5 Tips for a Healthy Chameleon

Veiled chameleon
Veiled chameleon resting on a branch Getty Images/Istvan Kadar Photography

There are several different types of chameleons that you may care for as a pet. Some are more difficult to care for than others but, overall, chameleons need to be kept in certain environments and fed specific foods. If these needs are not met, health can deteriorate quickly.

  • 01 of 05

    Use Thermometers to Maintain Temperatures

    Digital thermometer
    Digital thermometers can provide precise temperature readings.

    Getty Images / Charlotte Bleijenberg

    Chameleons, like other reptiles, rely on their environments to maintain their body temperatures. If there is not enough ambient heat then they will become too cold to move about their enclosures, have trouble digesting their food, can become ill, and their colors will dull.

    Depending on the species of chameleon you care for, temperature recommendations may vary but there should be a thermal gradient between about 70 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the enclosure. The bottom part of the housing should be kept in the 70's at all times. During the day, the top of the enclosure nearest the heat light should be closer to 100 degrees. These temperatures are best monitored by using thermometers placed in both the bottom and top of the cage.

    Reptile thermometers come in both analog and digital varieties and can be mounted to the enclosure or moved around to make sure there aren't any cold spots in the cage.

  • 02 of 05

    Use a Hygrometer to Maintain Humidity

    ZooMed Thermometer and Hygrometer Combo
    ZooMed Thermometer and Hygrometer Combo Photo © Lianne McLeod

    Humidity within a chameleon enclosure can be difficult to maintain, especially when screened cages are used. In order to monitor how much moisture there is in the air, a hygrometer can be used to see the percentage of relative humidity. This device is similar to a thermometer and may even come as a combination with one.

    Depending on the species of chameleon you care for, humidity levels should be around 50% within the cage. Misting or dripper systems and hand misters are useful in helping to not only provide droplets on leaves for your chameleon to drink but also for creating this moderate to high humidity environment. If an enclosure is too dry, constipation, difficulty shedding, dehydration, and other issues can occur in a chameleon.

  • 03 of 05

    Gut Load Prey

    Bush cricket
    Bush cricket Getty Images/Science Photo Library

    Food is essential for all pets but it needs to be filled with nutrients. Gut loading prey items like crickets before feeding them to your chameleon will ensure your pet is getting what it needs from its food. Commercially available cricket gut load, oranges, dark, leafy greens, squash, and other items can be fed to the crickets in addition to occasionally dusting them with a calcium powder before they are offered to your chameleon. This will pack the prey with the additional nutrients your chameleon needs to be healthy.

    Live crickets can be purchased and housed in a separate small enclosure away from your chameleon while you gut load them. Allow the crickets to eat and then feed them to your chameleon within 24 hours to get the full benefits of the gut load.

  • 04 of 05

    Focus on the Height of the Enclosure

    Screened chameleon enclosure
    Chameleon enclosures should be tall.

    Getty Images/

    Andrew Wilson / EyeEm

    Chameleons are arboreal so they need plenty of space and objects to climb on. Because of this, the height of a chameleon's enclosure is much more important than how much floor space it covers. Your enclosure should be at least twice as tall as it is wide and filled with various branches, vines, and other things that your chameleon can grab onto.

    The dripper system should be placed on top of this tall enclosure to allow the water droplets to accumulate on various leaves throughout the cage as they fall, something a wide or long cage won't facilitate as well. The height will also allow for a good thermal gradient and give your chameleon options when it comes to what temperature it would like to be in.

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Keep Handling to a Minimum

    Girl holding a chameleon.
    Handling a chameleon should be minimal.

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    If you're looking for a pet reptile that you can carry around and handle on a regular basis then you should reconsider getting a chameleon. These reptiles are better left alone and can become easily stressed with handling. Biting is a natural reaction to fear and stress and handling a chameleon more will not help it relax. Occasional handling with no restraint is the only kind of handling that you should ever do with your chameleon and, when possible, use a branch or perch instead of your hand to move your chameleon around.

Chameleons can be more of a challenge to care for than some other reptiles, but by following these tips and species-specific care recommendations you can help them live a long, healthy life.