • Carefully inspect the vivarium setup and make any necessary improvements to ensure ideal temperature, humidity, hiding spots, substrate, etc.
  • Check for signs of external parasites or illness and get veterinary care as needed.
  • Handle the gecko gently and minimally to avoid stress. Limit handling to short sessions.
  • Provide an enriching habitat with plenty of rocks, sticks, plants, etc. Change up the layout periodically for stimulation.
  • Ensure the gecko has adequate spaces to feel hidden and secure through caves and shelters.
  • Distract the gecko with new sights and smells by periodically changing cage furnishings.
  • Keep male geckos separate during breeding season to prevent territorial biting.
  • Apply aloe vera gel to any bitten areas on the skin to soothe irritation.
  • Monitor the gecko closely for any worsening self-injury and seek exotic vet care promptly.

Reasons for Self-Biting in Leopard Geckos

Leopard geckos nibble various parts of their own bodies for a number of reasons ranging from harmless natural behavior to serious underlying illness. Here are the most common causes:

Assisting the Shedding Process

One of the most frequently observed motivators for leopard geckos biting themselves is difficulty shedding properly. Leopard geckos shed their skin in patches rather than all in one piece. The old dead skin tends to cling to the new layer especially around spiny protrusions like the toes, tails, and back of the head.

Your leopard gecko will attempt to grab and pull off this stubborn leftover skin with its teeth, sometimes resorting to nipping its own toes, tail tip, armpits, or neck. While it may appear the gecko is self-mutilating, this is actually normal behavior to expedite the shedding process and should resolve once all the old skin is removed.


  • Maintain proper humidity between 40-60%. Use a hygrometer to monitor.
  • Provide a humid hide box with damp sphagnum moss for shedding.
  • Spray the gecko with water before shed to help loosen skin.
  • Apply vitamin E oil or coconut oil gently with a cotton bud to hydrate skin pre-shed.
  • Do not forcefully pull off any retained shed yourself as this can damage new skin. Allow your gecko to remove it naturally.

Territorial Marking

Adult male leopard geckos are prone to chomping down on their own hips, thighs, tails, and toes as a way to mark their territory. Like other lizards, leopard geckos have specialized pores called femoral pores along their thighs that secrete a waxy substance containing pheromones.

When a male gecko bites itself, it spreads its unique scent around the enclosure to establish boundaries and send visual cues to rivals that this space is occupied. This territorial self-biting tends to occur most frequently during breeding season but may happen year-round too. It is an innate male gecko behavior.


  • Ensure adequate space and hiding areas in the terrarium.
  • Do not house male geckos together as they are territorial solitary creatures.
  • Limit handling and disturb the gecko as little as possible during breeding season.

External Parasite Infestation

Tiny parasites like mites or ticks can end up on your leopard gecko from the prey insects it eats or other contaminated surfaces. These irritating pests attach to and crawl all over your gecko, burrowing into the skin and causing significant itchiness, discomfort, and inflammation.

A leopard gecko may resort to obsessively biting, scratching, and nipping at its own legs, underside, tail, and head in an attempt to remove the parasites and alleviate irritation. This can lead to raw, wounded skin if left untreated.


  • Closely inspect skin between scales for any tiny dark moving spots which indicate mites.
  • Take your leopard gecko to an exotic vet for a skin scrape test to identify parasites.
  • Get prescription parasite treatment medication from the vet. Be sure to thoroughly sanitize the tank afterwards.
  • Improve sanitation – wash hands before and after handling, sterilize tank decor, change substrate frequently.

Stress and Anxiety

Leopard geckos are quite sensitive to stress in their environment. Too much handling, loud noises, habitat disruption, unfamiliar settings, lack of hiding spots, improper heating, etc. can all trigger a stress response.

Chronically elevated stress levels may cause your leopard gecko to start behaving abnormally, such as chewing on their own body parts like tail, legs, or stomach. This neurotic self-biting stems from anxiety.


  • Limit handling to short 5-10 minute sessions once a day max.
  • Provide plenty of enclosed hides and plants for shelter.
  • Keep the terrarium in a quiet location away from other pets, children, and noise.
  • Maintain proper warm and cool temperature zones with an under tank heating mat.
  • Avoid sudden habitat changes and give the gecko time to adjust to any modifications.
  • Add beneficial stress-reducing supplements like ReptiCalm to the water.

Boredom and Lack of Stimulation

Inadequate mental stimulation can also cause a pet leopard gecko to start nibbling on its own body such as the toes or base of the tail. Lethargy combined with an absence of enrichment in the terrarium leads to boredom-associated self-biting.

Geckos are naturally inquisitive explorers that enjoy investigating new sights, smells, and textures. A barren tank with no decor provides no mental stimulation. Your pet gecko may resort to biting itself simply for some sensory input and activity.


  • Add climbing branches, rocky terrain, live/silk plants, and hides.
  • Place terrarium furniture in different layouts periodically.
  • Rotate new items like hammocks, tunnels, platforms, bowls into the habitat weekly.
  • Offer a shallow feeding dish with worms so the gecko can hunt.
  • Provide appropriately sized feeder insects for exercise.
  • Allow supervised explorations outside the tank.

