Table of Contents
- Diseases, Parasites and Illnesses
Panther chameleons are peaceful creatures that resemble tiny dinosaurs and are only found in Madagascar. They seem to have their own personalities and at times can be very inquisitive. They are small arboreal reptiles that occupy small trees and bushes throughout the coastal areas and rain forests of Madagascar. Panther chameleons like to stay off of the ground to avoid predators and they have evolved over millions of years for this sort of living. They are probably most well known for being masters of camouflage and the colors they display are specific to the region of Madagascar that they come from.
In recent years breeders have begun mixing panthers from various regions to produce even more exotic color combinations. They are also famous for their long sticky tongues, which they can shoot out the length of their body or even further to catch their prey. They have excellent eyesight with binocular eyes that allow them to see in two different directions at the same time. They have fused toes to help them grip branches, prehensile tails made for climbing, and they can free-fall from the tops of trees without harming themselves due to their special cartilaginous ribs. Panther chameleons truly are amazing creatures with their many unique features and exotic color patterns that make them one of the most beautiful reptiles found on the planet.
Here are a few tips that will help you get started in caring for a panther chameleon. Exotic Panthers customers are provided with a more detailed Panther Care Manual, which includes all of our secrets to successfully raising and breeding these amazing creatures.
What is a good enclosure for panther chameleons?
In the wild Panther chameleons can be found living individually in small trees or bushes so in captivity they should be kept separately at all times unless they are mating. The males can be territorial and will show signs of aggression towards other males and also unreceptive females.
Chameleons like fresh air and screened enclosures where the average temperature varies from 65-75 degrees in the nighttime, 75-85 degrees during the day, and up to 90-95 degrees in the daytime basking area. No special nighttime lighting is needed. Glass aquariums should never be used as they can cause stagnant air and can result in respiratory infections. Also be careful of cold air drafts near windows or doors in wintertime. The size of enclosure should vary depending upon the age and size of the chameleon. Adult males require cages that are approximately 2 x 2 x 3 or even 4 feet tall. Females and juveniles require cages that are approximately 18 inches x 18 inches x 3 feet tall, and babies require cages that are approximately 15 inches x 15 inches x 20 inches tall.
A properly designed and furnished cage is one of the most important aspects of panther chameleon husbandry. All sub-adult to adult chameleons should be housed individually. Babies may be reared communally for a couple of months in an appropriate enclosure. The enclosure must be a large enough space so the animal may conduct all of its natural behaviors including, basking, hunting, drinking and feeding, and must accomplish the following objectives:
- Provides good ventilation on all sides, top and bottom of the enclosure. Poor ventilation, as in a glass aquarium, traps stagnant air, provides an opportunity for fungus and bacteria to grow, and is difficult to clean and disinfect. Respiratory infections (often fatal for baby chameleons), eye infections and skin infections are common diseases for chameleons housed in solid-walled enclosures.
- Safely supports a lighting system indoors, including at least one incandescent basking lamp for heat and UV-A, and one fluorescent lamp that emits UV-B (e.g. ReptiSun 5.0 by Zoo Med), or a mercury vapor lamp that emits UV-B, UV-A and infrared heat (e.g. DRAGONLITE by Marc Weiss Companies, Inc.).
- Allows exposure to direct sunlight and fresh air. Whenever the temperatures outdoors are within the preferred range of your species, the enclosure should be transferred outside so your chameleon can bask in the sun, which is the best source of UV-B irradiation (see Metabolic Bone Disease). Never place an enclosure with glass walls in the sun as the interior may overheat and kill the chameleon.
- Facilitates easy removal of excess drinking water on a daily basis. Cages with screened floors work best for this purpose. As a volume of rapidly dripping water passes through the chameleon’s cage, the panther chameleon can lap water from the plants and the excess (which far exceeds the amount consumed) drains into a basin under the cage when the cage in indoors, and can simply fall onto the ground outdoors. Enclosures with solid floors require an extra expenditure of effort to remove the excess water that accumulates on a daily basis and are therefore not recommended.
