African Fat-Tailed Gecko Care Page

Prepared by ReptiFiles

African fat-tailed geckos are a crepuscular (active at dawn/dusk), ground-dwelling lizard native to the semi-arid grasslands, scrublands and savannas of West Africa. They are usually between 7-10″ long. Unlike most other geckos, AFT's have eyelids and lack the "sticky feet" required to climb smooth, vertical surfaces. They are also capable of dropping and regrowing their tails if threatened by a predator. In captivity, African fat-tailed geckos are known to live long lives: 15-20+ years.

African Fat-Tailed Geckos at a Glance

Here are some core facts about African fat-tailed gecko care:

Pattern
AFT
Photo by Lunation Geckos

Quick Facts

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Size

7″-10″

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Active During

Dawn/Dusk

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Lifespan

15-20+ years

Insectivorous

Nutritrion

Insectivorous

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Humidity

Low-Moderate

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Habitat

Terrestrial

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Basking Temp

94-97 °F

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UVB

Recommended

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Availability

Common

Natural Habitat

Semi-Arid scrubland

Semi-Arid Grassland, Dry/Wet Savanna

African fat-tailed geckos are naturally found in West Africa, from Senegal to Cameroon.

Handleability Score

4 out of 5: Good Handleability

African fat-tailed geckos are fairly tolerant of humans and can be great to handle. However, they’re generally asleep during the day when humans are active. Check out the instructions in our Taming & Handling section to learn more about how to properly interact with your African fat-tailed gecko.

Care Difficulty

Beginner

Expected Weekly Dedication: 1 hours minimum

African fat-tailed geckos are sometimes recommended as a “first reptile” for children and adults alike. While they are relatively easy to care for, please note that even the easiest reptiles can be expensive and high-maintenance to keep, and children’s pets should always be supervised by an adult.

Daily chores may include preparing food, replacing water, and spot-cleaning. Misting several times a week may be required, depending on local climate/weather. Food and water dishes should be disinfected weekly, as well as any soiled surfaces.

The amount and frequency of spot-cleaning required will depend on whether your enclosure is bioactive or not. We'll cover these respective chores in the Enclosure Enrichment section.

What’s great:

  • Readily available
  • Hardy
  • Low humidity
  • Tames well
  • Small

Things to be aware of:

  • Not very active during the day
  • Requires live insect food
  • Sensitive to dehydration
  • Requires D3 supplementation to survive without UVB
  • Can drop their tails if stressed

Enclosure

African fat-tailed geckos need at least a 36″x18″x16″ enclosure, preferably larger.

Pattern
AFT Enclosure
Photo by Huff's Herps

Reptiles aren’t like dogs and cats that can simply roam around your house. They are very sensitive to their environment, and need their own enclosure set up according to their specific needs. This guide covers everything you will need to care for your pet African fat-tailed gecko properly.

Enclosure Size Requirements

African fat-tailed geckos should be housed in an enclosure that is no smaller than 36″L x 18″W x 16″H. A common available tank size is 36″x18″x18″ (40 gallon). This is the bare minimum, calculated according to the reptile’s average length and activity patterns.

However, if you can provide an enclosure with more floor space, do it! Housing your gecko in a larger enclosure will encourage it to be more active and demonstrate more natural behaviors.

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Can multiple African fat-tailed geckos be housed in the same enclosure?

No, we do not recommend cohabitation for pet African fat-tailed geckos. Multiple geckos of any sex housed together can result in resource competition, dropped tails, and severe bite wounds.

African Fat-Tailed Gecko Enclosure Examples

Jenna Cunningham
Photo contributed by the Wren system
Photo contributed by Jack Pierce
Photo contributed by Jack Pierce

42"x20"x18" - Photo contributed by Jenna Cunningham

Substrate Options

Substrate is the material that you use to cover the floor of the enclosure. Loose, naturalistic substrate is the best kind of substrate for housing African fat-tailed geckos. Substrate should be 3-6″ deep to facilitate natural burrowing behavior.

