Identifying and Preventing
Common Medical Problems
Chapter 5:
General Care

The purpose of this section is to aid you in identifying a potential problem with your chameleon's health. The key is prevention and keen observation!

Note: If you encounter symptoms you are concerned about that are not described in the following list below, please contact me or even better, your veterinarian!

MDB (Metabolic Bone Disease)

Causes: Lack of calcium and/or lack of UVA/UBV lighting.
Symptoms: Thickened jaw line and/or ankles, bumps along spine, poor color, brittle/broken/misaligned bones, lack of coordination, weakened grip or tendency to fall.
Treatment: Liquid calcium daily to fortify bones (see your vet for dosage, based on your chameleons weight. You cannot reverse the effects you can only prevent further deterioration. Your vet may recommend a series of calcium injections. Calcium Sandoz is available at any drug store.
Prevention: The only way to prevent MBD is to ensure your chameleon gets both Calcium and UVA/UBV lighting (at least 12 hours a day). In order for the intestinal tract to absorb the calcium, it requires activated Vitamin D3 to be present. Vitamin D needs to be exposed to UV radiation (light) in order to become activated. This is why is curial to have full spectrum UV light in your reptile's environment!

Thermal Burns

Causes: Chameleon able to get too close to his basking light.
Symptoms: Usually, you will observe a light green patch, accompanied with/or without a blister(s). The area then turns black and eventually sloughs off leaving a raw area prone to infection.
Treatment: Immediate professional medical care must be sought! Your vet may prescribe an oral antibiotic, topical compresses and or a cream called flamazine that is very occlusive and will sooth and protect the raw area while providing antibacterial properties. You must of course re-adjust your lighting.
Prevention: Ensuring the basking light is about one foot away from your chameleon! Make sure your chameleon cannot scale the walls or ceiling and hang under the bulb! If you see this occurring, use a stand to suspend your basking lamp so it does not sit flush on the aquarium ceiling. Make certain there are no sticks or vines/other accessories your little guy can climb to get closer! Trust me, it is their goal in life to try to get as close to that darn light as they possibly can!

Egg Retention

Causes: A female chameleon, whether mated of not, will lay infertile eggs a few times a year. If you do not provide the appropriate conditions for her to deposit her eggs, she will retain them and die from either suffocation (eggs accumulate and compress lungs) or become so weak and dehydrated due to the eggs absorbing all the nutrients she manages to take in, as well as the stored reserves she will not survive.
Symptoms: When your chameleon wants to deposit her eggs she will stop eating, but continue drinking. You will notice less fecal matter and more bugs uneaten. She will either begin scratching at the walls/ground of the aquarium or start hanging out on the bottom. Symptoms of a very weak chameleon that is egg bound are: closed eyes, inability to eat or drink, tendency to sleep on the ground or lower branches in her enclosure, tends to breath with her mouth open periodically.
Treatment: When you see this behavior put her in a container of moist sand and do not disturb her! While your chameleon is trying to lay her eggs, you should be giving her liquid calcium! After a few days, if she has not laid all of her eggs (you can gently palpate her belly and readily feel any) take her to the vet immediately! Pending on her state of health/strength, your vet may give her some calcium and Saline injections plus a drug that aids in starting contractions (oxcitocine). As a last resort, she may have to have a C-section. After you observe the initial symptoms of your chameleon needing to lay eggs do not wait longer than 5 days (or pending on her health) to seek help! The longer you wait, the weaker she will grow and the less chance she will have of recovery.
Prevention: Keen observation! Some people opt to keep a container of sand in the enclosure all the time, just in case they miss the initial symptoms, however, most chameleons need a very deep, private area. My chameleon never used it when I offered her a container in her enclosure, and it took up allot of space and the bugs burrowed in it and I did not want to risk my chameleon ingesting some of the sand while trying to catch a bug.

Mouthrot (Stomitits)

Causes: This is a bacterial infection, which settles into the gum tissue, palate or tongue. If left untreated it can invade the jaw bone. One important fact often overlooked by a pet owner is that mouthrot is not a disease itself, it is a secondary infection triggered by a systemic infection.
Symptoms: Stomatitis presents as yellowish-whitish plaques, or irregular blotches on the gums.
Treatment: A vet can show you how to work on it. Because stomatitis is a secondary infection, the reptile must be placed on a course of antibiotics. Broad-spectrum antibiotics are usually tried first. A culture is usually done to identify the organism at large. Any reptile that is sick needs to be kept warm and hydrated. For the duration of the treatment, the nighttime temperature should stay about the same as the daytime temperature. They may have to be hand-fed, and hydrated with Pedialyte.
Prevention: You must always take the time to evaluate why your chameleon got sick. Something must have happened to make it sick in the first place. Temperatures may not have been calibrated correctly, a new the enclosure and furnishings may have gone a little to long without being properly cleaned and disinfected, or reptile may have been under stress.

