My chameleon is so sick! I don't have any reptile vets in my area and am desperate for an answer! We left on a week

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Customer: My chameleon is so sick! I don't have any reptile vets in my area and am desperate for an answer! We left on a week vacation and left a neighbor boy in charge of our chameleon. He didn't mist the cham enough and all of his lights were left on 24/7. When we got back, our cham was so weak he fell off of his stick and couldn't get up. I looked online and figured he was dehydrated. We started giving him gatorade and misting him a lot every 3-4 hours, even through the night. Several times we have cut a worm into small bits and set it in his mouth. He has been nearly unable to swallow, but has eventually worked the worm down after maybe 10-2- minutes. We are using an eye dropper to give him drinks and sometimes he swallows but mostly ne lets it run down his face. At first, his jaw was clamped tight. Over time he became more willing to open his mouth. The last 24 hours, his tongue is slightly sticking out in the front making it so that he does not fully close his mouth. Although we've been as gentle as we can, I worry that we've hurt his tongue by putting worms and the dropper in his mouth. It has been 4 days now. and although he has not died, he does not seem much better! He is still unable to feed or get drinks on his own, and he is unable to cling to his stick. He is very week. I am wondering if I should give him babyfood by a dropper like I've read online. I am also wondering if his cage needs to be warmer. The temp on the gague is 75, so I am putting a basking rock in there along with the heat lamp and UV lamp he already has and see if that will help him digest. Overall he is looking less "shrunken" than he has... but he isn't functioning yet! He doesn't move much, but might crawl a few inches over the course of several hours. He will open his eyes and look around for a minute at times, especially if I bathe him in warm water.Should I continue what I'm doing and be more patient, or should I do something seriously different?Additional info: He is a veiled cham who is 3-4 months old and has been very healthy and vigorous until this past week. His cage is a 10 gal acquarium with fresh cork bedding that we change weekly. The bedding was totally dry when we came back from vacation. He has a small bowl kept full of worms and a water dish that is always full. He has sticks and plants to climb on. No mold. Sticks and plants are plastic and clean.
Answered by Anna in 1 hour 11 years ago
30+ years of experience

17,046 satisfied customers

Specialities include: Reptile Veterinary, Herp Veterinary, Exotic Animal Medicine, Amphibian Veterinary


I'm so sorry to hear your chameleon is ill. some additional information will help me to answer your question.

Do you have a UVB light? If yes, what brand and size? Is the bulb a coil or a straight tube?

By basking rock, do you mean a heated rock?

Do you give him a calcium supplement?

What is your location so I can attempt to find a vet?

While waiting for me, don't attempt to give anything else by syringe, and if you have a heated rock, take it out right away.

Thank you.

The light is a 5.0 Zoo Med coil light UVB. It is on during the day. He also has a small heating lamp that the store recommended for his cage. It is on all the time. The current temp in his cage is 80. At night it is 75. The heating rock has not been put in the cage ever... I was just considering it. He gets a calcium supplement twice weekly. He has yawned a few times and shut his mouth with his tongue all the way in, and when he is alert he sometimes pulls it in. But when he is sleepy it sticks out by about one millimeter. He is sleepy most of the time. He has opened his eyes this morning on and off. Hope that helps! Thanks!
Thank you for getting back to me. I'm working on your answer, and will post it as soon as it is typed up. I appreciate your patience.

Please don't reply to this post as that can lock me out so I won't be able to post your answer.

I'll be back shortly.

Thank you for waiting. First of all, chameleons are among the most delicate of lizards, and once they get sick, they seldom survive without veterinary care. Many times, there is a vet closer than we think, and even if not, a local vet may be willing to work by phone consultation with a reptile vet. Please give me your zip code so I can check on vets for you.

I suspect you got your information on care from a pet store. Unfortunately, that information is usually wrong. It's not your fault, but some things are wrong in your habitat.

