How To Tell If A Chameleon Is Dying: 4 Serious Symptoms

Figuring out how to tell if you have a dying chameleon on your hands isn’t easy. These reptiles are notoriously hard to diagnose until their health is seriously compromised, so it’s important to act fast and pay attention!

This guide will teach you how to tell if your chameleon is dying, and what signs to look for.

How To Tell If A Chameleon Is Dying

It’s often very hard to tell the difference between a sick chameleon and a dying chameleon. Even seasoned chameleon owners can find it quite difficult to make this distinction.

One main reason it’s so challenging is that a chameleon usually doesn’t show signs of illness until it is already very sick or even dying. In the wild, a sick chameleon is practically a free meal to a predator, so it is a matter of survival to keep an illness hidden for as long as possible. Even though your pet chameleon doesn’t have to worry about predators, it still has the instinct to hide its pain or any health issues.

As you interact with your chameleon during the day, pay attention to its general behavior and appearance. It’s often too late once you really notice that something is seriously wrong, so time is always of the essence.

If your chameleon is acting strangely, or if it seems to be sick, don’t panic. In many cases, a trip to the veterinarian is all it will take to get your chameleon’s health back on track. But you don’t want to downplay any symptoms, because your chameleon might be dying, and a trip to the vet could save its life.

There are a few ways to tell if a chameleon is dying, so let’s take a quick look at a few of them.

1. Sunken Eyes

A chameleon’s eyes are often an indicator of their overall health. Slightly bulging eyes is a sign of a chameleon that’s in good health. However, if you notice that your chameleon has sunken eyes, then you should take your pet to the veterinarian as soon as possible. Finding your chameleon with sunken eyes doesn’t always mean that they’re dying, but it does usually mean that your pet is very sick.

Expert Tip: Dehydration is often a cause of sunken eyes, but this condition can also be caused by stress, internal parasites, or an incorrect tank temperature.

2. Eyes That Rarely Open

One thing you’ll notice about chameleons is that their distinctive, bulging eyes are almost always wide open and alert. If you find your chameleon with its eyes closed, especially if they have been closed for more than 24 hours, then it’s almost certain that your pet is very ill or dying. Take your chameleon to the veterinarian right away for a full evaluation.

3. No Appetite

While it’s normal for your chameleon to go several days without eating, it’s not normal for it to avoid food for a week or longer. An adult chameleon will typically eat around five large insects every two to three days, and babies and juveniles will eat every day. If your chameleon is showing no interest in its food, then it’s very possible that something is wrong.

As with any change to your pet’s behavior, it’s important to talk to your veterinarian.

4. Spending Significantly More Time At The Bottom Of The Enclosure

Since a chameleon is an arboreal animal, you’ll often find your pet climbing just about anything you put in its enclosure. In fact, watching your chameleon climb and explore is part of the joy of having one as a pet!

There are times when your chameleon may want to hang out at the bottom of its tank, and this is perfectly normal behavior. A female chameleon that’s getting ready to lay eggs will tend to stay at the bottom of the enclosure, or sometimes your chameleon might want a change of pace.

However, if your chameleon is not usually one to hang out at the bottom of the tank, or if it has been exhibiting this behavior for a few days, then it could be a sign that your chameleon is sick or dying.

What Can Cause A Dying Chameleon?

There are many factors that can cause a chameleon to die. In general, chameleons are pretty robust lizards, but they can fall prey to illnesses caused by environmental factors.

Let’s take a look at a few things that can lead to death in your chameleon. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it will cover some of the most common causes.

Diet

Being omnivorous, chameleons need a healthy, balanced diet that consists of prey and healthy greens. This means that you’ll want to give them the correct ratio of prey items, such as crickets, mealworms and waxworms, as well as leafy greens like collards and mustard greens.

An unbalanced diet may cause symptoms such as lethargy, excess mucus, and bone issues. If not caught in time, an incorrect diet may result in your chameleon dying.

Dehydration

Dehydration is a very common cause of death, and it’s usually preventable. Like all animals, chameleons need the proper amount of fluids to survive, and it’s up to you, the caretaker, to make sure that you are providing your pet with everything it requires.

