How To Tell If A Chameleon Is Dying – Treatment & Prevention

Do you own a chameleon and noticed their behavior is strange lately? For most pet owners, it could be a scary thought not knowing what’s wrong with them. Usually, a change in behavior means that the chameleon isn’t feeling well. Therefore, it’s very important to find out right away the reason they are acting that way. If not, the longer they are sick, it will ultimately lead to their death. But how to tell if a chameleon is dying?

Chameleons are good at hiding this illness and they do this for a very good reason. In the wild, predators prey on the vulnerable and weak for an easy meal. If a chameleon seems weak or ill, a predator will likely hunt them.

In captivity, they follow the same instinct when they are sick. Unfortunately, for most pet owners that are unaware of this, it might be too late to save them.

Therefore, it’s important on how to tell if a chameleon is dying. When they are sick, they will usually exhibit signs that include diarrhea, dark skin color, lethargy, sunken eyes, loss of appetite, sleeping during the day, and a swollen belly.

Reasons Why Chameleons Is Dying

There are many reasons chameleon could die from. It could be from the food they eat to a bad genetic. Instead of listing every possible cause, we’ll just go over those that commonly affect chameleon, particularly those in captivity.

Below are the 5 main reasons why your pet chameleons are dying:

1. Dehydration

Dehydration is the main cause of death among chameleons in captivity. Unlike other pets such as cats and dogs that drink water from a bowl, chameleon drinks from droplets of water on plants.

Therefore, it can be difficult to tell when they are thirsty. Cats and dogs will go drink from the bowl when they are thirsty.

When chameleons are suffering from dehydration, you can look at their urates. The urates are the white part of its poop.

The color of the urates will tell you how dehydrated they are. Normal urates will be white in color. If the urates are yellow in color, it means they are dehydrated and need to drink more water. If the color is orange, it means the chameleon is seriously dehydrated and may need medical attention.

When they suffer from dehydration, there are signs to look for. Some of the things to look for includes loss of appetite, lethargy, and sagging skin, and sunken eyes.

What to Do if Your Chameleon is Dehydrated

If your pet chameleon is 6 months or older, you can give them a shower. Since chameleons don’t like water, do not spray water directly on them. Doing so could cause them to be stressed and further make them ill.

Instead, place fake or live plants in the shower. Try creating an environment that mimics their natural habitat to prevent them from getting stress.

Place the chameleon slowly into the bathing area and adjust the showerhead so the water will hit the wall and bounces off as mist.

Leave the chameleon in there for about 30 minutes. This provides a quick solution to rehydrate your pet chameleon.

Another thing that you should do is make an appointment with a reptile veterinarian. The vet will be able to determine if the misting, temperature, and humidity level is within range. Sometimes, dehydration makes not be the issue that’s causing them to be ill.

2. Stress

Besides dehydration, stress is another common cause of death in chameleons.

When a chameleon is stressed, their stress hormones will elevate to help deal with the situation. Unfortunately, for a chameleon, the stress hormones can take up to a week before it comes down to normal levels.

Therefore, if a chameleon is under chronic stress, it will die eventually.

Some of the stress that your pet chameleon might encounter is other pets in the house, the cage size is too small, loud sounds, and foods.

When a chameleon is suffering and possibly dying from stress, there will be signs to look for. This includes the following:

  • loss of appetite
  • darker skin color than usual
  • moving back and forth
  • stationary at one location throughout the day
  • unusual aggression
  • keeping eye closed
  • watery or smelly feces,
  • change in body temperature

What to Do if Your Chameleon is Stress

If you think you’re chameleon is stressed, look for the reasons that are causing them to be stressed. This can be many things and it’s best to slowly investigate each possible cause carefully.

Sometimes, it could a simple thing as burnt out UVB lighting or heating. Heating lights will stop providing heat, but it will still light up. Therefore, it’s recommended to check the manufacturer’s bulb life expectancy.

Another simple reason could be the location they are at. You may have moved them to another location and they may feel unsafe. Try moving them back to their old location and see if their stress level decreases.

If you still can’t figure out what’s causing them stress, make an appointment with your reptile veterinarian to see what’s causing it. Sometimes, it could be an underlying health problem that’s causing them to be stressed.

If possible, have the veterinarian make a house visit. Doing so will help prevent them from having more stress due to travel.

Chameleons are one of those reptiles that get stressed easily. The longer and more often they are living in a stressful environment, the shorter their life will be.

Chamaleon suffering from parasitics

Veiled chameleon suffering from parasitic infections

3. Parasitic Infestations

During the life of the chameleons, it’s not uncommon for them to have a mild parasitic presence in their bodies. Their immune system will usually fight off these parasites and prevent it from getting worse.

However, under stress or unhygienic conditions, the parasites could multiply rapidly and could kill the chameleon.

Your pet chameleon could get parasites from many different sources. It could be the location where they were bought, what food they ate, and their environment.