I'll start you out with a first aid measure to help rehydrate your chameleon. giving anything by syringe or force-feeding si very dangerous, despite what you may read. It often leads to aspiration into the lungs, and a life-threatening pneumonia. Instead, buy some unflavored Pedialyte (yes, the kind for human infants). Prepare a shallow bath consisting of 1/2 water and 1/2 Pedialyte. Add a spoonful of plain powdered calcium and mix it in as well as you can. Soak your chameleon for about 20 to 30 minutes twice a day. Reptiles can absorb the electrolytes and fluids through their vents, so make the water deep enough to cover the vent.Be sure to supervise very closely.

You have been given incorrect information on temperature. The cage is cold, and that alone will result in appetite loss. Chameleons are adaptable to temperature extremes in their wild habitat, but there they can move around to find warmer or cooler spots. In a cage they have no choice. After months of being too cold, illness often develops. If this is a veiled chameleon, I'll give you proper temperature ranges. If he si some other type, let me know right away and I'll provide that information for you. Use a digital probe thermometer to measure temperatures. The ambient air temperature in the cage should be near 89*F. The coldest part of the cage should be 82*F. There should be a warm basking area that is kept at 90*F to 104*F. That sounds hot to us, but to a chameleon, it is just right. at night the temperature can be allowed to drop to 71*F to 79*F. You can adjust the temperature by raising or lowering the fixture or by changing the bulb to one with higher or lower wattage. If you have to lower the fixture, don't put it so low that your chameleon can touch it and be burned. I suggest that you read the information on this reputable site for more advice on care:

Remember, if your chameleon is not a veiled, let me know so i can provide correct temperatures for you. I've given you information or the veiled because they are most common.

It's extremely important that you buy a new UVB light. One with an output of 5.0 is far from adequate for a chameleon. In addition, the coil types are very unreliable. You want one that puts out 10% UVB. A Reptisun 10.0 (in a straight tube) is a good brand that does. If you choose another brand be absolutely certain it provides UVB rays. Don't take the word of pet store personnel, but read it for yourself. Full-spectrum, DayGlo, daylight, UV, and UVA are NOT the same thing. I'm putting a lot of emphasis on this because it's crucial to a reptile’s health. Without this light, Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) will develop because they won't be able to produce vitamin D. Vitamin supplements are not a good replacement for the proper lighting. MBD causes a very slow and painful death. UVB bulbs must be replaced every six months as they lose their effectiveness after that, even though they may still look fine. Your chameleon is already exhibiting signs of MBD.

The heated rock the pet store sold you is useless and dangerous. Many lizards are seriously burned on them because most lizards don't sense heat very well from below. You can read more here:

Let me know by clicking on REPLY if your chameleon is not a veiled, if you have more questions, and to give me your zip code. I strongly urge you to let me try to find a vet for you. No matter what you do, I hope your chameleon will be fine.


(If you find my answer helpful, please click on the green ACCEPT button. Thank you.)
Thanks so much for the info. My zip code is 84780.

I am worried about him not getting anything to eat. Will he die of starvation in a few days or should i just focus on hydrating him? I am wondering about giving him some protein liquid? I will use all of your other suggestions. Thank you.

And, what does it mean that his often sticks his tongue out a milimeter? And what signs do you think he is showing that is the metabolic disease from improper lighting?

Thank you SO SO much! You are really helping!!
I'll be back in just a few minutes with more information for you.

The nearest vets are around 100 miles away. It's not uncommon to have to drive that far when you own an exotic pet, but if it's too far for you, check with local vets to see if they would work by phone consultation with a reptile vet. Here they are:

N. Las Vegas Animal Hospital
George Stoecklin, DVM
2437 E. Cheyenne
North Las Vegas, NV 89030
Telephone:(NNN) NNN-NNNNbr/>
Southwest Animal Hospital
Michael A. Williams, DVM
6101 W. Tropicana Ave.
Las Vegas, NV 89103
Telephone:(NNN) NNN-NNNNbr/>
MBD is probably the most common cause of death in chameleons. They are very prone to it. Weakness and falling are common signs. Sticking the tongue out is another. The jaw is often the first bone to suffer the effects of MBD, and when it hurts, the chameleon may be more comfortable with the tongue out a bit.

Your chameleon won't die of starvation in a few days. He could die of dehydration that quickly.

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