It can be hard to tell if your chameleon is dehydrated until it’s almost too late. However, there are a few warning signs to look out for. If you notice that your chameleon is not eating, if it seems lethargic, if it has sunken eyes, or oddly colored urates, then there’s a good chance that your chameleon is dehydrated.

Unlike some other reptiles, chameleons don’t drink from a water bowl. Instead, they lick the water droplets that form on plants or other tank enhancements. In order for there to be enough of these water droplets, the humidity within the enclosure should remain between 65 and 80 percent. Installing a mist system and using a hygrometer should ensure that the correct level of humidity is maintained at all times.

Expert Tip: If you think that your chameleon is severely dehydrated, then you can give your pet an indirect shower. This involves putting a potted plant near the shower flow and letting your chameleon sit under the plant. Please note that this is only an option for chameleons that are at least six months old.

It’s always a good idea to get in touch with a veterinarian if you feel that your pet could be severely dehydrated.

Parasites

While a few parasites are perfectly normal, especially for wild-caught chameleons, too many can be fatal.

Parasites related to chameleons come in two types: ectoparasites and endoparasites. Ectoparasites are found on the outside of the body and include things such as mites and ticks. Endoparasites, such as Cryptosporidium and various flagellates, make their homes inside a chameleon’s body. Parasites (especially endoparasites) can quickly weaken your chameleon and cause malnourishment.

Some signs that your pet may be dealing with parasites include diarrhea, smelly feces, a swollen belly, weight loss and a lack of appetite. You may also find signs of worms in your chameleon’s feces.

What can you do to keep parasites under control? Make sure that your chameleon has a clean tank, never feed wild-caught prey to your pet and minimize stressful situations.

Parasites can kill your chameleon, so it’s critical to get the proper help as soon as possible. Your veterinarian will be able to test for parasites and provide the right treatment.

Metabolic Bone Disease

Metabolic bone disease is a very painful and often fatal condition that is, in most cases, totally preventable. This is a very common cause of death for chameleons and comes from a lack of UVB light and a deficiency of calcium. If metabolic bone disease is not caught in the early stages, it can lead to your chameleon dying.

How can you tell if your chameleon may be suffering from metabolic bone disease? You may notice that your pet is having trouble closing its mouth due to jaw pain, or you may notice that its tongue is always sticking out. Your chameleon may have trouble eating, or it may stop eating altogether. Metabolic bone disease also causes lethargy, weakness, swollen limbs, muscle spasms, and broken bones.

This is a very debilitating and painful condition that can be easily prevented with the proper lighting and with dietary supplements. Make sure that your chameleon is getting 12 hours of UVB light every day, use a UV meter to make sure the bulb is working properly and always provide vitamins and calcium supplements.

Is It Possible For A Chameleon To Play Dead?

A chameleon will sometimes play dead, but it’s not a very common occurrence.

If a chameleon living in the wild feels threatened, it will sometimes play dead by curling up into a ball until the danger has passed. However, a chameleon living in captivity will hardly ever do this unless it feels especially stressed or scared. That means if you see any concerning symptoms, you should take them seriously.

Knowing When To Visit The Vet

In our opinion, it’s always better to take your chameleon to the vet if you feel that something isn’t right. Chameleons usually don’t show signs of illness until they are quite sick or dying, so any symptoms could be pointing to something very serious.

It’s also very difficult to tell the difference between a sick chameleon and one that’s dying. Only a veterinarian can properly evaluate and diagnose your chameleon, and a vet may be able to save your chameleon if it is dying from something treatable.

If your chameleon is dying from old age, then there’s not much your vet can do. However, your vet will be able to determine if normal aging is the cause of your chameleon’s health issues. A chameleon that is well taken care of can be expected to live between five and eight years, but they have been known to live longer.             

Conclusion

As you can see, learning how to tell if a chameleon is dying can be quite hard. However, you’ll give your pet a fighting chance if you know what signs to look for and act quickly.

If you have any questions about the health of your chameleon, contact your vet! They’ll be able to help you figure out the problem.