Veiled Chameleon Diet, Foods & Gut-loading

Many people are misinformed on how or what to feed their veiled chameleons. This section will go into more depth on their needs and requirements in deferent stages of their lives. Just like humans and other animals, depending of if they are growing, developing eggs, or having health problems, their dietary need will change. Nothing is set in stone, and not all species require the same diet. What is provided here are general nutritional advice. If your chameleon has problems, you may wish to discuss it’s diet with your vet and see if he/she recommends any extra supplements.

Insectivores

The staple diet of all captive chameleons should be crickets. The size of the crickets you use will depend on the size of your veiled chameleon. You should feed it crickets no bigger then the width of it’s head. Other insects such as superworms, waxworms, moths, and other insect prey, should be given as treats to keep the chameleon from getting bored with eating the same foods day after day. Many who are fed only crickets, eventually go off eating and need to be stimulated into eating them again. (Not an easy task once they get sick of crickets.)

Crickets are the main food source because they are easy to “gut load”. Gut loading means that they are fed a special diet which has the nutrition your chameleon will need. Remember the old verbiage: “You are what you eat”? Well this holds very true with our chameleons and the food they eat. If the crickets are fed on dog food, then they will not have the vitamins and minerals the chameleon needs to remain healthy. Crickets fed a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables will be nutritious and more tasty to your chameleon.

Prepared Cricket Food

Most cricket chow or cricket food has been evaluated heavily by other people in the veiled chameleon field. Most of these man made products are not good for the chameleons, they have too much protein and other vitamins minerals which can lead to long-term health problems such as edema, hypercacalcemia and heart problems if used regularly. It is best to read the labels, ask questions, and be armed with knowledge before using one of these products. One that has been tested and comes highly recommended is the Walk About Farms invertebrate food. This can be fed to crickets, mealworms, superworms and many other insects you use to feed your chameleon.

Making Your Own Gutload

Many chameleon keepers do not use a pre made product to gutload their insects with. Many choose to use natural fresh fruits, vegetables and other food items to feed to the insects. Doing so allows you to know that the chameleons are getting the best nutrition and a little more control over the vitamins and minerals it needs. If a veiled chameleon is sick, it may need extra zinc in it’s diet, you can add foods high in zinc to the feeders diet to help your chameleon to get what it needs. A gravid chameleon needs a little extra calcium, you can also control the calcium intake with natural food products.

Below is a list of food items which should be used in gut loading your crickets and insects. Note that some foods are not used daily.

Greens

  • Mustard Greens
  • Collard Greens
  • Dandelion Greens
  • Broccoli (Do not use daily)
  • Green Beans

Other Vegetables

  • Yellow Summer Squash
  • Zucchini
  • Carrots (Do not use daily.)
  • Yams or Sweet Potato

Fruits

  • Apple Slices or Applesauce
  • Orange (Do not use daily.)
  • Pears
  • Pears
  • Cantaloupe
  • Mango and Papaya

Other Food Items

  • Oats or Oat Grains
  • Wheat Germ
  • Corn Flour
  • Gerber Bay Rice Cereal
  • Powdered Milk
  • Sunflower Seeds unsalted
  • Bee Pollen
  • Spirulina

AVOID FEEDING THE INSECTS THE FOLLOWING:

  • Dog Food
  • Cat Food
  • Iceberg Lettuce

Using Vitamins & Calcium Supplements

If your veiled chameleon is on a good diet of gut loaded insects, then you will not need to use vitamin and calcium supplement dusts on the insects as often. Each animal varies in it’s needs and we cannot advise you in general how often your chameleon should be supplemented with additional vitamins or calcium dusts.

Calcium

The use of calcium is important especially in growing and gravid chameleons. Their bodies need a little extra calcium to help build strong bones and develop properly. Using the right calcium supplement is important as well. If you supplement the veiled chameleons diet with too much calcium, then you will end up with Hypercalcemia which can lead to many health problems and even death.

If you are using the food items listed above daily to feed to your insects, then you will not need to supplement with calcium more than once every 10 or so days. Some breeders of chameleons will use calcium supplements on their females who are developing eggs about once every week. Too much calcium in the case of gravid females can cause them to develop eggs which are too hard and thick for the babies to break through when the time comes to hatch.

Do not use a calcium supplement which has phosphorus in it. Read the labels of the calcium supplements before buying to make sure it is going to be the right one for your veiled chameleon.

General Vitamin Supplements

Again, if your insects are well gut loaded, then the use of additional supplements are not going to be needed as often. If you are using the Walkabout Farm products for gut loading the insects, then I would recommend only giving additional vitamin supplements once a week or once every two weeks depending on your chameleons growth and health.

Other Insects & Cultures

Crickets should always be the main source of food prey for your chameleon. They can be easily gut loaded with the proper nutrients for your veiled chameleon. You will need to provide other insects to keep your chameleon healthy and happy. If you feed your chameleon crickets all the time, they often will get bored with the same food prey and go off feeding. This can be quite troublesome to get them back to eating crickets again. Avoid this by offering other insects which are good for the chameleon as snacks on a daily or every other day basis.

Other insects which veiled chameleons love and are safe to feed are listed below:

  • Mantids
  • Superworms
  • Waxworms (Limit the number given as these are fatty.)
  • Pill Bugs
  • Moths
  • Roaches
  • Termites
  • Flies and Fruit Flies
  • Stick bugs
  • Catydids
  • Various worms (Check to make sure they are safe, tobacco horned worms for instance can be toxic.)
  • Land Snails
  • Slugs

The above list of insects give you an idea of what type of insects you can use to feed your veiled chameleon to provide a variety of taste and nutrition.

What you need for your Veiled Chameleon habitat enclosure

Selecting a Cage

Buying a good cage is the first step in setting up a good habitat for your veiled chameleon. Chameleons need good ventilation to survive in captivity. Keeping them in an aquarium type setup is not recommended and there are several reasons for this:

  • They do not have the fresh air circulating.
  • Chances of bacteria growth are high due to the humidity levels.
  • They can see their reflection in the glass causing them stress.

There are several cages available on the market. Some are affordable, and others which are made of wood, can be quite costly. There are also plans available for constructing your own cage if you are handy, or you may wish to build one of your own design. Let’s look at some of the cages available to purchase:

Reptariums

These are cages that have been constructed out of plastic tubing and a special screen material. They come in various sizes from the smallest being 22 gal, to the largest 175 gallon. Depending on the size of your veiled chameleon, you should be able to find one to suit your needs.

Using Live Plants

Live plants have both advantages and disadvantages. Keeping them living under the humidity and lighting of a chameleons habitat may not be right for the plants you choose. You will want to do a little research on what type of plants will thrive under these circumstances.

Before you run out and buy live plants, be aware that many are toxic! Some veiled chameleons like to eat the leaves and flowers. If they consume a toxic plant, it can be fatal. 

Pros
  • Live plants do provide natural climbing, sleeping and hiding places for your chameleon.
  • They help keep the humidity up in the cages.
  • Live plants will produce good oxygen through the natural process of absorbing carbon monoxide, thus creating cleaner air in the habitat.
  • Some chameleons will eat the flowers or leaves of the live plants, thus providing added nutrition to it’s diet.
Cons
  • Most live plants can not hold up to the conditions of the chameleon habitats and will wilt, rot, and die if not switched with other plants every few weeks.
  • Some live plants which are considered safe still have a sap which can irritate the eyes of veiled chameleons and lead to infections.
  • Live plants require added care to an chameleons habitat.
  • Living plants and the soil they are in present a whole new set of problems when it comes to parasites, bugs, and ingestion of things that can be harmful to a chameleon.

Before using live plants

To use any live plant in your veiled chameleon cages, you will need to take steps to make sure you are introducing a safe and clean plant. The following are a few things you will need to do to prepare your plants before adding them to your habitat:

Cleaning the Plants and Leaves

Plants purchased at stores and nurseries usually have a film of fertilizers and insecticides on the leaves and branches. It is very important to wash these off and protect you chameleon from the poisons these chemicals present!

  1. Mix a bucket of warm soapy water using dish washing detergent.
  2. Using a sponge or rag, wash each leaf and the branches thoroughly.
  3. Rinse well with water to remove chemicals and soapy water.
  4. Repeat this three or more times until you see the residue gone from the leaves. The plant should look healthy and leaves shiny.

Many people do this right in the shower to make it easy to wash. I would suggest using the natural sunlight in the morning or late afternoon if weather permits, to allow the plant to dry in.

