While chameleons in captivity are known to live two to three times longer than those in the wild, much of that relies on the pet owner’s care.
It is hard to take care of chameleons because of their delicate and high-maintenance nature. Chameleons are definitely not recommended for beginner reptile owners. Even simple mistakes in their enclosure or handling can have severe and long-lasting effects on the chameleon.
Six possible signs of a dying chameleon include sunken eyes, sleeping during the day, weight loss, parasites in their poop, unusual coloring, and frequent hanging out at the bottom of their enclosure. Note that which signs they exhibit depends on their exact illness and its severity. They may only show one or two of these or, in extreme cases, all six and even more.
Signs of a Dying Chameleon With Treatment Tips
It is standard practice in the wild to hide signs of discomfort and illness. Looking vulnerable in any way is an open invitation for predators to come to attack you. Birds are known for doing this, as are chameleons.
This means you don’t often have much time between your chameleon showing symptoms and its possible end since it will only show signs when its disease is severe. You must act fast!
If you notice your chameleon is acting strangely, become more vigilant. If symptoms persist, taking it to the vet as soon as possible is recommended. After all, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
As mentioned, dying chameleons typically have sunken eyes, lethargy, weight loss, parasites in their poop, unusual coloring, and frequent hanging out at the bottom of their enclosure.
Here is a rundown of these symptoms, what illness likely matches it, and what possible treatments you can do.
Sign #1: Sunken Eyes Mean Dehydration
Aside from sunken eyes, a dehydrated chameleon will have the following:
- Sagging skin
- Loss of appetite
- Sticky saliva
- Yellow or orange pee and urates (the white bits in your chameleon’s poop)
Dehydration is extremely serious for chameleons. Generally, chameleons need high humidity levels in their enclosure to be comfortable, between 65% to 80%, and rarely below 50%.
Chameleon species have different humidity requirements depending on their natural habitat. Always check with your pet store or breeder to ensure you give it the correct care it needs!
What to do for your dehydrated chameleon
If your chameleon is dehydrated, give it a quick rehydration “bath.”
Place a potted plant with large leaves inside the enclosure for your chameleon to hide under if it doesn’t have that yet. Then, aim a shower head towards the enclosure wall, and let the water run for about 30 minutes.
The idea is to aggressively mist the tank and give your chameleon lots of humidity to absorb and drink. However, note that you can only do this if your chameleon is at least five months old.
Baby or juvenile chameleons can become overwhelmed by the experience and begin exhibiting signs of stress afterward, which is also extremely bad for them. For younger chameleons, simply mist their enclosure more frequently or take them to a vet if possible.
Chameleons don’t naturally drink water from a bowl, so trying to get them to drink that way might not work. Instead, they enjoy licking droplets off leaves. Make sure to mist its enclosure twice or thrice a day to avoid dehydrating them in the first place!
Sign #2: Unusual Coloring Could Mean Stress
You know your chameleon is suffering from stress if it
- Has unusual coloring – brighter or darker than it usually is
- Curls up in a ball
- Puffs out its gular (pouch of skin in the neck area)
- Flattens its body
- It keeps its mouth open as if ready to bite
- Jumpy when you handle it
- Runs away instead of just hiding or changing its color
Chameleons do not handle stress well at all. It could kill them, especially if they are stressed constantly.
It doesn’t help that many things can make a chameleon feel stressed, from too many people in the room to see its reflection.
What to do if your chameleon is stressed
If your chameleon is stressed, one of the best things to do is leave it alone. Having some solitary time may be enough to calm it down. It’s also possible it is simply adjusting to something, such as a new plant in its tank or anything else new in the room.
If that doesn’t work, check its enclosure.
- Is the room too busy with too much foot traffic? Should you move it to a quieter location?
- Is it near a window?
- Is it too small?
- Do your other pets have access to it? (And, therefore, visit your chameleon to bother or stare at it?)
- Does it share its tank with another chameleon or reptile?
- Are there crickets crawling around in it, biting your chameleon?
- Is the UVB light burnt out?
The calmer your chameleon, the longer its lifespan will be. So though it might be tedious, it’s worth it to single out exactly what is causing your chameleon distress and work to resolve it as much as you can.
Sign #3: Parasites In Poop Signal Parasitic Infestation
How to tell if your chameleon has a parasitic infection? If it has
- Parasites or worms in its poop
- Smelly feces
- Loss of appetite
- Not drinking
- Weight loss
- Swollen Belly
- Weakness, no grip strength
Having some parasites is normal to some degree for wild animals. However, the problem arises when the parasites multiply, becoming a full-blown infestation.
Chameleons face two kinds of parasites: Ectoparasites are found outside their bodies and on the skin, such as mites and ticks. Endoparasites live inside a chameleon’s body and can quickly “steal” all your chameleon’s nutrients to stay healthy.