The best way to recreate an AFT's natural habitat of packed sandy loam is with a DIY mix of roughly 70% untreated topsoil + 20% play sand + 10% coconut fiber. Topsoil must not contain any fertilizers, manure, or perlite/vermiculite - read the ingredients! Mix well, soak until muddy, then pack it firmly at the bottom of the enclosure. Make sure it is 100% dry before introducing the gecko to the setup.

You can also use a pre-packaged substrate, though this is more costly than DIY. Depending on the brand, you may still need to add some topsoil (if too dusty) or sand (if too dense/moist) to reach desired consistency. Here are some recommended commercial substrates appropriate for African fat-tailed geckos:


Bioactive substrate
Another option is a bioactive setup. Bioactive enclosure setups are designed to mimic a reptile’s natural environment and stimulate natural behaviors. All above substrates can easily support bioactivity with the addition of a “cleanup crew” of isopods and springtails that clean up uneaten food, fallen leaves, and fecal remains, making bioactive substrates incredibly low maintenance.


Impaction
Many sources recommend against using any kind of loose substrate, out of fear of causing intestinal blockage via accidental ingestion. But that is a myth!

The leading causes of impaction are improper temperatures, dehydration, and high parasite loads, not loose substrate. AFT's require a certain range of basking heat in order to properly digest their food and pass any bits of substrate they may have ingested.

If you are still worried about impaction, however, using a “solid” substrate such as paper towels or slate tile is okay, although it is less enriching, less comfortable, and less natural than an appropriate loose substrate.

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Unsafe Substrates for African Fat-Tailed Geckos

These substrates are particularly dangerous to leopard geckos because they pose major health risks. Avoid the following substrates at all costs and stick to the list in the previous section.

  • Reptile carpet - harbors bacteria, can rip out teeth/claws & break toes
  • Shelf liner - produces dangerous VOCs (volatile organic compounds)
  • Linoleum - produces dangerous VOCs (volatile organic compounds)
  • Calcium sand - causes severe impaction due to presence of calcium carbonate
  • 100% play sand - doesn't hold humidity or burrows, hard on joints
  • Wood shavings, chips, or bark - causes impaction & discomfort
  • 100% Coconut fiber (Eco Earth) - dusty & loose when dry, high risk of respiratory issues
  • Ground walnut shell - dusty, dangerously sharp, & causes severe impaction
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Quarantine Substate

When you first bring your new African fat-tailed gecko home, you will need to quarantine for at least 1 month. This means keeping the enclosure as sterile as possible and closely monitoring the gecko's health.

Paper towels are the best substrate for quarantine, as they can be frequently replaced and make it easier to observe feces and other potential health issues. Paper towels should be fully replaced at least once a week and any soiled areas must be replaced daily. Once your gecko has shown a clean bill of health, you can introduce your long-term substrate to the enclosure.

If you already have other reptiles in your home, you should extend the quarantine period to 3 months, keep the enclosure in a separate room if possible, and make sure not to share any tools or decor between your new gecko and other pets, unless fully sanitized between each use.

Environmental Enrichment

Reptiles are much more intelligent than we humans tend to give them credit for, and that means they need things to entertain them. Otherwise they exist in a state of perpetual boredom, which makes them dull, inactive, and overall less interesting as pets. When reptiles have objects to interact with in their enclosure, they become less stressed and more engaged with their environment. This practice is called environmental enrichment.

It’s important to choose enrichment items (a.k.a. enclosure décor) that are appropriate to your pet’s natural behaviors. Here are some other objects that serve a vital function in a African fat-tailed gecko terrarium:

Hides

An African fat-tailed gecko needs at least three hides: a warm dry hide below the heat source, a cool dry hide on the opposite side, and a humid hide in between, slightly closer to the warm side to avoid a cold, wet environment. The humid hide should be filled with sphagnum moss or coconut fiber and kept at 80-90% humidity at all times, using a hand mister. Do not limit yourself to three hides, however. If possible, add more. People like having options, and geckos do, too. All 3 of the required hides should be dark, snug, & fully enclosed with a single entrance.


Rocks/Slate

One of the best ways to provide a naturalistic basking area and attractive appearance is with rocks. African fat-tailed geckos like climbing, and in fact, stacking pieces of slate with 1-2” spacers in-between simulates the cracks that they utilize in their natural environment. You can even build a warm hide with slate or flat rocks to double as a basking spot on top and a cozy cave underneath! If you collect rocks from outside, give them a good scrub and soak in a disinfectant compatible with porous surfaces, such as Clean Break or F10SC. NEVER bake rocks, as they may explode!


