Uromastyx Health

Many common Uromastyx health problems can be prevented with proper husbandry. Proper housing includes a dry enclosure, safe substrate, adequate temperature and basking areas, and plenty of space. Humidity can cause respiratory problems and scale rot. Improper substrate such as walnut shells or calci-sand can cause impaction in the gut if swallowed. Improper diet can also result in impaction, as well as vitamin/mineral deficiencies such as Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD).

Always be ready to take your Uromastyx to the vet if the reptile is visibly ailing. Reptiles in general are good at masking health problems because in the wild, the weak get taken out by predators or become ostracized from the group. It is a good idea to have a fecal scan run on new additions to the collection or at a sign of illness. See our Reptile Resources page for links to reptile vets.

Always quarantine your new addition(s) for 30-90 days before introducing them to other animals. Always be prepared to keep animals in solitary enclosures in case of fighting.

Diet-Related Health

Most diet-related health problems in Uromastyx lizards can be prevented by offering a highly varied diet of leafy greens, vegetables, flowers, beans, seeds and a limited amount of fruit.

MBD

Metabolic Bone Disease or MBD is the most common affliction of captive reptiles, and Uromastyx are no exception. MBD is a spectrum of disorders related to calcium deficiency, most cases are diet related. The bioavailability of calcium is determined not just by overall calcium in the diet but also the interaction of other vitamins & minerals such as vitamin D3 and phosphorus. When the right balance is not available in the diet, calcium is pulled from the bones.

Signs of MBD include soft jaws, disfigured bones, swollen joints, trembling and general signs of ill health. Calcium is for more than just bones. Internal problems include lack of muscle control, loss of liver, kidney and nerve function and problems in blood clotting. Severe cases of MBD do result in death, usually from heart failure. The healthy level of calcium in the bloodstream is roughly 1%. Over-supplementation with calcium is rare but possible.

Providing a balanced diet is crucial to prevent Metabolic Bone Disease in Uromastyx lizards. Choosing foods that are both high in calcium AND low in phosphorus are the best way to give uros the building blocks these reptiles need to function properly.

The final component in calcium absorption is Vitamin D3, either via diet supplementation or UVB exposure.

Dehydration

Provide your Uromastyx with either a humid hide or allow him to burrow to regulate his humidity needs. Uros will retreat to their burrows at night after digesting their food; in the wild, they have extensive and deep burrows and move around accordingly. Burrows up to 3 feet have been discovered, with humidity levels ranging from 50-90% depending on the season and rainfall. Temperatures are fairly constant at 70-75 degrees.

Under most circumstances, Uromastyx don’t need water bowls and should instead be provided with plant foods with high water content. Additionally, providing a light mist on the sides of the enclosure in the morning once a week to allow them to drink should be fine as long as the humidity levels don’t exceed 40% for an extended period of time.

Emaciated uros that have gone off-feed are also dehydrated. When they don’t eat, their stomachs shrink, their energy level drops and appetite is suppressed. Therefore, it is important to offer drinking water for these individuals. Dehydration also affects their ability to process proteins, so remove any beans/legumes from the diet. No insects!

It is important to address the issue of dehydration before resorting to force feeding. The impact of this can affect health later on. Get appropriate vet care in issues of severe dehydration and starvation before attempting force feeding.

High-Protein Diets

Excess protein is hazardous to dehydrated Uromastyx lizards because it over-taxes the kidneys and liver. Over time, too much protein for any Uromastyx can affect kidney and liver function. For tortoises, a safe level of protein has been estimated at an average 4%[1]. Strive to keep the amount of protein from plant foods low by avoiding excessive feeding of beans and other legumes. Green legumes such as alfalfa, clover, etc. are good to feed in moderation.

Do not feed insects to your Uromastyx. Insects are not part of their native diet for most species. They are unnecessary at best and dangerous at worst.

