Uromastyx Care Sheet

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.

Peanut - Egyptian Uromastyx from moonvalleyreptiles.com
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Peanut - Egyptian Uromastyx from moonvalleyreptiles.com
The Dude - Ornate Uromastyx from moonvalleyreptiles.com
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The Dude - Ornate Uromastyx from moonvalleyreptiles.com
Molly - Ornate Uromastyx from moonvalleyreptiles.com
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Molly - Ornate Uromastyx from moonvalleyreptiles.com
 

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.

Uromastyx Housing

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.

Uromastyx Substrate

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!

UVB Lights

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.

Water

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).

127 thoughts on “Uromastyx Care Sheet

  1. My uromastyx was not moving for about 2 days and we thought that she was dead. Then next day she was moving around and eating. The next day she did the same thing, but it has been 3 days and she is not moving and she is bloated. Could she be dead or hibernating?

    • It could still be brumation if her tank is not brightly lit or not hot enough. Bloating could just mean she ate a lot – they tend to have very full bellies, so if she wasn’t eating previously it may be a good sign. It’s important that the cage is warm enough for her to digest food. Around 110-120 in a bright basking spot. There should be a cool area that stays around 80-85 degrees so she can cool off if she gets overheated.

  2. I have a uro, not sure what kind. I’ve had him for almost 2 years (after my sister had abandoned him in my spare room she was staying in recently) and we’ve have been slowly making upgrades to his habitat. He’s very old. Before me, my sister had him for 5-6 years and said her friend had him for well over 10 years before her. Both previous owners took very poor care of him. He doesn’t eat very often and goes for many weeks between stools, but he has been slowly improving as we have upgraded his tank size, fresh sand, keeping the lights fresh, using spring mix foods. My biggest concern is we gave him the new tank yesterday (he became very active, walked all over, licked at the air, he’s unusually not that active) and everything seemed fine. Today he is now doing a “hiccup” like motion with his head and it concerns me. He is on top of his log under the basking light, but having a hard time staying on it from the motion.

    • Hi Kassy! Exploring actively in a new environment is normal. The “hiccup” could mean that he’s developing a respiratory infection (RI), so be sure to keep an eye on him. We don’t usually recommend pure sand as a substrate because silica dust can cause respiratory issues. Also, the tank could be holding in humidity (also resulting in a RI) or getting too cold at night which can aggravate any issue. Be sure the tank meets the recommended parameters for a uro habitat (hot basking spot, cool side 80-85 degrees F, humidity under 20%, etc.) and hopefully he will improve. The motion could be a head bob, a dominance display – perhaps he sees himself in the reflection of the tank? It may or may not be serious, so a vet check might be necessary. Good luck!

  3. My uro wont eat anything but endive, hibiscus and lentils. The ambient temperature is 85-90 and it is 120 plus basking. I dont knowhow to get him to eat anything else.

  4. Hello guys !

    I bought a Ornate Uromastyx from Saudi Arabia,
    And I smuggled it to Srilanka..
    He is Male and about 9inches long..
    Looks very nice..
    When I bought him down he was a healthy looking lizard.
    But after 2days, One of his right side eye is closed and not opening.
    The left eye is open and active.. But i gave him a small effort to open the right eye.. And he opened it but can’t open it for long.. Maximum for like 5 seconds and again he closes..

    Im really worried about him.. I so love My Uro..
    Someone please give me tips on how to make him open his eyes ?

    • Hi Hamry! It sounds like he could be ill, stressed, too cold or under incorrect lighting. You need to be sure you are meeting his temperature & humidity requirements, make sure the UV generating lights are not too close, and get a fecal exam to see if he has any parasites. If you have him on an irritating substrate, that could also injure his eyes.

      Good luck!

  5. We are taking care of the school uro, Switch, for the summer but he’s been displaying some odd things. His left eye occasionally gets stuck & seems to need a cleaning. We have been gently cleaning the eye area with a damp lint free cloth which he seems to appreciate. We clean it a couple of times a day, it disappears for a couple of weeks then returns. We checked with our local reptile specialty store who thought it was from unchanged substrate so we cleaned the terrarium & changed the sand, washing & drying the sand thoroughly first. We also changed the heat lamp from a 50 watt to a 100 watt on their recommendations. Switch was immediately more active & began to show more yellow but we are still concerned about his eyes. He has a nice pee & poop every day, usually on one of us, then wants to cuddle. Who knew? Also Switch used to be very cool to the touch but now feels toasty warm. Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks in advance!

  6. The humidity level in my uro tank is way too high. It fluctuates greatly, but on days like today when the weather is rainy, it surpasses 60% humidity. How can I bring down the humidity in the tank?

