Either way, no leopard gecko keeper or breeder would ever be happy to find out that their beloved reptile is egg-bound. This is regardless of whether or not a pet parent would like to breed their leo. But what does that actually mean? Can it really kill a gecko?
Female leopard geckos become egg-bound when they can’t lay soft-shelled eggs 14 days after ovulation due to husbandry and health issues. Geckos with retained eggs have visible belly bulges. Such a problem can be solved without causing serious consequences by an exotic veterinarian when treated early.
When caught early on, egg-binding can be treated without the need for major surgery. But how can you spot an egg-bound leopard gecko from a fat-bellied one? Scroll on to find out which signs to look for and more!
What Does It Mean When a Leopard Gecko is Egg-Bound?
A gravid leopard gecko is egg-bound when it can’t lay its mature eggs normally. In effect, the eggs are retained for prolonged periods which can result in various serious complications such as egg rupture, internal infection, and even death.
You might have heard of this problem using the terms dystocia and post-ovulatory egg stasis. So if you hear your veterinarian or vet tech mention these, they are also referring to egg-binding, which is more commonly used within the reptile-keeping community.
For wild geckos, egg-binding is considered unusual, probably because they rarely produce large enough eggs that could cause obstruction due to limited resources.
By contrast, an overabundance of resources in captivity can result in geckos being egg-bound along with a host of other causes related to husbandry and health .
The 15 common causes of egg-binding in leopard geckos include:
- Calcium deficiency
- Vitamin A deficiency
- Metabolic bone disease
- Poor body condition
- Egg issues (e.g., massive or deformed)
- Bodily trauma and injury
- Disturbance by a cage mate
- Improper temperatures
- Inadequate humidity
- Absence of nesting site
- Lack of ultraviolet light
Moreover, it doesn’t matter if your leopard gecko has infertile eggs. Egg fertility doesn’t necessarily determine whether or not it will be retained. There have been numerous cases recorded for both.
Even reptiles that give birth to live young, such as blue-tongued skinks, can have dystocia—being unable to pass their offspring due to issues such as genetic defects and fetal death.
Now, before you go on, I’d highly suggest you confirm whether or not your leopard gecko is a lady in the first place. You wouldn’t want to waste your time checking whether or not your precious leo is holding in its eggs just to realize you have a dude in your hands, right?
Find out if your leopard gecko is male or female!
13 Signs That a Leopard Gecko is Egg-Bound
Below are 13 typical signs of dystocia or egg-binding in female leopard geckos:
- Abdominal swelling
- Cloacal swelling or prolapse
- Repeated straining of hind legs
- Persistent substrate digging
- Abnormal behaviors (e.g., glass surfing)
- Lack of appetite
- Rapid weight loss
- Prolonged tail thinness
- Increased lethargy
- Overall weakness
- Viscous yellow or green droppings
- Constipation or reduced defecation
If you notice one or more of these symptoms along with obvious eggs bulging from your precious leopard gecko’s belly, it’s best to visit your exotic veterinarian immediately!
For cases where you’re unsure, you should still have your female gecko checked—especially since egg-binding shares symptoms with many other serious conditions.
Otherwise, your gecko can’t be properly diagnosed and treated. As a result, your gecko’s health can drastically deteriorate due to complications like internal infection. A mild case of dystocia can quickly become life-threatening as well if not promptly given medical attention.
Normally, the vet will start by feeling or palpating your gecko’s belly for eggs. They may also try to see through the abdomen by shining a flashlight through it—the transillumination method.
Other procedures for proper diagnosis can also include radiography, ultrasonography, blood work, and even a Computed Tomography (CT) scan .
How is Egg-Binding Treated in Leopard Geckos? (3 Ways!)
Veterinarians will treat egg-binding in leopard geckos in three main ways: chemically induced laying, egg draining, and surgically removing eggs. The affected geckos may also be given analgesic and prophylactic medication, fluid therapy, and overall correction of keeping practices related to factors like temperature, humidity, and diet.