Preparing the Soil

Due to the fact that the plants purchased are normally in soil that has small bugs, and contains vermiculite and other chemicals that can be harmful to your veiled chameleon. It is best that you remove the plant from it’s current soil and replace it with all fresh soil. You should also cover the soil with a fine mesh to prevent the chameleon from eating the soil! If you find the mesh to hard to maintain and keep the soil covered, then use very large clean stones that the chameleon cannot ingest. These stones can easily be removed each week to clean.

Rotating Live Plants

As mentioned, it is hard on any plant to survive long term under the conditions of the chameleon habitat. To eliminate the problems of having your plants die and wilt or rot on you, you can rotate them on a regular basis.

Remove and thoroughly clean the plants you remove and set out for some fresh air and natural sunlight, or place in your favorite sunny window. You should do this every two to four weeks depending on the plant and the humid conditions of your cages.

Full Safe Plant List

  • African Violet (Saintpaulia)
  • Asperagus Fern (Asperagus setaceus plumosis)
  • Bird’s Nest Fern (Asplenium nidus)
  • Boston Fern (Nephrolepsis exalta)
  • Bouganvillea (Bouganvillea)
  • Camellia (Camellia japonica)
  • Corn Plant (Dracaena fragrans)
  • Croton (Codiaeum sp.)
  • Dracaena (Dracaena)
  • Ficus Benjamin (ficus benjamina)
  • Fuchsia (fuchsia)
  • Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis)
  • Japanese Aralia (Fatsia japonica)
  • Potted Palms (Areca sp.)
  • Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
  • Swedish Ivy (Plectranthus australis)
  • Umbrella and Schefflera (Eriogonum umbrellum)

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What type of cage should I use for my veiled chameleon?

Most veiled chameleon keepers agree that an all screen cage is the best way to provide the environment needed for your chameleons. These are available commercially or you can easily build one yourself. Home Centers and Hardware stores have all you need. For Screening Suntex plastic screening and Lumite work very well. For the top and front Black coated aluminum screen is advisable, the top for basking lights, and the front to allow for better viewing.

Is an aquarium alright to use as a cage?

Aquariums are not recommended to be used as cages. Veiled chameleons, being arboreal, need a lot of air flow around them. The reflection caused by the glass causes chameleons stress. Being very territorial, the reflection appears as a challenger or enemy that will never retreat. This causes them to take a defensive posture and never be allowed to relax. Glass also allow them to see a place they want to go, but cannot get to, they then claw at the glass repeatedly or hang upside down on the top screen lid.

How do I maintain the humidity in my cage?

By keeping the cage well planted and by misting the cage during the day works well. An ultra sonic humidifier works very well. If you have a room with a door, closing the door will keep the room more humid.

You can read more about it in our humidity page.

What plants are safe to put in my veiled chameleon cage?

The best plants to use with your chameleons include: 

  • Pothos
  • Ficus Benjamina
  • Chinese Evergreen
  • Hibiscus
  • Sheffelera

Choose a plant that is the right size for your animal, make sure branches will support your chameleons weight with out breaking.The most important thing to remember is to make sure that the plant is not toxic, as many chameleons eat foliage. For outdoor cages Grape and Kiwi vines are excellent.

What substrate should I put in my chameleon cage?

The best substrates for your veiled chameleons are either newspaper, paper towel, sterile soil, peat moss, or bark chips. Newspaper is easy to change and removing fecal material is easier. This should be done on a very regular basis. Soil allows for a more natural planting and better aids in keeping humidity high. Be sure to remove all fecal matter daily from a soil substrate. When buying a soil or mixing your own avoid perlite, sterelite, and vermiculite. These minerals can be inadvertently ingested and may cause an intestinal blockage.

You can read more on our veiled chameleon substrates page.

How should I water my chameleon and how often?

Water can be accomplished by two means, a drip system and twice daily misting of your chameleon’s enclosure. Dripping can be achieved by poking a small hole in the bottom of a paper or plastic cup and filling in with water. This can the be placed on top of you chameleon’s cage so that it drips down, through the foliage, until it is collected by means of another container at the bottom of the cage or it runs into the soil of a plant. You can move the cup to different plants everyday to avoid waterlogging you plants. The dripping immediately attracts a chameleons attention enticing them to drink. Misting will let droplets of water form on the leaves and these will be licked up. Misting also can clean a veiled chameleons skin and eyes. Some species need to drink daily, others less often. You will need to know the type of environment your animal comes from to make this decision. A water dish is inappropriate, in addition to chameleons not recognizing standing water, bacteria and fungus will develop quickly. In warm weather it is advisable to keep your chameleons outside. When it rains they will drink naturally. Some use their showers to simulate rain. If you choose to do this use extreme caution. A tree is placed in the shower and the shower is turned on. A gentle flow is best, as is a mild temperature. Leaving half the tree out of the water will give the animal the option of leaving the water if it chooses. Cage drip systems that simulate gentle rain may be preferable.

You can read more about it on our watering page.

What kind of lighting do I need?

You will need to provide full spectrum lighting for your chameleon. This type of lighting allows your animal to produce Vitamin D for proper absorption of calcium. Tube type fluorescent bulbs are essential for animals kept indoors. Buy the best bulb you can afford, unless you are keeping your animals outside in direct sun. Look for a bulb with high UVB output. This is money well spent. Screw in type fluorescent bulbs have been poorly rated for UVB light output and are best avoided. In addition you will need a basking light for many species. Basking lights allow your veiled chameleon to thermoregulate, adjusting their body temperatures to be comfortable. For most species a low wattage regular incandescent bulb is fine. Use a 40-60 watt bulb in a metal reflector hood type fixture. Place this on one end of the cage top angled at 45 degrees to simulate a low angle sun. Use a thermometer to determine that the temperatures in your cage are with in the range of the species you are keeping. Keeping the basking light on one end allows the animal to move to the other side should they feel too warm. You can keep your light on a timer for a regular photo period and use no additional heat source for night. A night cool down is beneficial.

You can read more about it on our lighting page.

The Best Substrate for your Veiled Chameleon

This is a very important subject. Many people have had health problems because of the type of substrates they have for their cages! There are several common items people use or buy to cover the floor of their veiled chameleon cages. I’ll try to cover as many as I can here along with the pros and cons.

If at all possible, I don’t recommend a substrate at all for the cage unless it is a ground chameleon such as the rhampoleon and brookesia species. It is easier for me to clean a cage floor daily if there is no substrate or reptile carpeting. There is also less chance of bacteria build up. Sure it isn’t “pretty”, but I know my veiled chameleons will not suffer because I opted to decorate the floor of their cages.

This doesn’t mean you can’t use a substrate, it is your choice, but you do want to be careful when it comes to choosing what you will use.

Reptile Carpet

ZooMed makes one of the better cage carpet on the market. It is designed to be absorbent, flat and non-abrasive. It is available in various sizes and can easily be cut to fit your cage if needed. Not very expensive either.

I prefer this brand over any other for several reasons. I have tried them all, and I have also bought indoor/outdoor carpet at local carpet stores. The regular carpet usually has chemicals, and will also fray around the edges. Astro turf is really bad, the plastic type carpeting, often the chameleon will end up ingesting pieces of it because it easily separates from the backing.

Pros
  • It is easy to clean, can be tossed in the washer.
  • Absorbs runoff of excess water.
  • Soft and won’t harm the veiled chameleons feet or skin.
  • Cage carpet is manufactured without toxic chemicals.
  • Comes in various colors.
  • Gives the cage a pleasing look.
Cons
  • If not allowed to dry between mistings and drippings, will mold and cause bacteria to grow.
  • Needs to be washed at least two times a week to keep the feces from the chameleon cleaned up.
  • Some of the smaller or baby chameleons can get their nails caught in it and lose a nail.
  • Easily becomes a breeding ground for parasites, fruit flies, and other such things as bacteria.

If you really feel the need to cover the bottom of your cages, this would be the only thing I would suggest using.

Soil & Moss

For some species such as the rhampoleons and brookesias, you may opt to create a naturalistic environment for them using sterile soil mixed with peat. You easily use live plants and mosses that will grow in the habitat. These species are forest floor dwellers and usually prefer dried leaf litter, low bushy plants, vines, and need a high humidity level. Using a proper setup, you can create a perfect habitat for them.

For arboreal species of chameleons, I do not recommend using soil, mosses, pebbles or gravel. If they shoot for prey on the bottom of their cage, they will usually ingest it and can possibly cause blockages and other health problems which are usually fatal. If you do you a soil type bottom, it is best it is covered with a fine mesh to prevent the veiled chameleon from ingesting any particles.

