I have a female year and a half chameleon. She hasnt eaten in a couple of days and dug a hole and her sides are sunken

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Customer: i have a female year and a half chameleon. She hasnt eaten in a couple of days and dug a hole and her sides are sunken in. HELP!
JA: I'll do all I can to help. A lack of appetite can seem worrying. Does the chameleon also seem more tired than usual?
Customer: yes. i am worried she is either sick, or maybe she is or laid ehhs?
JA: Does the chameleon seem to be in any pain?
Customer: eggs I cant tell. She just lays in the hole and looks really skinny and eyes closed
JA: And what's the chameleon's name and age?
Customer: Ivy and 1 and a half years old
JA: Is there anything else the Vet should know before I connect you? Rest assured that they'll be able to help you.
Customer: not that i can think of
Answered by Dr. Caryn – Vet in 13 hours 10 months ago
Dr. Caryn – Vet
Pet Specialist

2,252 satisfied customers

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

I am sincerely ***** ***** there was a delay in someone responding to your question. (Experts are independent contractors and as such are online based on their own schedules.) However, I am available now and can assist you if you still need veterinary advice.

Hello and thanks for posting your question on JustAnswer.com. My name is***** and I have been a veterinarian in the US for over 21 years, specializing in aquatics, reptiles, amphibians, avian and other exotic species. You may already be aware, but on this platform veterinarians can provide insight and advice, but as this is not considered a legal client-patient relationship, we are unable to prescribe medications, provide medical records or sign documents for your specific pet. For that you would need to make an in person visit with a local veterinarian. I am happy to chat with you via text but if you are interested in a phone call instead that is an option you can choose for an additional charge. In the meantime, I am putting together some questions and/or suggestions to help with your pet’s concern.

I am sorry to hear that your chameleon Ivy is under the weather. What type of chameleon is she?

So it does sound to me like she may have been gravid (pregnant) and has laid eggs, hence the hole digging and her sunken appearance.

So I am concerned that she might be experiencing either a severe calcium deficiency or might be egg bound. Producing and laying eggs requires a lot of calcium and if they don't have enough (or even extra) in the diet when they are gravid, they will pull calcium from their blood and even from their bones. This can lead to severe calcium deficiency, weakness and even a secondary medical condition called metabolic bone disease.

If she is weak because she is experiencing a severe calcium deficiency related to Metabolic Bone Disease or dietary insufficiency, you can buy a liquid calcium supplement at the pet store and give them a drop into their mouth once a day and this should help, but isn't a replacement for a veterinary evaluation and treatment.

Fluker's Liquid Calcium (Reptile Supplement)

Zilla Calcium Supplement Reptile Food Spray

You should also give her twice daily warm water soaks to encourage hydration. To prevent or treat dehydration, you can give your chameleon a soak in a shallow dish of warm water (80F, 26.7C) for 15-30 minutes twice a day. Make sure her head is not submerged, you can tip the container to keep it out and monitor her during the bath to make sure he head stays out of the water. Dry them off after the bath so they don't cool off too much.

Since you may not have been aware that your female chameleon was gravid, here is some information about egg laying and care of pregnant chameleons:

Female chameleons can start producing eggs as young as 6 months old, but typically they won’t start until after 1 year old or sometimes older. You may suspect she is gravid (carrying eggs) because she looks like she is gaining weight in her belly even though you have not increased the amount you are feeding her. It’s a good idea to take periodic weight measurements of your chameleon for routine health monitoring and this can also help you spot a potential pregnancy.

Similar to chickens, female chameleons can lay eggs with or without mating with a male, however without mating, the eggs they produce will not be fertile, they won’t develop and hatch into baby chameleons. They can produce and lay eggs every three to six months. When she is getting ready to lay her eggs, she may spend more time searching and scratching surfaces in the enclosure looking for a spot to lay, she may spend more time on the bottom of the enclosure and you may see her digging. When she is getting close to laying her appetite may decrease or she may even stop eating altogether but she should still drink, so continuing to supply a dripping water source or scheduled misting is very important to prevent dehydration.