Pain and Discomfort from Health Conditions

In some cases, self-mutilation occurs due to discomfort, pain, or neurologic issues caused by diseases or other medical problems. Conditions that can prompt tail, foot, and abdominal biting include:

  • Metabolic Bone Disease: Weakened, brittle, deformed bones cause severe pain. Geckos may bite hindlegs.
  • Mouth Rot: A bacterial infection makes chewing painful, so geckos bite down on body instead of food.
  • Gastrointestinal Issues: Abdominal pain, bloating, or blockage can cause gecko to bite stomach area.
  • Infected Wounds: Biting wounds on feet or tail if infection develops, sometimes necessitating tail amputation by a vet.
  • Neurological problems: Issues affecting the brain, spinal cord, or nerves may cause self-mutilation.


  • Have an exotic veterinarian examine your leopard gecko if self-biting is accompanied by appetite changes, weight loss, lethargy or other symptoms.
  • The vet can run tests to diagnose any underlying illness and provide appropriate treatment. This may include antibiotics, calcium supplements, deworming medication, etc.
  • Follow all supplement schedules and veterinary instructions carefully to resolve the health problem and curb damaging self-biting compulsion.

How to Stop a Leopard Gecko from Biting Itself

If your leopard gecko has started nibbling its own extremities or body without an obvious cause like shedding, here are some ways you can help discourage the behavior and protect your pet:

Adjust the Habitat

Carefully evaluate whether anything in the terrarium setup could be inducing stress or boredom. Make any necessary improvements:

  • Ensure ideal floor substrate for traction. Avoid loose particle substrates if gecko is biting feet.
  • Maintain optimal temperature gradient from warm to cool end.
  • Check humidity levels and provide moist hide.
  • Add more foliage, vines, rocks and hides for security and exploration.
  • Limit disturbing decor changes to a gradual introduction of 1-2 new items weekly.

Distract with Sensory Stimulation

Give your leopard gecko more positive ways to engage their senses:

  • Introduce new textures – sand mats, moss, slate.
  • Provide scent enrichment like reptile-safe aromatherapy.
  • Boost opportunistic hunting behaviors with dish feeding insects.
  • Allow 20-30 minutes of supervised exploratory time outside tank 2-3 times a week.
  • Consider getting a second non-aggressive leopard gecko as a companion if appropriate space available.

Address Possible Pain or Discomfort

Check for any signs of illness or injury that may be provoking self-biting:

  • Inspect for stuck shed, lesions, inflammation, parasites on skin.
  • Look for signals of gastrointestinal distress like reduced appetite or weight loss.
  • Note any indications of altered mobility or posture that can suggest metabolic bone disease.
  • Have an exotic vet examine the gecko for diagnosis and pain relief if needed.

Discourage Nibbling Behaviors

  • Apply safe bitter taste deterrents like Grannick’s Bitter Apple to tail or feet to curb biting. Reapply frequently.
  • Put a thin sock or cloth cover temporarily over the gecko’s tail if it persists in biting the tip. Monitor closely to avoid injury.
  • Distract with handling sessions and hand-feeding of insect treats.
  • Continue positive reinforcement when gecko engages in desired behaviors like exploring or hunting feeders.

Seek Exotic Veterinary Assistance

Schedule an appointment with a qualified herpvet if self-mutilation increases in frequency or severity to determine underlying cause and appropriate treatment. Signs to seek medical intervention include:

  • Biting that leads to bleeding, wounds, or loss of toes/tip of tail.
  • Biting accompanied by worsening lethargy, appetite changes or other symptoms.
  • No improvement despite habitat changes and enrichment.
  • Geckos that suddenly begin biting themselves after years without issue to rule out pain or illness.

Providing Proper Husbandry to Minimize Self-Biting

Preventing issues like stress, boredom, and shedding difficulties can go a long way in curbing problematic self-biting. Here are some best practices for leopard gecko husbandry and handling:


  • Minimum dimensions of 20 gallon long tank for juveniles, 40 gallon for adults
  • Proper temperature gradient from 88-92 F on warm end to 70-75 F on cool end
  • Under tank heating mat regulated by thermostat
  • Substrate like reptile carpet or paper towels – no loose particles
  • At least 2 snug hiding caves – one humid hide box
  • Climbing branches, foliage, rocks for sensory enrichment


  • Healthy staple diet of gut-loaded insects like crickets, roaches, worms
  • Light dusting of calcium + vitamin D3 powder on insects at every other feeding
  • Multivitamin supplement added monthly
  • Fresh water always available in shallow bowl – change daily

Habitat Cleaning:

  • Spot clean feces daily, full substrate change every 1-2 weeks
  • Disinfect decor items, bowls, hides monthly
  • Limit disruption by cleaning just 1/3 of tank at a time


  • Limit to short 5-10 minute handling sessions 1-2 times daily
  • Ensure gecko feels secure in hands, do not grab tail
  • No handling after feeding for at least an hour
  • Always wash hands before and after handling

Following these best practices for housing and care is key to reducing stressors and promoting a healthy, enriching habitat. This can curb boredom while supporting your leopard gecko’s basic needs to minimize undesirable self-biting.

