Thursday, February 28, 2008

Health Section E -Parasites

-photo courtesy of Dave Weldon-


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.

Case Study of my chameleon:

Cage Type: 28X18X50 (in.) an Aluminum Screen cage.
Lighting: Zoomed basking spot lamp 75 watt & Reptisun tube 5.0 (UVA and UVB bulb)
Temperature: >60F degrees at night and between 70-80 in the day. 87-89 degree basking area.
Humidity: 40-60%.
Misting session: 4 times a day
Length of misting session: 5 minutes.
Plants: Hibiscus, Ficus, 2 Pothos.

The first time I checked the fecal was a week after I purchased my chameleon. The fecal test yielded a negative result for parasites (October 2007).

On mid January 2008, I got a chance to have a free fecal float test. Therefore, I submitted the fecal sample. It was also yielded a negative result for parasites.
On last weeks of January 2008, Paul threw a hunger strike. He refused to eat silkworms and hornworms that I had for him and only wanted to eat bugs. I went to a local reptile store to purchase crickets. Unfortunately, this is where I suspect my chameleon got infected. This is the only thing “foreign” from my usual care (I rear my own insects feeder except for crickets).

Columbus relished the crickets until I notice he stopped eating them on February 5, 2008. I went back on my silkworm batch and he started eating the worms diet again. On Thursday February 7, 2008, I notice a considerable change in his grip. He usually gripped my hands strongly when I moved him for his usual sun-basking regime. I put Paul’s stool in a zip lock bag and called the animal hospital for a fecal float.

After couple of minutes, I saw one intestinal nematode crawl out of the fecal and died. I immediately schedule the vet visit for that day. And, my chameleon was tested positive for nematodes and coccidia. The vet gave me a Panacur and an Albon to administer.

This case is presented in this blog to educate people of the importance of noticing early symptoms of abnormality in your chameleon behaviors, having a regular fecal test (at least once a year), maintaining cleanliness of the enclosure, and being careful of where you buy your feeders.


Parasitosis is a common health problem encounter in captivity both for veteran keepers and beginners. It often exists in WC chameleon than the CB one. However, be aware that this is not exclusive to wild caught chameleons. This is one of those problem that can happen to your chameleon at any time. You can certainly reduce the risk by maintaining sanitary habit and preventing cross contamination. But, it will not prevent your chameleon from getting it at all. Therefore, it is always important to be alert at all time for symptoms and have a fecal test done once or twice a year.

Parasitism is a health problem that can be hazardous overtime. Most parasites live “harmoniously” inside your chameleon’s body as long as your chameleon’s immune system is active enough to suppress the parasites reproduction rate. A new owner should realize the need to deworm their WC chameleons and quarantine it from other chameleon to avoid cross contamination.

There are basically three common types of parasites that are troublesome to your chameleon (be aware that beside these three there are another types):
A. Protozoan type (i.e.: Coccidia): This usually found in your chameleon’s digestive track and live under control of your chameleon’s immune system. As soon as there is a shift in the chameleon’s ability to suppress them, there will be huge outbreak that can severely affect your chameleon. Coccidia can be fatal to baby and juvenile chameleons. It has also known to cause impaction in chameleons.

B. Nematodes (Subcutaneous and Intestinal. i.e.: Roundworms, Pinworms)
The subcutaneous is basically the parasites that have “wandered” off under your chameleon’s skin. An outline of the worm under your chameleon skin might become visible. When you see it, you can bet that inside his body, there are intestinal parasites as well. Sub cutaneous nematode is rare to be found in US based Captive Breed chameleon. This type of parasites, often carried by mosquitoes, are plenty in Madagascar, Africa.

Most  case you will find in CB chameleons are pinworms and roundworms, and the common “culprits” are improper cage cleaning, cross contamination from other animals (such as reptilians, another chameleon, and feeder –crickets, etc-)

C. Hemoparasites
This type can be found floating in your chameleon’s blood stream. A simple fecal float test will not detect this type of parasites. A blood sample has to be taken to make sure.

Since the treatment for Parasites (i.e.: Panacur) requires a precise dosage, you need an exotic vet consultation on the best way to safely kill the parasites without harming the chameleon itself. Although very rare, coccidia and nematodes such as round worm and pin worm are transmittable to human, mammal, and fellow reptilians.
I am aware that most parasites are host specifics, but I always uphold the importance of cleanliness and sanitary ritual when handling your chameleon (especially the one infected with parasites).

