Owning an exotic pet like a gecko comes with a range of questions and considerations. One such area is handling. Are geckos a pet that you can hold, or is this kind of human interaction off the table? I decided to do some research on the topic to help you know what you can, and what is best to do. I would like to share this with you here today.
So, do geckos like to be held? Some geckos like to be held, while others will become stressed with such human interaction. It depends on the species and the individual behavior and nature of the gecko. Crested and Fat-Tail Geckos are two such species that seem to tolerate handling well whereas Lined Geckos are not as inclined. It is important when owning a Gecko to become aware of its own attitude towards handling. You should never force a gecko into your hands and be willing to observe your pet gecko from a distance and being a display-only pet.
Geckos, just like other reptiles and animals, differ and range in personality and behavior. Of course, there will always be extreme cases of behavioral differences that go outside the species norm.
That being said, there are many owners who have reported back on their interactions with their geckos. From this, we can make generalizations and observe trends across the species.
Let us now take a closer look at the handling of geckos. Keep reading so that you will know, exactly whether it is safe to do so, and how to safely handle your own gecko if they are happy enough for you to do so.
What Geckos Like To Be Handled?
First and foremost, its important to discuss some of the species that are more inclined to handling than others.
Thankfully, the two most popular species of geckos commonly kept as pets, the Crested, Leopard and Fat Tail species, commonly like to be held.
This is one of the reasons in why they are most commonly kept as pets, and often recommended to new owners.
Other species in which owners report that handling is possible include the Tokay , Eye Lid and Caledonian species.
That being said, not all geckos from these species will like to be held. There are a number of factors in which are at play and can influence your pets response to this form of intiate interaction.
For example, you must be aware that each gecko has its own personality, behavioral traits and will have their own unique needs and requirements. Some will be naturally more inclined to handling, whereas others will be less willing.
Equally, there are some species that are less likely to want to be held entirely. Kob-Tailed and Golden Geckos are two to mention.
Owners who tend to get a gecko young and raise them in their care, generally find that they are more likely able to handle them. Adopted geckos, or those taken from other owners, are usually more skittish and even likely to bite.
Similarly, some owners report that handling a gecko can happen in time, whereas others find that even with a careful and slow approach, it never becomes possible.
Within reason, there is a case that a gecko is more of a ‘display-pet’; a term used to suggest that these reptiles are best observed from a distance, rather than regular ‘petting’ and handling.
There is even an argument in some circles that a gecko will never enjoy handling, but instead learn to ‘tolerate it’. Along these lines, such proponents claim that cuddling up is not displaying signs of affection, but instead the attempt to acquire warmth from your hands.
Signs Your Gecko Does Not Want To Be Held
When observing a gecko and prior to any attempt to hold, you should always be looking out for signs of stress.
Stressing your gecko out is something that you will want to avoid as much as you can. In fact, it is one of your primary responsibilities as an owner.
Too much stress, like within humans and many other animals, if prolonged can lead to negative health outcomes, illness and a reduced well-being.
Therefore, you need to try to gather an understanding of your own geckos tolerance to stress, and tolerance to handling. This will differ between geckos.
When attempting to pick up a gecko, you should remain observant and vigilant at all times. Look out for any sudden changes in behavior, particularly their movement patterns.
Firstly, you should observe what they do when you approach them. Are they fleeing to the other side of their enclosure. Are they attempting to hide and conceal themselves away from you?
Another thing to observe is their temperament – are they calm and relaxed? Geckos can be quite docile in nature (depending on the species) – does this continue as you approach and attempt to handle them or do they become more erratic and skittish?
Equally, does your gecko begin to bite and scratch at your hand prior to pickup?
These are just some of the signs that a gecko may exhibit to show they are not fully comfortable with being held.
These signs may even occur only when they are in your hands, without being expressed prior. If this is the case you may need to gently place them down and give them time to calm before attempting to do so again.
You may notice that initial holdings are short and brief, and can be increased in duration over time.
Equally, as your gecko becomes more confident being held, you should star to see signs of content while you do so.
Some geckos will even actively attempt to stop you putting them down, and may even run up your arm and sit on your shoulder.
Ultimately, you need to assess your own gecko and gather an understanding of what they like and dislike regarding your company and being held.
How To Handle a Gecko Safely
If you know your gecko ‘likes’ to be handled, or you have been given the go ahead by the gecko themselves (with no clear signs of distress), then you should know how to safely pick them up and put them down.
