From eyes that move independently of each other to their color-changing skin, the chameleon is a never-ending source of wonder! Keeping one as a pet, however, takes particular knowledge and very specific living conditions.
If you are a novice reptile owner, welcoming a chameleon into your home requires careful research and planning. Don't let that scare you away, though. If you have the time and commitment, the rewards of caring for one of these incredible reptiles make the extra effort worth it.
Learn more about what it's like to keep a chameleon as a pet by understanding their cage and care requirements, activity levels, life expectancy, and health challenges.
Low Levels of Activity and Minimal Handling
Although they are interesting animals to observe, chameleons are not exactly cuddly or energetic pets. Children may not be drawn to a chameleon the way that they would a hamster scurrying on its wheel or a dog that wants to play fetch with them.
These reptiles are most active during the day, from about dawn till dusk. This is good news if you're looking for a pet that will be awake and moving on the same schedule as you. Don't expect a high level of activity though. They are quiet animals that spend most of their day lounging in a comfy spot, only moving to regulate body temperature, feed, or fill another specific need. You won't have to worry about any racket from your chameleon cage interrupting a work call or proving to be a distraction in your daily routine. They also won't need you to provide them with lots of stimulation the way some other pets will.
Many chameleons do still appreciate time out of their cage, with room to roam in a safe space. Be careful not to lose your color-changing friend in large rooms or areas with many places to hide. Handling should be kept to a minimum too, and it should be with minimal restraint, as this can stress chameleons out.
Specific Dietary Requirements
Compared to pets who eat kibble in bowls, the chameleon has unique dietary requirements. These reptiles eat live gut-loaded bugs, so feeding time is hunting time. If you're squeamish about delivering live insects or don't think you can commit to regular pet store runs for this special food source, a chameleon might not be the right pet for you.
On the other hand, if live feeding doesn't phase you, then dinner time becomes showtime for you. Watching your chameleon catapult its long tongue and capture prey with incredibly accurate precision is a sight to behold.
Technical Cage and Kit Requirements
Generally speaking, chameleons make excellent pets for experienced reptile owners. This is not to say that novice owners can't keep a chameleon successfully, but there are specific cage and care requirements to consider.
Chameleons regulate their body temperature by moving from warmer to cooler areas within their enclosure. You need to provide a cage that is large enough to allow for the variances in temperature. Given a chameleons arboreal habits, it also needs to be tall and should provide enough foliage (real or artificial) to give the chameleon a sense of security.
While cage set-ups can vary tremendously, you should plan for, at least, a 3 x 3 x 4 foot cage. Like other reptiles, the chameleon will also require a heat lamp with a UVA/UVB bulb and a spot to bask in the rays from the lamp that is no closer than eight inches from the heat source.
You'll need a thermometer to measure the temperature at the top and bottom of the cage, along with a hygrometer to gauge the humidity level. Since chameleon's lick up water from their environment, you'll need to equip the cage with a misting or drip system.
Clearly, chameleons require an advanced set-up and specialized care in comparison to some other reptiles. The cost of investment for a chameleon-specific set-up may be more than expected for a first-time reptile owner.
However, the good news is that chameleons are very clean pets. They have no scent and produce droppings with very little smell. This makes a chameleon a great option as a pet for those that are sensitive to pet odors.
Life Expectancy and Health Concerns
Evaluate what type of commitment you're looking to make before settling on a specific species of chameleon, since their lifespans vary considerably. Among the more popular pet chameleon species, the veiled chameleon lives for five to seven years, the Jackson's chameleon is five to ten years, and the panther chameleon is a short two to three years.
You should also educate yourself on common chameleon health concerns, such as stomatitis, metabolic bone disease, or how to recognize and remedy calcium or Vitamin A deficiencies.
While the goal is to keep a happy, healthy chameleon, you may need to bring your pet to a reptile or exotic animal vet on occasion. It will even be worth investigating where the nearest specialist vet is located - if it is particularly far afield this could create practical problems.
For anyone looking for an exotic and unique companion, the chameleon may be the perfect pet. They make an excellent choice for those sensitive to pet odors or noise and capture the eye of experienced and novice reptile owners alike.
Though chameleons are an enticing pet to buy, it is very important that you do the needed research before bringing one home. These amazing creatures require very specific housing requirements and regular routines and are a significant commitment that needs to be carefully evaluated.
Nutrition in lizards - management and nutrition. Merck Veterinary Manual.