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Veterinary Care for Your Chameleon

Parasites

All chameleons, captive bred or wild caught, should be checked for parasites. External mites (acariasis) are not a big problem in chameleons so I will limit this discussion to intestinal parasites, hemoparasites (in the blood) and lungworms, with a brief mention of subcutaneous filarial worms.

Intestinal Parasites

The most commonly occurring intestinal parasites are nematodes (ascarids, strongyloides, pentastomes) protozoa (coccidia, flagellates, cryptosporidia, amoeba) and trematodes (flukes). Most of these parasites can be diagnosed through a fecal evaluation. Here are some general rules for getting these parasites identified:

Provide your veterinarian with a fresh dropping. The dropping will consist of a brownish excrement and a whitish urate component. The excrement is the portion that will be collected for your veterinarian for parasite evaluation. Collect it on glass or plastic and place it immediately in a baggie to avoid desiccation. Place it in the refrigerator until you can take it to the vet clinic. A herp vet should, at the minimum, do a flotation and a direct smear. A negative result does not mean your cham is free from intestinal parasites. Some parasites shed ova periodically or may be sexually immature at the time of the exam. It is not uncommon to identify parasites on the third or fourth fecal exam.

Some parasites, such as the protozoa cryptosporidium, can be difficult to see and may require special staining. It is well worth the extra cost of staining to avoid introducing this organism to your colony.

Follow your veterinarian's directions carefully when treating for these parasites. Nematodes generally require two treatments spaced 2 to 3 weeks apart, depending upon the life cycle of the parasite.

Some protozoal infections are difficult to treat. The medications used to treat coccidia, such as trimethoprim or sulfadimethoxine, are notoriously hard on chameleons and often cause anorexia. For other protozoa, such as cryptosporidium, effective therapies are still being sought. Not all protozoal infections require immediate treatment. Your vet may decide to delay treatment until husbandry concerns or concurrent illnesses are addressed. Often, once these concurrent problems are resolved the protozoal infections become more manageable and the chameleon is better able to withstand treatment. Chameleons seem to thrive in the wild with parasite burdens. It is the stressors involved with the captive environment which exacerbates existing infections and causes disease.

For most antiparasitic medications adequate hydration must be maintained to avoid kidney damage. It is essential to ensure a basking area is provided with temperatures at the high end of the species POTZ (Preferred Optimal Temperature Zone). This is apparently beneficial in helping them to recover form the infection.

Stringent hygiene must be maintained during treatment. Only easily cleaned or discarded substrate should be used during treatment to avoid re-infection.

Hemoparasites

Wild caught chameleons often have parasites in their blood stream. Filaria are transmitted to the cham by arthropod vectors and can be both chronically debilitating and disfiguring. These parasites are easily picked up on routine blood screening and can be readily treated if caught early.

Other common hemoparasites include Plasmodium spp. and Trypanosome spp. These parasites are usually incidental findings in chams and do not produce disease in an otherwise healthy chameleon.

Lungworms

Lungworms are commonly found in wild caught chameleons. A tracheal wash may be necessary to diagnose these parasites. These nematodes can be extremely difficult to treat, especially if the parasite burden is high, and severe consequences are not uncommon.

Subcutaneous Filaria

Adult filarial worms commonly show up as long serpentine tracts under the skin. I prefer to remove these worms through a small incision in the skin. This can be done on an outpatient basis

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