At times, the exotic vet will perform all three—one procedure after another in the span of several days to a couple of weeks. But this will only happen if previous procedures are unsuccessful in treating dystocia.
In other words, treating an egg-bound leopard gecko can take a long time.
1. Chemically Induced Laying
To induce egg laying in gravid leopard geckos that are holding eggs that can otherwise be passed (e.g., normal shape and size), calcium gluconate and oxytocin will be given.
Oral calcium syrup or calcium gluconate helps with inadequate calcium in the gecko’s system. On the other hand, oxytocin is administered to stimulate muscle contraction in the oviduct for egg-laying.
Now if you hear people say essential oils can help with egg-binding, let me stop you right there. The truth is it isn’t.
No “DIY treatment” for dystocia exists. Plus, using potent oils in an attempt to “cure” follicular stasis can do a lot more harm than good!
2. Egg Draining
For unusually massive, misshapen, or fused eggs, your veterinarian might suggest draining the liquid contents (mainly the yolk) of the egg so that it shrinks to a more manageable size.
NEVER ATTEMPT DRAINING YOUR GECKO’S RETAINED EGGS AT HOME ON YOUR OWN!
Although relatively invasive, there are serious risks that coming draining a gecko’s eggs . This may be why the first-ever documented case of egg draining, or percutaneous ovocentesis, only dates to 2006.
Possible complications of draining eggs include the leakage of the yolk inside the body, accidental puncturing of internal organs, inflammation, and infection.
3. Surgically Removing Eggs
When the first two less invasive methods still can’t help a gravid leopard gecko pass the retained eggs, surgery is necessary.
This is the most invasive, expensive, and time-consuming method for egg-binding treatment. However, many leopard geckos have been able to live long and happy life after successful surgery and months of recovery.
In cases where dystocia has progressed too much and even surgical treatments are unlikely to bring relief to the leopard gecko, euthanasia may be recommended by the veterinarian.
But don’t worry! A good veterinarian will only suggest euthanizing a gecko as a last resort, after careful consideration. Many experienced keepers and breeders will agree with me on this.
Can Egg-Binding Be Prevented in Leopard Geckos?
It is possible to prevent egg-binding in leopard geckos by providing correct husbandry, like diggable substrate, and a properly supplemented diet. Check-ups once or twice a year with an exotic veterinarian are also recommended. Chronic dystocia can also be avoided by removing the reproductive organs of female geckos.
To prevent your lady leo from developing dystocia, it’s best to address all the 15 causes of egg-binding that I mentioned early on!
Making sure that you regularly take your gecko—even males—can also help you spot and treat developing conditions before they get worse and significantly affect your gecko’s life.
Neutering or spaying must also be seriously considered if a gecko suffers from postovulatory follicular stasis more than once despite being kept with the best husbandry practices and given highly nutritious feeders.
Discover more in our article on why geckos are neutered!
Consult with your veterinarian if you’re considering this so that you can come up with the best management plan for your gecko.
Reproductive Cycle of Female Leopard Geckos (Making Eggs!)
Generally, a female leopard gecko will begin its reproductive cycle when it reaches about 40 g or around 9–12 months old. Two follicles are filled with yolk as they grow into eggs which will then be fertilized and laid. If no mate or sperm is available for fertilization, the infertile egg may either be reabsorbed or laid.
Unlike in humans, weight more accurately determines whether a leopard gecko is sexually mature rather than its age. Even then, it’s not recommended to immediately breed a female gecko just because it can. Producing and laying eggs takes a lot of resources and energy.
Then again, leopard geckos can still produce and lay eggs even if they are never introduced to a potential mate. So to understand how and why a leopard gecko becomes egg-bound, you need to familiarize yourself with the reproductive cycle of your lady leo as a whole.
A female leopard gecko’s entire reproductive cycle can be divided into 5 phases:
- Dormancy. During this time, the reproductive organs are inactive small follicles don’t grow. No round pink follicles are readily visible in their abdomen for 50–60 days.
- Early Yolk Formation. For 11-21 days, the largest follicles (6–9-mm diameter) in the ovary containing an immature egg start getting filled with nutrients for the yolk. Only 2 out of 4 visible follicles will undergo will proceed to the next phase each time.
