Chameleons make beautiful, exciting pets, and enthusiasts across the United States can’t get enough of them.
Many owners attempt to shower their pets with food as a token of affection. However, sometimes the chameleon doesn’t respond! Why is my chameleon not eating?
It’s possible your chameleon isn’t eating because it’s stressed, doesn’t like its food, is undergoing physical changes, or is simply not hungry. In the first place, chameleons don’t need to eat too often, and their mood and hormones quickly affect their appetite. But if the lack of appetite is accompanied by other symptoms such as weakness, weight loss, and often-closed eyes, call your vet as soon as possible.
Why Is My Chameleon Not Eating? 13 Reasons Why
Here are thirteen possible reasons your chameleon is not eating, split into three categories: Your chameleon is just being a chameleon (i.e., natural reasons beyond your control), your chameleon is adjusting to its life as a pet (i.e., solvable reasons that have to do with pet life), and potential health issues.
It’s just your chameleon being a chameleon
Sometimes, your chameleon isn’t eating because of typical chameleon reasons. It’s just how they are–and we love them for it, still.
1. It is not hungry
You’d be hard-pressed to call chameleons “active animals” who race around their cage all day. They spend most of their time hanging out on their tree branches while only occasionally shifting their position.
This means that, generally, chameleons don’t need to burn too many calories daily. So if your chameleon isn’t eating, maybe it isn’t hungry yet!
2. It is growing older
How often a chameleon eats depends on its age. The older the chameleon, the less it has to eat.
- Baby chameleons (0-6 months old) eat two to three times a day
- Juvenile chameleons (6-12 months old) eat once a day
- Adult chameleons (1 year and up) eat once every 2-3 days
Though chameleons eat every other day, it can be expected for them to sometimes go up to a whole week without eating. When this happens, it’s best to look for other symptoms and weigh your chameleon.
It is okay if your chameleon hasn’t eaten but hasn’t lost weight. But if it has lost weight, especially if that number is equivalent to 5% of its total body weight, schedule a visit to your vet.
Regarding a baby chameleon not eating, it’s probably best to call within a few days instead of waiting a whole week to check if it’s okay!
Chameleons don’t need to eat every day, but they need their daily dose of water to stay healthy. Interestingly, chameleons don’t drink from bowls and cups–they like to lick droplets off leaves. Don’t forget to mist its enclosure regularly!
3. It is shedding
Chameleons regularly shed their skin to replace old scales with new ones, eliminate parasites, and ensure their skin is always in the best possible condition.
They shed more frequently when they are younger because they keep outgrowing their skin and need to regrow a bigger size. On average, young chameleons shed every 3-4 weeks, while adult chameleons only do so once every eight weeks.
However, shedding can also be a side effect of stress. If your chameleon is particularly stressed, such as when it is new and still adjusting to your home, you may notice it shedding its skin.
Aside from eating less, another sign your chameleon is shedding is sluggishness.
4. It’s in brumation
Brumation is reptiles’ equivalent of hibernation. But unlike mammals that rely mainly on stored fat during this period, reptiles slow down their bodily processes like metabolism.
Brumation is triggered by low temperatures, such as in the winter, and typically lasts a few days. You may notice your chameleon barely moving and eating only once every 3-4 days, or even less than that. They also stop going to the bathroom!
Excitingly, after this period comes the mating season of chameleons.
This has led many pet owners to associate a lack of appetite with a chameleon in heat.
5. It’s a female about the lay eggs
Female chameleons lay their eggs between 2-4 months after mating and lay quite a few in one go–between ten to thirty eggs, to be precise! Sometimes, they may even have several egg-laying sessions a few weeks apart.
Laying eggs is a physically demanding activity for female chameleons, and they may eat less before and during this time to conserve energy.
They don’t run straight for their insects right after laying the last egg, too–sometimes it takes them a few days or even a whole week to eat regularly again.
Even if they have no appetite, ensuring your chameleon has enough water is vital. Always remember to mist its enclosure at least twice a day.
On rare occasions, it may be possible for your female chameleon to be “egg-bound.” This means they cannot lay their eggs or get all of their eggs out.
Aside from lack of appetite, signs your female may be egg-bound include difficulty breathing and sunken or closed eyes. Also, by touching its sides and belly, you can feel the eggs inside her.
Your chameleon is adjusting to its life as a pet
Indeed, sometimes it’s not out of our control that our chameleon isn’t eating. Sometimes, though, it is!
Chameleons sometimes react strongly to their experiences as a pet since they are wild animals, after all. But the good news is, we can always make adjustments to make it a little happier and more comfortable.
6. It is adapting to a new environment–including you
Chameleons are sensitive creatures. They are slow, solitary animals that quickly get stressed, causing them to react in many ways, including not eating.
Ultimately, their priority is to know they are safe, and they react to things they aren’t sure are safe yet.
Therefore, they can get stressed when moving into your home or even meeting you as their new owner. But be patient, and give them space. With enough time, they will settle and associate you and your home with safety.
Chameleons don’t like being handled. While it may be tempting to cuddle with your chameleon to get it to like you faster, this will stress it out even more. It’s best to leave it alone with minimal interaction and allow it to warm up to you at its own pace.