Climbing Objects

Branches, logs, and cork bark are excellent for varying the terrain and giving your AFT things to climb on/in. If you collect wood from outside, give it a good scrub and soak in a disinfectant compatible with porous surfaces, such as Clean Break or F10SC &/or bake in the oven at 250°F for about an hour.


Plants

There aren't a lot of plants in African fat-tailed geckos’ natural environment, but if you want to add more coverage and enhance the aesthetic with plants, great! Make sure to wash artificial plants before using. Any live plants should be nontoxic and suited to a dry environment. If you have live plants, consider installing a 6500K daylight lamp to help them grow and flourish.


Calcium Dish

Geckos should have access to a small dish or bottle cap of calcium without D3 that they can lick, allowing them to self-regulate their calcium intake between feedings, if needed.


Backdrop

If you’re using an all-glass enclosure, adding a naturalistic backdrop can be much more attractive. Blocking 3 sides of the enclosure also helps the gecko feel more secure in its environment.

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How do I keep my enclosure clean?

To control the growth of pathogens and keep your African fat-tailed gecko’s enclosure hygienic and odor-free, it’s important to clean it regularly.

Non-Bioactive Enclosures:
Spot-cleaning should be performed daily. This is the routine removal of uneaten food, feces, urates, and contaminated substrate. Soiled surfaces, food dishes, and water dishes should be scrubbed with reptile-safe disinfectant and rinsed at least weekly. Substrate should be completely removed and replaced every 4-6 months, depending on how diligent you are about spot-cleaning. This is also a good time to completely disinfect the enclosure with an animal-safe disinfectant like F10SC or chlorhexidine.

Bioactive Enclosures:
If you have a bioactive enclosure, “cleaning” will be more like periodic maintenance: watering the plants, adding biodegradables, and feeding the CUC as needed. Substrate does not need to be replaced. Some spot-cleaning will still be required for urates and soiled surfaces. Food and water dishes should be disinfected weekly.

Lighting

African fat-tailed geckos should have 2 types of lamps in their enclosure: A heat lamp (required) and a UVB lamp (strongly recommended)

Pattern
AFT Lighting
Photo by Huff's Herps

UVB is important for healthy metabolism, specifically vitamin D synthesis and calcium metabolism, improving skin health, and strengthening the immune system. UVB can be replaced with an oral vitamin D3 supplement for African fat-tailed geckos, but this method is less effective and more difficult to regulate, so we strongly recommend using a proper UV lamp instead.

UVA is beneficial to eyesight and is sensed by their pineal gland to regulate a circadian rhythm. UVA is emitted by both UV lamps and halogen bulbs.

Infrared radiation (i.e. heat) is important for reptiles' thermoregulation. As ectotherms, they rely on the heat of the sun to warm their bodies and stimulate their metabolism, digest their food, and stay alert and active. The shorter the wavelength, the deeper it can penetrate their muscle tissue. In captivity, we can provide this with specific heat bulbs that emit the most beneficial infrared wavelengths (IR-A and IR-B).

All light and heat should be kept on a regular schedule using outlet timers or done manually. This allows for a predictable day/night cycle which the gecko can follow, allowing for natural hormonal rhythms and good mental health. We recommend the following schedule for African fat-tailed geckos, based on their natural environment:

SEASONON/OFF SCHEDULE
Spring12hrs ON / 12hrs OFF
Summer14hrs ON / 10hrs OFF
Fall12hrs ON / 12hrs OFF
Winter10hrs ON / 14hrs OFF

UVB

African fat-tailed geckos benefit greatly from a UVB lamp in the enclosure. They are capable of surviving in captivity without UVB if they receive sufficient supplementary vitamin D3 in their diet, but simply surviving is not thriving. D3 supplement dosing is extremely imprecise and less efficiently absorbed by the body. Experts don't know much vitamin D3 AFT's actually need, but they do know how much UVB is needed for them to self-regulate their own D3 production, so providing a UV lamp is far more natural and beneficial to promote optimum health.