Pros
  • Provides a more naturalistic environment.
  • Helps to keep the humidity levels up
  • Makes it easier for live plants to thrive in the habitat.
  • For gravid females, it gives them a place to dig and lay their eggs without the use of a laying bin.
Cons
  • Very hard to control the problem of excess water in the habitat. Planning a way to allow excess water to drain is important.
  • Feces need to be scraped out daily.
  • Soil under conditions of high humidity promotes growth of bugs and parasites as well as bacteria.
  • Chances of your chameleon ingesting substrate is a high risk.
  • Very difficult to keep environment sterile and bacteria free, especially if a chameleon which has been in it becomes ill. The entire setup must be taken down and thoroughly cleaned, replace with new substrate.
  • Can be difficult to find eggs that females have laid and risk of eggs going bad, or babies hatching out later only to be eaten by the adult.

Bark & Mulch

ZooMed among several companies make reptile safe bark type products. There is no way I would ever recommend using any such materials for a veiled chameleon habitat! This would include pine shavings and other such products. Mulch is commonly used for reptiles such as monitors and snakes. This is one of the worst types of substrates you can use. I won’t even go into the good & the bad on this substrate because there are no good points for using it in a chameleon cage.

Sand-type Substrates

There are several various reptile sand products on the pet market. Some contain calcium such as the calci-sand. Again, I do not recommend these products for use in any chameleon cage. The reasons vary but mostly because the chameleon can ingest the sand and end up with health problems.

Newspaper

There may be times when the need for using a paper type product is best for the veiled chameleons. One instance is for just hatched or born chameleons. The paper can be changed daily to prevent feces build up, bacteria build up, and excess moisture in the cage.

If you find that you need to go this route, use paper towels with no print, or try the new product that just came out which is a reptile paper substrate. I do not recall the name, but as soon as I find the information again, I will post it here. It is a good product and comes in large rolls.

Do not use newspapers to cover the bottom of your cages. The ink can be toxic in some cases. Some newspaper plants use a new ink that will not be toxic, but why risk it?

When using paper based products as a substrate, you must be able;e to change it daily or at least every other day. With the mistings and humidity, it will deteriorate and the veiled chameleons can inject it. There is also the problem with damp promoting growth of harmful bacteria.

Conclusion

Take the time to read and research what you can. If you do not have a lot of time to constantly clean the carpet products, scoop clean soils, etc, you should really just keep a bare bottom cage. Normally materials used for the bottoms of the chameleon cages are easy to clean with a damp sponge. Excess water can be drained by drilling holes in the bottom of the cage and buckets placed under them to collect the run off. It is the safest way to go in my opinion.

Veiled Chameleon Habitat Accessories: Branches, Vines & Plants

Accessories

Your veiled chameleon needs certain items in it’s cage for it to thrive. Vines, branches, and plants are the typical things people need to have in each cage. The three items above are the bare necessities. As time and money allows, you will be able to add more to your chameleons habitat. It is expensive to buy everything a chameleon needs all at once.

Before I go any further in this area, I want to stress that it is important to follow these guidelines below. This will help you to choose items for your veiled chameleons cage wisely.

THINGS TO CONSIDER BEFORE ACCESSORIZING YOUR CAGES:

  • Each item should be toxic free, thoroughly cleaned and sterilized prior to using in your chameleons cage.
  • You will need to thoroughly clean the branches, vines and so forth at least once a week.
  • If using live plants, make sure they will not be toxic to your chameleon. Some species will actually eat the flowers or leaves of the plants. See the SAFE PLANTS LIST.
  • Buy quality products. The cage items will go through much wear and tear with constant cleaning, and subjected to moisture and humidity.
  • Don’t buy items such as the vibrating bowl and bubbling water bowls. These items are not needed and unless the chameleon is in poor conditions, will not use these things.

Types of Accessories

Branches & Wood Items

These are a necessity to any veiled chameleon cage. Branches provide the chameleon a place to bask, eat, sleep, and allows it to easily get around the cage. You can purchase driftwood, sandblasted grape wood, or collect your own branches to use.

If you are going to use wood you have taken from outside, you will need to clean and sterilize it before using. The wood may have parasites, termites and other unwanted or health hazard things that can be passed to your chameleon. There are two methods for doing this:

Baking Method

Thoroughly clean the wood with warm soapy water. Rinse well and allow to dry. Preheat oven to 250 degrees F. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes.

Bleach Solution

Mix 5 percent bleach to 95 percent water. Wash the wood thoroughly in this solution. Rinse wood well with water to remove any bleach. Allow to dry in the sun thoroughly. Repeat this three times to make sure all bacteria, insects, and eggs are killed off.

Selecting a type of branch

You will want to use wood with several branches. Make sure they are not too thin and will support your chameleon. If you have wood with sharp edges, thorns, or lose pieces, you will want to sand these down to make sure your veiled chameleon will not injure itself. Be careful in picking out wood with tight V shapes where the chameleon may get a leg caught and cause injury. Some chameleon owners have had to have legs amputated for injuries caused by the chameleon getting caught in tight places such as this.

Sand Blasted Grapevine

I really like using this type of wood. It is usually very smooth, offered in a variety of sizes and shapes. Easy to clean since the bark has been removed. Thick enough to allow the chameleons to walk and climb with a safe grip. it is also sturdy and will last a long time even with all the cleaning it will go through.

Driftwood

Driftwood is normally pretty smooth and often is screwed onto a slate base. Another good basic wood option to use in building your veiled chameleon habitat. It is not as expensive as the sandblasted grape wood, but then it also does not always have the many branches and size that grape wood does. Because of it’s smoothed surface, it is very easy to clean and is very durable. Also available in pet shops, especially ones that carry marine and aquatic items.

Manzanita Wood

Another great natural wood that has plenty of branches and isn’t too hard to clean. Manzanita is used in many animal habitats such as birds as well as reptiles. It is sturdy and holds up well with constant washing and exposure to high humidity.

Yes, there will always be manmade products available! Beware, some of the products have been known to hold the moisture and cause bacteria build up. Also, some of the manufactured products do not hold up to the wear and tear of cleaning and use and will flake or fall apart in time.

Vines

You will need plenty of vines twisting and this way and that through out the cage to allow your chameleon to roam freely. It also helps the chameleon to chose where it wants to bask and control it’s body temperatures. They usually will use the vines to drink drip from, hunt from and gives them places to explore and exercise.

Bio Vine is a good product to use as a source for your chameleon to exercise, explore, hunt and bask. It is easy to clean, bendable, non-toxic, and durable. One of the favorite artificial vines for many herpers.

Flexi-Vines & Flexi-Branches

This is a good product to use. Sturdy, easy to clean and durable. It bends to shape around branches and the cage creating a nice herp highway. It holds up well with constant cleaning and won’t flake or fall apart.

Foliage, Live & Silk Plants

You have the option of using live plants, silk plants & vines, or both. I use a combination of both in most of my cages. It is important to give your veiled chameleon a habitat it will feel safe and secure in. Some species prefer more foliage than others such as the lateralis, who is on the shy side and tend to stress if there are not enough places for them to blend into. When shopping for silk plants and vines, look for good quality made plants. Remember they will be exposed to humidity and constant cleaning. Silk plants are not inexpensive and you do not want to waste your money, or risk your chameleons health buying silk plants that will fray at the edges, or have leaves that easily fall off their vines.

Silk plants come in a wide variety and many can be found with stone, poly resin and other bases for stability.

Silk Plants

There are many silk plants that can be found in a variety of shops. Pet shops carry a variety made for terrariums and reptile habitats. Other sources for plants can be your local craft and hobby shops. Shop around to find the right plants for your habitat.

Good quality silk vines can be used to drape and wrap around branches and vines throughout the habitat giving your chameleon a feeling of security.

Silk Vines

This is one way to help your chameleon to feel safe and allow it to blend in it’s environment. This helps to eliminate some stress if it is a shy species. You can use the silk vines to wrap around branches, bio vine, drape from areas of your cage and branches. Get creative with it! Just remember you will need to clean these thoroughly at least once or twice a week, so plan carefully to make cleaning easy.

Silk Trees & Bushes

This is a little more costly than live plants. But the silk trees and bushes have an advantage over live ones. They will not die under the high humid conditions of the chameleon habitat, easy to clean, will not need to be trimmed and pruned, as well as having no sap to possibly harm the veiled chameleons eyes or irritate them.