- Allows the chameleon to perch above your eye level. Chameleons are arboreal creatures in nature and some species normally perch at heights of six feet or more. This gives chameleons a sense of security that should be factored into their captive environment. Enclosures that open from the top, such as aquariums, are usually placed low to provide easy access for the keeper. Most chameleons in this environment attempt escape by reaching for their keeper whenever the top is opened. This behavior is usually interpreted as a sign of friendliness, but chameleons that constantly react in this fashion are probably just seeking escape or a higher perch because they are uncomfortable in their enclosure.
- Predator-proof. Chameleons housed outdoors must be safe from attacks by birds, cats, dogs, rats, snakes, and a variety of nocturnal predators. It is advisable to perform a flashlight inspection after dusk to ensure that chameleons choose a sleeping perch that is inaccessible to predators.
Although chameleons are often slow-moving animals, they require a lot of space for their physical and emotional comfort and security. Buying or making the wrong enclosure can be an expensive mistake, especially if it results in serious injuries or poor health for your panther chameleon. A trip to the veterinarian for health problems resulting from poor caging can result in medical costs that far exceed the cost of an appropriate cage. The following cage materials are not recommended:
- Cages constructed of aluminum window screen are not advisable for medium to large adult chameleons (i.e., F. pardalis) as there is the potential for claw damage or claw amputation if the chameleon spends significant time traversing the enclosure walls.
- Fiberglass screen should be avoided as the coating can degrade, exposing sharp fiberglass threads.
- Hardware cloth or other uncoated metal wire can cause serious foot and snout injuries.
- Dense mesh material can block adequate exposure to light and UV-B resulting in depression, lethargy, anorexia or metabolic disorders.
- Aquariums or other solid-walled enclosures may result in serious bacterial or fungal diseases, some of which are life threatening.
What type of lighting do panther chameleons need?
We recommend taking your chameleon outdoors to soak up the natural sunlight as much as possible. Chameleons can develop health problems without being exposed to UVB rays that help them to absorb calcium. This is one of the most important things to watch to help ensure your chameleon will enjoy a long, happy, and healthy life. Recent studies have found that as few as 8 hours per week of natural sunlight is enough. Always make sure to provide an area that is shaded in case your chameleon has had enough sun.
If you are in a part of the country where you cannot take your chameleon outdoors regularly then you can also provide UVB rays for them through artificial lighting. We recommend using Zoo Med’s Reptisun 5.0 fluorescents that emit UVB rays. These lights should be put on automated timers with 12-hour cycles and bulbs should be replaced every 6-8 months as they lose their power over time. Make sure to provide branches or vines that will allow your chameleon to climb within 6 inches of the light source so they can soak up as many UVB rays as they like!
Your chameleon also needs a small basking area during the daytime where the temperature is between 85-95 degrees. We use cheap light domes from the hardware store and regular soft white household 60-watt bulbs. Place the dome on the corner of the top of the cage and make sure there is a branch or vine 4-6 inches away for your chameleon to perch upon. Stronger wattage bulbs can be used during winter months or in colder areas of the country to help maintain a proper temperature range.
What humidity should my panther chameleon be kept at?
Chameleons should be kept in humidity levels ranging from 60-80 percent. They enjoy being lightly misted and some of ours even like a nice shower on a hot summer day! They seem to prefer tepid or room temperature water rather than cold water and should be misted 3 times per day or more if you have the time. Although some of our chameleons love being misted more directly than others and will even run over to the area being sprayed it is a good idea to not spray your chameleon directly. Do your best to lightly mist the surrounding plants and screen cage as far away from your panther as possible until droplets form. Baby chameleons will drink readily from the leaves when misted.
Furnishing the Enclosure
The enclosure needs to be equipped with a variety of horizontal perching areas so that the lizard can easily navigate the entire cage. You’ll also need to arrange the lights in such a way as to allow your panther chameleon to choose when it wants to be towards the upper and lower temperature limits. Temperature variety is very important and your chameleon will need access to both the upper and lower limits within the same enclosure. That way your chameleon will naturally thermoregulate by moving itself throughout it’s enclosure.
