Tiger Salamander Care Sheet

Maria Zayas, DVM
By Maria Zayas, DVM on Dec. 20, 2023
Tiger salamander

In This Article

Species Overview

Tiger Salamander Species Overview

Salamanders are lizard-like amphibians. Despite their appearance, salamanders are amphibians, not reptiles. However, like reptiles, amphibians are ectothermic (or “cold-blooded”) animals that rely on external heat sources to regulate their body temperature. 

The largest land-dwelling salamander in the world is the tiger salamander. These salamanders build burrows in marshes, woodlands, and meadows throughout North America. 

Tiger salamanders are not a single species; rather, they are a collection of closely related subspecies with varying patterns and colors. Usually, young salamanders begin life with a spotted pattern, which changes as they grow into adulthood. 

Tiger salamanders’ bodies are adapted to living underground—they’re stout with small eyes and strong legs for digging and burrowing.  

Newly homed tiger salamanders may bury themselves in their substrate. Once they realize food is at the surface, they will relax and will eventually become more docile. 

When bred in captivity, tiger salamanders are robust, social amphibians that make excellent pets. 

Compared to females, male salamanders are thinner, have flatter tails, and a more prominent vent. 

Tiger Salamander Characteristics 

Difficulty of Care 


Average Lifespan 

Up to 15–25 years with proper care, depending on species 

Average Adult Size 

11+ inches long



Minimum Habitat Size 

15-gallon tank for one adult 

Salamander Handling

Amphibians should only be handled when necessary. Human skin has bacteria and oils that amphibians can absorb through their skin, leading to irritation and illness. 

Note: If a salamander must be handled, they should only be touched by gloved hands (wearing disposable, non-powdered gloves) moistened with dechlorinated water. 

Tiger Salamander Supply Checklist

To keep a tiger salamander happy and healthy, pet parents should have these basic supplies on hand: 

Tiger Salamander Habitat

Choosing the Right Enclosure 

The minimum recommended habitat size for a salamander varies, depending on species and the number of animals in the enclosure: 

  • A salamander needs at least a 15-gallon glass, acrylic, or plastic tank for their habitat. 

  • If choosing to house two salamanders, you’ll need at least a 20-gallon tank. 

All habitats should be well-ventilated and secured with a screened lid to prevent the animal from escaping. They should also be longer than they are tall to give amphibians enough room to explore.   

With proper care, salamanders reach their adult size within a year. Always provide the largest habitat possible. Be sure to increase the enclosure’s size as the animal grows. 

Habitat Mates 

Several tiger salamanders can be housed together in the same habitat if the enclosure is large enough and the animals are not territorial.  

Salamanders must be monitored for aggressive behavior. If two animals fight, separate them. Never keep different species of amphibians in the same habitat (i.e., do not keep tiger salamanders in the same habitat as fire bellied newts). 

Temperature and Heat 

Tiger salamanders need a tank temperature from 60 F to 75 F. Do not allow the enclosure’s temperature to go above 78 F—higher temperatures can lead to stress and illness.  

Most pet salamanders will not need a supplemental heat source if the habitat’s temperature is kept above 60 F. Keep the habitat out of direct sunlight, which can cause temperature fluctuations and encourage algae growth. Use a thermometer to monitor the habitat’s temperature.


Salamanders should get 10–12 hours of light exposure daily with the help of a low-watt incandescent bulb. This will imitate natural sunlight and help the animal establish a day/night cycle. Make sure that the bulb does not produce a lot of heat and raise the habitat’s temperature outside of the ideal range (60–75 F). 

Some light bulbs provide not only light to the tank but also heat and/or ultraviolet (UV) light. Pet parents should check the light sources to be clear of their function in the tank. 

Remember: Salamanders must have access to lots of hiding places so they can escape the light or heat when needed. 

White lights should not be left on continuously, as they will disrupt the salamanders sleep cycle and negatively affect its overall health. At night, turn off lights inside the enclosure. 

UV Light 

Salamanders need exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light to produce vitamin D in their skin so they can absorb dietary calcium, which is essential to bone health. Without adequate UV exposure, they can develop metabolic bone disease. 

Pet parents should use a low-level (2.0 or 5.0) UVB bulb to provide their salamander with 10 to 12 hours of UVB light daily. 