Signs It’s Time to See a Reptile Veterinarian

While some occasional self-biting during shedding or scent marking is normal, frequent or serious self-mutilation requires exotic veterinary attention. Schedule an urgent appointment if your leopard gecko shows these signs:

  • Biting that leads to bleeding, infection, swollen toes, or loss of toes/tail tip
  • Biting accompanied by lethargy, appetite changes, or obvious signs of pain
  • Intense biting episodes paired with glass surfing and attempting to escape enclosure
  • Appearance of wounds on body due to biting
  • Increased frequency of self-biting behavior that is escalating
  • Self-biting that begins suddenly in mature gecko with no history of the issue
  • Biting paired with other symptoms like eye closing, labored breathing, diarrhea indicating illness

The exotic vet will examine your leopard gecko, order diagnostic tests, and provide appropriate treatment to resolve any underlying medical conditions and stop the self-harming behavior as quickly as possible.

FAQs about Leopard Gecko Self-Biting

Is it normal for leopard geckos to bite themselves?

It’s common for leopard geckos to bite themselves during the shedding process and for territorial marking. But frequent, abnormal self-biting is not normal and may indicate an underlying issue.

Do leopard geckos bite themselves due to aggression?

No, leopard geckos are solitary and docile lizards. Self-biting is not linked to aggression in leopard geckos. It’s usually due to shedding, stress, boredom, or medical problems.

Why does my leopard gecko bite its tail?

Tail biting is most often due to stuck shed skin or territorial marking. Make sure your gecko’s humidity and shedding regimen are optimal. Separate males during breeding season.

What should I do if my leopard gecko bites itself until it bleeds?

Immediately isolate the gecko in a plain hospital tank lined with paper towels. Apply antibiotic ointment to any wounds. Have an exotic vet examine the gecko to diagnose any medical issue causing this abnormal self-mutilation.

Can leopard geckos bite off their own toes or tail?

In very rare, severe cases, leopard geckos may bite their own toes and tail hard enough to cause autotomy (self-amputation). This points to serious illness or husbandry issues. Seek emergency exotic vet care.

Is self-biting in leopard geckos contagious?

No, self-biting is not a contagious behavior. It results from issues specific to that individual gecko like stress, illness, etc. Healthy geckos will not start biting themselves if housed with a self-biting gecko.

How can I stop my leopard gecko from biting its feet?

Ensure the enclosure has proper floor substrate for traction. Look for stuck shed skin and parasites irritating foot scales. Add enriching hides, plants, and climbing branches. Limit handling. Consult a vet if biting persists.

My leopard gecko bites its stomach, what should I do?

Stomach biting likely indicates parasites like mites on the belly skin. Isolate the gecko and bring a skin sample to an exotic vet for parasite testing and treatment recommendations. Improve sanitation to prevent future infestations.

Is it normal for leopard geckos to bite themselves?

It is common for leopard geckos to nip their own bodies to remove shed skin or for males to bite themselves while scent marking. But frequently biting their own skin leading to wounds is abnormal and signals an underlying issue.

Why is my leopard gecko biting the tip of their tail?

Tail biting usually relates to troubles shedding skin on the tail or territorial behaviors in mature males. Stuck shed causes irritation, prompting tail chewing. Males bite to spread scent from tail pores.

Should I be concerned if I see bite marks on my leopard gecko?

Yes, bite marks on the body, feet, or tail likely indicate your gecko is self-biting due to stress, pain, parasites or another problem. Determine the cause through habitat checks, veterinary exam, etc.

What does it mean if my leopard gecko bites its feet?

Foot biting typically occurs when shedding skin sticks to the toes. But it may also signal mites on the feet, neurological issues, injuries, or enclosure conditions inducing stress.

Can leopard geckos bite their own toes off?

In very rare cases, geckos may bite toes hard enough to cause auto-amputation. This extreme self-mutilation points to severe illness or husbandry flaws. Seek emergency exotic vet care.

Why does my leopard gecko chew on its stomach?

Stomach biting may indicate parasites like mites on the belly. But it can also reflect gastrointestinal pain or distress. Have an exotic vet examine your gecko.

How can I stop my leopard gecko from biting its tail?

Check for stuck shed. Separate territorial males. Add enriching cage decor. Limit handling. Apply bitter deterrent spray. If severe, use a temporary sock tail cover. Seek vet advice.

Will my leopard gecko’s tail grow back if they bite it off?

Yes, a gecko can regrow their tail after dropping it through self-amputation or it breaking off. But the new tail may look different and lacks the original tail’s fat storage. Avoid unnecessary tail loss.


Providing proper care, handling, and housing is crucial to preventing abnormal self-biting in pet leopard geckos. Always seek qualified exotic veterinary advice if you notice your gecko biting itself excessively or causing wounds. With some adjustments to their habitat and care routine, most leopard geckos will stop self-biting behaviors.

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