Live plants provide security, hiding places, and a surface to lap drinking water from. They also add to the beauty of the enclosure. Many chameleons are known to eat vegetation, so only non-toxic plants should be used in their enclosures. Hibiscus is an ideal non-toxic plant for chameleon cages. They are beautiful plants that provide nutritional plant matter (blossoms and leaves) and good navigation. One commonly recommended plant that should be used with caution is Ficus benjamina. These plants are mildly toxic and excrete a white milky sap when leaves or branches are injured that may cause skin or eye irritation if a chameleon comes in contact with it. Do not place a freshly pruned Ficus in a chameleon cage until the sap has stopped oozing and the wound is dry to the touch.
There are many risks of poisoning from newly purchased plants. Many commercial growers use toxic chemical pesticides, fungicides and plant growth regulators that could make your chameleon very ill (or dead) if ingested. Some of these chemicals are sprayed on plants, others are added to the soil and drawn up by the roots into the leaves of the plant. Washing the plant will NOT eliminate the toxicity of chemicals added to the soil. The safest method of adding a new plant to a chameleon enclosure is to clean the leaves and stems with warm water and mild detergent, rinse thoroughly, re-pot the plant in a new container with organic potting soil that does not contain chemicals, place the plant in a sunny location and wait six months before transferring it into an enclosure that houses a panther chameleon.
Substrates to avoid
The flooring should not contain any substrate such as wood chips, coconut shavings, sand, or small pebbles. This is very important because your chameleon feeds by shooting out it’s sticky tongue to catch insects and these substrates can get caught on their tongue causing digestion issues. We recommend using brown commercial grade paper towels or black and white newspapers instead because they are inexpensive, they dry quickly, and are easy to clean too. Paper towels or newspaper also provide fewer options for feeder insects to hide so you can enjoy watching your chameleon track them down quickly.
What are the best watering systems for panther chameleons?
Keeping your panther chameleon well hydrated by providing drinking water in appropriate amounts is one of the most vital aspects of chameleon health. Most chameleons come from areas of the world that receive between 60 and 120 inches of rainfall annually. Chameleons that come from areas with less rainfall are usually found near bodies of water where there is sufficient drinking water available from heavy condensation. In the wild, chameleons lick dew and rain droplets from leaves and are stimulated to drink by the movement of water. Special watering techniques must be used in captivity to stimulate the consumption of adequate volumes of drinking water to keep a chameleon hydrated and healthy. The amount of water required by a chameleon will vary depending on size and species of the animal, air temperature and air humidity levels. Large chameleons that originate from rain forests, such as Calumma parsonii, can require copious amounts of water.
Failing to provide water in an acceptable way (to the chameleon) and in sufficient quantities can cause extremely serious health problems. Chronic low-level dehydration – which can be undetectable to the eye – often leads to irreversible kidney failure followed by death. Dehydrated panther chameleons often become anorexic first, and this should be considered one of the first symptoms of dehydration. If you suspect your chameleon is suffering from dehydration or kidney problems, please ask your veterinarian to administer a blood test to measure the uric acid levels in the blood.
Few chameleons learn to drink water from a standing water dish (with or without an air stone) and this method should be avoided altogether. Waterfalls should also be avoided as they are easily contaminated with feces and are difficult to disinfect properly. Melting ice cubes are not recommended as the frigid temperature of the water may result in avoidance by the chameleon.