    • Hi Joann! First make sure you have an accurate gauge, they can be inaccurate. Make sure you don’t have damp substrate, this will hold humidity so that you can’t decrease it. Make sure there is adequate heat and ventilation; warm air holds a lot of water vapor and will rise out of the tank. Make sure the rest of your husbandry is good and you should be able to modify the humidity on rainy days. Good luck!

  7. Hi, how can u tell if they have a respiratory infection? And what if there is no vet that is knowledgeable about fixing it, any home remedies? Thank u ☺

    • If you hear them wheeze or click when they breathe, that could be a sign of an RI. An otherwise healthy Uro will probably get better as long as the tank is not too humid and is kept warm with a cool retreat during the day. Keeping it heated at night to around 80 will also help. But the best advice is to find a vet who can help, even if it’s a bit of a drive to get there. If not for this time, in case something else comes up. Good luck!

  8. Hi. I was wondering if my new 6 month old saharan uromastyx is suppost to be in his cave 90% of the day. I got him 4 days ago.Thx!

    • It’s winter so they tend to brumate – a form of light hibernation. He’ll probably come out every other day, not on a schedule, so be sure to have small amounts of food available for him every day. Good luck!

  9. Hi we’ve had our little friend 2 years and he’s been fine but our uvb bulb blew out and we bought a replacement but this also doesn’t work, I changed the fuse and still nothing. Any ideas??? Thank you

    • Some cheaper bulbs often fail. I’d check to see if your lamp fixture needs to be replaced. Could also be the wall socket. Hopefully it’s just the bulb or fixture!

  10. We recently got a uromastyx. We haven’t been able to find a lot of care about them. Do we need to use a different bulb for nighttime?

    • Hi Mary! As long as the tank doesn’t drop below 70 degrees at night, you don’t need an additional heat source. If it does get chilly at night, a reptile heat pad taped on the side of the tank they sleep on can be turned on at night (manually or by timer). You can use a ceramic heat emitter instead. I don’t recommend the red lights often used as night lights for reptiles. Good luck!

  11. Can you please tell me exactly what substrate to use? We inherited our friends 6 yr old uro and want to be sure to use the right stuff… would one of those “grass like” tank mats work or would he be miserable?

    • I wouldn’t use the astro-turf reptile carpets as they tend to trap moisture and bacteria. Slate tile is probably the best and easiest to maintain. You can get them at hardware stores, used as decorative pavers in gardens, or buy reptile-specific ones at pet stores for a higher price. Good luck!

    • Hi Vladimir! I don’t have any references, but I would assume that once they get to adult size (around 250-300 grams) that should be safe for the female. Smaller males may be able to breed to larger females. Good luck!

  12. One of my uros recently it looks like hes lost feeling in his back legs. My other uromastyxs are fine, what do I do? hes also breathing funny on and off. Iv read that it could be a calcium and D3 deficiency?

    • Yes it could be a deficiency of some kind. A vet can help discover the problem. Do you supplement or provide UVB lights? You should provide supplements at least once or twice a week for an adult, more for juveniles.

    • For general lighting, it depends on the time of year, a minimum of 10 in the winter and around 14-16 in summer. Specifically natural sunlight or UVB bulbs should be 4-5 hours a day for maximum benefit. However, you can keep them indoors during the cold months with minimal UVB as long as they get maximum exposure in warm months. They tend to brumate during the winter anyway.

  13. Hi I was hoping I could get some help I just got a uromastyx and I have a 40 gallon breeder I just got a zoomed powersun 100w now I’m worried because what this says about UVB rays. Is this a ok bulb? The cage gets natural sunlight through the day also. So I don’t want it to be to much but I worry because you hear different things about UVB s

    • Hi Jessica! Most of the issues with UVB bulbs tends to be with lesser known/unknown brands as they are manufactured cheaply with improper coatings on the bulb. According to tests done in 2014, the PowerSun 100w does emit slightly higher short-wave UVB compared to sunlight, which can cause some damage but this is common to most mercury vapor bulbs.

      If you keep the bulb 20 inches away from the basking spot, that can cut the risk of skin & eye damage. Keep the rest of the tank warm (within safe temp ranges) and well lit with non-UV producing bulb so the basking spot is not the only source of heat & light. If you notice your uro is basking more than 4-6 hours a day, you might want to move it up higher. Also note the sunlight coming through glass does not provide UVB rays, unfortunately. Good luck!

      • Ok then mine next question is would I be better off with a reprisun terrarium hood ? What type of bulb should I use for a heat source? Or what lights would you recommend? A 40 gallon breeder is 18 high.