Gut Flora

Herbivorous reptiles such as Uromastyx species are uniquely adapted to the local environment. They do not have the same digestive systems as mammals, with their masticating teeth, multi-chambered stomachs and cud-chewing, that are useful when eating tough vegetation. Uromastyx rely entirely on their gut flora (and possibly small stones) to break down plant matter and extract nutrients. This is a generally inefficient process and keeping the right balance of microorganisms is very important. This gut flora includes “beneficial bacteria” and even protozoans[1] and nematodes[2]. This is combined with the uro’s preferred 130 degree basking temperature to digest their meals.

The use of antibiotics, such as Baytril, and parasite treatments, such as Panacur, will kill off these microorganisms, making it difficult for the Uromastyx to digest food. NutriBAC df is a respected brand of probiotic. Repashy “Veggie Dust” also contains beneficial ingredients to boost gut flora.

Refusing Food

Most of the time, Uromastyx are fine if they skip meals for up to a week. Common causes are food preferences, changes of season, stress, low temps, and sadly, illness.

In the wild, Uromastyx change foods with the season, and different species tend to eat slightly different foods. Ornate Uros eat a lot of acacia flowers and tend to go nuts for any small yellow flower (such as from dandelions or budding wild arugula). Don’t drastically change the diet from one day to the next, but rotate foods in and out gradually.

Normal Changes in Appearance

As your young Uromastyx grows and matures, you will see general changes in appearance. Males and females (depending on species) will gain color and some will exude a waxy secretion from their femoral pores on their inner thighs.

Shedding

Reptiles shed as they grow and their skin is renewed. Unlike people, whose skin cells slough off one at a time, most reptiles like snakes, geckos and other lizards, tend to go into shed all at once; snakes have an easier time pulling it all off at once because they are unhindered by appendages. However, with our friend the Uromastyx, the lizard may be in a state of constant shed throughout the warm seasons! Often they look like half-peeled bananas. It’s best to not pull off their skin unless it’s restricting their circulation around their wrists and toes.

Uromastyx will often eat their delicious skins, regaining some of the nutrients that went into creating it in the first place. Eating the shed also minimizes the chance of a predator coming across it and alerting them to the presence of a nearby meal.

Snalt

The salt glands of Uromastyx, as well as other herbivorous and marine reptiles, is an adaptation of the lateral nasal gland. This comes in handy by removing salts these animals encounter through diet or other environmental exposure. Since most reptiles do not produce liquid urine, evolution has adapted the lateral nasal gland to eliminate these substances as “snalt”. [3][4]

The term “snalt” refers to the salt-snot, the ring of white deposits around the lizard’s nostrils. It is composed of excess salts in the diet. Lentils, papaya, carrots, corn, and sweet potatoes are comparatively high in sodium and potassium which form these salts. They shouldn’t be avoided as they are highly nutritious foods, just keep them on rotation. This “white stuff” on your uro’s nose can simply be wiped away and will fall off on its own.

Stress & Handling

Whenever you suspect your Uromastyx is not well or not adjusting to its home, you should stop handling. Even relatively friendly reptiles such as Uros are stressed by too much handling. How much is too much? You don’t want to handle daily if you see signs of stress, hiding during the day in warm weather, and not feeding.

Sexing

Mature male Uromastyx are often brightly colored and easily distinguished from females in this way. However, for immature animals or to make sure you don’t have a “male mimic”, you can sex uros by gently lifting the tail and looking for a “v” or “u” shaped crease starting at the base of the tail extending back. The bulges on either side are the hemipenes of the male. The tail body of a female will appear more uniform as it does not house the male reproductive organs!

Other secondary sexual characteristics include coloring mentioned above, wider, larger heads and “jowls” in males. Both males and females can have femoral pores, males tend to have larger ones.