Chameleons are naturally attracted to droplets of water that reflect light, and pendulous drops of water hanging from leaves of plants. Keepers of these lizards can take advantage of this by designing watering systems that take this natural preference into account. Following is a list of the most commonly used methods of providing drinking water for panther chameleons and the primary advantages and disadvantages of each method.
|5||In-Cage Rain Systems|
In-cage rain systems deliver large amounts of dripping water throughout a chameleon’s living area. These systems can be created a number of ways. Most commonly, some type of PVC tubing is connected to a water supply. The tubing contains holes that drip water onto many surfaces. A valve is generally required to control water flow.Because these systems are capable of delivering large amounts of water, it is essential to plan for a water collection and removal system. This can be as simple as buckets or trays to collect water under the cages, or as sophisticated as drain systems.
|The benefits of this type of watering system cannot be understated. This is the most natural way for a chameleon to receive its water. Some keepers automate the water delivery and removal by timers, thus eliminating a significant portion of the daily maintenance requirements of their chameleons.These systems also increase the relative humidity in the area.||The primary disadvantage to this type of system is the level of planning and effort to get it working efficiently. However, this disadvantage is more than offset by the tremendous advantages of a functioning system.|
Drip systems are the most common form of chameleon watering system. They generally consist of a gravity-fed container of water that sits above the enclosure. A plastic tube runs from the water container and into the chameleon cage. Water drips out of the end of the plastic tube.These systems differ from rain systems by offering water in a more isolated area, however an extra length of aquarium airline tubing with multiple holes can be attached to dispense water over a wider area.
|These systems are readily available and portable. They can be set up in minutes and, if properly used, can deliver water sufficient for many species of chameleons if the correct size container is used.|
The drip rate must be very fast (approx. 45 drops every 15 seconds) to attract the attention of the chameleon to begin drinking.
|Daily maintenance is required to fill them by hand. Water collection and removal is also required.|
|5||Automated Misting Systems|
Automated misting systems are much like rain systems. Rather than dripping water from holes in the hose, misting systems push pressurized water through special heads that create a fine mist.Small droplets of water fall over a broad area. When these droplets collect on leaves, they eventually form drops of water that fall like rain.
|These systems offer many of the same advantages as rain systems. Some smaller chameleons seem to prefer the smaller droplets of water, and are attracted to the mist. Some chameleons may drink by sitting in the falling mist. The water collects and rolls down the casques and into their mouths.Commercial systems are available for purchase. They can also be made from supplies found at most larger garden supply stores.||Because the water is pressurized, flooding problems can occur if hoses become damaged or loose. Misting heads are prone to mineral deposits that can cause them to clog.|
|1||The Shower Method|
Some chameleon dealers recommend moving chameleons into a bathroom shower stall where a small tree or large plant has been placed. Water is then directed from the showerhead over the plant to provide drinking water for the chameleon.
|The shower stall provides an area in which large amounts of water can be provided without risk of flooding. This method can be used in emergency situations, but should not be used as a daily method of providing drinking water due to the disadvantages.||Many panther chameleons become distressed at being removed from their enclosures and relocated. Stressed animals may become startled and leap to the floor resulting in injury. There have also been reports of scalding injuries from hot water and avoidance due to high water pressure.|
Another common method of watering chameleons is to simply mist the plants in the chameleon’s enclosure once or twice per day with a spray bottle as the sole source of drinking water.
|This technique can be used as the sole source of drinking water for very small species of chameleons (e.g. Ch. fuelleborni, Ch. pfefferi, Brookesia and Rhampholeon species), or babies of all species less than 3 mos. old whose water needs are lower. The plants must be dripping heavily when spraying ceases.|
Warm water sprayed daily in conjunction with ALL types of drinking watering systems increases the relative humidity in the environment and helps stimulate a drinking response from panther chameleons.
|It is very time-consuming and difficult (if not impossible) to provide sufficient amounts of drinking water for medium to large chameleons using this technique.|
Warning: Adult chameleons of species such as pardalis, calyptratus, oustaleti and jacksonii are at serious risk of developing kidney failure from chronic low-level dehydration using the Manual Misting method as the sole source of drinking water.
What should I feed my panther chameleon?
Wild panther chameleons may prey upon hundreds of species of insects and other invertebrates such as snails and spiders in nature. Some species may also consume vertebrates like lizards and birds that are within their prey-size range. Wild prey feeds on natural and nutritious diets that, in turn, provide varied nutrition to the predator. Many wild chameleons are also reported to eat flowers, leaves, berries, fruit and other living or dried organic matter. Captive chameleons are usually provided fewer than five species of cultured or wild insects. Many cultured insects are malnourished and maintained in unhygienic conditions, resulting in poor nutrition and disease for the chameleon that consumes them.