UVB Output
Most African fat-tailed geckos should have a 5-7% UVB output T5 lamp. Albinos and other less-pigmented morphs (amel, caramel, ghost) are more sensitive to UVB and may benefit from a lower output lamp, like a 2-3% output T5 or 5-7% output T8. “Normal” bulbs are still safe for UVB-sensitive morphs, as long as plenty of shady coverage is provided throughout the enclosure.

We recommend an Arcadia or Zoo Med brand linear fluorescent tube, as these brands produce the best and most reliable UVB lamps on the market. This lamp should be roughly - ½ the width of the enclosure and placed on the same side as the heat lamp. So if your enclosure is 36”, your lamp should be 12-18” long.

Best UVB lamps for most AFT's:

Optional UVB lamps for albino/patternless AFT's:


Distance and Mesh

The strength of the UVB lamp’s output varies according to distance from the bulb — stronger when closer, and weaker when further away. If you are using a Solarmeter 6.5 to measure your UVB lamp’s output, the UVI (UV Index) reading should be between 1.0-2.0 at the height of the leopard gecko’s back when standing on the basking platform (or 0.5-0.7 for albinos) and down to 0 on the cool side.

If you don't have a Solarmeter, here is a rough estimate of how far away your basking platform should be, based on which bulb you are using and whether the lamp is mounted above or below mesh. Calculations are based on Arcadia and Vivarium Electronics fixtures - using a different fixture may change your results.

BULB TYPEABOVE MESHBELOW MESH
Arcadia ShadeDweller 7%8-13”10-15”
Arcadia ProT5 6%13-15”15-17”
Zoo Med T5 HO 5.013-15”15-17”


Unfortunately, we do not currently have access to reliable data on the best distances of T8 bulbs for less-pigmented African fat-tailed geckos, but you can use the above T5 numbers as a guideline. However, if using the Arboreal ShadeDweller 2.4%, the lamp should only be installed below mesh, as per Arcadia's recommendation.

Fixture
To optimize your UVB bulb’s performance, you will need a high-quality reflective T5 HO or T8 fixture, depending on your bulb of choice. Some lamps come in kits that already include a fixture, such as the Arcadia ShadeDwellers (linked above), Arcadia ProT5 kit, or Zoo Med T5 HO kit. Otherwise, Zoo Med and Vivarium Electronics make various fixtures for both T5 and T8 bulbs.


T5 bulbs last 12 months and T8 bulbs last 6 months before requiring replacement, as their UVB output decays over time. Off-brand UVB bulbs are likely to have shorter lifespans and unreliable output. Avoid “compact” and coil UVB bulbs, as these cannot properly distribute a UV gradient across the enclosure.

Heating

African fat-tailed geckos, like all reptiles, need a temperature gradient in their terrarium for best health.

  • Basking area surface: 88-90°F
  • Warm side ambient: 80-85°F
  • Cool side ambient: 70-75°F
  • Nighttime: 68-75°F, but no lower than 65°F

All basking heat and lights should be turned off at night and kept on a regular day/night cycle that matches the same schedule as the UVB and daylight lamps, allowing for a natural temperature drop and a healthy circadian rhythm.

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Heating Equipment

Overhead lamps are the most natural and beneficial method of providing heat for your African fat-tailed gecko. There are several recommended options for heating your enclosure:

Halogen Flood Heat Lamps (basking heat)
Halogen flood (not “spot”) bulbs are particularly excellent because they produce lots of Infrared A and B, which are the same wavelengths of heat produced by the sun. These wavelengths penetrate deep into your snake's body, providing a more efficient form of heating and reducing the amount of time your snake needs to bask.

Deep Heat Projectors (basking heat)

DHP's produce lots of Infrared-B and a small amount of Infrared-A, making them the best alternative to a halogen heat bulb. These bulbs do not emit light, so they can be safely used day or night. If you need a lightless heat source, a DHP is a great option.


Ceramic Heat Emitters (supplementary)

CHE's are best used as a supplementary heat source, as they only produce Infrared-C, the weakest and least efficient wavelength for reptile thermoregulation. However, they are perfect for gentle, lightless nighttime heating in rooms that may drop below 65℉.