7. It is stressed
The initial adjustment is one thing, but sometimes, everyday occurrences throw your little chameleon back into its anxious, distrustful state.
Small changes you make to their environment can make them feel like they are in a new place and restart the process, even if you’ve had them for a while. Thankfully, they do get over these quicker than the first time.
A big thing to remember also is that they are solitary animals, as mentioned. They like being secluded and alone.
Being around too many people can cause stress, even if it’s a temporary situation like you having a party at home.
Being around other animals causes even more stress since they worry it’s a predator about to get them. Take care to place your chameleon a little higher above the ground, out of eye contact with other dogs and cats you may have prowling around.
8. It has issues with its food
There are two common problems chameleons have with their food.
First, you may have been feeding your chameleon the same thing repeatedly. It’s best to offer it a variety of insects to keep it interested in eating.
Try feeding it something that moves rather rapidly, like a fluttering moth. Aside from being eye-catching, the chase may stimulate your pet chameleon.
The second issue your chameleon may have with its food is past trauma. It is possible you once fed it an insect that fought back. This can cause your chameleon is associate it with danger and refuse to approach that insect again.
In this case, it’s best to stop offering them food for a little while to allow them to heal. When you think they are ready for meals again, provide them with other insects first. Don’t reintroduce the fighting bug until weeks or months later if you can help it.
9. It can’t see the food
As mentioned earlier, chameleons like to spend their time hanging up in tree branches and not crawling around the floor of their enclosure.
If you leave its food bowl on the ground, your chameleon may not even know it has available food. As they say, out of sight, out of mind.
Even though it may be trickier to hang up your pet chameleon’s food bowl or balance it on branches, your pet chameleon will greatly appreciate your efforts!
However, there is also a possibility your chameleon “can’t see its food” because it has eye problems. Read on to the next section, which covers symptoms of sick chameleons and common illnesses.
Potential Health Issues
If your chameleon is weak and not eating, it may be sick. In particular, other things you should check to know if something is wrong are
- Duration. How long can a chameleon go without eating? Several weeks. But just because it can, doesn’t mean it should. Call the vet if your chameleon has gone without a single bite for an entire week.
- Its mouth. It’s possible your chameleon isn’t eating because it may have a mouth or tongue infection or even food stuck in its mouth. If you notice anything strange after peering inside, call the vet.
- Its eyes. If your chameleon’s eyes appear sunken and are closed for most of the day–you know who to call. Generally, chameleons should be alert, with eyes wide open for most of the day, even if they don’t move too much.
- Its legs. Your chameleon may appear unsteady and shaky on its feet.
Learn more about the symptoms of a sick chameleon in this video:
What are some potential health issues your chameleon may be dealing with if it is not eating and exhibits these symptoms? Here are a few.
Being the tree-dwellers they are, it’s possible for chameleons sometimes to fall and hurt themselves. Unfortunately, they are not cats that always land on their feet!
If you notice your chameleon limping or holding itself in a strange position, have the vet check it as soon as possible.
If left alone, fractures may heal incorrectly and impair your chameleon for life.
Proper chameleon enclosures need heat lamps to ensure the cold-blooded animals stay warm. But sometimes, chameleons can get too near these lamps and accidentally burn themselves.
While burns are not particularly life-threatening, they can be uncomfortable for your chameleon and occasionally become infected. To be safe, it’s best to still consult with your vet.
An impacted chameleon is another way of saying it’s a constipated one. They cannot defecate, leading to a build-up of feces in their intestines, which is unhealthy.
Impaction is typically caused by dehydration, low temperatures, large-particle substrates like bark chips, plenty of parasites, or your chameleon eating something bigger than its head.
A normal, healthy adult chameleon poops once every few days or at least twice a week. If it hasn’t pooped in over two weeks, call the vet.
13. Metabolic Bone Disease
The metabolic bone disease results from a nutrient deficiency, which causes your chameleon’s bones to become brittle and more susceptible to fractures.
This illness causes much pain, and you may notice the chameleon not eating or moving.
You can initially try to solve the problem by giving your chameleon supplements and a more nutritious diet. However, if the problem persists or progresses, take it to a professional as soon as possible.
Can you overfeed a chameleon?
On their own, a chameleon will rarely overeat. But if constantly fed by their owners, they may overeat, leading to gout, liver problems, and, in extreme cases, kidney failure.
When caring for your pet chameleon, remember that it only needs to eat every other day!
Tips for how to get a chameleon to eat.
If it’s been a long while and you are getting concerned, it is possible to force-feed your chameleon.
Gently tilt its head back until it opens its mouth. Then gently, with your pinky, push the bug inside to the back of its tongue. Your chameleon should swallow the insect.
A demonstration of how to get a chameleon to eat.
It can be worrisome when you see your pet not eating. But chameleon owners should take solace in the fact that this can be perfectly normal, particularly for this reptile.
As long as your chameleon appears happy, is pooping regularly, is not losing weight, and has bright, healthy-looking skin, it should be fine, even if it isn’t eating too much.