Providing a varied, healthy, clean diet of live prey is understandably the most difficult aspect of captive chameleon husbandry, requiring an investment of money and time. Wild insects add variety to captive nutrition but most of your panther chameleon’s diet should consist of
- Crickets (Acheta domestica)
- Grain Beetles
- Wax Moths (Galleria mellonella)
- Fruit Flies (Drosophila species)
- Houseflies (Musca domestica)
- Silk Moths
- Sphinx or Hawk Moths
- Tropical Roaches (Blaberus)
- Walking Sticks (Phasmidae species)
- Pygmy Grasshoppers (Tetrigidae species)
- Garden Pests
- Pantry Pests
- Wild Moths
- Other Nocturnal insects
How often should I feed my panther chameleon?
Chameleons should be fed daily as babies and then less frequently as they grow older. It is not uncommon for a baby chameleon to eat 20-25 fruit flies or pinhead crickets per day! As they get older the size of their food source should be increased. Sources of food include insects such as crickets, silkworms, super worms, flies, fruit flies, roaches, giant green horned worms, and even a pinky mouse every now and then. Make sure that all insects are free of insecticides before offering them to your chameleon. It is for this reason that we do not offer insects that are wild caught and instead prefer to buy our feeder insects from pet stores or online insect breeders. We do not recommend offering mealworms because their exoskeleton can cause a blockage in your chameleon’s digestive system and they also are not very nutritional. Feeding you chameleon a wide variety of insects will make them very happy! It’s fun to watch them hunt with their sticky tongues, which can shoot out the distance of their body or longer. Crickets should be their primary food source because they are inexpensive and easily gut loaded with important nutrients.
How do you gut load insects for panther chameleons?
Gut loading is one of the other most important keys to keeping your chameleon healthy. It is the process of feeding your crickets or food source a power packed meal that your chameleons will later ingest. Insects and crickets themselves contain little nutritional value. Imagine how healthy we would be if we only ate the very best nutrients found on the planet for each and every meal! That is how important gut loading is to your chameleon! Commercial gut loads and special breeder developed gut load recipes are readily available but we prefer to make our own gut loads. Crickets need a constant water source and we prefer to use a special wet food recipe that consists of various nutritional fruits, vegetables, and store bought greens for their water source. We also use a special dry food recipe that is rich in calcium and other important nutrients. This ensures that each cricket is power packed with vitamins and nutrients that will help keep your chameleon in tip top shape!
What supplements do panther chameleons require?
After gut loading your crickets, you will also want to dust each cricket with vitamin supplements just to be sure they are getting the correct vitamins they need. It’s simple to do and only takes a couple of seconds to throw the crickets into a feeder cup that is filled with the supplement. We use Rep Cal without vitamin D3 for chameleons that are getting natural sunlight or Rep Cal with vitamin D3 for chameleons that are getting only fluorescent lighting. This ensures your chameleon is getting the proper amount of calcium, which is important to their bone structure and especially important for gravid females. We also use a Reptivite Multivitamin and a product called Mineral from time to time. See your breeder about a recommended supplement schedule for babies, juveniles, gravid females and adults.
Chameleons have adapted to drink raindrops and moisture off of leaves in the trees and bushes they live in. They do not normally drink from standing water but instead are drawn to the movement of raindrops hitting the leaves. Babies and juveniles will drink droplets immediately after a misting.
Water dishes and other methods are not recommended as they are ineffective and can also create bacteria issues. A simple water bottle of any sort with a dripper placed on its bottom end can be used 2-3 times per day. Place the water bottle on top of the cage so that the water droplets hit the leaves below and simulate rain. This movement of the water droplets hitting the leaves will attract your chameleon and they will lick the droplets as they hit the leaf. You might even see your chameleon trying to snatch a raindrop out of the air with its tongue as it falls! Position a water bowl on the bottom of the cage to catch any excess water and be sure to throw this water out regularly.