Schefflera is a favorite of many chameleon keepers. Plenty of branches, and leaves that allow good dripping water surfaces for the chameleon to lap from.

These are also available in your local hobby, home decor shops as well as discount stores. Made in a variety of sizes, you should be able to find something to suit the needs of your veiled chameleon.

Veiled Chameleon Lighting: UVB Heat Bulbs

Veiled chameleons come from different regions and the amount of light they get from the sun varies. In captivity, we need to try to duplicate the natural sunlight as well as control the temperatures by using heat lights and UVB bulbs. Depending on the species, the heat temperatures and UVB requirements differs. Some species need it warmer and will bask longer than other species. The individual care information for the species you have.

This section of information will go into the heat lights and UVB lights. Both play a very important role in the overall health of your chameleons. Of course, there is nothing better than natural sunshine on a good day, but in a captive environment in most countries, we cannot provide them with the adequate amount of sunlight and temperatures that they require year round. The lights discussed here have been tried and tested for veiled chameleons. There are many different kinds of lights on the markets, but not all produce the same results. I would advise you to stick with what we know works for chameleons and not risk the health of yours by trying to save money on new products or not buy the proper lighting at all. In the long run, there is no saving by cutting corners if the chameleon becomes ill.

What is UVB?

The sun, as well as some artificial lighting have three different wavelengths, UVA, UVB and UVC:

  • UVA is the visible light which is thrown from bulbs and the sun which we can actually see. UVA plays an important role in the animals behavior. UVA light tells the animal when it is day, induces appetites, breeding behavior and other activities such as climbing, running, jumping and hunting.
  • UVB is not visible. It is a form of radiation put out by the sun and special coated bulbs made to produce UVB wavelengths. UVB in reptiles allows the animal to process calcium in their system which helps to prevent and reverse metabolic bone disease. UVB in excess amounts can be harmful to both humans and animals causing problems such as damage to the retina of the eyes, burns and other health risks. UVB is what causes humans to suntan and sunburn. It is important to control the UVB lighting, or if using natural sunlight, to give the animal shade and areas where they can escape the constant exposure of UVB.
  • UVC is the wavelength used for Ultraviolet Sterilizers which kill harmful bacteria. This is a very dangerous wavelength to all animals as it can damage DNA.

All chameleons require both UVA nd UVB light. Montane species do not need as much each day as lower region species. Many chameleons will spend several hours throughout the day basking in the sunlight, most often when they have just woke up, after they have eaten and after they have had a good drink. Even the rhampoleon and brookesia species which are found on the floors of the forests and low bushes need to bask and get UVA and UVB exposure.

Veiled chameleons regulate the amounts they need themselves by basking. When their system has had adequate amounts, they will move into shady or lower areas of the trees where the UVB wavelengths are not so strong. Heat also plays an important role as to how long a chameleon will bask. On hot arid days, they will tend to hide in shady areas more than normal. In the captive environment, we can control the temperatures, provide well planted cages with shaded areas for the chameleon to go too when it is not basking and absorbing UVB, we call this thermal regulation.

UVB Lighting

The most important lighting to provide your chameleon with is a special light that produces UVB. Do not confuse UVB with UVA. ZooMed makes two brands of lights which come highly recommended for veiled chameleons, the Reptisun 5.0 and the Iguana Light 5.0. Both are the same light, just different packaging for marketing purposes. Both lights are florescent bulbs. They need to be placed with in 12 inches of the chameleon where it basks to achieve maximum UVB exposure. Also note that these lights MUST be replaced every six months. Even thought they still throw light, the UVB coating has worn off and the chameleon will no longer be getting the necessary UVB to maintain optimal health.

One other source for providing your chameleon with UVB and UVA is using metal halide lights. These are very expensive and require special fixtures. These lights also produce a tremendous amount of heat and should be used with care. If you plan to install and use metal halide lamps, do some homework to find out what wattage would be best. I also do not recommend these bulbs for smaller enclosures where the chameleon is placed at higher risks of too much exposure and warmer temperatures.

Checking the UVB of a light

Over time, the UVB given off of these light bulbs will be reduced to the point they are no longer putting out sufficient UVB. I highly recommend that you purchase a Digital Ultraviolet Radiometers from Zoo Med or Radio Shack. This instrument will allow you to get accurate readings of the amount of UVA and UVB output at various distances from the bulb. It is good husbandry practice to test the UVB bulbs periodically. Very useful to help you know when the UVB bulbs need to be replaced before your chameleon starts showing signs of MBD or other health problems associated with not getting enough UVB exposure.

Heat Lights

Providing your chameleon with the proper temperature gradients and a good place to bask is very important. Like many other reptiles such as snakes, veiled chameleons thermal regulate themselves to keep their body temperatures where they need to be. To do this in the captive environment, we need to use some type of heat light bulb. There are many different companies who manufacture heat bulbs, it would be impossible to list and describe them all. Here, you will find the three different types of heat lights most commonly used.

These bulbs come in a variety of wattages. You will need to access which watt bulb would be right for your enclosure. If it is a very small cage, then you may find that the 50 watt light works best while larger enclosures would need the 150 watt bulb. Before using any heat light on your chameleon, you should check the temperatures in the cage the first few hours to make sure the light is not too hot, or that the bulb is providing adequate heat. You will want to place a good thermometer on the branches the chameleon likes to bask to check for basking temperatures for your specie of chameleon. Also, place the thermometer down towards the bottom of the cage to see if their is proper gradients of temperatures to allow the chameleon to escape the heat in lower regions of the cage. Once you feel comfortable that you have the temperatures right in the cage, you can place the chameleon in the enclosure.

Basking Spot Bulbs

These bulbs are used to provide warmer temperatures as well as UVA for your veiled chameleon. Usually used with a reflector type light fixture which allows the heat and light itself to radiate further than without. Zoo Med makes the Repti Basking Spot Lamp which is made with a patented double reflector which puts out 35% more heat and UVA in a tighter beam.

Lower Heat Spot Bulbs

Some species of chameleons bask very little and do not need the intense heat that the Heat Spot lights provide. There are heat bulbs which produce lower amounts of heat while still allowing your chameleon to get the adequate amount of UVA and bask at the cooler temperatures needed. These types of lights are also excellent for use on large enclosures where more than one spot light is necessary to insure that the chameleon is getting enough light, but the more intense heat is not needed in other areas of the cage.

Night Heat Lights

During cooler months in regions where the outside temperatures drop low enough that the night temperatures in your chameleon cage with the lights off are too cold. If not kept warm enough around the clock, your veiled chameleon can get URI (Upper Respitory Infection). Checking the cage temperatures at night at least two hours after all lights are out is important to find accurate cage temperatures. If the temperatures drop too low, then you may have a need to use a night heat light which the chameleon does not see and can sleep. Use of regular spot or basking lamps will trick your chameleon into thinking it is still daytime and it will not get the rest it needs. A chameleon should have 12 to 14 hours of daylight or simulated daylight by using the UVB and Spot light heat bulbs. Night heat bulbs are specially coated lights in either red or black which emit heat without the light and UVA.

Managing your Veiled Chameleon’s Water & Humidity

Veiled chameleons are not desert reptiles, many are from mountain areas where there is high humidity, mists and good fresh supply of running water.

Chameleons do not drink from bowls like other reptiles either, so we need to provide them with clean, running or dripping water. We also need to keep the humidity levels in the appropriate ranges depending on the species. Without these two combinations, proper hydration and humidity, a veiled chameleon will not survive.

There are several ways you can provide a good supply of dripping water and misting. This will be how your chameleon will keep well hydrated. Some species require more water intake than others, so do research the specie of chameleon you have to make sure you are proving adequate amounts of water for it.

THINGS TO CONSIDER ABOUT WATERING YOUR VEILED CHAMELEON:

  • Use filtered or mountain spring water if at all possible. Many of us live in areas where our water supply is full of chemicals such as chlorine and other things that can be harmful to the chameleons system.
  • All water receptacles and catch basins should be kept clean on a daily basis. Bacteria will build up quickly in these containers and pose health problems to your veiled chameleon.
  • Use warm water at all times! This is a must. In their natural habitat, the mists and rains are not cold, but are a nice warm temperature. This tropical warm water temperature also helps keep the humidity up. Using cold tap water when misting and watering is like giving your chameleon a cold shower. It is a shock to their system and often a chameleon will not drink as often or as much if the water temps are too cold..
  • Do not allow cages to stay wet or allow water to collect at the bottom. This is a potential bacteria breeding ground. All cages should be allowed to dry between watering and mistings. A damp atmosphere will create mold, fungus, and even enable parasites to thrive.
  • For baby and small chameleons, you will want to be VERY careful that you cover any drip water basins covered with a screen mesh. If not, then your chameleon can fall into the water and drown. Also, if you have a gravid chameleon that is a live bearer, keep hers covered as well as some breeders have had the horrible experience of coming home and finding the newborns have fallen into the water and drowned.
  • Never use ice cubes on the top of the cage to melt and drip. Again, this is using cold water and not recommended. This is particularly bad for younger veiled chameleons. Some mountain species who are outside in the summer temps may be better able to tolerate colder water temperatures, but under normal circumstances use warm water, or at least room temperature water.