If you bought a wild chameleon, carefully and thoroughly inspect it for parasites once you purchase it so you can deal with the problem right away before it gets worse.
Domestic chameleons most get parasites from their food, mainly if you feed them wild grasshoppers and crickets.
What to do about parasite infestation on your chameleon
The first thing you should do is bring a sample of its feces to your vet to confirm.
If your chameleon has parasites, your vet can give him medication and treatments to flush them out of its system.
Afterward, ensure your chameleon doesn’t catch parasites again by feeding it only store-bought food, keeping its cage clean and disinfected, and minimizing its exposure to stress.
Sign #4: Lethargy Could Be Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD)
Lethargy is a tricky symptom since it is a general sign of discomfort and could be a sign of any of the mentioned diseases in this article.
The way to know if your chameleon is genuinely suffering from Metabolic Bone Disease is to look at its other symptoms. These will include:
- Twisted-looking joints
- Loss of appetite
- Muscle spasms/twitching
- Swollen limbs
- Mouth not closing correctly due to jaw pain
- The tongue always sticking out
- Broken bones
What is Metabolic Bone Disease?
Metabolic Bone Disease is the weakening and deformation of your chameleon’s bones. Lack of calcium, exposure to UVB lights, and possible kidney disease are the main causes of this illness.
What to do if your chameleon has Metabolic Bone Disease
If your chameleon has MBD, it’s best to take them to a vet immediately for proper diagnosis and treatment.
On your own, however, you can begin helping your chameleon by giving it a stronger UVB light and calcium supplements and vitamins.
Sign #5: Weight Loss Could Result From Poor Diet
Weight loss is another tricky symptom since it could mean nearly anything, again including all the illnesses in this article. One of the things it could mean, though, is a poor diet.
It’s normal for adult chameleons to skip meals for several days. However, you should begin to worry if it hasn’t eaten for a whole week or are losing weight.
If your chameleon has lost about 5% of its body weight, take it to a vet as soon as possible.
Other symptoms of a poor diet include lethargy, mucus seeping out of the chameleon’s nose and mouth, and bone problems (similar to MBD).
Improving your Chameleon’s diet
Chameleons need a balanced, nutritious diet to stay healthy. This means they should eat a good mix of leafy greens such as kale, collards, mustard greens, crickets, locusts, mealworms, and waxworms.
After all, chameleons are omnivores and need plants and insects to stay strong and healthy.
They should also stay hydrated and drink enough water, especially to avoid sunken eyes from dehydration. So, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, don’t forget to mist its enclosure regularly or provide it with a source of regular dripping water.
How much should your chameleon be eating? Juvenile chameleons eat about 12 to 20 small crickets each day, spread out into two or three meals. Adults can eat 10-12 large crickets every other day. These numbers are just for reference–don’t forget to mix up the exact insects and greens you feed your chameleon, or it could get boring!
Sign #6: Hanging Out At The Bottom of Enclosure Could Mean Old Age
Chameleons are arboreal, meaning they like to live in trees. If your chameleon is spending a lot of time on the ground of its enclosure, it could be a sign of pain or some other discomfort, and you should observe it for other symptoms.
However, if your chameleon is on the older side, it may be a sign that its age is catching up to it. Older chameleons have to deal with the aches of an aging body that is slowly shutting down, and they are more comfortable on a flat surface than clinging onto branches.
Note that if you own a female chameleon, this could be perfectly normal. Female chameleons hang out at the bottom of the enclosures when they prepare to lay their eggs.
What to do for an aging Chameleon
At this point, there isn’t much you can do. Do your best to make its last few days and weeks happy and comfortable.
If you think it is in extreme pain, you can also consider going to your vet to have your pet chameleon put to sleep.
When To See A Vet
Chameleons are tricky to read, not because of their changing skin color, but because they hide their pain so well.
Generally, it’s best to see a vet when your chameleon has lost 5% of its body weight or more or if its symptoms persist for an extended period, such as if it hasn’t eaten in a week or has had its eyes closed for 24 hours straight.
Ultimately, as its owner, you can tell best when something isn’t right, and it’s time for a check-up.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Often Should I Bring My Chameleon To The Vet?
As they say, prevention is better than cure. Bring your pet chameleon to the vet for regular checkups once every 6-12 months.
This way, they’ll have regular opportunities to check for anything suspicious before it becomes a severe problem.
How Long Do Chameleons Live In Captivity?
Given the proper diet and care, chameleons can live five to eight years in captivity or even longer.
Males tend to outlive females because of the stress egg-laying causes on their bodies.
It’s always hard to see your pet suffering, and it’s especially paranoia-inducing to wonder if they are only sick or dying.
If you see your chameleon acting strangely for a while, seek professional advice as soon as possible. As its owner, you can tell if your chameleon is just playing and being silly or genuinely in pain.
It may be expensive to get it diagnosed and treated, but nothing will compare with the joy of seeing it back on its feet and happily clinging to its branches again.