In future, if you suspect your chameleon is gravid, you should provide a lay box for her. Inside the enclosure this can be a 12x12” container, even a flower pot, filled with 8-10 inches of moistened (washed) play sand or a mix of sand and organic soil. The substrate should be moistened and packed enough to hold a tunnel that is dug into it to the bottom of the lay bin, for this is what she will do to lay her eggs. The laying process can take as little as an hour or two or up to a couple of days as she looks for the best spot to lay her eggs. The number of eggs depends upon the species of chameleon and the female but it can range from 1 to many dozens. It is important to give her privacy while she lays her eggs, if she is disturbed, she may not feel comfortable laying and retention of eggs can potentially lead to egg binding.

Once she’s done, you can heavily mist her to rinse her of the sand or dirt from laying and to get a good drink and feed her with calcium dusted insects. You can also increase the feeds and calcium supplementation for the next week (dust every day, instead of half the insect meals) and then return to her regular feeding and supplementation schedule.

Although she looks skinny there is the possibility that she might still have eggs internally a condition called egg binding that can lead to severe weakness or even death.

Egg-binding, or dystocia, occurs when a female chameleon is unable to lay her eggs normally. This can be caused by a number of reasons such as sub-optimal husbandry (improper temperature, humidity, nutrition and calcium supplementation, lighting, inappropriate nesting material or nesting site) or disease (abnormality in GI or reproductive tract physically obstructing passage of eggs such as adhesions or constipation, infection, or oversized or malformed eggs.)

Chameleons which are egg-bound may at first make multiple attempts to lay eggs but may stop as they begin to feel sick. This may progress to depressed or absent appetite, low energy, and lethargy. Egg-binding is potentially life-threatening and if you suspect your chameleon is egg-bound I strongly recommend you make an appointment for her to be evaluated by a local reptile veterinarian.

The veterinarian will perform an examination on your chameleon and may perform tests such as x-rays or ultrasound to visualize the egg size, number and location and bloodwork to check for calcium levels and signs of secondary infection or inflammation. Treatment may involve fluids, calcium supplementation, hormones to stimulate egg laying and potentially even surgery to remove the eggs and/or the reproductive tract.

So if your chameleon doesn't perk up with warm water soaks and oral calcium then I strongly recommend you take her for an in personal veterinary evaluation for a check up and care.

To find a local veterinarian with reptile experience, here is a useful website you can use to search for a local reptile veterinarian:


(please note this site may not work on older browsers like Safari)

These veterinarians are active members of the Association of Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarians, which means they have interest and experience in treating reptile patients.

With any sick chameleon, it is always a good idea to start by checking that their environment and husbandry are proper for their species. Taking a physical measurement of the temperature gradient within the enclosure with a reliable thermometer and measuring humidity with a hygrometer are a good idea. Making sure the UVB bulb is appropriate for the size of the space and has been changed regularly. Even if they are still producing visible light, UVB bulbs have a limited lifespan and need to be changed every 6-12 months, depending upon bulb type. Making sure diet is varied and the insects have been gut loaded with a nutritious gut-loading diet as well as dusted regularly with calcium and multivitamin powder. Therefore, I am attaching a chameleon care (husbandry) reference sheet that I put together. Please review it at your convenience and let me know if you have any questions.

For example, if the environmental temperatures are too low or too high, since chameleons are cold-blooded, this will negatively affect their metabolism, appetite, digestion and immune function. So start by checking the temperature gradient in the enclosure and, if it's outside their ideal range, adjust your basking light distance from the enclosure (closer for warmer, farther away for cooler) or change the wattage of the bulb (higher for warmer temps, lower for cooler temps) so you are achieving the proper environmental temperatures.

Lethargy is a non-specific sign of weakness that can accompany many conditions. Inappetence or lack of appetite can also be caused by a number of conditions. Some are normal, such as before or during shedding, though I don't think what's going on with Ivy is normal, she sounds very sick. Some causes are abnormal but transient from environmental reasons such as too low environmental temperature or lack of dripping water causing dehydration. Other causes may be from diseases or disorders such as chronic malnutrition, dehydration, metabolic bone disease, calcium or vitamin deficiency, respiratory infection, reproductive disorders (egg-binding in females), or GI disease or impaction or kidney disease or gout. So I suspect this is related to pregnancy and egg laying, but only a hands on assessment by a trained veterinarian will be able to tell the underlying cause and the best course of treatment.