Avoid bulbs that emit higher levels of UVB light; they can damage amphibians' eyes and skin. 

Replace bulbs every six months (even if they still emit light) as their potency wanes over time. 

A day/night timer can make it easier to maintain a consistent day and night cycle. 


Humidity levels should be maintained at 70% and monitored with a hygrometer (humidity gauge). To maintain humidity levels, pet parents should mist the habitat’s substrate with dechlorinated water every day. The substrate should be moist but not soggy. If the substrate becomes too wet, increase ventilation in the habitat. 

At all times, salamanders should have a shallow bowl of dechlorinated water in their habitat that’s wide enough for them to soak in. Water bowls should be cleaned, disinfected, and refilled daily. 

Substrate and Tank Set-Up 

Adult salamanders can be housed in a terrestrial terrarium. 

The bottom of a salamander’s tank should be lined with at least 3–4 inches of substrate to allow for burrowing. Salamanders prefer dampened sphagnum moss or a mulch-like substrate, like coconut husk fiber or cypress mulch. 

Pet parents should create a moisture gradient by keeping the substrate on one side of the enclosure moist while the substrate on the other side is drier. That way, the salamander can choose the side it prefers. The substrate should be moist but not soggy. If the substrate becomes too wet, increase ventilation in the habitat. 

Do not use gravel or small pieces of bark that are small enough to be swallowed by a salamander; they can cause a life-threatening gastrointestinal tract obstruction if ingested.  

Avoid reptile carpet and other artificial turf, as they’re too rough and will damage a salamander’s sensitive skin. 

Decor and Accessories 

Salamanders like to burrow under driftwood, cork, or moss, and hide under plants or moss. However, they may also dig under and uproot live plants.  

Pet Salamander Cleaning and Maintenance

The habitat needs to be cleaned thoroughly at least once a week. 

  1. Using powder-free latex gloves moistened with dechlorinated water, move the amphibian to a secure habitat. Be sure to handle the animal gently to avoid harming its sensitive skin. 

  1. Remove any old substrate, décor, and accessories from the habitat.  

  1. Scrub the empty tank and any furnishings with an amphibian-safe habitat cleaner or 3% bleach solution. The bleach solution should stay on the habitat for at least 10 minutes to ensure that the surfaces are properly disinfected. If using a commercial habitat cleaner, follow the manufacturer's instructions.

  1. Rinse the habitat and accessories thoroughly with dechlorinated water, making sure to remove any trace amounts or residual smells left by the cleaning agent or bleach solution.  

  1. Allow the habitat and its contents to dry completely before placing new substrate and clean accessories into the habitat. 

  1. Return the amphibian to the clean habitat. Always be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after handing an amphibian or its habitat’s contents. 

Salamander Diet and Nutrition

Salamanders should be offered a variety of gut-loaded insects and worms as a base diet. These amphibians can also be fed live or frozen/thawed bloodworms, brine shrimp, and tubifex worms, plus supplemental amounts of dry food formulated for salamanders/newts.  

Large salamanders can also be occasionally fed frozen/thawed pinkie or fuzzy mice as a treat. 

Feeding Guidelines 

  • Juvenile salamanders need to be fed every one to two days and adult salamanders need to be fed two to three times a week at nighttime. 

  • Tiger salamanders are prone to obesity, so they should only be fed high-fat foods (like waxworms) in limited amounts.  

A well-balanced and nutritious diet for a salamander consists of a base diet of gut-loaded (recently fed) insects and worms, including:

  • Crickets

  • Earthworms

  • Beetles

  • Roaches

  • Superworms

  • Waxworms

  • Silkworms

  • Hornworms

  • Phoenix worms

  • White worms

Feed a variety of insects rather than the same ones every day. As with humans, feeding amphibians the same food every day can cause malnutrition. 

Avoid feeding mealworms, as they have a hard exoskeleton that’s difficult to digest. 

Bloodworms, brine shrimp, and tubifex worms (frozen/thawed or live) may be offered in the water. 

Some large salamander species, including tiger salamanders, can also eat a frozen/thawed “pinkie” or “fuzzy” mouse as an occasional treat. 