This will insure you do not injure them and you can make the experience as calming as possible for them.
It is also important prior to handling your gecko that you wash your hands. Be careful with the products on your hands (even soaps) as you use as you do not want to cause damage to or irritate their skin. An example of one such thing to avoid and be careful of is hand cream.
With your hands clean and washed, here is how to appropriately pick up and handle your gecko:
Step One: Approach your geckos enclosure slowly. Being sure to let your gecko know that you are coming closer.
Step Two: Move your hand slowly towards the gecko, showing your hand so that they can see it. Make sure your gecko knows that it is just your hand.
Step Three: Gently slide your fingers under the belly of your gecko to scoop them up into your hands. You want to cup them using a combination of you picking them up and them going into your hand.
Step Four: Do not squeeze the gecko as this can injure, anger, or scare them. Ensure that you do have a relatively firm hold to prevent them from falling however.
Step Five: Pick your gecko up slowly and take them out of their enclosure.
Step Six: Let your gecko crawl around or sit in your arm/hand.
Step Seven: When your gecko begins to get extra fidgety, or when sufficient times has passed, gently place them down back into their enclosure and seal appropriately.
Step Eight: Wash your hands with soap, to ensure that you remove any germs and bacteria.
You should never attempt to pick your gecko up from above. This will triggers a naturally defensive response in them – thinking they are being attacked by a predator.
If for whatever reason you scare or stress your gecko prior to handling, give them sufficient time to calm down before attempting again.
How Do You Get A Gecko To Trust You?
If you can pick up your gecko comfortably, then this is a good sign that they trust you.
With this in mind, what are some practical ways to build trust with your gecko to give you the best chance of being able to handle them:
Its important for your gecko to become familiar with you. Letting them recognize your voice is a great place to start.
You can do this by talking to your gecko each time you enter the room. Say hello, and even crouch down to their level and speak directly to them.
Your gecko will begin to become familiar with the sound and associate with you, as you enter, and as the lights come on.
You can also talk to your gecko as you feed them.
Geckos have a strong sense of hearing – which they use and are reliant upon in their wild environments.
Spending Time With Them
Spending time with your gecko is another great way to help them gain trust and confidence in you.
However, consider that geckos are nocturnal and sleep during the day. So, do not attempt to spend a lot of time with them during daylight hours. This should be a time they get their much required rest.
You can look to install a dimmer lamp to keep the room naturally darker during the day and if you need to enter the room.
Undertaking activities around their enclosure (especially in the late evening) will give your gecko an opportunity to watch you, become more comfortable in your presence and begin to understand you.
A gecko has a strong sense of smell. New and unique smells indicate something has changed in their environment.
Therefore, its important for you to smell the same to them, and let your gecko recognize this smell on you.
You can get your gecko to become familiar with your smell by handling them more, and ensuring you wash your hands with the same safe soap each time.
Equally, you can place something with your scent on in their enclosure. An old item of clothing is particularly effective.
Feeding your gecko presents an ideal opportunity to let them become familiar with you. Make the feeding process more personal by making sure that they can see, smell and hear you as you provide their food.
You can also attempt to feed them directly.
You can use tongs, like these excellent ones from Amazon, to prevent getting nipped at.
Place Your Hand In The Enclosure
Another great strategy to gain trust is to help them get used to having your hand in their habitat.
Initially, putting your hand in their enclosure may be enough to scare them. So you need to be careful.
However, be slow, gentle, patient and careful and this serves as a good method for your gecko to watch you and work you out. ,
Just be sure not to rush or force this as it can lead to sabotaging the trust you may have already built.
Also, you may want to let your gecko climb on you, touch you, or sniff you without picking them up for the first few times.
Not all geckos like to be held. This is just the simple truth of the matter. They will likely let you know this. However, some geckos do like to be held and certain species are more inclined to this interaction.
While there is one such argument in the gecko community that a gecko never loves to be held, they instead learn to tolerate it, there are plenty of anecdotes of geckos expressing themselves and even playing while being held.
Therefore, it is safe to conclude that you can handle a gecko – so long as you observe your own geckos response, behavior and reaction to any handling attempt.
Its important to get your geckos trust, help them build confidence in you, and to pick them up safely and the right way.
I am an experienced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets, from traditional pets like dogs and cats, to the more exotic like reptiles and rodents. I currently own a Cockapoo (pictured) called Bailey. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site dedicated to sharing evidence-based insights and guidance, based on my vast pet ownership knowledge, experience, and extensive research.