In the meantime, it’s very important to make sure that your chameleon’s tank is clean, food is fresh and prepared hygienically and that the temperature is appropriate and that your UV-B bulb is in proper working condition. Here are some additional recommendations of how you can support your ill chameleon while they are under the weather or while you are waiting to take them for a veterinary evaluation:

-Environmental conditions. Healing and normal metabolism are linked to proper environmental temperature so it’s important to make sure their enclosure is in the proper range for their species of chameleon.

-If your chameleon is having difficulty walking within the enclosure, then place them in a location in their enclosure where the temperature is no less than 80F (26.7C) but not greater than 85F (29.4C). This will ensure proper metabolism but they won't overheat or chill at this temperature range. Do not put them on a hot rock or under the basking light hot spot if they cannot move off by themself, as they might get overheated or burned.

-To prevent or treat dehydration, you can give your chameleon a soak in a shallow dish of warm water (80F, 26.7C) for 15-30 minutes once or twice a day. Dry them off after the bath so they don't cool off too much.

-Make sure to wash your hands with soap and warm water after handling your chameleon or any of their cage furniture.

-Offer food, even if not eating. If your chameleon is having difficulty reaching or getting to their food, put the food dish next to them or you can also hand or tong feed them. Place an insect gently against their lips and if they are hungry, they will bite at it. If not, don’t force it.

If needed for prolonged inappetence, you can assist feed an insect (I recommend pinching the insect head off first so it is dead when fed to the chameleon this way) by placing it into the mouth directly or you can syringe feed them a replacement formula like Fluker’s ReptaBoost, EmerAid Intensive Care Carnivore, Oxbow Animal Health Critical Care Carnivore.

Another option is to assist or syringe feed Repashy Grub Pie for reptiles. It's a diet that is normally mixed with boiling water and then allowed to set up into a solid to make a gel food to feed to insectivorous reptiles. But if you mix it with room temperature (not boiling) water, more water than the package recommends, to make a slurry that is thin enough to go through a syringe, it can be used for syringe feeding. Or you can make it according to the package directions, using boiling water to make a gel that sets up, then cut the gel into pieces that you can then assist feed (like you would assist feed an insect). This formula is nice because it's based on insect and fish based protein and has a good variety of vitamins. Treat any gel you make like you would fresh fish, store leftovers in the refrigerator and discard after a day or two.

If you’ve never done this before there are some good online videos that you can watch first such as this one by Petr Necas:

Assist Feeding


Syringe feeding or hydrating


-Limit handling. If they have an injury, infection or they may have a condition such as metabolic bone disease (which weakens bone strength), limit handling and limit time out of her enclosure to avoid further injury. If you must lift or remove them from their tank, go slowly and support their weight from underneath with your palm.

-Calcium supplementation. It is important to still offer appropriate calcium and vitamin supplements if they are eating. More specific information about supplementation was included in the chameleon care sheet I shared with you earlier.

If they are weak because they are experiencing a severe calcium deficiency related to Metabolic Bone Disease or dietary insufficiency, you can buy a liquid calcium supplement at the pet store and give them a drop into their mouth once a day and this should help, but isn't a replacement for a veterinary evaluation and treatment.

Fluker's Liquid Calcium Reptile Supplement

Zilla Calcium Supplement Reptile Food Spray

-It is also a good idea to re-evaluate your current husbandry practices as some common disorders, such as metabolic bone disease, are unintentionally caused by deficiencies or imbalances in diet, UVB lighting and calcium/vitamin supplementation.

I should be notified if/when you respond with additional information so we can connect about your chameleon Ivy. In the meantime, I hope this information is helpful and I wish you both the best. Thanks again for posting your question to JustAnswer.com. Sincerely, ***** *****

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Dr. Caryn – Vet
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Dr. Caryn – Vet
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