Veterinary Care for Your Chameleon


by Kenneth L.

Most cham clients report they spray their chams religiously twice daily. When I ask them to log the time spent spritzing each individual cham they often report an average "one minute per cham." "But the cage and the plant are thoroughly soaked!"

Many chameleons require over a minute of spraying in order to stimulate the drinking response and a great deal more time to properly hydrate themselves. Some chams require dripping water, while others prefer thick mists, others are quite content at lapping drops off of leaves. These preferences often appear to be individual rather than species characteristics, although all of my pfefferi are leaf lappers. The temperature of the water makes a big difference on the drinking response as well, most responding best to warmer temperatures.

Due to the time required, volume of water necessary (for multiple cham households), and due to the problems with water drainage the majority of chameleon owners invariably fall short of duplicating the conditions in the wild. This is the main reason pet chameleons become sick. This is the main reason chameleons can be hurt by medications once they become sick. This is the main reason prospective cham owners should purchase a chameleon with full realization that failing to meet this need, along with the myriad of other needs, will result in disease, distress and an early demise of the life for which they have accepted responsibility.

Here are some of the things to remember concerning "Chronic Suboptimal Hydration" or CSH:

Chameleons form uric acid as their primary means of removing nitrogenous wastes. When a chameleon goes for a long period without eating it compensates by feeding off of it's fat reserves and, eventually, by feeding off of it's own muscles. But when faced with CSH there is less effective compensation. The renal tubules conserve more water for a while but soon changes inevitably occur. The elimination of uric acid is less efficient and the blood levels of uric acid become elevated. Uric acid concentrates and forms crystals which can damage many organs. One of the organs affected early in this process is the kidney. The kidney's destruction now exacerbates the problems. By this time the cham starts showing the first signs of ADR (Aint Doin' Right) syndrome. The cham is rushed to the vet who scratches his head and prescribes Baytril and hopes for the best. Baytril, and many other antibiotics, are cleared, at least in part, by the kidneys. Aminoglycosides, such as Amikacin, are notorious for being hard on kidneys. The result of this cycle of events is more damage to the kidneys as well as potential toxicity from the drugs. Meanwhile, visceral and/or articular gout (see article on gout) often becomes evident and opportunistic infections begin.

While the scenario presented does not occur in all cases of CSH it is not uncommon. Some species, such as the desert dwelling namequensis, are efficient at water conservation and at dealing with uric acid concentration, others, such as parsonii, require a great deal of effort to meet their hydration requirements. Knowledge of the chameleon's hydration requirements and a willingness to tackle the engineering dilemmas will go a long way towards preventing the consequences of chronic suboptimal hydration.

The information provided on this site is for your consideration only. You should contact your veterinarian for specific questions concerning your chameleons.