How To Tell If A Chameleon Is Dying

Do you own a chameleon?

Is it showing signs of illness, or have you noticed changes in its habits and behavior?

If you answered yes, this article is for you.

Chameleons often mask their sicknesses until the condition is severe, meaning that by the time you detect symptoms of illness in your chameleon, it may be dying and need immediate medical help.

Below we uncover common illnesses and symptoms to help you know how to tell if a chameleon is dying. 

Common signs that a chameleon is dying include sunken eyes, lethargy, sagging skin, weight loss, and unusual color, but what causes these symptoms, and what can you do to prevent and treat them? 

how to tell if a chameleon is dying

Dehydration

Dehydration is the #1 most common cause of death in pet chameleons.

How can you tell if your chameleon is dehydrated?

Look at its urates (the white part of its poop).

If the urates are yellow, it needs more water, while your chameleon is seriously dehydrated if they are orange.

Signs that your chameleon is dying from dehydration include sagging skin, sunken eyes, loss of appetite, and lethargy. 

What to Do if Your Chameleon is Dehydrated

Make an appointment with your certified reptile veterinarian immediately to determine if your misting, humidity levels and water availability align with your chameleon’s needs.

If they are, there may be some other illness causing dehydration. 

If your chameleon is five months or older, you can give it a 30-45 minute “shower” by placing a fake or live plant in the shower with your chameleon and adjusting the showerhead, so the water hits the wall (not the plant or the pet!) and bounces off as mist.

This provides intensive rehydration for your chameleon. 

A terrarium misting system is critically important, and we have a post reviewing misting systems designed for chameleons you can check out if you need an upgrade.

Stress

Yes, you read that right!

Stress is a common cause of death in chameleons.

When a chameleon is exposed to stress, its stress hormones elevate to help it deal with the situation.

Unfortunately, these stress hormones can take up to seven days to fall back down to normal levels.

When stress hormones are elevated, chameleon’s immune systems, growth, reproductive systems, and blood flow to the skin are all put on hold.

This means that if a chameleon is under chronic stress, it will eventually die. 

Signs that your chameleon is suffering and possibly dying from stress include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Hunger strikes
  • Darker or brighter coloring than usual
  • Rocking back and forth
  • Unusual aggression
  • Keeping eyes closed
  • Watery or very smelly feces
  • Changes in body temperature
sick chameleon

What to Do if Your Chameleon is Stressed

Once again, make an appointment with your certified reptile veterinarian immediately if you think your chameleon is suffering from health problems related to stress.

If possible, it might be best to have your vet make a house visit, as movement could cause more stress damage.

It is also wise to remove all possible stressors from its environment.

Chameleon stressors include:

  • Wrong lighting and heating
  • Being paired with another chameleon
  • Too much human handling
  • Seeing its own reflection
  • Changes in its habitat

If you’re not confident you have the proper lighting, here’s a post where we’ve covered the best lighting for chameleons that you’ll find helpful.

Parasitic Infestations

It is not uncommon for chameleons (especially wild-caught chameleons) to have a mild parasitic presence in their bodies.

Still, under stressful or unhygienic conditions, the parasites can multiply and lead to an infestation that can prove deadly.

Signs that a chameleon is dying from parasites are:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Constipation
  • A swollen belly
  • Weakness and listlessness
  • Diarrhea
  • Bad-smelling feces
  • Emaciation
chameleon dying

What to Do if Your Chameleon has Parasites

If your chameleon shows any of the above symptoms, make an appointment to see your reptile veterinarian and bring a fresh (not older than 24 hours) sample of your chameleon’s feces with you for analysis. 

You may also want to stop feeding your chameleon wild-caught bugs like grasshoppers and crickets, as these are often how chameleons get infested with parasites in the first place.

And since we’re on the topic of crickets, here’s a post we wrote on how many crickets chameleons can eat you may find interesting.

It might also be a good idea to deep clean its enclosure with a veterinary disinfectant like F-10 or chlorhexidine.

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Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD)

The second most common disease found in pet chameleons is one that can end in a painful death if not caught and treated correctly.

How to tell if your chameleon is dying from Metabolic Bone Disease?

Look for lethargy, broken bones, mouth not closing correctly, inability to use tongue, twisted looking joints, loss of appetite, muscle spasms/twitching, and swollen limbs. 

Fun fact, have you ever wondered how long the chameleon tongue is? So have we! If you’re curious, check out the post we wrote about it.

Metabolic Bone Disease is most commonly caused by a lack of dietary calcium and insufficient lighting (chameleons require at least 12 hours of UV-B light daily to process their food’s calcium content properly).

Thankfully, MBD can easily be prevented by ensuring they receive enough calcium in their diet (check with your vet) and by using a high-quality UVB light like this one on Amazon.

What to Do if Your Chameleon is Dying from MBD

I may sound like a song on repeat here, but I can’t stress enough that if your chameleon shows signs that it is dying from MBD, do not hesitate to schedule an appointment with your reptile veterinarian.

You may also need to start administering a calcium supplement like this one and replace your UVB light bulbs with new ones or buy a better quality lamp like the one mentioned above. 

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I know this may seem like a load of information, but in truth, the most critical step in understanding whether your chameleon is healthy or not is to be attentive and observant of its routines, moods, and regular habits.

Knowing things like how often chameleons usually eat, what color it is when it’s happy, and how often it’s going to the bathroom will allow you to detect signs of illness early so you can give it the treatment it needs. 

While chameleons may be more challenging to care for than most other pets, if you are acquainted with the common illnesses they suffer from and know how to tell if your chameleon is dying, you will be better equipped to properly care for your chameleon and ensure that it enjoys a long and happy life.