Choosing which bulb to use can be tricky, since wattage and brand determine how much heat it will produce — when in doubt, buy a higher wattage and use a dimmer or dimming thermostat to achieve the perfect basking temperature.



Fixtures
Once you have a heat bulb, you will need a lamp to put it in. Our favorite is Fluker’s 8.5″ dimmable lamp, as the dimming feature enables you to dial down the bulb’s heat output if it gets too warm. Any fixture you choose should have a ceramic socket to ensure that the bulb doesn’t get too hot for the lamp (risking electrical fire). If you have a fixture with an on/off switch, we recommend pairing it with a dimming thermostat or a plug-in dimmer.


Thermostats
All heating should be connected to a thermostat with the probe on the basking surface to make sure that they don’t get too hot for your gecko. A proportional (dimming) thermostat, like the Herpstat, is more efficient and convenient as it does all the dimming work for you, although they can be pricy. An on/off thermostat is the cheaper option, but is best used with a dimmable lamp or plug-in dimmer switch so you can precisely control the heat output and extend the lifespan of the bulb.

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Unsafe Heat Sources

These heat sources are particularly dangerous to African fat-tailed geckos because they can pose major health risks and cause stress. Avoid the following heat sources at all costs and stick to the bulbs we recommend above.

❌ Colored bulbs
Red, blue, purple, and other colored light bulbs are inappropriate for almost all reptiles. They can wash out your gecko’s vision and make it harder to hunt. In fact, blue lights are known to potentially damage reptiles’ eyes!

❌ “Nighttime” bulbs
The idea that reptiles can't see red, purple, or “black” light is a myth! They may not be able to see the color, but they can still see the light. Using any lights at night can interfere with your gecko’s day/night cycle, causing stress and poor health.

❌ “Multipurpose” bulbs
Mercury vapor bulbs and other heat+UVB combination bulbs (Zoo Med PowerSun, Exo Terra Solar Glo) are overpowered and inappropriate for crepuscular geckos, who need a higher heat to UVB ratio than diurnal species. These bulbs can't be used with thermostats and can easily burn your gecko, so it's much safer to provide and control your heat and UVB separately.

❌ Heat rocks
Heat rocks (also known as hot rocks/rock heaters/etc.) are notoriously unreliable and many a reptile has lost its life due to severe burns caused by these devices. They’re also not a good choice for heating your enclosure, as it only warms the rock’s surface, not the surrounding air.

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What about heat mats?

Although heat mats were once the go-to way to heat a gecko enclosure, we have much better options now. Aside from being unnatural (heat comes from above in nature!), heat mats only produce Infrared-C, the weakest and least efficient wavelength for reptile thermoregulation. These waves barely penetrate the epidermis and only warm direct surfaces, not the surrounding air, meaning the gecko needs to flatten itself on the mat for ages, just to absorb enough heat to digest its food.

That being said, if your warm hide is far too cold, a heat mat can potentially be helpful for controlling its internal temperature, but only in addition to overhead heat. If absolutely necessary, you can add a thermostat-regulated heat mat under the hide, covered with 1” of substrate to lower the risk of direct contact, which can cause burns (heat will not penetrate through anything deeper). Place the thermostat probe directly on the substrate over the mat to regulate temperature.

Heat mats only work properly when they are controlled by a thermostat. Unregulated heat mats are a fire hazard and can easily burn your gecko!

Measuring Temperature

To track the temperatures in your African fat-tailed gecko’s enclosure, you will need a good thermometer. Temp gun-style infrared thermometers are useful for measuring surface temperatures anywhere in the enclosure. However, digital probe thermometers are useful for being able to track local air temperatures at a glance. It's best to have at least 2 thermometers to measure temps on each end of the heat gradient. Here are some devices we recommend for measuring temperatures:

Humidity

Ideal humidity for African fat-tailed geckos averages between 55%-75%. Housing your gecko in a well ventilated terrarium, routinely moistening the substrate, and lightly misting the enclosure daily will help maintain these levels. You can measure humidity with a hygrometer like the Zoo Med Digital Combo Gauge linked in the Measuring Temperature section.