Never probe a Uromastyx! This can cause harm to the internal tissues and can be very stressful to the reptile. Probing is for use on snakes but is still not recommended for novices. Uros should not be “popped” either. :|

Disorders & Diseases

Tail Rot

Keeping a Uromastyx in an enclosure that is too moist, or failing to dry them off after a soak can lead to tail rot. Bacteria or fungi can build up in the tail crevices and lead to infection or “rot”. The tail turns dark and can fall off. A trip to the vet is always advisable, as problems with tail tips could also be dry gangrene from an injury and not tail rot.

Impaction

Undigested food or foreign objects (rocks, hair, wood chips, bark, vermiculite from potting soil, etc) can form a mass in the digestive system and cause an impaction. Signs of impaction include inability to defecate, or straining to go, and passing narrow, skinny poops. If you’ve noticed a lack of poo in your enclosure, and your Uromastyx is lethargic, this could be signs of infection or other illness.

Soaking in warm water can help pass the blockage, but if normal bowel movement does not return quickly, so don’t put off a vet visit! Impactions can cause death if not dealt with quickly.

Maintaining good husbandry and making sure foods are high in moisture and free from dirt and debris will cut down on the chances of your Uromastyx becoming impacted. Improper substrates, especially crushed walnut shell and cacli-sand also cause impactions.

Photo-Kerato Conjunctivitis

Faulty UVB bulbs can cause eye irritation and often blindness.
http://www.uvguide.co.uk/phototherapyphosphor-info.htm is a great resource if you suspect your Uromastyx or other reptile has photo-kerato conjunctivitis.

Other Diseases

Uromastyx are generally hardy, but improper husbandry or exposure to infected reptiles can introduce viral, bacterial, or fungal infections. ALWAYS follow proper quarantine when obtaining new animals. If your uro appears ill and you don’t know why, please take your pet to a qualified reptile vet!

Notes & references:
1: http://www.anapsid.org/dietcons.html
2: http://www.deerfernfarms.com/Uromastyx_Care.htm
3: http://bio.research.ucsc.edu/~barrylab/Lisa/PDFs/Hazarddissabstract.pdf
4:http://scottishreptiles.forumsmotion.com/t89-sodium-and-potassium-secretion-by-iguana-salt-glands

121 thoughts on “Uromastyx Health

  1. Hi Rena –

    So sorry for your loss! It’s hard to lose an animal that seems healthy. Unfortunately, reptiles are very good at hiding illness and weakness. We have lost a very healthy looking male Uromastyx due to liver tumors. No real explanation as to why. He was wild caught so it’s possible something affected him early on, but also it’s possible it was a congenital issue he was born with. Only a necropsy (autopsy) immediately after they pass away can help determine the cause of death. Refrigerating the remains will help preserve the body until you can have a vet take a look.

    You can review your husbandry and see if there was anything in the diet or environment that could have contributed to the deaths. Parasites or an illness are a possibility if both have passed away. Chronic dehydration is possible if they don’t have a humid hide to escape to. Improper diet or supplementation can be a leading cause of premature death, as can temperatures that are too hot or cold. There are many causes and without knowing what they look like internally, it’s hard to say what the cause was. Organ dysfunctions are often to blame, and these can be caused by genetics, poor husbandry, disease and parasites.

  2. I have also been noticing that my mali uro has random black rows of spikes on her tail and the tip of her tail is also black. she will let me handle her but if I touch her tail she freaks out. Do the tails normally change color or could this be something bad?

  3. This could be a sign of tail rot, and if you are concerned then a trip to the vet will help determine if this is a benign color change or if it’s the start of a fungal or bacterial skin infection. Color change is common with some species, and it includes speckles of black along with brighter colors. It’s normal for them to be skittish about having their tails touched.

    Good luck!