Hunger Strikes

Causes: When your chameleon stops eating for a prolonged period, this is referred to as a hunger strike. This can be prompted by seasonal change as your chameleon senses the fluctuating diurnal cycle (this is why I recommend your lights are on timers, to keep it consistent!). This can also be prompted by a lack of variety in your chameleons diet. You should initially rule out any ailments such as parasites or stress.
Symptoms: Symptoms are obvious, your chameleon shows no interest in food, but otherwise, looks healthy.
Treatment: Introducing a greater of variety into your chameleons diet, ruling out any ailments, keeping your chameleon's lighting on "timers" so they are not stressed by staying up to late, or by seasonal change. Your veterinarian may suggest an alternative food.
Prevention: Variety in diet and consistent lighting!


Causes: Inappropriate delivery of water is the most common cause of dehydration.
Symptoms: Signs of low-level dehydration are easy to miss! In advanced cases, it can lead to loss of appetite, lethargy, sunken eyes/cheeks, wrinkled skin, and eventual death. A chameleon desperate for water may be seen trying to lick water off the ground.
Treatment: For a mild case, orally administer electrolyte solution (Pedialyte). You can also soak your chameleon in this (note, once opened the container must be used with in 24 hours!). You should also heavily mist the enclosure and alter your water system. For advanced cases, your vet can inject saline solution subcutaneous.
Prevention: Correct husbandry! Kidney Failure; is the most common cause of death in captive chameleons. Probably a result of a general lack of overall quality of water delivery systems provided to captive chameleons. Kidney disease is detected through diagnostic blood tests.


Causes: Ingesting an object (i.e. wood chip, pebble, inappropriate sized insect, or substrate).
Symptoms: No fecal matter, chameleon attempting to go to the bathroom but not accomplishing anything. They tend to hang their "vents" over a branch and "go" in a designated area.
Treatment: Increased hydration, mineral or cod liver oil (orally once a week).
Prevention: Avoiding causes as noted above! Realistically chameleons will not become constipated" it is a sign that something is wrong (i.e. diet, humidity, etc.) and can even be a sign of something more serious like cancer or parasites!

Respiratory Infections

Causes: Respiratory infections are probably one of the most common of all reptile ailments. Generally it is caused when a reptile is not being kept warm enough.
Symptoms: Symptoms of respiratory infection include; "gaping" of mouth, wheezing, gurgling, and bubbling from the mouth/and or nose.
Treatment: In its early stages, simply maintaining the animal at a constant, higher heat level, between 85 and 90 degrees, can clear a respiratory infection. If left untreated too long, pneumonia may ensue and prescription antibiotics required.
Prevention: Generally speaking, maintaining the correct temperatures.

Tounge Disfunctions

Causes: The chameleon could have a problem with his mouth, tongue or throat. This could be caused by a tongue infection, mouth abscesses, hypocalcaemia or vitamin deficiency. The infection could also be caused by puncture wound from enclosure or the sharp part of cricket leg!
Symptoms: (a) Your chameleon misses food constantly, probably due to the fact that he cannot "shoot" his tongue properly.
(b) Your chameleon will not be able to retract its tongue. In sever cases it can be completely extended, and your chameleon will not be able to coil it back into its mouth.
Treatment: Seek Veterinarian treatment immediately. Your chameleon will become rapidly dehydrated and starve unless treated immediately. Missing the insects is often a sign of a deficiency in B vitamins (and sometimes vitamin A deficiency). A good supplement containing these usually helps within 1-3 days if vitamin deficiency is the reason.
Prevention: Proper enclosure, supplements, lighting and hydration/humidity.

Sunken Eyes

Causes: Dehydration; attributed to by improper humidity level and accessibility of drinking water.
Symptoms: Eyes will be sunken, as opposed to full and round. Other signs of dehydration are lateral folds of skin along the sides of the chameleons.
Treatment: Increased accessibility to water and increased humidity. For immediate treatment, soak in pedialite solution (found in the baby section of any drug store) and administer orally as well. You can also offer your chameleon plants (hibiscus) and fruit/vegetable baby foods via an eyedropper!
Prevention: Proper humidity level, accessible water to drink.


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