Panther chameleons can be handled gently and will even get to know you as the person who brings them food and treats. This is especially true with the males, as they seem sometimes be less intimidated than the females or babies. Take notice of your chameleon’s colors and posture to see if you are causing it any stress when handling. Happy chameleons will climb onto your hand or a branch, are peaceful moving, and have vibrant colors. Unhappy chameleons may try to escape, are darker in color and may open their mouth or puff up as a sign to you that they do not want to be held. Be gentle and coax them out of their cage by allowing them to climb onto a stick or branch. If you pick them up from inside their cage then be careful not to rip their legs quickly off of a branch or vine. They have amazing grips to hang onto tree limbs and you don’t want to injure their foot by moving too quickly.
Once you have the art of handling your chameleon mastered then you can even train them to eat out of your hand. We train our chameleons to take crickets right out of our fingertips with their sticky tongues and it is the highlight of our summer BBQ’s! With time your chameleon will become comfortable and will climb up your arm to rest on your shoulder or head. Here they will sit contently with you while you read a book, layout in the sun, or photograph them. Make sure to take lots of photos of your chameleon as they grow and develop.
Diseases, Parasites and Illnesses
Numerous health problems can affect captive panther chameleons. Captive born chameleons generally experience fewer health problems than imported animals. There are many reasons for this, some of which are detailed in Assessing the Health of Wild Caught Chameleons.
It is important to understand that chameleons are excellent at masking symptoms in the early stages of disease. This is a preservation strategy that helps wild chameleons avoid predation. By the time the disease has progressed to the point where a chameleon has visible and obvious signs of illness such as closed or sunken eyes and weak grip, the chances of recovery are low, even with medical intervention. It is essential that keepers observe their panther chameleons daily and react early to any subtle signs of declining health by seeking the help of a veterinarian. Periodic examinations by a veterinarian are also beneficial in determining any changes in health since the previous exam.
While chameleons are subject to many types of disease, the following list includes some of the most common health issues:
Captive-born chameleons can contract parasites from their food (cultured and wild insects) sources, water sources, contact with other reptiles that are parasitized, and poor hygiene. Periodic fecal exams should be performed, particularly if wild insects are part of the chameleon’s diet.
Wild-caught imported chameleons usually have one or more species of internal parasites. While many parasites are self-limiting in nature, the stresses of capture and captivity can take a heavy toll. Poor care, stress, overcrowding, injury and food and water deprivation starting from the point of capture and lasting weeks or months until the chameleon is exported, imported and ends up in a retail outlet often sends parasite loads skyrocketing. Treating debilitated chameleons with anti-parasitic drugs may only hasten death in this scenario. Parasites can migrate to organs and lungs, particularly when their stomach is empty, and the prognosis for recovery is poor. See Assessing the Health of Wild Caught Chameleons for more information.
Although many retailers of wild-caught chameleons label them “deparasitized” or “parasite free”, it is not common practice for commercial exporters, importers or retailers to have the necessary laboratory analyses performed to identify parasites. You should assume that this is your responsibility when you purchase a chameleon. The costs associated with these veterinary visits and the lab work necessary to perform an accurate assessment of a chameleon’s health should be factored into the budget for the initial purchase of a chameleon. Although the selling price of a wild-caught chameleon is often lower than a captive-bred panther chameleon, the medical costs to treat a wild-caught chameleon may close that gap or even exceed the price of the captive bred chameleon! It is unwise to administer anti-parasitic drugs without a diagnosis based on tests performed by a veterinarian. All imported chameleons should be tested for parasites in the gastrointestinal tract by having a fecal examination performed on a fresh stool sample. A blood sample is tested for the presence of blood-borne parasites and a sputum sample is tested for the presence of parasites in the lungs. Your vet will prescribe the appropriate drugs to treat the parasites that are detected by these diagnostic tests. Two or more follow-up tests should be performed after treatment to ensure the parasite(s) has been eliminated. Any changes in fecal matter warrant an exam for parasites. This includes loose stools, blood in the stool, undigested food, mucous-laden or foul-smelling stools. See Hunger Strikes.