  4. I have recently accuired a small Uromastyx geyri and during the first few days it was kept on dry wood bits, not dark wood chips these were quite small light coloured bits of wood. We changed it to red exo terra sand today as the wood bits didn’t hold heat. And the uro has been inactive the past few days especially today only coming out to bask once and not for very long. We cannot tell whether it is eating as when the food shrinks due to the heat it is difficult to tell. When I handled it to move it (when we changed the substrate) it didn’t walk around at all which was worrying. It is able to get to basking spots of at least 130 degrees or more but doesn’t seem to want to bask, it just hides under the cork bark, which isn’t great as the cork completely blocks heat so it is as warm as the air temp in there. I also think it is stressed so it hides and is cold and therefore won’t eat and is dehydrating what should I do?

  5. Uros are often less active in the winter. They undergo brumation, a mild form of hibernation. They can also take a while to acclimate to a new environment. So it could be normal for him to stay hidden most of the day. You may be able to warm them up by taking them out and holding them in the heat light but this could be stressful. Just make sure you heat the cage to about 80 degrees in the “cool” end and hopefully he will begin to eat, although it may not seem like much. Just provide greens and squash, as dry beans and other foods can be dehydrating. You can try taping paper around all sides of the enclosure so he can’t see what’s going on around him. This could help make him feel more secure.

    Good luck!

  6. I discovered our Uro, Chewy, in a extreme lethargic state this morning. We had an unexpected cold snap and the Heat was not on while we where away for the night. Temp in the house dipped to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. I have returned environment to normal temp. Should I be immediately concerned or will he likely snap out of it when temperatures equalize? He is visually other wise healthy and active. Any help is appreciated. -Joel

  7. He should do fine as long as you get him warmed up. 50 is on the low side but one night exposure should not do any lasting harm as long as you get his heat up to normal during the day. They usually hunker down at night in burrows, so having one available (even a fake one in a smaller hide) can help maintain body temperature even in the winter.

  8. My daughtet said she saw her crested wiggle his hind area and then squirt liquid from HIS glands, the ones with the white dots on them, then he licked up the liquid. Is this normal or a symptom to a problem?
    Thank you

  9. my female uro looks like she is going to blow up, very very fat but still wants food haven’t noticed a lot of feces recently is there a certain food that will help? or should i just keep trying to soak etc?

  10. Hi, I have just gotten home from school and unfortunately I wasn’t able to take my uromastyx with me. I did try and got in trouble at the dorms. But anyway I was aware he wasn’t eating as much since I had been gone. But when I got home he is almost nothing. And it is killing me. No one told me he had practically completely stopped eating. And my heart is broken just looking at him and I am furious with my family for not telling me he was this bad. Is there anything I can do to make him eat and put weight back on him? Because I don’t want to lose him:(

  11. Hi Tori, sorry to hear that your uro has gotten into bad physical condition. You first need to make sure he is properly hydrated before you start assist feeding him. Try to get him to drink water; dehydration is usually what kills rather than starvation. When they don’t eat, they don’t have enough moisture to function. Dehydration suppresses the appetite as well. You can mix up some Oxbow Critical Care for Herbivores with water, and you can try to feed with an eye dropper or other liquid food dispenser. If he refuses, you must take him to a vet who knows how to syringe feed a Uromastyx. Their jaws can clamp shut so they need to be skilled at positioning the feeding tube correctly. Do not try to feed high-protein food until he’s recovered as this can cause damage to the kidneys after a long fast. In addition to Critical Care you can get squash mixed with apricot baby foods from the grocery. Some Uros love sweet fruits and bright colors. If there are other foods he likes, use those but be sure to hydrate him first by misting around his enclosure early in the morning, placing a water bowl or soaking him. You might need to have a vet inject fluids first so a trip to the vet is the best starting point. Good luck!

  12. Proper feeding of greens, flowers, squash, and limited dry foods like lentils and seeds is the best way to make sure they stay hydrated and pass feces regularly. It is possible the female has retained eggs – even if they do not have a mate, they still produce eggs which can complicate her health. I recommend a vet trip if her health starts deteriorating.

