Health and Illness

A Comprehensive Guide to Chameleon Health and Illness

Helping Your Chameleon Live a Long, Healthy Life

We all want to keep our pets around for as long as possible! Having a close friend that is healthy and happy makes us feel good. Part of being a reptile owner though is having questions. When should I take my pet to the vet? Which illnesses do I need to look out for? Read on for these answers and more!

This guide will help you

  • Learn about chameleon lifespans
  • Know when to contact the vet
  • Identify possible illness
  • ... And much more!

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Lifespan

With proper care, chameleons can live long, healthy lives. Supplying them with the correct habitat, nutritious food, and a clean cage helps ensure that they remain healthy. When it comes to the lifespan of a particular species, they fall into two categories – long-lived and short-lived species.

Long-lived Species

As compared to smaller species, the larger ones lives longer. Veiled, Parsons, and Oustalets species are known to live for at least 10 years. Some are even believed to reach 2 decades. However, these species mature differently. While most Panther chameleons take 12 to 18 months to mature, Veiled chameleons can take as little as 4 months to reach maturity and then reproduce.

Short-lived Species

Small chameleons have the shortest lifespans. Even in the best conditions, it’s very hard for them to live beyond 3 years. These species include Carpet chameleons and Labord chameleons. Interestingly, Labord chameleons usually die shortly after depositing eggs. The ones that remain live underground to incubate the eggs. To maximize your chameleon’s lifespan, ensure that you provide proper supplementation, diet, habitat, temperature, water, and UVB levels.

When to See a Vet

While many chameleon keepers fear going to the vet, it’s very important for the health of the pet. Remember, chameleons evolved to live in the wild, so they tend to hide sickness while in captivity. By the time you first notice symptoms, your pet could have been ailing for a considerable amount of time.

Visible Symptoms

If you notice any of the visible symptoms listed below or other bodily injuries, you should take your pet to the veterinarian.
  • Any Bodily Injuries
  • Sunken Eyes
  • Respiratory Infections
  • Excess Mucus
  • Foaming at Mouth
  • Visible Stress (abnormally dark colors)
  • Difficulty Walking
  • Limited or No Climbing

Just like other pets and animals, chameleons are prone to different infections. If these are not attended to, your pet could become fatally ill. If you suspect your pet has an infection, visit a vet immediately.

TIP: To check if your chameleon has respiratory problems, hold it close to your ear and listen to it. If it’s making cracking noises then it’s suffering from a respiratory problem.

If you stay attentive for these warning signs and don’t delay action, your chameleon has a great chance at living a long, healthy life.

Illness Guide

There are a lot of different illnesses that reptile owners need to keep their eyes open for. Never try to play vet though, and if you suspect there is a serious issue, always reach out for professional help! With that being said, knowing what to look for can help you stay educated and prepared.

Stress

The Cause
More so than many other pets, chameleons are very prone to stress. Some of the common causes of stress include poor or too much lighting, too much traffic, dramatic environment changes, loud noises, seeing another animal, seeing it’s reflection, poor handling and being sprayed with cold water.
How to Identify
There are a number of signs to look for that indicate stress. Some of these include dramatic and dark color change, smelly feces, watery feces, becoming abnormally aggressive, different body temperature, rocking, flattening of the body, loss of appetite, and excessive hiding among their foliage.
How to Prevent
The most common ways to reduce stress are to keep your pet in a low traffic area, reduce excessive handling, and keep noise to a minimum. Unlike other animals, chameleons are not social – they should be kept far away from other pets. In fact, do not even allow them to see their own reflection! For wild caught chameleons, provide a large natural looking environment.

Edema

The Cause
Edema generally refers to the swelling of the body caused by excess fluids. It’s the accumulation of fluids in the subcutaneous layer of the skin. Although there are many causes, the one major one is being fed crickets or other feeders coated in excess vitamins. It can also be caused by your pet’s enclosure containing too much humidity.
How to Identify
This condition is usually characterized by a swelling that resemble goiter in the chest, throat and neck. Even pets that have been living in their enclosure for a long time can develop these symptoms.
How to Prevent
To prevent this, avoid feeding your pet on food gut loaded with too many vitamins. You should also avoid products that contains too much proteins as it has been found that this can also lead to the condition. Remember, too much of a good thing will leave your chameleon in poor health. It is very important to supplement in moderation! Also, ensure your pet’s home is not too humid.