Direct Watering

Most veiled chameleon keepers use a drip bottle as pictured above. Some others have created their own drip bottles and devices using items that can be easily purchased in stores. Drip bottles provide a good constant source of moving water for the chameleon. The drip bottle is usually placed on top of the screen cage and allowed to drip on the branches and leaves below it where the chameleon can easily get to it and lap it up.

It is important to keep the areas where the water drips clean of feces and other things that the chameleon can ingest. A quick wipe with a clean sponge and water with a cage disinfectant or quatricide solution will make it easy to clean these areas, as well as the drip bottle and drip water catch basins on a regular basis.

A drip bottle is made so that you can adjust the drip flow. Most species will need a good steady drip coming out to allow it to intake the necessary water it needs to drink.

Misting

Providing Dripping water for your chameleon goes hand-in-hand with misting. Misting promotes humidity along with another opportunity for the chameleon to drink up water collected on leaves, vines and branches. Some veiled chameleons hate being sprayed with water, but in general, if the water temperatures are right, and the mist is a fine mist, they do enjoy it.

Mistings are very important for the mountain species as well as the hatchelings and juvenile chameleons. You will want to mist the foliage and vines for about 20 – 30 minutes on average. This gives the chameleon ample time to start lapping at the water, and keep misting until you see the chameleon stop drinking for at least five minutes. Some species such as the melleri, are very slow to begin drinking, five or ten minutes into a misting period is about the usual time it takes for them to start lapping at the water dripping on them and around them. Melleri will drink for very long periods, sometimes 30 minutes is not enough. You will want to check to see how each chameleon is doing during the mistings.

Hand Spray Bottles

You can use the common hand spraying mist bottles. These can be bought at pet stores, or found in your home & garden departments in many stores. When shopping for one, make sure it has an adjustable nozzle for controlling the stream of water it sprays out.

If you have more than one or two veiled chameleons, you might want to look into the next few options. Hand misting each individual chameleon with a squeeze bottle can tire your hands and wrists out rather quickly. I prefer using either a garden sprayer or automated drip system myself. These two methods provide a nice steady mist of water for the chameleon and I do not have to be present to mist. This is one of the down sides of using the hand spray bottles, you need to stand in front of the cage where the chameleon can see you, often leading to stress for the chameleon.

Garden Sprayers

This is my preference for misting chameleons if I did not have so many to do each day. The garden Sprayers can be adjusted easily and set up on an objected and aimed into the cage from above or the front to allow a good fine mist of warm water for 20 or more minutes at a time. You do not have to stand there to operate it if you get the kind that has a lock on the handle to keep the flow of water misting out.

Misting Systems

Buying an automated misting system is pretty expensive. Depending on how much money you have, and how many veiled chameleons you have will be the deciding factor on what system you will go with. There are many good ideas for making your own misting system.

Very effective system, but on the expensive side. Would be an adequate system for those who have their chameleons in a greenhouse.

Waterfalls

While providing your chameleon a constant flow of water by using a waterfall may seem convenient and pleasing to look at, there are many things to consider before buying and using one. Most veiled chameleon keepers avoid the waterfalls due to the high maintenance they require.

Waterfalls use a circular pumping sustem to generate a flow of water. Under normal circumstances, this water in not filtered. Thus, you face a potential bacteria and health problems involved from such because the fountains circulate dirty water that the chameleon will drink.

If you plan on using a waterfall in your chameleon habitat, you will need to clean the fountain and water resivoirs daily! A very time consuming task and one that cannot be left undone.

Humidifiers

Humidifiers can be used to help keep the humidity levels up in the room and cages where your chameleons live. Using the cool mist humidifier is the one most recommended unless you need the additional heat that warm mist humidifiers put out. Depending on your set up and the species you maintain, you will need to know which humidifier is best for you.

Humidifiers can be setup near your chameleon cage, and the mist will rise into the cage itself. Use a humidity guage to keep track of the levels throughout the day.

If you have more than one veiled chameleon and need to provide humidity to several cages, You can create a system where the humidifier will pump the humid air into each cage. Doug Johnston has perfected a real simple system. The humidifier has been modified with PVC pipes and vinyl tubing to direct the output to several cages at once and even uses a timer to go on and off at specified times. Very effective and really works on keeping the chameleons healthier.

Cleaning your Veiled Chameleon Habitat

Clean Hands

Before you handle any veiled chameleon, even one that you have owned a long time, you should clean your hands thoroughly. Then clean your hands again after handling. This includes when you feed the chameleon, handle it for treating it when it is ill, and especially when you are ill. You not only have to worry about spreading bacteria from one chameleon to another, but you can also give your chameleon something you have. (Trust me, I learned this lesson the hard way!)

If you are sick with a virus, salmonella or other illnesses, it is best you do not handle your chameleons at all. If you do, use disposable rubber gloves which can be purchased at discount medical supply stores or even found in Walgreens. Once you are through, dispose of the gloves and wash your hands. Do the same thing when working with a new veiled chameleon, especially one you know is wild caught and has not been tested for parasites, coccidia or other known bacteria and virus which can be spread by touch. If you have a sick chameleon and need to medicate it, hand feed it, or handle it for other reasons, again use the gloves. This will minimize the risk of spreading infectious diseases to you or other animals.

One handy cleaning agent I highly recommend is quatricide. You can ask your vet to prepare you a spray bottle of this disinfectant as this is what most veterinarians use to clean their rooms and hands with. If they do not have it, ask them what they would recommend. Perhaps surgical scrub would be something else you could purchase to clean your hands with. You can also purchase a product from Big Apple Herpetological called Quat Plus.

Quatricide kills most bacteria including coccidia, salmonella, and other common threatening viral germs. It is safe for both you and your chameleon. You simply spray your hands with it and rub it around. No rinsing is needed, just let it air dry. If you cannot get a quatricide solution, then I would recommend using a cleaner such as ZooMed’s Wipe Out hand cleaner.

Cleaning Cages & Habitats

You can also use the quatricide to clean the cages, and all accessories including water receptacles and humidifiers. You will want to scrub and clean all items using warm soapy water first to remove any debree. Rinse off the soap and then allow the accessories to soak in the quatricide for about 10 or more minutes. Remove the items from the bucket of quatricide solution and allow to air dry before placing back in the cages. To clean the cages, use a sponges and dip it in the quatricide solution and wipe down all surfaces which cannot be soaked and cleaned ina sink or bucket.

Another product you might want to use are or Chlorhexidine Diacetate (Generic Nolvasan). Follow the instructions for it’s use.

Some people use a bleach solution to clean with. I do not recommend this for various reasons. If you opt to use bleach to clean and sterilise your habitats and accessories, you need to follow the instructions below:

  • Clean all items with warm soapy water
  • Rinse well
  • Mix 5 part bleach to 95 part water in a sink or other large container
  • soak items in bleach water and use sponge to wash areas not in water.
  • remove and rinse well
  • Allow to dry thoroughly and repeat rinsing with clean water and allow to thoroughly dry

There are other cleaning products on the market. You may decide to buy and try some. Read the labels before you do to make sure they will be safe to use for a veiled chameleon habitat. You do not want to use anything which will leave behind toxic chemicals. Follow manufacturers instructions when using.

How often should I clean?

You should clean the feces and other debree from a chameleon cage daily. Also remove any dead insects. You will want to wash all water receptacles daily as well, especially if you use any type of fountains. Any standing water in a cage should be cleaned daily. This is a guaranteed bacteria breeding ground.

Cages and accessories should be cleaned well on a weekly basis.

