Should you force-feed a reptile that won't eat?
Q: Hello, I’m Jared and am 10 years old. I just got a gecko at a reptile show. I don’t know what gender it is, but it is only about 2 weeks old, I think. It’s not eating and is really skinny. My dad and I force-fed him because my cousin told me to try that. My cousin told me to try some spray stuff, but I won’t use it until you answer, unless it gets worse. PLEASE answer ASAP. I need your help, please. It’s my first pet. It is about 2 to 3 inches long.
A: While I realize that this is a baby gecko, Jared, you need to find a herp veterinarian who can help you with it. Without professional assistance, there is a significant chance that this baby may die. It can be very dangerous to try to force-feed a baby reptile, as it is possible to damage delicate tissues.
It is important that you try to minimize the stress on your baby gecko, and that means not handling it unless absolutely necessary. I know it can be very difficult to restrain oneself, especially with a new pet, and one that is your first one, no less. But, it is important to only handle your gecko to medicate it or to clean its habitat, for example. Once you have taken your pet to a vet, follow his or her instructions exactly, for the best chance to return your little gecko to good health, if that is possible.
Unfortunately, baby animals of any kind do not have very good immune systems (the ability to fight infections), so any sort of problem tends to be worse in them than in adults. Also, I don’t think that it was responsible for someone to sell a 2-week-old baby gecko to an inexperienced youngster such as you. Unfortunately, it is too late now, as you are now responsible for this lizard. Please ask your father to help you by locating a qualified herp vet, and make an appointment as soon as possible. This situation is quite serious, and there is a chance that it may not survive. One place you can start looking for a herp vet is at the Association of Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarians Web site at www.arav.com.
If, in spite of your vet’s and family’s best efforts, this baby does not make it, please reconsider purchasing such a young, delicate creature next time. Perhaps, consider acquiring a hardier pet reptile, such as a bearded dragon. Please be aware that each species of reptile has specific needs regarding diet, high and low temperatures in the enclosure, humidity and habitat. You also will need at least two thermometer/hygrometers to measure temperature and humidity in different areas of the enclosure. Many species require a basking light (unless nocturnal, meaning more active at night), a fluorescent ultraviolet light bulb that should be replaced every six to eight months and nutritional supplements.
I am sorry that I cannot offer more positive advice concerning your little gecko. No doubt it is in serious trouble, and no doubt you really like your tiny creature. I wish you the best, and I hope that this will be a learning experience for you, no matter the outcome.
Margaret A. Wissman, DVM, DABVP has been an avian/exotic/herp animal veterinarian since 1981. She is a regular contributor to REPTILES magazine.
Need a Herp Vet?
If you are looking for a herp-knowledgeable veterinarian in your area, a good place to start is by checking the list of members on the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarian (ARAV) web site at www.arav.com. Look for DVMs who appear to maintain actual veterinary offices that you could contact.