Subcutaneous nematodes are also very common and are diagnosed by the presence of an outline of the worm(s) under the skin (see the photo of a F. cephalolepis). These parasites are treated by making an incision in the skin, removing the worm and suturing the incision. This process is repeated periodically until all the parasites are gone.
Metabolic Bone Disease
This is the most commonly reported disease in juvenile panther chameleons. The juvenile form of MBD is called rickets, a crippling disease brought on by nutritional imbalances that can be the result of deficiencies or excesses of several key nutritional elements including calcium, phosphorus, vitamin D3 and vitamin A. Bones become thin and bend or break easily, generally visible as bowed front legs with rounded elbows, and a rubbery lower jawbone. Ribs may fracture easily and spines or tails may be kinked or deformed. The chameleon usually has difficulty navigating quickly, is shaky, unsteady or “clumsy”. Organs can also be damaged by this disease. In the latter stages of the disease the chameleon often cannot perch on a branch, is anorexic and cannot project it’s tongue to eat or drink independently. The worst aspect of MBD is that it is a slow killer….chameleons crippled with this disease often linger…and suffer. If you suspect your chameleon has signs of rickets or MBD, please have your vet perform an exam and diagnostic tests. An x-ray will determine the extent of bone loss. A blood test may provide valuable information on the extent of kidney damage and the blood levels of calcium and phosphorus.
Exposure to natural sunlight is a key factor in avoiding rickets or MBD.
Lack of Sunlight
No matter where you live (unless you happen to reside at the North Pole!) there is a season that is temperate enough to allow your chameleons an opportunity to be outdoors, especially if you choose appropriate species for your climate. When exposed to the Ultraviolet-B (UV-B) irradiation from natural sunlight your chameleon’s body will naturally produce vitamin D3, which is required by all reptiles in order to absorb the calcium in their food. Sunlight is an inexpensive health benefit of immeasurable value to chameleons and should be one of your major goals in caring for your chameleon. If you don’t have a yard or balcony, place the panther chameleon’s cage near an east, south, or west-facing open window. Remember that window glass filters out nearly 100% of the UV-B from sunlight. You can replace regular glass with full-spectrum glass (often referred to as low iron glass) to provide your chameleon with a wonderful, energy-efficient source of natural UV-B.
UV-B, however, is capable of causing thermal burns (i.e., sunburn). This is the reason that lighting manufacturers do not produce bulbs that emit UV-B at equivalent levels to the sun without a medical prescription. Some types of UV-B emitting lighting may also allow your chameleon to produce vitamin D3, but the oral administration of vitamin D3 in powdered or liquid form is advisable for chameleons maintained indoors for long periods without exposure to unfiltered sunlight.
Inappropriate delivery of drinking water is the most common cause of dehydration in captive chameleons. Signs of low-level dehydration may be easy to overlook. In advanced stages the symptoms can include loss of appetite, lethargy, sunken eyes and eventually, death. Maintaining proper humidity levels in your chameleon’s environment will help to prevent dehydration, but it is NOT a substitute for drinking water.
Kidney failure is a common cause of death in captive chameleons, commonly caused by chronic low-level dehydration. Kidney failure can also be linked to the administration of nephrotoxic antibiotics (e.g., Amikacin) used to treat bacterial diseases. If your veterinarian prescribes antibiotics, discuss this with her or him. Kidney disease is detected through diagnostic blood tests that your reptile veterinarian can perform.
Kidney failure may culminate in gout, a disease that results from high uric acids levels in the blood. Chameleons that develop swelling in the joints or begin dangling a leg (usually a hind leg) while perching may be suffering from this painful disease. Needle-like crystals of uric acid inflame joints, causing pain when the panther chameleon puts weight on the afflicted leg. Your veterinarian should be consulted immediately if you observe this in your chameleon. X-rays and blood tests can be used to diagnose whether the swelling is due to injury or gout. See Dehydration.