Parasites

The Cause
Two major causes of parasites are being fed wild insects and lack of clean hygiene. The most commonly occurring parasites include protozoa, nematodes, trematodes, and cryptosporidium.
How to Identify
To check whether parasites are present, you need to give your vet a fresh dropping. This should consist of a whitish urate component and brownish excrement. You can use a plastic container or glass to collect this. Once you have done this, you need to immediately place it in a baggie so as to prevent desiccation. Next, refrigerate it until you are ready to take it to the vet for checking. Some parasites will be invisible to the naked eye which is why you need a veterinarian’s help.
How to Prevent
Some parasites such as protozoa are very difficult to treat, so prevention is important! The best way to do this is to maintain a strict enclosure hygiene. You should also continuously check the kind of feeders that you are giving your pet. Avoid giving them wild insects and instead purchase your insects online or locally.

Upper Respiratory Infections

The Cause
Upper respiratory infections are very common among pet chameleons. The major cause of this condition is environmental contamination. It is typically an infection in the animal’s respiratory tract. When the infection is in the lungs it’s called pneumonia. It can also be caused by poor caring and husbandry issues.
How to Identify
Some of the signs of these infections include excessive mucus, gaped mouth, wheezing sounds, popping sounds, inflammation and bubbling around the nose and the mouth. When this is detected early, it can be handled in time and the animal can return to health.
How to Prevent
To prevent these infections you need to check for air quality and proper temperature of the cage. You should also regularly remove litter from the bottom of cage. Insect cultures and a dirty water source can can also increase the risk of upper respiratory infection, so keep everything tidy!

Calcium Deficiency

The Cause
Some of the things that can cause calcium deficiency in a chameleon include too much phosphorus, insufficient amounts of calcium and a lack of vitamin A. It’s very important to make sure these are all provided to protect your pet.
How to Identify
Some of the symptoms include soft bones, soft jaw, lack of appetite, lethargy, and deformities in the spine and the legs. While calcium is used to flex muscles, it’s usually stored in the bones. This means when there is not enough present, the pet will start drawing calcium from the bones, thereby making them weak and easy to fracture. Calcium is easily supplemented if it is the only lacking nutrient.
How to Prevent
To prevent deficiencies, you need to properly coat your feeders with the correct amount of calcium. A light coating, so that your feeders look just dusted in calcium. One way to coat your feeders is to have a specific container to dust your crickets or worms, then transfer those into a separate container. It is also important to gut load your feeders with healthy greens and fruits.

Vitamin A Deficiency

The Cause
Vitamin A is readily available in nature. When chameleons are kept as pets, their diets consists primarily of insects that might lack vitamin A. Remember, in the wilderness they eat insects and even small lizards, so they absorb a lot of the nutrient. Because of this, poor diet can easily lead to the condition.
How to Identify
Some of the signs of vitamin A deficiency include, reduced growth rate, swollen limbs, skin abnormalities, loss of appetite, swelling in the eyes, hemipenile, necrosis, upper respiratory infections, liver enlargement, loss of appetite and bone abnormalities.
How to Prevent
One of the best ways to prevent this is to ensure that your pet gets the best nutrition. Feeder insects should be coated with a multi-vitamin supplement that includes vitamin A 2 or 3 times a month. The insects they feed on should also be gut loaded with vitamin rich nutrients. Some of the foods they should be fed include apples, cornmeal, carrots, oranges, sweet potatoes, legumes, rolled oats, and mustard seeds.

Dehydration

The Cause
Unfortunately this is one of the major causes of deaths among pet chameleons.This could be caused simply by not being provided enough water, not having adequate surfaces to collect water off of, or because of more serious internal issues.
How to Identify
You need to watch out for symptoms such as orange or yellow urate, sunken eyes, loss of appetite and weak skin that will not revert to normal when pulled.
How to Prevent
First make sure you have sufficient foliage available for your pet to drink from. Second, if you do not see your reptile drinking falling water off of leaves and vines, consider adding a small bowl for them to use. You can also try misting. However, if your misting, husbandry, and watering are good and you see your chameleon drinking but your pet is still dehydrated, there might be serious health problems. Go to see a vet so as to know the underlying cause. In case this is detected early then treatment is very simple.

Egg Binding

The Cause
Egg binding, also known as egg retention is a condition that is very common in reptiles. It normally occurs when the female cannot produce mature eggs during reproduction. It can occur due to anatomical defects, large malformed eggs, poor condition of the mother, lack of a good nesting site, dehydration or improper temperature among other things.
How to Identify
Although pregnant chameleons may appear to have swollen abdomens, they still remain active. Chameleons suffering from egg binding rapidly become lethargic, depressed, and inactive. They may also raise their hind limbs and strain without producing any eggs. This is such a serious condition that it can lead to death after a few days.
How to Prevent
It’s very important to ensure that female chameleons receive adequate supplements that can prevent this. You also need to provide her with a good substrate where she can prepare a good place to lay her eggs. This is the best way to prevent this condition.

