WARNING: This health chapter is written in hope to educate new chameleon owners to recognize early symptoms of sickness. Many of the pictures shown in health chapter are an advanced case of the disease. If your chameleon exhibit symptoms like these, it is HIGHLY advised for you to bring your chameleon to an exotic veterinarian as soon as possible. This article should NOT be used as a substitute for a vet visit. Please be a responsible pet owner. The author cannot be held responsible for any abuse or form of misused of the post. The identity of the sick chameleon's owner(s) is kept hidden to respect their privacy.
I used the color "red" to highlight the underlying problem
Cage Type: 10 gal aquarium.
Lighting: ZooMed reptisun 5.0 flourescent uvb bulb and a ZooMed 60 watt basking bulb (at night: 65-70 F) and (at day: 75-80 F). (Basking area: 85-90 F)
Humidity/ Misting session/ Length of misting session: 50 to 70%/ twice a day + Constant Humidifier/ (N/A)
Plants: Fake plants and fake vines.
Diet: 7-10 quarter inch Crickets as staple feeders. Zoomed calcium is used every other feeding. Feeders are gut loaded with Flukers orange cubes, Flukers high calcium cricket feed, many veggies and fruits such as oranges, apples, carrots, lettuce and other greens, grapefruit, grapes, and bee pollen granules.
Substrate: Yes. Wood Barks.
Picture of the impacted chameleon's husbandry:
After series of forum conversations, sadly, this was another example of improper husbandry. The owner told me that he bought the chameleon from a reputable reptile store at a reptile expo. The store sold him the barks and recommended him to put the barks in the enclosure. The owner set up the enclosure per advice of the store. The chameleon stayed in the condition for 1 month without a problem. Some sleeping during the day occurred once in a while.
One day, the chameleon started to be acting weird and was shaking his head around and then would stretch his neck out almost like a wolf howling. Since he grabbed a couple more crickets right after that, the owner left the premise thinking that the chameleon was fine. When he came home, the owner found his veiled chameleon dead (see the picture above). The chameleon vomited a big roll of cricket parts.
Unfortunately, the chameleon discussed has been buried before a necropsy can be done.
However, the possible situation is that the chameleon tried to hunt the crickets hiding under the bark and accidentally ingested the substrate or a cricket that was too large (unlikely, since the owner claim that he never gave the baby chameleon crickets bigger than 1/4 inch).
The bark then most likely lodged and blocked the chameleon's air passage or other internal organs. This is another textbook example of why substrate is not recommended for chameleons enclosure.
With the owner's permission, the case is presented in this blog to educate people of the necessity of proper husbandry methods and the importance of extensive researches about chameleons care. It is the customer responsibility to familiarize themselves to the basic care.
Impaction is another common health problem encounter in captivity. It is extremely fatal if not treated as soon as possible. In the simplest explanation, impaction is basically a blockage in Chameleon’s digestive system or any other internal organs mostly caused by large foreign objects and/or feeders. Another common name for digestive system impaction is “constipation”. Impaction can severely block the vent of your chameleon, making it impossible to defecate or even to breathe. The body then has no choice but to reabsorb the feces. The toxic wastes in the feces will later cause severe breakdowns in organ functions. An untreated impaction can lead to fatality. A chameleon owner has to be alert if his/her chameleon starts to show the symptoms of impaction. A light impaction can be treated at home. But, once the treatment does not show any improvement, a visit to the vet is a must. The longer you wait, the more likely your chameleon will die.
In certain unfortunate case where choking is involved (such as the one discussed above), the emergency is immediate and the chameleon impacted has to be brought to a vet ASAP.
The best way, as usual, to cure an impaction is by prevention. Use your common sense in this matter. Here are some prevention methods that you can take:
- A lot of people love the idea of using substrates in their chameleon’s enclosure mainly due to aesthetic and humidity reasons. However, substrates are more of a nuisance than anything. Free roam crickets often love to hide inside the substrate layer. This rises the possibility of your chameleon accidentally ingest the substrate while hunting for foods. The risk even becomes higher to those of you who own a veiled chameleon. Some veiled chameleons love to ingest dirt for unknown reasons. Having substrates in the enclosure is a recipe to disaster. The substrate can block your chameleon's air passage and digestive system. Even further, substrate are often become a breeding ground for bacteria that can be problematic to your chameleon’s health.
- Avoid feeding your chameleon with feeders that are larger than the width of his forehead (exception apply to soft bodied insects such as hornworms, silkworms, etc). Another thing to avoid is feeding your chameleon too many insects.
- Avoid having plastic decorations and foreign objects in the cage that can be easily swallowed by your chameleon (such as plastic grapes attached to your fake plants, gravels that are small enough for your chameleon to eat, potting soils that contain wood bark and wood chips).
Symptoms to watch out for:
- No fecal activity for several days (more than 4 days) regardless being fed. Baby chameleons should defecate daily. Some Juveniles and adult might skip a day or two. Always look for the presence of feces in the enclosure.
- The chameleon often tries to defecate but nothing comes out.
- In some cases, the chameleon looked bloated.
- In advance cases, the impacted condition often can pinch your chameleon’s nerves causing a paralysis (usually the back leg).
- The chameleon refuses to eat.
- The chameleon exhibit symptoms like choking.
If impaction detected early, the treatment is quite simple. Misting more often and prolonging the time per session is recommended. The extra humidity will help him in this area. It is imperative to mist him with warm water. You can put hot water (NOT BOILING) inside your spray bottle so that when you mist him, warm water will come out of the nozzle. This warm misting therapy will induce your chameleon reaction to defecate.
If your chameleon is old enough (5 months or older), a "shower" method can be used to help your impacted chameleon. DO NOT SHOWER BABY CHAMELEONS. The water droplets can clog its nostril and cause it to drown.
Please refer to Health Care: Dehydration chapter for “how to shower your chameleon.”
Lots of misting and shower will be beneficial to help your chameleon overcome this.
Mineral oil/ cod liver oil can be administered orally about once a week to help “lubricate” your chameleon intestine.
If the treatment does not prove to be effective by several days (2 days), a vet visit is in order. If the treatment works, you will see a bigger than usual feces successfully expelled from your chameleon’s body.
When choking is involved, you need to go to the vet right away. It is considered an emergency case.