Maladaptation to Captivity
With few exceptions, this condition is not observed in captive born chameleons. For a full description of this syndrome, please read Assessing the Health of Wild Caught Chameleons. It is generally believed that maladaptation is primarily caused by captivity-related stress — a chameleon’s inability to cope with the loss of freedom aggravated by daily interaction with humans. Signs of maladaptation include pacing the cage, butting the enclosure, lethargy, depression, anorexia, aggression, and poor coloration. Providing extra large, well-planted enclosures for wild-caught chameleons may help alleviate this condition for some chameleons, but for others there is no remedy and the chameleon eventually succumbs to illnesses that cannot be overcome by a depressed immune system. See Stress.
Most chameleons experience some level of stress related to captivity. Chronic stress can be fatal to chameleons because it usually suppresses the immune system, making them more susceptible to bacterial infections, the proliferation of parasites, and other life-threatening health problems.
The following recommendations will help reduce stress in captive panther chameleons:
- Keep the cage in a low or no traffic area of your home. Put up visual barriers between your chameleons and human activity if necessary. Move slowly and deliberately around chameleons.
- House chameleons singly and out of visual range of other chameleons, birds, snakes, other reptiles or any other pets in your household. Birds, snakes and large reptiles are natural predators to chameleons and even captive-born chameleons react with fear and stress when exposed to these animals.
- Remove or block any surface that the chameleon can see it’s own reflection in. Chameleons are asocial and the sight of another chameleon can induce stress and defensive displays. This can include window glass and is another argument against the use of enclosures with glass sides.
- Do not place panther chameleons on display in public areas. Chameleons often become accustomed to their keeper after a period of time and may lose their fear of that individual. This loss of fear does not always transfer to another human being, however. Every moving object in the chameleon’s field of vision must be analyzed as a potential predator and there is a significant element of stress in every encounter of this type.
- Do not force handling on chameleons that display defensively (rocking, gaping, hissing, biting, etc.) or react by closing their eyes and becoming motionless. Chronic, low-level stress from forced handling usually leads to poor health in chameleons and should be avoided. When a chameleon must be handled, place your hand in front of the chameleon and allow it to walk onto your fingers, but do not grasp a chameleon’s neck, back, feet or tail unless it is absolutely necessary to restrain it.
Hunger Strikes and Anorexia
A “hunger strike” refers to a short-term (usually less than a week) refusal of food. The most common cause of a hunger strike is boredom from a monotonous diet comprised of one or two insect species. This problem can often be corrected by adding new prey items. Cessation of feeding may also occur in some females just before giving birth or laying their eggs. This is a natural and temporary condition (normally a week or less) and should not result in a visible loss of strength or body fat.
Anorexia refers to a refusal to eat for longer than a few days (but see brumation), often accompanied by weight loss, weakness and a general decline in condition. Anorexia is not a disease…..it is a symptom of a disease or underlying physiological or psychological problem that must be corrected quickly or death can be the end result. If your juvenile or adult panther chameleon refuses food but it doesn’t meet the description of a hunger strike, please have it examined by a veterinarian immediately. Your vet can perform diagnostic tests to determine the cause of anorexia, a course of treatment, and administer nutritional support in the interim so that your chameleon doesn’t starve or become dehydrated until it has a chance to recover. Some major causes of anorexia are: chronic stress, parasites, bacterial disease, organ failure, injuries to the mouth, jaw or tongue, nutritional imbalances, and inappropriate temperatures or lighting. See Stress, Maladaptation, Dehydration, Kidney Failure, Metabolic Bone Disease, and Parasites.
Injuries and First Aid
Rapid and appropriate responses to injuries or infections can be critical to a chameleon’s survival. Once your chameleon has been treated by a veterinarian for injuries or illness, this article will help you with home nursing with topics like constructing a hospital cage, making comfortable perches for injured feet, creating a clean environment for panther chameleons with eye infections, and methods of providing food and water to your chameleon while they recuperate from a variety of common injuries and health problems.