If you have a chameleon which came in wild caught and is being treated for parasites, or other health problems such as coccidia, salmonella, crypto, and other infectious diseases, then you will want to clean the cages sides floors and doors daily, also wipe down all accessories in the cage without removing them with a sponge dipped in a disinfectant as discussed above. Parasites will often leave the chameleons body alive looking for a live host. Some parasites such as hooks and rounds can crawl far enough before dying to contaminate other animals in the area. Also, many parasites dying will lay their eggs. If left and conditions are right, they will hatch and your chameleon will be ridden with parasites again.

All this sounds like work, it is, but well worth it to have a healthy veiled chameleon. Like a good diet and good UVB lighting, cleaning is an important part of caring for your chameleon!

Veiled Chameleon Diseases, Parasites & Stress Management

I am often asked to look at photos or answer questions that people have emailed me about concerning MBD, swollen joints, swelling of soft tissues, and other such problems their veiled chameleons are having. I cannot make any diagnosis, but only offer some advice. In no way would I ever encourage anyone to make such an assessment on a chameleons health without seeing a qualifies vet. Often misdiagnosis can lead to fatalities that may have been prevented if a vet had been able to examine, test and treat the chameleon sooner.

Metabolic Bone Disease

Typically with metabolic bone disease (or MBD for short), you will see the swollen joints in the legs first and even bumps forming on the ribs. Most often if not first showing there, it would be in the head, jaw or casque next. Age is of no factor when MBD visits, it hits juveniles as well as the older veiled chameleons. I have seen MBD cause degeneration of the hips in females who have been breed a lot. This is usually due to calcium deficiency.

This disease is correctable and preventable. If a chameleon is brought to the vet in an advanced state of the disease then the prognosis is not good. Otherwise, they are able to return a large percent of them to relative normalcy if their full treatment regimen is followed. After the immediate problem is corrected it is mandatory to provide the optimum environment for their proper quality of life.

Veiled chameleons with this disease have many problems. The bones might be swollen, soft, or even fractured. In severe cases the blood calcium level becomes so low that tremors occur.

The jaw might be swollen (called lumpy jaw by some people) because nature is trying to bring in supporting tissue to make up for the lack of strength to the bones of the jaw. The same thing happens to the bones of the legs, and when the problem is severe enough, or has gone on long enough, the bones of the arms and legs can fracture (called a pathologic fracture) all by themselves. Some of these chameleons will be unable to walk properly due to spinal cord damage, and many of them will be more susceptible to common infections because they are too weak to develop a proper immune response. As the bones of the jaw become weaker it becomes impossible to eat, further exacerbating the problem. They may have distended abdomens and bones leading their owners to the erroneous conclusion that their pet is fat and sassy, and receiving an adequate diet. Growing iguanas and females laying eggs have a greater need for calcium and might me more prone to this problem. Females with eggs might not have the strength to lay them, and sometimes even require surgery if they become egg bound.

MBD has many factors that work together in causing this condition. The primary reason veiled chameleons develop this disease is due to a diet too low in calcium. More specifically, the ratio of calcium to phosphorous (usually the phosphorous is too high) in their diets is inadequate to promote growth and sustain normal physiological functions. As a result, they become very ill, and can even succumb to the disease.

Other factors that exacerbate the poor diet problem are common in most households that have reptiles. Inadequate exposure to direct sunlight (not through glass), not keeping the humidity where it needs to be for the particular species, and not keeping the temperature at where it needs to be, all add to the problem.

Vitamin D3

Sunlight of a specific ultraviolet frequency is needed to produce vitamin D3 by the chameleons skin. This vitamin is needed for the absorption and utilization of calcium in the diet. No matter how much calcium there is in the diet, without this vitamin the calcium would not be be absorbed or utilized. This is why milk that we drink is fortified with vitamin D. Black Lights and other artificial ultraviolet lights are helpful, but they can not replace sunshine.

In order to maintain normal bodily functions (ability to digest food, fight infections, etc.) a veiled chameleon needs to maintain a high body temperature. Since they are reptiles, they maintain this temperature by absorbing the heat from their environment. They can not produce enough internal body heat like birds and mammals can when placed in a cold environment. Also, the precursor to vitamin D needs to be at the proper temperature to be converted to the active form of the vitamin.

In the semi arid environment in some parts of the country, or the heat needed to warm homes in the winter, many chameleons live in a perpetual state of dehydration. This dramatically interferes with their physiology and predisposes them to many problems.

If at all possible, try to get her exposed to natural sunlight as much as you can daily. In nature, the sun provides a wealth of light at high intensity for daylight loving reptiles, which can often be seen basking in the sun’s rays. This is not just for warmth, but to assist in the synthesis of vitamin D3 which promotes good health in chameleons. Most reptiles need to synthesize vitamin D3 in their skin for their healthy growth.

Remember, the UVB rays will not get through glass or Plexi-glass. She would need to be exposed through screen.

Vitamin D3 is necessary for the metabolism of calcium, which is needed for strong bone development. A deficiency can result in metabolic bone disease in reptiles.

Ultraviolet Light (UVB)

If you can’t get the veiled chameleon in direct sunlight, then your only other option is to set it up with two long Reptisun 5.0 lights running vertically inside the cage. This would allow optimal exposure wherever it is in the cage. Leave them on 12 hours a day. You may want to consider giving the chameleon oral calcium. You will need to talk to your vet about this. The vet can get you the oral calcium, and instructions on dosage for her size and weight, as well as the stage of MBD the chameleon may be in.

Ultra violet light of a particular wave band, known as UVB (290-320 nm), is required. UVB is not present in sufficient quantities in normal full spectrum fluorescent lamps, because the glass absorbs UVB, whereas the D3 lamp such as the Reptisun 5.0 uses a special glass designed to allow through sufficient yet safe levels of UVB and UVA. Although Vitamin D3 can be commercially obtained from animal sources, and given to reptiles with their food, studies have indicated that dietary D3 cannot replace the D3 synthesized in the skin from sunlight, even in reptiles injected with supplemental vitamin D3. The vitamin D type derived from plants is vitamin D2 and is not suitable for proper calcium metabolism. For the best results, vitamin D3 must be obtained from regular exposure to UVB light, either from natural sunlight or the good UV/UVB lights.

Gut-loading Insects

It is important to note that sufficient vitamin D3 is not enough in itself to avoid metabolic bone disease. Reptiles should also be fed foods rich in calcium and phosphorous. If your chameleon will not eat fruits or vegetables, then gut loading their insects is going to be the key. Below is a list of foods to be fed to crickets and worms that are high in the needed calcium and D3:

  • Collared Greens
  • Mustard Greens
  • Red Leaf
  • Butter leaf
  • Dandelion Greens
  • Mango and Papaya
  • Broccoli
  • Non toxic flowers

Avoid feeding the insects the following:

  • Dog Food
  • Cat Food
  • Iceberg Lettuce

Definitely do as much as you can with a good gut load recipe for the crickets, superworms and other feeders you give her.

Now you are armed with some natural ways to get her calcium intake up. You will want to remember that any oral or powder vitamin supplements with calcium such as Herptivite, etc, will have a retention period of at least 10 days before being fully absorbed in the chameleons system. This means the calcium supplements are not absorbed and used for almost 2 weeks and over supplementing will happen quickly if not careful. That is why I prefer a more naturalistic approach to getting the calcium to my chameleons by using natural food and food products rather than a man-made chemical based product.

Remember, you really should get your veiled chameleon to a vet if you are seeing any signs of MBD. If it persists even with corrective measures, it may still progress if not given proper treatment. It may actually be a neurological disorder. Calcium may not be the treatment. If it is not MBD, then chances are there is nothing you will be able to do to reduce or stop the problem. But with a proper diagnoses, you may be able to prevent it from coming on so fast or getting worse.

I would ask you to consider a few things before making your own final assessment:

  1. Is the area of swelling very hard, like bone would feel or is it a swelling of soft tissues? Hard would really point to the MBD, BUT…if there is soft tissue swelling, you may be seeing signs of other problems which may or may not be treatable with antibiotics, etc.
  2. What was the care and husbandry like before now? Was the chameleon getting good UVB exposure and being feed crickets well gut loaded with natural foods or were the crickets gut loaded with a product such as the Fluker Farms cricket gut load dry mix? Some of the ready made dry and wet mixes available are not good for chameleons, too much protein and other supplements and end up with over supplementation which lead to long term health problems often where there is no treatment for.
  3. Has the chameleon likely had an injury caused by a fall or similar incident? Could the problem be a fracture, separation or a break? Again, MBD can cause weakening of the bone and falls that typically would not lead to an injury such as these can be a problem. Along with the MBD treatment, the vet should be able to treat any fractures, breaks or separations. It is important to get the chameleon to the vat as soon as possible, the longer the injury is there, the tissue and bone will be almost impossible to heal and correct.
  4. If you seriously suspect it is MBD, then watch the areas where the MBD is visible. With the increased UVB exposure and proper higher calcium diet for her crickets, the veiled chameleon should gradually show signs of improvement, reduced swelling and more mobility.