That being said, AFT's do need higher humidity for shedding. Instead of bumping up humidity in the whole enclosure (which can actually make your gecko sick), provide a humid hide stuffed full of moist sphagnum moss and placed in the middle, or slightly towards the warm side of the enclosure. The humid hide should provide a humid microclimate of roughly 70-80% humidity.

Brumation

Brumation is the reptile equivalent of mammalian hibernation in which reptiles over 1 year old experience a natural metabolic slowdown (usually during winter). For African fat-tailed geckos, this typically occurs during the coolest months of the year in their natural environment, from December to the end of February.

Brumation is a perfectly normal part of your gecko’s annual cycle, and some sources assert that providing a regular winter cooling period to captive reptiles results in healthier, more long-lived animals.

Symptoms:

  • Less active than usual
  • Loss of appetite
  • Hiding for weeks at a time
  • Preferring the cool side of the enclosure

For information on how to brumate your gecko safely and effectively, go here.

Feeding Guide

African fat-tailed geckos are insectivores, which means they only eat bugs. In the wild, AFT's eat beetles, grasshoppers, spiders, and even scorpions!

Pattern
AFT Feeding
Photo by Lunation Geckos

Here is a basic feeding schedule for a pet African fat-tailed gecko:

AGEFEEDINGS
Juveniles (0-6 months)1x a day
Sub-Adults (6-12 months)Every other day
Adults (12+ months)1-2x a week
Overweight Adults (tail wider than neck)1x a week


Offer 2 appropriately-sized bugs (about as large as the space between their eyes) per 1 inch of your gecko’s length, or however much they can eat in 10-15 minutes.

The key to a healthy, balanced diet is variety, so make sure to provide at least 3 different types of feeders on rotation, preferably more! Offering just mealworms or crickets alone cannot provide the full spectrum of nutrition required for your gecko's health.

Good Staple Feeders:

  • Black soldier fly larvae
  • Crickets
  • Mealworms
  • Dubia roaches
  • Discoid roaches
  • Hornworms
  • Red runner roaches
  • Silkworms

Treats:

Hornworms are a nice juicy treat that can be offered up to 2x a week. They are a bit too high in moisture to be a frequent staple and may cause watery stool in arid geckos if fed in larger quantities.

AVOID:
Wax worms, butter worms, and superworms are very high in fat and/or phosphorus. While they’re tasty, it’s better to avoid these if possible - they're essentially "junk food" for AFT's and can become addictive. Feed very infrequently as treats, if at all.

Pinky mice should not be offered either, unless you are trying to nourish a gecko who recently dropped its tail or a female who has recently laid eggs.

Always offer live insects. Dead or canned insects don’t trigger your gecko’s “hunting mode,” so they most likely won’t get eaten. Make sure to gutload your insects with fresh veggies at least 12 hours before feeding.

All feeders should be captive bred. Don’t feed your gecko bugs from your backyard — these can make your pet sick! Here are some sites we recommend to buy safe, captive bred feeders:

Commercial Diets for Insectivores

Although live insects are most ideal for your gecko, sometimes you may run out of certain bugs or just want to bolster your gecko's diet. Insectivore commercial diets are not a complete replacement for live food, but it's good to have some non-perishable insect options on hand for emergencies, or just for added variety! These are the diets/foods we recommend for AFT's:

  • Repashy Grub Pie
  • Repashy Grasshopper Pie
  • Repashy Mealworm Pie
  • Repashy Superworm Pie (treat only)
  • Wet-preserved insects (canned or vacuum-sealed)

Prepare Repashy Pie products according to the instructions on the label. Make sure any commercial diets or pre-killed insects are served wet, as your gecko gets most of its hydration from its food. Dried or freeze-dried insects are devoid of necessary moisture and nutrition and are not good for your gecko!

Calcium and Vitamin Supplements

To make sure that your African fat-tailed gecko is getting all of the vitamins and minerals that their bodies need, it’s important to use calcium and vitamin supplements as part of their diet.

