Do Leopard Geckos Need Substrate?

By | December 31, 2019

Choosing a substrate can be one of the most confusing aspects of setting up a tank for leopard geckos. There are many discussions about the safest and best substrates for your age and gecko size.

Paper towels, although less attractive in a terrarium than other options, are one of the most popular substrates on the market. For juveniles and newborns (less than a year old), paper towels may be your best choice as a substrate. For adults, there are more choices available to you, but with all the recommendations, making a decision can be confusing. Here is an overview of some options to choose from (and some to avoid). Let us have a look at the best substrate for leopard gecko.

Do Leopard Geckos Need Substrate?

Paper napkins

As mentioned earlier, paper towels are one of the best substrates for juvenile leopard geckos (as well as sick geckos), but they can also be used for an adult leopard gecko. With paper towels, you are not afraid of swallowing or inhaling a substrate. They are very absorbent, hygienic and easy to clean (which reduces the risk of disease). It also makes it easier to monitor health (for example, eating, having a bowel movement).

The downside to paper towels is that your gecko can’t burrow inside and they’re unnatural in their original habitat. If your gecko does not like to burrow and you are not worried about a natural-looking environment, consider the paper towels as a substrate for your leopard gecko.


Sand is where the debate over substrates is heated. Sand’s considered by some to be dangerous, due to the risk of ingestion and impaction (due to accidental or intentional ingestion to meet calcium requirements). Ingestion of sand is a greater risk for juveniles, so it is recommended not to use sand with juvenile geckos. Dust (which can cause respiratory problems) and the growth of bacteria or mold in wet sand are other potential problems with sand. However, some keepers prefer sand as a substrate because of the ease of waste recovery, the natural appearance and the capacity of leopard geckos to bury themselves there.

Healthy, well-supplemented adult geckos are less likely to ingest sand. If you choose sand, use it only with healthy adult geckos (never juvenile geckos or sick geckos). Choose fine-grained sand. Calcium-based sand is said to be digestible and therefore safer, but it is digested too slowly to be considered an intrinsically safe option. Provide a calcium supplement dish to help meet calcium needs (to prevent MBD). Feeding prey in a dish can also reduce the risk of ingestion. If sand begins to appear in the stool, you should stop using it immediately as this indicates that your gecko is ingesting it. Also watch for signs of obstruction indicating the need for an urgent visit to the veterinarian. These signs include decreased appetite, decreased stool, lethargy and dark spots on the abdomen (sand pierced in the intestines seen through the skin).


Like paper towels, sheets of paper are simple but secure and make it easy to clean your leopard gecko’s cage. You can get brown butcher’s paper or unprinted newsprint at a very economical price, and only replace the soiled substrate.

Layers of shredded paper are also available and are generally safe for leopard geckos. They do not often ingest paper litter, but if they do, the paper used becomes very soft and should pass through your gecko without any problem.

Indoor / outdoor or reptile carpet

This is also easy to clean and has little risk of ingestion (watch for wires that could possibly be ingested or trap a leg), but some carpets may be a little rough for gecko skin (watch for redness on the belly of your leopard gecko). Keep two parts handy for easy cleaning (if one is soiled, remove it for thorough cleaning and replace with the second part. When it is disinfected and dry, you can simply swap them out again).

Prepackaged reptile bedding

Do Leopard Geckos Need Substrate?

There are a variety of reptile bedding products and some people use them with geckos. Some are made up of small particles that can be ingested during feeding and many experts advise against them. If you choose such a substrate, take the same precautions as for sand. Shells and crushed nuts are not good options for this reason, but substrates such as a mixture of soil and wood chips have their own concerns. Large pieces can impale your gecko or get stuck in their mouths.

Slate Rocks

Some owners use slate rocks fixed in a small amount of sand to anchor them and fill the spaces between the rocks. If you can get flat and smooth stones, this seems to be a good option to create a naturalistic environment which retains and distributes heat well without too much risk of ingestion of substrate (the amount of sand between the stones is less likely to be a problem than an open space. of sand).

Substrates to always avoid

Wood shavings, wood shavings, corn on the cob, nutshells and gravel are not suitable choices for leopard geckos. As noted earlier, these substrate options carry a variety of risks.

The substrate is the most essential element in your terrarium, it is the litter of your animal. There are different types of substrate that adapts to your leopard gecko both juvenile and adult.

What criteria should be taken into account when choosing a substrate?

Do Leopard Geckos Need Substrate?

First of all, you need to determine the needs of your gecko according to its age, size, behavior, environment … the most important thing when choosing a substrate is safety. Many reptiles discover their environment with the tongue, the gecko for example licks the ground, it can then involuntarily ingest its substrate and risk an intestinal obstruction. In addition, in the event of a deficiency such as a trace element for example, your reptile will voluntarily swallow its litter, as much as not choosing a harmful one, lethal for him! Its safety must take precedence over the aesthetics of the terrarium.

The second criterion is the thermal capacity of the substrate. A too insulating litter does not allow the gecko to have heat, while a poorly insulating litter will tend to overheat the environment. The ability to transmit heat should be taken into account when making your choice to avoid any problems. Depending on your heating system, you should choose a more or less thick litter. Heating that transmits heat through the floor will require a large amount of litter to prevent your gecko from getting burned while roaming its environment.

Geckos hunt their prey even in captivity, so you need a litter where you can see what has been eaten or not in order to detect a possible anomaly. Geckos feeding on crickets and locusts, prefer a substrate where he will see them easily. Food habits and terrarium layout go hand in hand, you cannot choose your substrate without its two criteria.

Last Words

Finally, the last criterion for choosing a substrate is the absorption capacity and its ease of cleaning. If your terrarium is wet you risk the development of bacteria and therefore diseases for your gecko. Absorption is a non-negligible criterion, liquids and discharges must be immediately absorbed to prevent any risk. The litter must not only absorb liquids, but it must also be easy to maintain for you. Difficult to maintain litter can be improperly cleaned and create more bacteria.