If you’ve bought a wild-caught chameleon, these will usually have parasites. In the wild, it’s natural for parasites to live on the chameleons. Their immune system will adjust to the parasites and prevent them from multiplying.

When the chameleon is kept in captivity, due to the different environment settings, their immune system may not be able to adjust to it and stop the parasites from multiplying.

Food is another source where the chameleons could get infected with parasites. If you catch wild-caught insects, it may contain parasites and could infect your chameleon when they consume it.

Their environment is another source where they could get parasites from. If the cage is filthy, more than likely, parasites and other pathogens will live there. As the chameleons move around the cage, they will get infected with the parasites.

Signs of parasites on your chameleon include diarrhea, emaciation, constipation, a swollen belly, loss of appetite, weakness, and hiding.

What to Do if Your Chameleon has Parasites

It’s important to find the source of the parasites so you can prevent it from occurring again.

If you’ve bought a wild-caught chameleon, extra precautions are needed to prevent the parasites from multiplying which will lead to an infestation. After buying one, you should carefully look for parasites that may be living on them.

As for food sources, to prevent parasites in food, it’s best to buy insects from the pet stores or places they breed feeder insects. These places are usually hygienic and clean. One of my favorite places to buy feeder insects is at CBReptiles. All of their feeder insects are guaranteed so you won’t have to worry about parasites.

Chameleons living in a clean environment will have fewer chances of having parasites. Make it a daily task or at least a weekly task to clean the cage. Cleaning the cage just takes 30 minutes or less, depending on how large the cage is. Make sure to clean the cage thoroughly from the heat lamp at the top to the tray at the bottom of the cage.

When cleaning the cage, it’s best to disinfect everything in the cage as well. A veterinary disinfectant like F-10 or chlorhexidine

For a more in-depth article on cleaning the chameleon’s cage: How often to clean a chameleon cage

If the chameleon is showing signs of parasites, it’s recommended to take them to the veterinary as soon as possible. The parasites could cause a large infestation that requires medical attention.

4. Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD)

Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) is the second most common disease that affects chameleons in captivity. This is a disease that could cause your pet chameleon to die a painful death if it’s not caught and treated properly.

This disease is caused by a lack of calcium in their diet and insufficient UVB lighting. For a chameleon to be healthy, they require at least 12 hours of UVB lights each day which is needed to process the calcium in their body.

When a chameleon is suffering from Metabolic Bone Disease, there will be signs that you should look for. Things to look for are broken bones, joints seem out of place, mouth not closing correctly, loss of appetite, muscle spasms, and swollen limbs.

Metabolic Bone Disease is something that can be prevented easily. To prevent MBD, chameleons require calcium and UVB lights.

Therefore, as long as your pet chameleon is receiving the proper amount of calcium each day and UVB lights to process it, MBD shouldn’t be an issue.

What to Do if Your Chameleon is Dying from MBD

If you notice your pet chameleon is suffering from Metabolic Bone Disease, it’s important to go see the reptile veterinarian. You’ll want to make sure the disease haven’t cause bone damage or other bodily damage to the chameleon. If so, more than likely, they will require surgery.

If the disease haven’t cause any bodily damage yet, you could start administering a calcium supplement like Zoo Med Reptile Calcium, which can be found on Amazon.

Additionally, check the UVB bulb to make sure it’s working properly. Just because the UVB bulb lights up, doesn’t mean it’s working.

Therefore, you test the bulb by buying a UV meter, which is available on Amazon.

Another way to test the UV bulb is with a paper. It’s not as accurate as a UV meter, but it will still show if the bulb is working or not.  To test the bulb, follow the instructions below:

  1. Find a blank sheet of white paper. A piece of white cloth will work fine too.
  2. Turn off all the lights in the room including the heating lamp if you have it.
  3. Turn on the UVB light for a couple of minutes to let it warm up.
  4. Place the sheet of paper under the UVB bulb at a distance of 16 inches from the bulb.
  5. Check the color of the light on the paper. If it’s showing a blue/purple spectrum, it’s working properly. If it’s white, the bulb is either defective or expired.

5. Old Age

When your pet chameleons get older, their body will start to weaken and become ill often. At this stage in life, there’s not much you can do to save them, but cherish the time you still have with them.

Most species of chameleon will live 5 to 8 years on average. In captivity, providing them with a well-balanced diet and stress-free environment, they can live much longer than that. Male tends to outlive female chameleons by a couple of years.

What to Do if Your Chameleon is Dying from Old Age

Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do. Chameleon at this age has lived their full life expectancy.

At this age, they may be in a lot of pain due to their body weakening from an illness or just old age. Chameleons are good at hiding their illness so you’ll have to examine them carefully. If you notice they are moving awkwardly or look like they are in a lot of pain, an option available is to have the reptile veterinary euthanize them.


As you can see from above, chameleons can die from many reasons. By reading this article, you’ll know exactly what could cause them to die, what to look for, and how to treat it. Prevention is the best way to keep them healthy and living a long life.

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