If this is a case of MBD, I would highly recommend you do not breed the chameleon, especially females. Females with MBD do have problems with developing healthy eggs and neonates. She is more than likely going to throw offspring with calcium deficiencies themselves because her body is lacking severely. In minimal cases, the eggs will not develop properly in her during her gestation period. In Live bearing chameleons, the MBD poses greater problems to developing healthy fetus. In males with MBD, the risk is not so problematic when it comes to breeding if the male is under a diet and measures to control the MBD. They do not need to expend the extra calcium from their own bodies to develop healthy eggs and embryos. Still there is always a risk of producing offspring who will have some disadvantage in health.

Some severe cases will need to be hospitalized for treatment. Veiled chameleons that are diagnosed with severe MBD, D3 or calcium deficiency disorders, are usually very ill and often need to be hospitalized. During hospitalization they are given fluids to correct dehydration, a special liquid diet, injections of vitamin D3, injections of calcium, oral calcium, and antibiotics if they have an infection. Those that have pathologic fractures are splinted.

After they are stabilized in the hospital they are sent home with calcium supplements, antibiotics if needed, and their dietary deficiency is corrected. They need to return weekly for at least several weeks for vitamin D3 injections and calcium injections.

Stress

Chameleons are very sensitive and fragile reptiles. One of the leading causes of illness, repeating health problems and death is usually caused by stress. Chameleons will stress easily under conditions which most reptiles will adapt to and thrive in. Often, we do not realize our chameleons are really stressed because they do not always show signs of stress, but eventually, their health will start to deteriorate, and there is no explanation why. This is when we need to look hard at our husbandry and environmental issues of the chameleon.

The typical signs of stress are listed below. Not always are these signs solely signs of stress, but can be signs of other problems such as virus, infections, organ failure, and many other things. It is always best to have your vet do a thorough examination, run fecal and CBC tests to make sure there are no internal health problems.

  • Dark colors are typically signs that your veiled chameleon is under stress.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Gaping when you look in on them, or they see other animals.
  • Rocking back and forth and displaying their warning colors.
  • Constant hiding in foliage where they cannot be seen and feel the most secure. This usually means not enough time for basking to keep their body temps optimal.

New chameleon owners need to be aware of the stress and problems that evolve from stress of their chameleon. This is usually the biggest mistake a person makes with their first chameleon is place them in an environment where they are constantly stressed. It is also a problem with buying wild caught chameleons. These chameleons have to adapt to being in captivity, seeing people, a change in their diet, as well as going through a series of dewormings and other treatments where they must be handled frequently.

What Causes Stress

There are many common mistakes people make that cause excess stress in their chameleons. Below I will list the causes which you can take measures to reduce or eliminate stressing your chameleon.

  • Housing your chameleon in a cage which has glass. They can see their own reflections and often think it is another chameleon. Chameleons are solitary and territorial reptiles.
  • Housing more than one chameleon in a cage together. Again, they are not typically communal and only a few species will actually do well in a very large cage if kept together. Even under these circumstances stress is still present and they need to be monitored constantly.
  • Changing their cage around frequently. Veiled chameleons do explore their cages and will choose a favorite branch for basking on, drinking from, and sleeping on. If is best that you place each branch and vine and all other accessories in the cage in the same positions they were when you clean the cage thoroughly.
  • Handling your chameleon is a big stress for them. Some may tolerate being on your arm, or being handled gently, but even this stresses them to a point. It is best to avoid handling your chameleon unless you need to for treating it, cleaning it’s cage, or transporting it to an outdoor enclosure.
  • Keeping you chameleon in a room where there is a lot of traffic, people coming and going often, or where they can see people frequently. Even though they may not be near the cage, chameleons have excellent eyesight and can see the people.
  • Presence of other pets or chameleons. It is best to keep the chameleon in a place where it cannot see other animals, including other chameleons. Most animals or household pets, are natural predators of the chameleon. Chameleons are aware of the danger, and do not realize that they may be safely protected by a nice screened cage.
  • Changes in temperatures. Keeping the temperatures in the optimal ranges and providing gradient temperatures throughout the cage is best. If the chameleon is kept in temperatures which are too warm or too cold, this places stress on their immune system and can lead to problems such as URI, dehydration and problems with regulating their body temperatures.
  • Moving their cage around frequently. Even though you may not move the items of the interior of the cage around, they can see beyond the screening of their cage and to them, they have been placed in a totally new environment and they will be on a constant lookout for new dangers and predators.
  • Misting the veiled chameleon is another area where they may stress. It is important to mist the chameleons habitat and allow water to collect on foliage. This raises the humidity as well as allows the chameleon to drink fresh water from the leaves and vines. When misting, use a very light fine spray, and only use very warm, almost hot water. Check the water temperature before misting the chameleon to make sure it is not too cold or too hot for it. If the water is just right, about the temperature of a nice bath water you would enjoy, then the chameleon will enjoy being misted. It will use this opportunity to help clean it’s eyes of debree, remove shedding skin, and help with keeping it hydrated. If you use water that is cold, or not warm enough, it is a shock to it’s system, the same effect a cold shower has on you!

I know my veiled chameleon is stressed, what do I do?

After reading through the list of the causes of stress, you may identify one or more things that seem to be the main reason your chameleon is not settling in.

If you have your veiled chameleon in a glass cage, or even where there are one or more parts of the cage with glass, you can use white or other colored contact paper to cover the INSIDE of the glass. It is easy to clean, and will prevent reflections. It is really best if you spend the extra money to buy an all screened cage. This provides optimal circulation that a chameleon needs. Some species may do well in a cage with lower ventilations, but even the experienced keepers of these species provide additional ventilation by using small fans to circulate the air.

If you feel that you have done everything else possible to get your chameleon to settle in, perhaps try adding more vines, plants and other live or silk foliage for it to live in until it acclimates to it’s new home. Add new items to the cage a little at a time and do not try to redo the cage all in one shot. This would add even more stress to your chameleon. Allow a week or two for the chameleon to get used to the new items in it’s cage before adding more. This also helps you now when your chameleon is doing fine and you can save yourself some money on buying more accessories.

If you have a gravid female, it is ideal to provide her with a very quiet area to live in. Reduce as much coming and going of people, keep all other pets away from her view. If there is not other option, you may choose to drape fabric on the sides of the cage where she can see people coming and going. Do not however, cover all sides of the cage or you will block the needed circulation of fresh air needed.

If you need to handle your chameleon, it is best to offer it a snack of some special insect such as silkworms, mantids, waxworms or superworms as soon as you get it out and onto your arm, and then again after you place it back into it’s cage. They will learn that being handled means there is a special reward in it for them. Do not get discouraged if the veiled chameleon refuses to eat from your hand. Just place the insect on a nearby branch or in it’s food bowl where it can see you doing this. Eventually, the chameleon will eat the favored insect.

Parasites

Parasites are quite commonly found in all species of reptiles. Parasites are the third leading cause of deaths in chameleons. Chameleons who are wild caught and just coming in from being exported carry extremely high loads of parasites. This is due to the stress that they have been through, stress causes the immune system to go down and the chameleon body does not have all its defenses to fight of the growth of the present parasites which then breed and grow quickly. Parasites feed off of the chameleons system or the food they consume and eventually, some chameleons will succumb to death if not examined for parasites and treated as soon as possible.

Chameleons in captivity that have been acclimated as well as those who are captive bred will also carry parasites. This is to be expected since they eat insects and other prey that are carriers of parasites. Exposure to other animals, reptiles and chameleons who have parasites also puts the chameleon at risk of being infected. All chameleons should be checked regularly for parasites even if they appear to be healthy. Don’t wait until they are falling ill to have them checked.

Some species of chameleons are sensitive to the medications used to worm them. Some of the chameleon species who have been known to have severe if not fatal side effects are the brookesia and rhampoleon species. If you buy one of these species, do try to acclimate them without the treatment to rid them of parasites. Often times, these little veiled chameleons will die within a few days after treatment. If you have one that needs to be treated for parasites, consult with a good knowledgeable veterinarian about dosing with diluted amounts of the medication prescribed and administered by the vet. Ivermectin should be avoided on these tiny chameleons if at all possible.

