Tail rot is a very serious condition that is characterized by the rotting of tissue in the tail of a leopard gecko.
One of the key factors in getting to know what tail rot is is to first understand the concept of necrosis (well-defined by Yarmouth Vet Center), which is the driving factor of this disease.
Necrosis in tail rot, to put it simply, is where the tail begins to die off and essentially rot.
It can be hard to detect in the early stages, as there usually won’t be any visual cues until it has progressed, requiring immediate action in treating the problem.
Now don’t freak out just yet; I know it sounds very scary. While yes, leopard gecko tail infection should be taken very seriously, there are many ways to prevent and treat it, which will be elaborated on in this article.
Signs of Tail Rot in Leopard Geckos
The decay usually starts at the tip of the tail, and there are a variety of signs that could indicate tail rot, and the following that will be discussed are the most common that will show up that are almost for sure some type of decay within the tissue of your leopard gecko’s tail.
If you ever notice the beginnings of an infection on your leopard gecko or even any cut or abrasion in general, it is best to take any preventative measures to ensure that infection is prevented. Consult a veterinarian if you ever notice an injury on your pet. This will be crucial in getting individualized care specific to your pet and the type of injury they have, as treatments can be very subjective based on each case.
When tissues start to die, they will typically turn to a much darker color, and look dry, in an almost leathery way. It can look crusty and brown as well. This is quite often the case with tail rot.
Visual cues are going to be the most prominent way of catching tail rot, as the symptoms manifest through tissue death, which is directly associated with dark discoloration and crusty/flakiness.
As the infection grows, the discolored area will spread up along the tail, and eventually to the body, which is very dangerous to the life of your pet.
Always being able to examine your leopard gecko is also crucial when noticing things like discoloration. If you can catch it in the very beginning, recovery should be substantially easier.
Lethargy and Appetite Loss with Tail Rot
Lethargy and appetite loss are very commonly associated with tail rot. Just think, when we get sick all we want to do is lay in bed because we are so tired.
Leopard geckos will usually lose a substantial amount of energy and liveliness when tail rot or another disease is present.
If you see that your leopard gecko is hiding a lot, it may be a good idea to gently uncover them from whatever they are hiding under to make sure there are no alarming visual signs.
Leopard geckos tend to hide a good bit during the day as they are nocturnal, but if they are ceasing to come out at all, there could very likely be something wrong.
Knowing the normal personality of your leopard gecko is very important when it comes to detecting these behavioral signs, for instance, if you have a very outgoing pet, then it could be very out of the ordinary to see them reluctant to move around and be out in their cage.
Causes of Tail Rot in Leopard Geckos
Cuts and Abrasions
Cuts and abrasions are by far the most common cause of the development of the infection that leads to tail rot.
When a tail infection develops in a leopard gecko, it is usually from a small wound that has gotten contaminated by bacteria, which has multiplied in the tissue, causing it to die.
This is where we see the telltale sign of tail rot which is the significant darkening of the tail and the tissue losing circulation. Infection is much more likely to develop when there is any sort of debris in the wound, such as little particles of a substrate.
Especially when the cut is deep and open, you must get it cleaned and consult a vet on the best way to get it closed.
This is because we all know how painful it is to have an open wound brush up against things. This would be an especially prominent issue in leopard geckos because of cage decors like sticks and branches.
Shedding Issues and Loss of Circulation
When a reptile is shedding, it can sometimes struggle to get rid of the old skin and it can get stuck or wrapped around a certain body part. This commonly happens with toes and the tip of their tail, which is a lot of times where the tail rot will start.
To assist your reptile in shedding, it is always helpful to have a moist hide or a dish with a shallow amount of water for them to soak in.
This softens up the shed, allowing it to be more easily removed by the gecko, which makes the experience much less stressful for both you and your reptile.