Calcium

Feeder insects should be dusted with calcium powder at every feeding, gently shake them in a plastic bag or lidded cup until they're lightly coated. If you don't provide UVB, you'll need to use a calcium supplement that includes vitamin D3 to prevent Metabolic Bone Disease. Here are some calcium powders we recommend (choose only 1):

Geckos with UVB:


Geckos without UVB:

Multivitamin

African fat-tailed geckos also need an occasional multivitamin, about every fourth feeding. Offer according to the instructions on the package. If you are using Repashy Calcium Plus, no additional multivitamin is necessary. Here are some multivitamin powders we recommend (choose only 1):

Your gecko should also have access to a small dish or bottle cap of calcium without D3 in the enclosure at all times, allowing them to self-regulate their calcium intake between feedings, if needed.

Keeping Your Gecko Hydrated

African fat-tailed geckos readily drink water from a dish, so fresh water must be available. Use a heavy dish so it can’t be spilled, but not deep enough that your gecko could potentially drown in it.

Do not use distilled or softened water! Tap, spring, and even filtered water (assuming that it’s safe for humans to drink) contains minerals vital to your gecko’s health. You can dechlorinate tap water with a conditioner like ReptiSafe.

Keep your gecko's water dish clean at all times, and scrub it out with veterinary disinfectant once a week.

Taming & Handling

African fat-tailed geckos can be great to handle when properly tamed. However, it’s still important to respect their boundaries and build a trusting relationship with your pet. This requires lots of patience and consistency, but is very rewarding in the end.

Pattern
AFT Handling
Photo by Huff's Herps

DO:

  • Wait at least two weeks for the gecko to settle in before handling.
  • Let it get used to your presence.
  • Offer food via your fingers or soft-tipped feeding tongs to build trust.
  • Use slow movements.
  • Let the gecko come to you.
  • Scoop the gecko up from below.
  • Support all four feet during handling.
  • Wash your hands before and after handling.

DON'T:

  • Start handling your gecko as soon as you bring it home.
  • Grab it from above.
  • Grab the tail.
  • Pick at loose skin.
  • Let children handle the lizard without supervision.

Wait 2 weeks after bringing your gecko home before you begin handling. Start introducing yourself to your gecko by putting your hand in its enclosure every night for a few minutes. When you begin handling, start with 5 minute sessions every few days, gradually increasing the length of the sessions. Handling sessions should last 10-20 minutes and only occur several times a week. AFT's tolerate handling, but still need to feel secure in their home and have access to their heat source.

Keep in mind that all geckos have individual personalities! Some may be more tolerant of handling than others - make sure you respect their boundaries to avoid unnecessary stress.

African Fat-Tail Body Language

AFT's use a range of vocalizations to communicate, as well as some body language.

Clicking/Peeps — Used to communicate with other geckos.

Chirping/Squeaking — Means that the gecko is unhappy with their current situation. That situation is usually handling.

Barking — AFT's have been known to bark at their keepers when hungry, which is pretty amusing.

Screaming — Juveniles are more likely to scream than adult. This is a defensive behavior intended to startle away a predator. It’s fairly effective.

Rapid tail flicks — Rapid tail flicks signal excitement, usually while hunting or interested in mating.

Slow tail swishing — Usually accompanied by an arched back and walking/standing on tiptoe. This is a pretty clear “Leave me alone!”

Health Conditions

Here are some common health problems to look out for:

Pattern
AFT Health
Photo by Huff's Herps

The most common illnesses and health problems in African fat-tailed geckos are metabolic bone disease, intestinal parasites, impaction, respiratory infections, dropped tails, and neurological disorders. If your gecko is displaying potential symptoms of illness, it’s important to take them to an experienced reptile veterinarian right away for diagnosis and treatment. Do not try to treat them at home, as you could make the problem worse!

Signs of a healthy gecko:

  • Clear eyes
  • Slender, muscular body
  • Straight spine and limbs
  • Breathing with mouth closed
  • Firm, dark poo with a small white urate
  • Eats regularly
  • Moves freely and easily
  • Alert, confident attitude

Signs of an unhealthy gecko:

  • Curved limbs
  • Kinked spine
  • Discolored, stiff tail
  • Excessive weight gain
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Breathing with mouth open
  • Runny and/or very smelly stool
  • No bowel movements for extended period of time