As an avid gecko owner, you probably like watching your pet’s cute antics all day. One of the interesting behavior you might have noticed is eye licking.
While that’s perfectly normal behavior, excessive eye licking can also indicate health problems.
So, why do geckos lick their eyes? Continue reading this article to find out!
Here are seven common reasons why geckos lick their eyes:
Ever noticed the structure of your gecko’s eyes? Most geckos lack a movable eyelid, which is why they have those cute, enormous eyes. Instead, the cornea, a thin, transparent layer, covers them.
To keep their eyes clean, geckos constantly lick them with their tongues. That movement also helps keep the eyes moist.
Yes, some geckos, mainly those belonging to the family Eublepharidae, have eyelids.
Around 43 species belong to the former family, including everyone’s favorite: the leopard gecko. Now you might wonder: why do leopard geckos lick their eyes even though they have eyelids?
Well, that has to do with their proportions. As you might have noticed, geckos have huge eyes compared to their heads.
That makes it easy for foreign bodies or pathogens to enter and harm the cornea. In fact, ophthalmic diseases (eye diseases) are common in leopard geckos despite having eyelids.
So, licking behavior is crucial to maintaining the eyes’ health regardless of eyelid presence.
As mentioned above, geckos have large eyes, which makes them an easy target for foreign bodies. That includes dirt, dust, gravel, food, or any object that isn’t normally found near the eyes.
When left untreated, those materials can get stuck in the eye socket. That causes corneal scratches and injuries, facilitates pathogen invasion, or even damages their vision.
Not to mention the unpleasant symptoms your gecko would experience, such as pain, irritation, and redness. If you notice your reptile friend keeps licking his eyes excessively, that could be a sign of eye discomfort.
Over time, foreign objects that get stuck in the eyeball can cause trauma. That results in ulcer formation.
For those who don’t know, eye ulcers are sores in the cornea that occur due to damage. They can be small or large, depending on the amount of tearing.
An ulcer that occurs at the epithelium, the cornea’s top layer, is usually less complicated than the second layer, the stroma.
Like humans, eye ulcers are painful to geckos. Aside from excessive licking, you may find your reptile friend keeping his eyes shut or scratching them with his foot—all of which indicate ophthalmological diseases.
Like ulcers, abscesses are also painful sores and can occur around the eye, particularly the spectacles—the eye-cap in geckos. In contrast to ulcers, which are open lesions, abscesses are enclosed lesions with pus accumulation due to bacterial infection.
Several reasons can cause eye abscesses in geckos. Those include trauma followed by infection, insect bites, or self-injury because of scratching.
Fighting with other geckos in the enclosure can also lead to wounds that facilitate bacterial entry and infection.
Regardless of the reason, eye abscesses are painful. Consequently, your reptile friend might excessively lick and scratch his eyes as well as squint because of those unpleasant lesions.
The good news is that identifying eye abscesses in geckos is straightforward. Simply look for a newly visible bump under the eyes of your gecko.
Pinkeye, scientifically known as conjunctivitis, is an inflammation in the conjunctiva due to bacterial infection. The former is the pinkish-red, fleshy tissues that line your gecko’s eyelids.
Several reasons can cause geckos to get pinkeye. Those include trauma, as mentioned earlier. Poor water quality, food, and an unclean terrarium can also harbor infectious bacteria that cause pinkeye.
Vitamin A deficiency leads to similar symptoms as pinkeye; however, it’s a different disease. The former causes metaplasia, abnormal tissue changes, in the eye’s ductal epithelium.
As a result, the ducts become enlarged and plugged with cells, resulting in clinical symptoms similar to conjunctivitis.
Like most reptiles, geckos shed their skin at regular intervals, a process known as ecdysis. That’s because reptile skin is tough; it serves as a protective layer. However, the skin doesn’t stretch as the animal grows.
That’s why geckos shed their outer skin layer and grow a new one. They do so by licking and eating the falling skin.
The problem is that some of the shed skin around the eyes gets stuck. After repeated shedding cycles, the accumulated skin hardens, causing corneal injuries that could eventually lead to blindness!
So, how does the former process happen?
During the shedding season, the lymph fluid leaks through the skin cells and accumulates between the old and new layers. The former absorbs the liquid, becoming loose, while the latter uses this wetness to lubricate itself and expand.
However, with little lymph fluid quantity due to lack of hydration and humidity, geckos have a hard time shedding their skin. Excessive eye licking can be a sign of shedding problems around the eyes, particularly for geckos with eyelids.
Eye proptosis is an extreme eye condition that causes eyeball protrusion. The former condition is commonly found in leopard geckos.
The exact reason behind this eye-popping phenomenon is unknown. However, it can happen due to a rough head rubbing against a hard surface, eye cleaning, or the entry of foreign objects.
Proptosis makes it challenging for your gecko to close his eyelids, resulting in dry eyes. As a result, your reptile pet can lick his eyes excessively to keep them moist.
Generally, you should take your gecko to the vet when suspecting eye issues since a medical specialist would diagnose the problem and prescribe appropriate treatment.
However, the hospital may ask you to follow up with at-home treatment too.
Here’s how to help your gecko get rid of some common eye diseases:
Use a sterile cotton swab and gently try to remove the foreign object from your pet’s eyes. You can also squirt some sterile saline in your gecko’s eyes and around it.
If the issue persists or your pet won’t open his eyes, go to the vet immediately. Your gecko might need anesthesia to help him relax as the vet removes the foreign object.
Typically, eye abscesses and ulcers require eye drops, ointments, and other medications to heal. Additionally, your vet will drain the abscess using a sterile scalpel to remove all the pus.
In some cases, antibiotics are also necessary to prevent re-infection.
Antibiotics are the typical treatment for conjunctivitis since it’s caused by bacterial infection. Vitamin A supplements are also prescribed unless the vet takes a biopsy (a tissue sample) from your gecko’s eyes to determine the cause behind the clinical symptoms.
Never try to remove stuck eye shedding from your gecko’s eyes; instead, go to the vet. You can do more harm than good and cause irreversible damage to the cornea.
However, you can bathe your gecko in lukewarm water for 30 minutes to help with the shedding process.
Unfortunately, in the case of eye proptosis, your vet will most likely perform an eye excision surgery on your gecko.
So, why do geckos lick their eyes?
Generally, geckos lick their eyes as part of their natural cleaning routine since they lack eyelids. Even species with eyelids also lick their eyes. That’s usually to keep the eyes moist and remove foreign objects like dirt.
However, excessive eye licking can be a sign of a medical condition, like ulcers, abscesses, pinkeye, and more. For that reason, you should take your gecko to regular checkups so that your vet can diagnose the health problem early and ensure your pet’s well-being.
I have a bachelor’s degree in Film/Video/Media Studies, as well as an associates degree in Communications. I began producing videos and musical recordings nearly 15 years ago. I am a guitarist and bassist in Southwest MI and have been in a few different bands since 2009, and in 2012 I began building custom guitars and basses in my home workshop as well. When I’m home, I love spending time with my three pets (a dog, cat, and snake) and gardening in my backyard. I also like photographing wild birds, especially birds of prey.