  13. my uromastyx has recently (past couple of days) been doing this weird stomach dance thing where he almost looks like a snake. he’s also acting different and being much meaner he’s usually super sweet but now he freaks out if I try to touch him and he’s starting to eat less. what is this stomach dance thing and should i be concerned?

  14. That’s the belly dance! It’s a threat or defensive display. Sounds like he may need a little more time settling in, depending on how long you’ve had him. It could also be the breeding season making him more jumpy. Make sure you have the conditions in his enclosure right, are feeding a good diet and try not to disturb him – especially when sleeping. Make sure he has plenty of places to hide. Good luck!

  15. My uro has blood coming out with his poop. His been acting normal and eating the same. Should I be concerne about this?

  16. Okay I am super concerned. I made the mistake of leaving my euro with my parents because my siblings never got to have pets. She was very malnutritioned and had poor heat and got very sick. I couldn’t afford a vet trip so I just brought her home and began taking the right care to heal my baby as I did before. I healed her from a parasite infection that was eating her scales when I bought her at age one. Any way now she is three. I have had her home for 3 months or so. When I brought her home my mom said she wont’ eat won’t poop or leave her cave. I have got her to eat regularly in large amounts too, I have also got her to move and develop strength in her lower legs but her upper legs seems to still be very weak. She poops great too. She slithers aroung slowly like a snake if you will. Her upper limbs and lower toes are extremely swollen. She whips her tail again and hisses and belly dances which is normal because she has always been shy. I feel like she has been staying this way for like a month and her condition isn’t getting any better. I am not sure what to do at this point. I was afraid I’d lose her from not eating or voiding but that’s fine now. I am afraid of paralysis. Ive done research and her MBD symptoms are not showing a positive outcome.

  17. Sounds like MBD with the swollen limbs. She needs calcium and vitamin D3 supplemented to her food, and exposure to unfiltered sunlight if possible. Eating is a great sign, you just need to make sure she’s getting a good balance of nutrients. Be sure to follow the feeding guidelines on our Diet page http://www.moonvalleyreptiles.com/uromastyx/uromastyx-diet.

  18. My uro’s head is a grey/white color — it doesn’t look like a normal shed. He seems to be acting fine, eating and cruising around the cage — I am just concerned that something else might be going on —- any ideas??

  19. Usually the white color is when they are basking and it means they are healthy and active. Perhaps the rest of the body is about to shed? Otherwise, it could depend on the species. They can change color as they mature.

  20. I just purchased a juvenile uromastyx and he is doing really well adjusting. He is very active, he eats a lot, and he enjoys being handled. But I’m concerned about my heating situation. He is only 6 inches long and I have him in a 10 gallon tank temporarily until I move next next week. The hot side of his tank has a 150W and a 100W uvb bulb running during the day. This makes the hot side only 95-100 degrees F. The basking rock feels a whole lot hotter but my digital thermometer doesn’t pick that up. With the cool side 88 to 90 degrees F. I know that’s not hot enough for the basking side but I can’t get it any higher without adding another bulb or heat emitter. Any suggestions?

    But also my Uro doesn’t bask on the hot side. He mostly hangs out in his hide on the cool side or on top of the hide. So while I know that the tank isn’t hot enough, is it possible that he is too hot? He’s eating lots every day and has a bowel movement every day so i know he’s digesting. I’m just a bit confused on what to do in this situation.

  21. Yes, it is possible he is too hot. They only bask to get their internal temperature up high enough to eat and convert UVB to vitamin D3 (if you provide UV light). They can definitely overheat and a 10 gallon is too small to allow the cool side to drop to 80 degrees which they do need on occasion. Are you using a probe or a temp gun to measure the basking rock? 100 degrees is warm enough for the hot side, you just want the basking area to get 120+. You might want to get a temp gun to measure the surface heat of the basking rock, probes only measure the surrounding air temp which will be around 90-100 surrounding the basking area. Your temps on the warm side and basking area could be fine and even a little too hot.

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