Caring for your Chameleon

Chameleon

Life-span

Males 5-10 years
Females 2-5 years

Housing

Chameleons require an enclosure made from strong plastic or wire mesh, at least 3 foot wide and deep and 4 foot high. The bigger the better. Aquariums are not suitable since they trap too much moisture, particularly at the bottom, they do not allow enough movement of air and the reflection of the chameleon in the glass can be very distressing to them.

Furniture

A good supply of climbing frames are necessary and need to be made from non-toxic material such as plastic. They must be strong enough to prevent bits breaking off since chameleons will sometimes ingest foreign objects and die as a result. Natural plants are a good idea. A list of useful plants and a second list of toxic plants can be found on www.chameleonsonline.com.  Artificial plants are sometimes ingested by chameleons and can cause death from intestinal obstruction.

Floor covering

Beware of small particles such as sand, grit, etc since chameleons will eat them and their intestinal tract becomes blocked up. Also be careful not to allow mould to grow on any of the substrate since many moulds are very toxic to chameleons. Plain newspaper or bark chips are a good idea.

Temperature

Heat should be provided by positioning several normal light bulbs at various points in the cage. Make sure the chameleons cannot come into contact with the bulbs and burn themselves.

It is important to have a max / min thermometer to record the extremes of temperature over 24 hours. During the day, keep the temperature at 80-90 degrees (27-32 degrees Celsius) and allow it to drop to 70 degrees (20-21 degrees Celsius) at night. Temperatures should never go out of the range of 60-90 degrees (16-33 degrees Celsius)

Ultraviolet Light

Chameleons need both UVA and UVB light (At least 5% UVB). Glass and plastic stop all UV light so it cannot be separated from the chameleons. The best source is a UV tube, but take note that many of them are only effective for 3-6 months, even if the still look violet to our eyes. The manufacturers will usually be able to tell you how long they last.

Feeding

Insects such as crickets, locusts, wax worms and meal worms are suitable. Never feed an insect larger than the width of the chameleon’s mouth and never give biting or stinging insects or any that could have been exposed to toxins.

Insects purchased from pet shops are often just empty skeletons and have little food value. It is essential to feed them up and ‘gut-load’ them by providing insect food such as potato, carrots, cabbage, fish flakes, kitten food, potato flakes and bee pollen. Baby chick crumbs with a slice of vegetables to provide moisture can be used. Commercial ‘Bug Grub’ is also a good idea.

Do not overfeed meal worms or wax worms since they contain a lot of fat.

The insects should also be fed a vitamin/mineral ix such as Nutrobal and before giving them to the chameleon, dust them with the powder as well. Chameleons will eat up to 15-20 crickets / locusts per day in the very active season (Spring) whereas their appetites drop considerably in winter.

Drinking

Chameleons will not drink from a bowl. They need a daily misting, either with a fine spray bottle or mister.  Fresh water (preferably rain water) at 20-30 degrees celsius) must be used. It is a good idea to add a water conditioner to get rid of the chlorine, chloramines and ammonia, adjust the pH, provide electrolytes and help support the slime layer on the skin.

Less effective ways of providing water are by putting a plant in the shower to get wet and then putting it back into the chameleon enclosure, using a humidifier, or providing a rodent drinking bottle.

Breeding

It is very important to provide a place for female chameleons to lay their eggs or they become ‘egg-bound’ and die as a result. A deep bucket of fresh potting compost mixed with equal amounts of coarse builders sand is ideal. Allow the chameleons to dig around and rearrange the nursery to her liking. Unless kept with a male, the eggs will be infertile and can be removed and discarded at a later stage.

Interaction

Most chameleons will tame very rapidly and become good pets. Always allow them to climb onto your hand by sliding it under them, rather than picking them up, which can be uncomfortable for them. Reward them with food and they will get used to coming to you. Some species never tame but will tolerate your presence.

If you would like any more information then phone 01621 818282 (Tiptree Veterinary Centre) or 01206 561407 (Willows Veterinary Centre) to book an appointment with one of our vets. You can also visit our websites at www.tiptreevets.co.uk or www.willows-vets.co.uk

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