Live rodents should not be fed to salamanders. While still alive, rodents can become aggressive and leave severe wounds that lead to life-threatening infections. 

Frozen rodents should never be microwaved, as this can leave “hot spots” that can burn a salamander's mouth and tongue. 

Commercially available dry food formulated for salamanders should also be used. This dry food should only be used to supplement a newt/salamander’s diet. 

Clean, dechlorinated water should always be available and replaced daily. Food and water dishes should be cleaned and disinfected daily. 

Since salamanders absorb water through their skin to stay hydrated, their water dishes should be large and shallow enough to allow them to soak in them.  

Do not use distilled water, which doesn’t include any of the vitamins, salts, or minerals that amphibians need to stay hydrated. 

Salamander Supplements 

Before feeding, pet parents should dust their salamander’s insects with a powdered vitamin supplement. Salamanders need a calcium supplement with vitamin D and a multivitamin/mineral powder designed for amphibians. 

To dust insects, place them in a bag or disposable plastic container along with a powdered supplement. Then, shake the bag lightly until the insects are coated evenly in powder. 

How to Gut-load Insects 

Gut-loaded diets are fortified with vitamins and minerals to help provide optimal nutrition to the amphibians that feed on them. To gut-load prey, pet parents need to place insects in a container with a gut-loading diet that the bugs can gorge on. Insects should be gut-loaded for at least 24–72 hours before being dusted with a vitamin supplement and fed to a salamander or newt. 

Salamander Grooming and Care


Salamanders should only be handled when necessary. Pet parents should always use powder-free latex gloves moistened with dechlorinated water when handling an amphibian. Human skin has bacteria and oils that amphibians can absorb through their sensitive and porous skin, leading to infection and illness. 

All amphibians have glands in their skin that can secrete toxins. Never let a salamander’s secretions contact your eyes, mouth, or open wounds. 

A fine-mesh net can be used to move or block amphibians during routine habitat maintenance. 


Healthy growing salamanders will shed their skin every few days or weeks. Most salamanders will eat their dead skin after shedding it to absorb nutrients and to avoid being noticed by predators. 

Salamander Veterinary Care

Annual Care

Salamanders should be seen by a veterinarian once annually. They can be transported using an appropriately sized Tupperware® container with airholes and a moistened surface such as wet papers towels on the bottom. It is recommended to take pictures of their enclosure, diet, heaters, lights (including exact specifications from the packaging), so your veterinarian can assess their care as part of the exam.

Signs of a Healthy Salamander or Newt

  • Clean, clear eyes

  • Intact skin with no ulcerations or stuck shed

  • Clean, clear nostrils

  • Good appetite and willingness to hunt

  • Bright, alert personality

  • Clean vent

  • No swellings or bumps

  • Appropriate basking behavior (newts)

  • Good body condition score/weight

When to Call a Vet

  • Eyes are swollen, sunken, stuck shut, or have discharge

  • Pink ulcerations or other lesions are seen on the skin, especially the nose

  • Refusing food

  • Failing to bask (newts)

  • Lethargy

  • Discharge around vent

  • Lumps or bumps

  • Cannot ambulate or posture appropriately

  • Belly appears sunken

  • Shed is stuck, especially around the toes, particularly if any are swollen

Common Illnesses in Salamanders

  • Metabolic bone disease

  • Hypovitaminosis A

  • Gas bubble disease

  • Dysecdysis—stuck shed, especially on the toes

  • Intestinal parasites

  • Skin Infections

  • Trauma

Salamander FAQs

Can a salamander be a pet?

Yes they can! They’re especially great pets for people who do not have the time to commit to a more hands-on pet.

Is it OK to touch a salamander?

Touch a salamander as little as possible, preferably with medical gloves when you do. They don’t particularly enjoy being handled, you can harm them if your hands aren’t perfectly clean, and many species can be poisonous and aren’t safe to touch with bare hands.

Can salamanders be friendly?

Salamanders are friendly, but not in the way a golden retriever would be. They’re calm, non-aggressive pets who prefer to be left to do things on their own.

Featured Image: Mark Kostich/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Maria Zayas, DVM


Maria Zayas, DVM


Dr. Zayas has practiced small animal and exotic medicine all over the United States and currently lives in Colorado with her 3 dogs, 1 cat,...

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