If you’re thinking about getting a leopard gecko as a pet, then one of the most important leopard gecko care concepts you must learn about is ‘gut loading.’ In a nutshell, gut loading is the practice of giving the insects that you intend to feed to your leopard gecko nutritious food before feeding them to your leo, effectively using them as shells to transport that food into your leo’s belly. Without gut loading, feeder insects such as crickets and mealworms are simply not nutritious enough foods to keep your pet in good health.
Note that ‘not nutritious enough’ a lot of the time means ‘too high in phosphorous and too low in calcium.’ Commonly used feeder insects usually have these characteristics, which is a problem, because calcium is essential if leopard geckos are to avoid metabolic bone disease. Research show that gut loading is a very effective way of ensuring that feeder insects carry the necessary amount of calcium into the bodies of reptiles that they are fed to.
In terms of what to use as gut load, a calcium fortified chicken egg laying mash fed to the feeder insects 24-48 hours prior to them going into your leo’s terrarium is effective. However if you are raising the feeder insects yourself, an even better option is to raise them on high calcium food such as turnip greens, dandelions, or cactus powder. You can even make a gel comprised of agar and cactus powder that works both as water and as food.
If you’ve read this far you might be wondering how leopard geckos are able to get the nutrients they need in the wild without anyone to carefully gut load their food. The answer is firstly that in the wild a leopard gecko’s diet is much more varied. In the wild leopard geckos eat pretty much anything they can overpower, including all types of insects and even small rodents. In captivity by contrast, their diet is likely to be limited to just a few staples like the two big favorites, crickets and mealworms.
The other reason leopard geckos are able to get the nutrients they need in the wild is that in the wild, the insects and rodents that they eat will in turn have had a much more varied diet than those bred by humans as reptile food.
If you own a leopard gecko, then learning about how to properly gut load feeder insects in order to replace the much more varied diet that it would get in the wild is a really important responsibility that you have. Establish a good routine for gut loading your leo’s feeder insects early on, and you’ll be doing the best you can to ensure that the leopard gecko care that you give leads a long and healthy life.