While Uromastyx have been in captivity for several decades, there is still a lot to learn about this fantastic pet lizard. There are many species of Uromastyx and each can differ slightly in care. Below is a basic Uromastyx care sheet; be sure to research your specific Uro species!
Certain aspects of Uromastyx care are controversial: UVB lighting options, substrate choice, a few bugs or no bugs. We think it’s best to learn as much as you can and make informed decisions about how to care for your uro. There are also possible Uromastyx health issues that you should be aware of before you bring home your new pet. Many problems are related to proper husbandry, so please make sure you are providing proper care and diet.
There are several really awful Uromastyx Care sheets out there, and a lot of advice on the internet is sketchy. We prefer to listen to experts like Doug Dix at Deer Fern Farms; he has detailed care information on his site but we wanted to provide a basic guide as well.
Reptiles in the Uromastyx genus are also known as spiny-tailed lizards for one obvious reason: they boast a thick, spicky tail that makes up about one third of their body. The name Uromastyx comes from Ancient Greek words: ourá meaning “tail” and mastigo meaning “whip” or “scourge”.
Uromastyx species vary in size from 10 inches to nearly 3 feet. Their ultimate adult size will dictate the enclosure size, so be sure you chose the right Uro species for the space you have.
Uros are an active, diurnal lizard and require large enclosures. A hatchling (under 6 inches in total length) can be housed in a 20 gallon “long” tank, but anything smaller is problematic because it doesn’t allow a proper temperature gradient. For a single adult, a 40-gallon “breeder” tank will work as absolute minimum, but a larger enclosure is preferred. A 75+ gallon tank is necessary when keeping a breeding or same-sex pair together. Unless paired young, individuals may not tolerate sharing space with others, even of a different sex. Females and males can be very aggressive to same-sex cage mates.
The length of the terrarium is more important than height, as Uromastyx are a terrestrial reptile. Specially made 4′ long reptile cages with sliding front doors are great, as picking up a uro from above may startle them. Most of their predators are swooping birds of prey, and you may notice that shadows and overhead movement can send them into a panic, especially when just settling in. Uros are burrowers by nature, but you can use artificial burrows or hide boxes to satisfy their need for a burrow.
A big component to Uromastyx care is choosing the right substrate for you and your pet. You can go very simple or very complex, depending on the age and health of your lizard. Many substrates pose an impaction risk if they are ingested, so setup might need to be adjusted to include elevated feeding spots to minimize this risk.
Some substrates will hold a burrow and provide a more natural enclosure. At MVR, we have attempted a natural terrarium for our Uromastyx with limited results for the plants – it is quite warm and dry inside their tank. However, uros do enjoy this type of substrate as it allows them their natural behavior of digging. Adult and sub-adult uros can be placed on a substrate mix of washed playsand and organic soil/compost/peat moss. Be careful with a deep substrate, they can burrow underneath rocks and other objects, causing fatal injuries. For stability, place heavy objects on the bottom of the tank and fill in the substrate around them. It can be challenging to get the setup right.
For a more simple enclosure, we recommend housing uros (especially young ones) on white proso millet, a common bird seed, that can serve as a snack as well as bedding! Once you are used to the rest of their care and your reptile is large enough, you can introduce a natural substrate, as they do enjoy burrowing but do note that substrate can be eaten and cause an impaction.
If your Uromastyx tends to eat bird seed bedding and ignores his or her greens, you can choose bare floors or butcher paper covered with slate or ceramic tiles. Linoleum squares with adhesive backs can be stuck together for an easily removed, easily cleaned substrate.
On a simple substrate such as bird seed or slate tiles, you’ll need to provide a nesting box or “humid hide” to simulate a burrow. This will help them regulate their humidity levels. Tupperware, Rubbermaid, or Sterilite plastic boxes can be used with a slightly damp sand/soil or sand/peat mixture which can be topped with sphagnum moss. Cut a hole to allow easy access; you might want to also include a PVC or a flexible tubing as a tunnel into the humid hide.
Substrate to Avoid
Some types of bedding that are appropriate to other animals are not good for uromastyx. We recommend avoiding a lot of commercial products which can pose a choking hazard or intestinal blockage. Do not use wood shavings, bark (such as Repti-Bark), chips (such as Sani-Chip), crushed walnut shells, or calcium carbonate “sands”. If the lizard eats it, it can cause issues called impactions where their intestines essentially become blocked and unable to pass waste. Signs are obvious constipation, straining to poop, and dehydration as the material absorbs water in the gut. A vet trip is necessary, but extra hydration (moist foods and fruit) can help. Do not treat with home remedies like mineral oil as this can make medical treatment more difficult. Some of these substrates are also extremely dusty. While aspen shavings are great for small animals and snakes, avoid them for uros.
Note that although Uromastyx are a desert-dwelling reptile, they do not do best on sand substrate. In the wild, they are mostly found on rocky outcrops and clay-based soils. Calci-sand should absolutely not be used. Also avoid ground walnut shells, as they can cause horrible impactions and corneal scratches.