Quarantine

It is important to quarantine all new chameleons when you first get them. Recommended time of quarantine would be 30 days. Do not recycle crickets which have been left uneaten by the chameleon. Doing so may contaminate other reptiles eating the crickets and may spread the parasites to your other animals. Do not allow them to be housed or handled near your other animals. Some parasites and bacteria are contagious and can be passed onto other animals. It is rare that they be passed onto humans. Make sure you wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling the veiled chameleon and the cage or cage accessories. A daily cleaning of the cage is recommended while being treated for parasites as often the nematodes will leave the chameleon body looking for a suitable host to survive in.

Signs of Parasites

  • Lose runny stools, stools with strong odors.
  • Dehydration
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Regurgitation
  • Lumps or raised lines under the skin. (Sub que parasites.)
  • Dark spots or infectious looking lesions on the body.
  • Lethargy and sleeping during daylight.
  • No growth or slow growth.
  • Swelling of the abdomen or other parts of the body.
  • Failure to breed or produce fertile eggs.
  • Constant eye irritations can be signs of nematodes in the eye region.

If your chameleon is experiencing one or more of the signs above, collect a fresh feces and bring it to your veterinarian for examination. There are two types of fecals done to determine what parasites a chameleon may have. Visual examination will often find ticks, mites or sub que nematodes. Other parasitic problems may only be found in a blood panel. Often, one fecal will not always find the parasites or ova of parasites. It is advisable that a new or infected chameleon be checked every two weeks for three or four times before the animal is free of parasites. Even so, a chameleon will typically contain parasites as stated earlier as their diet is of insects which usually exposes the chameleon to parasitic infestation, but with out stress and proper husbandry, the chameleon should thrive well and recommended fecal checks once every three to six months would determine the need for treating the chameleon for parasites.

Finding Parasites

Visual Examination

A veterinarian will often look in each crevice of the veiled chameleons body looking for ticks or mites. The eyes should be examined as well as the mouth. Often nematodes may be present in these areas as well. The skin should be checked for any lumps or raised areas which may indicate the presence of parasites under the skin.

Direct Fecal Smears

Fecal matter is smeared onto a slide and examined under a microscope. Usually a stain may be used to help the veterinarian find the protozoans and parasite eggs. Since only a small amount of fecal matter can be viewed in this matter, the end results may not find any type of parasites. This is why more than one fecal should be done in a few weeks.

Fecal Floats

The feces is placed in a solution and left to sit while the eggs of parasites float to the top. Examination of the surface of the float will help the veterinarian to determine what parasites are present in the reptile.

Collecting Feces for Examination

The feces you bring to your veterinarian should be fresh, not dry or more than 12 or so hours old. The fresher the better. It is important to keep the feces fresh until you can get into the vet for it to be examined. Here are suggested methods for collecting and keeping the collected feces clean:

  • Wash hands thoroughly.
  • Using a baggie turned inside out, pick up the feces, the white part of the feces is not as important unless it is discolored. A normal urinal part of the feces should be white. You want to collect as much of the brown part of the feces as possible.
  • With your hand still holding the baggie, turn it inside in and seal the baggie.
  • If it will be more than a few hours before you can get to the vet, place the baggie with the feces sealed in the refridgerator. Do not freeze the feces.

Other containers that can be used are old medicine vials, small bottles, petri dishes, etc. What ever you choose to place the fecal matter in, make sure it is clean and sterile to keep from contaminating the feces with something that may be present in the container you choose.

Some times a chameleon may be so ill and not eating that it is not defecating. It is important that a vet have some fecal matter to examine. In circumstances such as this, your veterinarian may discuss doing a cloacal smear or flush to obtain feces for examination. Without a fecal to examine, the vet will not know what parasites, if any, are present and which medications need to be used to treat the veiled chameleon.

Types of Parasites

The most common parasites found in chameleons are:

Common

  • Hookworm
  • Flukes
  • Roundworm

Uncommon

  • Tapeworm
  • Ticks
  • Lungworms

Rare

  • Capillaria
  • Coccidia
  • Cryptosporidiosis
  • Flagellatees 

Some of the rare parasites are not as frequently reported, but then unless tested for such, they are not often found in the usual fecal smear. If a veiled chameleon is still showing signs of parasites even after being treated with the typical flagyl or panacure, then it should be checked for crypto or other types of parasites which require specific stains to find.

Treating the Parasites

I strongly recommend that a trained experienced veterinarian provide treatment for parasites to all chameleons. The “shotgun” method many stores, breeders, importer/exporters and some individuals use is not reccommended. This method is giving a chameleon a treatment of panacure sometimes flagyl or ivermectin without examination, proper dosages calculated, and often no fecal examination. This is not at all going to guarantee that the chameleon will be parasite free, nor does it insure that the chameleon will not suffer complications from the effects of the treatment. Medications of any kind should always be accurately measured and administered based upon the parasitic or health problems of the individual chameleon. Often species such as the wild caught pardalis are given shotgun treatments and still die. Why? Because they may be loaded with so many parasites that as the nematodes die off, they are not excreted and stay inside the chameleon causing complications such as infection or blockages. If this should happen, a vet should see the chameleon immediately and treat the chameleon for these type of complications.

A gravid female veiled chameleon should not be treated unless her health is declining due to the parasites. If she seems to be eating, drinking and overall looks healthy and is active, then let her be in a stress free environment until she lays her eggs or gives birth. Hatchlings should not be treated as well since they are already in a sensitive stage of their lives and treatment may indeed be the cause of death.

It is very important that a chameleon be given more misting and drippings each day while being treated for parasites. They need the extra hydration as the system expel the nematodes and ova of parasites. This is an important time to keep an eye on your chameleon to make sure it is responding positively to the deworming. Look for signs of lethargy, constipation, bloating, loss of appetite, or any other symptoms you know to be signs that the chameleon may be in trouble.

Veiled Chameleon Breeding FAQ

Do I have to breed my female?

No, you do not. If you choose not to breed your female, she may live a much longer life, as breeding is very taxing. Your female may develop infertile eggs now and then after she is one year old. She will lay these eggs, they will be smaller than normal and very easy to pass. Be sure to provide a laying site as with other gravid females. Producing infertile eggs may be tied to over feeding and being in view of a male. Keeping feedings limited and not allowing the animal to become fattened may decrease likelihood of developing eggs.

How do I know when the female is ready to lay her eggs?

As the eggs mature you will be able to see the egg shapes bulging on the veiled chameleons sides. Shortly before egg deposition (the laying of eggs), you chameleon will become very restless. She will roam around her cage as if looking for something, she is. She is looking for a laying site to dig a hole and lay her eggs in. When you see this, put a container filled about 16″ with moist potting soil ( avoid perlite ).It is best to place the container in her cage a few days before roaming begins, generally 4-6 weeks after mating depending on the species. This way you avoid stress of cage changes right at laying time. Make sure she gets enough to drink and do not bother her or repeatedly check on her. Disturbing her can cause her to stop laying and retain her eggs too long. Make sure she gets enough calcium she is gravid.

What do I do to incubate the eggs (container, substrate, temp, humidity)?

Veiled chameleon eggs can be incubated in rubber maid or tupperware type containers, with 1″ space in between eggs. The container should have in it about 2 inches of vermiculite mixed at a ratio of 4:6 with water (by weight). This will feel damp, but not dripping wet. Squeeze out all water you can or add more dry vermiculite. For most species, eggs should be incubated at around 72 to 75 degrees F. Montane species need cooler incubation temperatures, 70 degrees F works well for many species. As long as the lid to the container is on, you should not have to worry about humidity. A couple pin holes will allow some circulation. If the medium begins to dry, you can add a few drops of water.

How do I care for hatchlings?

This depends on the species. Live bearing chameleons need to have the young separated as soon as they are actively moving about the cage. Hatchlings from egg layers need to be removed from their incubation box after they have absorbed their yolk sack. I keep newborns in a screen cage at mild temperatures similar to incubation temps. I mist them frequently as they dehydrate rapidly. A small leaved potted plant, like Ficus benjamina will work well. Fruit flies are an excellent starter insect, as their movements are attractive to chameleons. They are also very easy to raise in large numbers. As they increase in size so may the size of insect prey offered. I dust all young veiled chameleons insects with a calcium supplement every other day. Any young lagging in growth need to be separated and reared alone. As they grow they will need to be separated, timing will depend on species. Watch closely for aggression or stress.