  1. Maintain sanitary ritual vigorously. Clean your chameleon cage once a week. Do not leave poops and urates overnight. Wash your hand before and after cleaning the cage or handling your chameleon.
  2. Avoid purchasing crickets from dirty pet stores. If possible, ask the store staff how they keep their feeders. Go and investigate, especially if they are willing to show you where they keep them. A hesitation is usually not a good sign. If they have nothing to hide, they won’t mind showing you their feeder’s room. An abnormal dirty and improper feeder room are signs telling you to run. If your chameleon contracts parasites out of nowhere and you have always keep your feeder in clean condition, you should consider changing your feeder supplier (this is the lesson that I learned the hard way).
  3. Avoid swapping “furniture” (feeder cup, dripper system, vines, and plants) that is used for different chameleons. A used cage is a way to safe money. HOWEVER, be a smart owner. Assume the worst when you purchased a second hand cage. Wash the whole cage with a solution of bleach (water: bleach ratio = 10:1) and rinse it well. You should also blast the cage with hot steam (be careful of burning risk), sun dried the cage for several hours before using the cage for your chameleon.
  4. Avoid feeding your chameleon a wild caught insect. Not only they might carry parasites, they also can have pesticide and other volatile chemical trace.
  5. Be aware that introducing your chameleon to another chameleon (for breeding purpose) can contain a risk of infecting your healthy chameleon. Only approve to breeding agreement with somebody you trust.

Symptoms to watch out for:
  1. Anorexic, sudden burst of appetite not followed with growth
  2. Thin belly or beer belly
  3. Lethargic or Restlessness.
  4. Feces or vomit contains visible parasites (for certain parasite only. Most are invisible to the naked eye), smelly, runny, and/or bloody stool.
  5. Sunken eyes.
  6. Visible worm like outline under your chameleon’s skin.
Picture of the visible parasite infested stool:

Early detection plays an important factor. The sooner you treat it, the better the chance your chameleon will survive. This is the area where an exotic vet visit is a must. There is no other way. Experimenting treatment for this type of disease is extremely hazardous for your chameleon’s health.

Most common therapy for nematodes are Panacur. Currently, in US, there is no cure for Coccidia. Albon does not kill coccidia. It only halts the reproduction cycle. Other countries (i.e: Canada) has already found a medicine (Appertex and Ponazuril) that actually obliterate Coccidia.

Side Notes: Be aware that Albon may cause a nasty side effect to your chameleon (not true in all cases). Many chameleon keepers, including me, reported that their chameleons completely stop eating altogether after Albon therapy. I had to quit the therapy and force feed Paul for a while.
After the experience, a friend of mine and his vet recommend the usage of Ponazuril as an alternative.
Ponazuril worked wonder and, during the therapy, Paul exhibited no side effect.

Meanwhile, the sick chameleon’s cage and furniture should be quarantined from other chameleons in your house to avoid cross contamination. Sanitary becomes extremely important. Use paper towel at the bottom of the cage. If the paper towel has made a contact with the feces, you should take it out of the cage immediately.

Coccidia in particular is a parasite that you do not want to get. It is a nasty creature that are extremely hard to get rid off. I suggest you wear nitrile gloves when you handle your sick chameleon. And, then wash your hand with soap before and after handling. The cage will need to be cleaned in extreme manner.
Bleach does not kill coccidia. Only hot boiling water (a steamer is said to work great to disinfect the cage) and ammonia will. Please AVOID mixing BLEACH with AMMONIA. The fumes will kill you instead. The live plants you used in the cage are pretty much rendered useless. You might be better off by throwing away your plants and never introduce them anymore inside your reptile cage to avoid reinfestation.


kim Ippolito said...

I am sad to say that our 7 month old female veiled chameleon succumbed this evening to coccidia. I had taken her to the vet a week ago after noticing she wasn't eating. He aspirated a pocket of fluid in her abdomen which revealed coccidia under the microscope. We tried a round the Fenbendazole (3 day course, followed by 7 day rest, then an additional 3 day course) but unfortunately she died during the rest phase. We are deeply saddened by the loss and encourage everyone to be very aware of any behavioral changes or abdominal distention in your pets. We thought she was carrying eggs with the way she was behaving but that was not the case.

Frans Kusuma said...

Dearest Kim,
I am so sorry for your loss.. It's always hard to loose a family pet.
Kim, I do not want to pry the wound.
So, I apologize in advance if this sounds inappropriate.

But, I found it odd in your case that fenbendazole (Panacur) is used for coccidia treatment.

I believe Panacur is suited for parasitical worms especially nematodes. However, Panacur is completely ineffective against coccidia.
For Coccidia (Protozoan), normally vet will recommend Sulfadimethoxine (Albon). However, Albon seems to be quite harsh on chameleons' body.

Now, a new cure called Ponazuril (Toltrazuril sulfone- if i am not mistaken) is here. Unlike Albon that restrict coccidia reproduction ability, Ponazuril actually kills coccidia.
But both meds are prescription only.
Therefore, you will need a vet consultation for this type of treatment.

Again, so sorry for your loss.

Kim said...

Thank you Frans. After reading your post and searching online I realize my chameleon was given the incorrect medicine. I had asked the vet's office if they have experience in treating chameleons prior to our visit. I'm completely heartbroken but I'm not going to pursue the matter. I have contacted our breeder to have them aware of what happened and also to alert them about the new medicine made available to treat coccidia. Thank you for informing all of us about the new med and also for your support.

All the best,