Gout

The Cause
However much you protect your pet chameleon, minor injuries such as scrapes and cuts may still happen. These injuries can be caused in the course of regular play, but can also be more serious – sometimes as a result of a falling bulb or enclosure being knocked over. Whatever the cause of the injuries, the most important thing to do is to ensure that the pet is completely healed and keep a watchful eye on it’s recovery.
How to Identify
Since these injuries are physical, they are very easy to identify. You only need to watch the behavior of your pet to see if it is in pain. You should also periodically examine it’s body for scrapes or cuts. If you notice these injuries, you have a good chance of treating them, thereby preventing other infections that might occur.
How to Prevent
Make sure to feed and treat your chameleon right. If your chameleon is strong and healthy, it will minimize the chances of injury. You should also be very careful when handling the animal, especially when removing it from a tree. Make sure it’s home is undisturbed and any other larger pets like dogs do not have the ability to knock it over. IF your pet has major injuries such as a large lesion or a limp, it may require the attention of a vet to avoid developing septic wounds.

Bodily Injuries

The Cause
This is a serious condition. It’s caused by producing excess amounts of uric acids in the blood. This is a very complicated disease that has many symptoms and comes in many forms. This is something that needs to be treated by a vet. Gout can be divided into two major types, primary gout and secondary gout.
How to Identify
To identify, watch out for symptoms such as excessive drinking behavior, not eating, reduced mobility and swelling joints. Your pet may also exhibit pain when walking or climbing and get extremely aggressive, especially when it’s joints are touched.
How to Prevent
Avoid feeding your pet a lot of proteins. Since it’s a low protein animal, if you give it a lot of proteins you can increase the chances of developing gout. You should also avoid gut feeding your insects with anything besides basic fruits and vegetables.

Mouth Issues

The Cause
A chameleon’s mouth issues may be caused by poor nutrition and animal husbandry. Other causes include overcrowding, temperature regulation, improper phosphorus, vitamin deficiency, and insufficient calcium levels. Mouth issues can also be caused by a scratch or a wound.
How to Identify
In the early stages of an oral problem, a brownish yellowish matter or stains may surround the periphery of the teeth and the gums. You may also see a slight swelling at the lower jaw and dehydrated matter around the mouth. If this is not treated quickly, your pet will suffer from loss of appetite that might eventually affect its overall health.
How to Prevent
Make sure that proper nutrition is provided. Also make sure that your pet does not try to eat anything which may damage it’s mouth in the process. If an enclosure is left open, the risk is run that foreign animals or items could find their way in. If your pet tries to eat something it shouldn’t it runs the risk of hurting itself.

Tongue Problems

The Cause
Tongue problems may be caused by a mouth infection, vitamin deficiency, or a muscular problem found within the mouth. If a chameleon injures its tongue, it will not be able to pull it back into his mouth. If this happens, you must ensure that it remains moist and does not dry. Remember, your pet needs it’s tongue to feed!
How to Identify
Some of the symptoms include failure to fully remove the tongue when feeding, swollen gular area, and swelling of the tongue. Other serious symptoms may include failure to use the tongue or failure to feed at all. In such situations, it’s very important to see a vet.
How to Prevent
Outside of physical damage, tongue problems are usually a sign of nutritional deficiency. To avoid this, you must ensure that you gut load your insects with enough calcium and vitamins. Also be sure to provide enough UVB light and sufficient water in the drip system. If your pet is not eating though, be sure to see a vet.

Metabolic Bone Disease

The Cause
Signs of this condition include bowed legs, clumsiness, and rubbery jaw. Later stages of the condition can lead to trouble climbing, difficulty in projecting the tongue, and loss of appetite. Since this condition is a slow process, make sure to do usual checks on your pet to make sure he is in good health.
How to Identify
Some of the symptoms include failure to fully remove the tongue when feeding, swollen gular area, and swelling of the tongue. Other serious symptoms may include failure to use the tongue or failure to feed at all. In such situations, it’s very important to see a vet.
How to Prevent
Outside of physical damage, tongue problems are usually a sign of nutritional deficiency. To avoid this, you must ensure that you gut load your insects with enough calcium and vitamins. Also be sure to provide enough UVB light and sufficient water in the drip system. If your pet is not eating though, be sure to see a vet.
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