- Late Yolk Formation. Then, the development of the egg yolks in the mature follicles (12–14-mm diameter) is completed within 7–12 days.
- Ovulation. Afterward, the yolk-filled eggs will then be released from the ovaries. Generally, only 2 eggs at a time are released into the oviducts.
- Gravidity. Once gravid, the pair of white fully-formed soft-shelled eggs will become visible on either side of the abdomen, by the bottom. The eggs will finally be laid after being held in the oviducts for 10–13 days.
Do keep in mind that this outline is only a general pattern . Each gecko will have their differences so I would recommend you monitor your own gecko’s reproductive pattern and cycle.
Also, after laying an egg, females can resume phase two repeatedly before finally going dormant. This period of reproductive inactivity commonly happens sometime between autumn and winter—coinciding with the time they may go into brumation.
It’s important to note that gestation or embryo development starts from the time the eggs are fertilized and not when mating occurs. Then, it continues developing after they are laid, only stopping once they hatch.
But you will still see some people use the terms incubation and gestation interchangeably, despite not being completely similar to each other. Having said that, the average gestation period for leopard geckos is estimated at 1–3 months.
Learn how to correctly incubate leopard gecko eggs!
Are preovulatory stasis and egg-binding in geckos the same?
Preovulatory stasis and egg-binding are similar but happen during different stages of a female gecko’s reproductive cycle. Preovulatory stasis happens when the follicles in the ovaries are filled with yolk but can’t be ovulated or reabsorbed. Conversely, egg-binding or postovulatory stasis happens when shelled eggs in the oviducts can’t be laid.
Is it normal for female leopard geckos lay eggs without a male?
Female leopard geckos can still lay eggs without being recently paired or housed with a male partner. Whether or not the egg will be fertile or infertile, however, will depend on whether or not they still have sperm stored in its systems from previous mates. Females that have never been paired can only ever lay infertile eggs.
Can exposure to other geckos affect a female leopard gecko’s reproductive cycle?
The onset of a female leopard gecko’s reproductive cycle can be initiated by the presence of other females. However, cohabbing leopard geckos—regardless of sex—or housing female geckos in isolation doesn’t affect follicular development during reproductive cycles. Also, interaction with male geckos outside of mating doesn’t speed up egg production.
Do leopard geckos have periods?
A female leopard gecko will not have periods as only mammals undergo menstrual cycles. Leopard geckos, however, normally experience at least one ovulation, or egg production, cycle a year. Nevertheless, some keepers and breeders also claim that there are female geckos that never ovulate.
How long does it take for gecko eggs to hatch?
It can take the eggs more or less 30–200 days to hatch after being laid. This varies greatly among each species. For instance, leopard gecko eggs hatch by the 3-month mark. Meanwhile, tokay gecko eggs can take up to 6 months before hatching. Higher temperatures may also speed up the incubation process, resulting in earlier hatching.
Will gecko eggs hatch without an incubator?
Gecko eggs can hatch without an incubator so long as the environment—like temperature and humidity—meets their species’ requirements. So it is more common for native gecko species to hatch without incubators under normal conditions of their natural habitat. A non-native species from a different climate, however, will need an incubator to hatch.
Summary of Egg-Bound Leopard Gecko
Once a female leopard gecko reaches adulthood, it is at risk of suffering from egg-binding or dystocia. Normally, a gravid gecko should lay its eggs within 1–2 weeks after ovulation. If it still holds on to its eggs days or weeks after, it’s likely egg-bound.
Common causes of egg-binding in geckos are heavily related to improper or inadequate environmental conditions, such as the absence of a lay box, and nutritional imbalances, like vitamin A deficiency. Hence, prevention must address these factors to minimize or eliminate the likelihood of a leopard gecko becoming egg-bound.
When diagnosed early, mild cases of dystocia can be easily and readily treated using medication for chemical induction of egg-laying. Moderate cases may require egg draining whereas severe cases will need surgical removal or retained eggs.