        • You could get hood for use with tube lighting, instead of mercury vapor bulb fixture, but you will have to also provide heat sources. Your options are additional heat-producing lights, ceramic heat emitters (CHE) and heat pads. Heat lamps from Home Depot or other hardware stores work well as long as your fixture can handle the voltage/wattage, or you can get special reptile bulbs marked for basking. Red bulbs are intended for night use but they still emit light that could interfere with your uro’s sleep habits. You may not need to use more than one additional source, as a 40 gallon is not very large with a heat source at one end, leaving the other cooler. You could have the hood placed on the cage screen lengthwise, so the UVB spans the length of the tank, and then provide a basking spot at one end.

          As for recommended bulbs, we favor the Arcadia brand that’s from Europe, but they aren’t available in most pet shops in the US. The Reptisun 10-T8 (by ZooMed) is actually a pretty good UVB bulb and you shouldn’t have any issues with it. Just be sure you are getting the right size for your fixture. Standard for reptile fixtures are T8 & T5, and the bulbs are not interchangeable. For heat, you can use regular heat bulbs or reptile-specific ones as long as your fixture will support them (some will burn out or cause a fire if they are outside the range of the light fixture). Make sure you give a basking spot of 110-120 degrees while keeping the cool side at 80 for proper thermoregulation. Good luck!

  14. Quick question. I am thinking of getting my first Uro. Only cage I have right now is a 24 x 24 by 13 high. Is that big my enough for an adult uro?
    Thanks!

    • That would not be large enough for an adult, they should have at least 4 feet of length. A minimum size would be a 40 gallon “long” which is 48″ in length. Good luck!

  15. Thanks for this resource, it is great! I do have an issue with a Uro and could use advice. She (about 4 years old) has been very lethargic the past month, eating very little the past 3 months and with some defecation. This corresponded with moving her to a babysitter for a two weeks, but this person knew how to care for them and I don’t think anything bad happened other than the normal move stress. She had this problem before, took her to a vet (exotic animal person but not reptile specialist), and he put her on mineral oil and laxatives. She did not have an impaction. Don’t know if that worked, but about a month later she started to eat after much fighting to force her to eat her meds. Not as much as she used to, but she ate. It is finally dandelion season here in the north, her favorite, and she ate a couple flowers and then nothing which is not typical (in the past she would eat about five a day). Any ideas? It seems to be the wrong time for brumation, we make her a varied diet of fresh veggies, lettuce, sweet potatos, and legumes, and lately flowers, and other stuff from your diet sheet. Mostly organic. Temp is about 100 under her spotlight, she hangs out in a zone which is about 90, and it goes to the 70s at night in her hide from a floor heater. Humidity is about 40 if I trust the zoo-med dial. Several different bulbs on timers so lots of spectrum (spot for basking in a corner, ceramic IR bulb for heat on the other end, and a reptile UVB/halogen in the middle of the terrarium and only a heat pad under hide), large exo-terra enclosure 36x18x12, sand substrate with rocks for perching. We give her the occasional soak, but otherwise do not handle her. She is still pretty fat, but the tail seems to be shrinking a bit (fat storage, not tail rot or anything), and otherwise looks healthy – just no energy. We are going to the vet again for an x-ray, but could use more expert opinions. Any thoughts?

    • Glad you like the site!

      Is the entire cage well lit? I’ve had this happen where there were two basking lights, enough to bring the temps up but not enough overall light for them to feel like leaving their hides and eating. The humidity might be a bit too high but hygrometers can be inaccurate. You might want to double check the night time heater, if it’s getting colder than normal at night they might be more lethargic and take a longer time to warm up. In the low 80s at night and mid 80s during the day as the cold side. You can also try shredding or finely chopping up the veggies, it may make them more palatable. You can try adding bee pollen to his food or find a few new novel items like cactus or squash flowers.

      The overall dimensions of the tank might be too small, depending on the species. A 4-year old ornate or similarly sized “small” uro might be fine in that, but I recommend at least 4 feet in length to help get the variation in temperature – 85ish on the cool side, and over 100 in the basking spot, with the entire tank well lit during the day. Those are the ideal ranges.

      GOod luck!

  16. Thanks for the guide!

    I have always loved this species and have been interested in getting one for a while. There is a reptile convention near me in about two months, so I think I will take the leap then! Also, that gives me plenty of time to prepare.

    I am thinking that I will go with the slate tiles, but I am wondering about exactly what to use for the “humid hide.” Do you think that a more porous material, such as unglazed clay tiles, sprayed occasionally with water would work? Or would you recommend using something else? I live in an area with high humidity, so I am concerned about humidity in the cooler parts of the enclosure getting out of hand.

    Thanks much!

    • I would avoid spraying at all for most species, especially in a humid climate. It could cause issues if it doesn’t evaporate quickly, and also if it evaporates quickly doesn’t provide the humidity necessary during sleep (they lose moisture when breathing like mammals do). A humid hide can be simply a tupperware container with damp sand covered in moss with an opening cut out so they can enter and exit easily. This makes sure they can adjust the humidity as needed and are not exposed to humidity. Hope this helps!

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