Uromastyx Humidity, Heating and Lighting
High humidity can be a killer to Uromastyx! Being located in Phoenix, Arizona, MVR is lucky to have naturally low humidity. Strive to keep the humidity in your Uromastyx enclosure under 35%, while providing a more humid retreat (details below). This low humidity also tends to make keeping live plants in the uro enclosure more of a challenge!
Uromastyx love heat, and although they like their basking spot to be over 120 degrees, the rest of the tank needs to have a temperature gradient of 100 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. The lizard must be able to thermoregulate their body temperature by migrating around their enclosure, which is why larger enclosures are best for Uromastyx. Nighttime temperature can drop into the mid-70s (60s in winter only if cycling for breeding).
Basking spots should be created with a reptile dome lamp and a clear “infrared” heat lamp bulb (less than $5 at home improvement stores). You can also use an outdoor floodlight if your light fixture can handle the wattage, this provides a very bright basking spot. Use a piece of flat slate or other light-colored rock surface. Make sure that the reptile cannot touch the heat source! Adjust as necessary depending on wattage to reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit directly over the basking rock (not ambient temperature). 120 is the minimum temperature; we recommend 130-140 right under the light and let the lizard move around to thermoregulate.
Make sure the tank is well illuminated – they want and even need bright lights to regulate their seasonal feeding response. If a bulb burns out and the tank becomes dark, they may go off-feed. We’ve experienced this first-hand so if your Uromastyx stops eating, check the lights and the basking spots and ensure ideal conditions are being provided!
In the past, we have had mixed feelings on artificial UVB lighting. We supplement our uros’ diet with products containing Vitamin D3. During the summer, we expose our Uromastyx to natural sunlight for basking. Many of the current UVB bulbs on the market do not provide the optimal range of UV wavelengths. There is also the risk of photo-kerato conjunctivitis. From 2007-2009, major brands of UVB bulbs had a manufacturing error which resulted in damaging short-wave UV rays being emitted. The batch we used in 2010 happened to be one of the ones that had the problem. Unfortunately, The Dude suffered from painfully swollen eyes for a week. Luckily, there was no permanent damage to his eyes. After consulting with other Uro keepers, we decided UVB lighting wasn’t a necessity and in some cases, is not worth the expense, unpredictable output and health risk.
However, the past few years have brought us more affordable and reliable choices and we are currently reconsidering our use of these bulbs. Please read our in-depth article on artificial UVB lighting
Your mileage may vary and we do not discourage others from using UVB lights. Just be sure to research the specific brand and model of bulb. They do seem to promote natural behaviors, especially in bulbs that also produce UVA. In rehabbing Uromastyx with calcium deficiencies, UVB bulbs can be especially useful.
Keep an eye on UV Guide UK for latest news in UV lighting for reptiles.
Outdoor Housing for Uromastyx
In warm areas, Uromastyx can be housed outdoors. Keep in mind, however, that when exposed to natural cycles, uros will go through a brumation period which leads to breeding behavior. This can be very problematic when multiple individuals are present, as males are territorial and females are extremely aggressive to all other females AND males when bred.
It may be an easier undertaking to build an outdoor enclosure for daytime basking rather than full-time containment. For some general guidelines, see the AZ Game & Fish Desert Tortoise Enclosure info. Uros don’t eat grass, but you can plant a variety of safe edible plants for them.
Additionally, for sunny days you can give smaller or young Uromastyx some time outside in a “tortoise house”, which is basically a box with a mesh screen lid that has a shaded sleeping area. However, these don’t offer enough room to be permanent enclosures.
Uromastyx Diet & Nutrition
Uros are mainly herbivorous and do well on a supplemented vegetarian diet. Insects are not needed (unless the uro is not settling in) and can cause more harm than good. Although hatchlings may readily take insects, this is a critical period for them and an improper diet can cause Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) quite quickly.
Their “salads” should consist of dark green leafy vegetables, limiting spinach, kale, broccoli, and cabbage. Head lettuce, such as iceburg letuce, are not nutritious. Chose “spring mix” packaged greens, and add in additional helpings of endive, bok choy, dandelion greens, thawed frozen veggie mix, shredded squash, and other safe veggies. Edible flowers like hibiscus blooms and dandelion blossoms can also be offered.
Check out our Uromastyx Diet page for an extensive list of foods to include and which to avoid!
For supplementation, Repashy Vegie Dust and Miner-Al Indoor formula can be used on alternating days.
Additionally, dried beans, juvenile iguana pellets and/or ground Mazuri Tortoise pellets can be offered dry in a separate feeding dish. However, Uromastyx housed on birdseed may not be inclined to eat this mix.
Most Uromastyx species do not drink from a bowl but get most of their water needs from their food. Hatchlings should have a shallow jar or tupperware lid of water available every other day. New arrivals, sick individuals and gravid or recuperating females may require occasional drinks of water. Be careful that your uro doesn’t asphyxiate on the water; some get very excited in water and inhale it into their lungs!
Too high of humidity and even soaking can contribute to a respiratory infection (RI), which requires a vet visit to diagnose and treat with prescribed medication(s).