It is always imperative that you closely observe any signs that may indicate a stuck shed on your reptile. Some reptiles routinely struggle with shedding, so in cases such as those, it is best to consult a veterinarian to receive advice on how to help.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to have a nutritious diet for any reptile you keep. The diet is their cornerstone for defending against any health issues or injuries they may face.
Having a poor diet can cause leopard geckos to be predisposed to injuries that don’t heal properly and have a higher risk of getting infected with a myriad of pathogens.
Sometimes things just happen, so having an injured leopard gecko is not the end all be all. However, great nutrition and supplementation can help a leopard gecko, or any living thing, recover from a vast array of ailments.
Poor dietary care is often recommended in many places for the convenience of the owner and to make more sales, even if it is at the expense of the animal they are advertising for.
In general, stay away from pelleted foods and freeze-dried insects, as they lack the essential nutrients to keep our beloved pets in tip-top shape.
Treatment of Tail Rot
If a leopard gecko manages to somehow get injured, it is always important to consult a vet and get an appointment as soon as possible to get it checked out.
Cuts are a very common cause of tail rot, specifically these cuts not being cleaned properly and getting infected. Additionally, keeping your gecko out of situations where they are likely to get hurt is a must.
Things such as keeping a leopard gecko with another animal, including another leopard gecko, are very easy ways to get them hurt or even killed.
In the meantime, removing any debris from the injury with a saline wash, or even using a one-part betadine-iodine solution to ten-parts water ratio to keep bacterial growth at a minimum could help the situation tremendously. This can be done in a soak or applied gently.
Some also speculate that applying a small amount of Neosporin (containing no painkillers) to the wound is a good way to promote healing and keep it clean.
Always call or consult a veterinary clinic before using any treatments at home to make sure everything is done safely and properly for the best result and safety of your pet.
When seeing a veterinarian, you are likely going to be faced with options as simple as an ointment and as severe as amputation depending on how much decay is present and how far the tail rot has progressed.
Allowing a calm and quiet place for your pet to shed is a huge help to them and can aid in their shedding so that it is done smoothly and without complications.
Having them soak in some shallow water can also be helpful, just make sure they are nowhere near submerged and that there is just a small pool around their feet. Soaking even for just a few minutes can be a big help to these little guys.
When to see a veterinarian
The best advice I can give on when to see a vet is to always play it safe. Go ahead and schedule that appointment if you are ever in doubt because catching issues early is your best friend when treating them.
It is better to at least call the vet on what to do and get any advice that they can provide specific to your situation, then proceed with any instruction you were given.
Sometimes it can be hard to fork up a bunch of money when you don’t even know if something is truly wrong, but I urge you to trust your gut and be cautious because we can get our money back, but we can’t get our reptile back.
Chances are if your reptile is acting unusual or something seems off, there is almost always a cause. Remember: reptiles show signs of illness and injury much differently than a dog or cat would, so it is much more subtle and hard to detect, not to mention illnesses typically progress faster, making that vet appointment all the more important.
If My Leopard Gecko Loses His Tail From Tail Rot, Will It Grow Back?
The short answer is yes, they usually can and will grow back their tail, but as your gecko ages, their ability to regenerate such a large part of their body will decrease significantly.
Can Tail Rot Be Cured?
When the infection has progressed to the point that part of the tail has turned black, that part, unfortunately, cannot be saved, and usually will have to be amputated by a veterinarian.
The best way to treat tail rot is to catch it early and schedule a vet appointment to get things taken care of.
Of course, prevention is always ideal and that can be maintained through proper enclosure conditions such as heat and humidity, along with keeping your pet away from other animals including other leopard geckos.
Nutrition is also vital in keeping a healthy immune system to fight off any disease and just to have a generally healthy and hearty reptile.
Keeping reptiles can be scary when you are constantly aware of all that could go wrong, but don’t worry. Doing research like this will likely prevent conditions like this from ever developing.
Of course, freak accidents can happen, as with any animal, but understanding proper prevention and having the ability to discern when to act is essential and will greatly improve the health of your reptile and decrease the chance of accidents happening.