The purpose of this blog is to share general information and is written to the author's best knowledge. It is not intended to be used in place of veterinary advice. For health concerns, please seek proper veterinary care.
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When it comes to taking care of chameleons, there are often more considerations to make than you would with a typical animal. After all, because chameleons are animals that are not nearly as common pets as the cat or dog, it can be hard to find the right information on them.
Because of this, no matter how much research someone does on their pets, there may come a time when they realize that they may not know what to do in a certain situation, such as if you realize that your chameleon is not eating its food as it should.
Your pet not eating would be a cause for concern for just about anyone, and just as with any other pet you would own, it is important to pay attention to the reasons why your chameleon isn’t eating the way that it normally should.
There are a few main reasons why chameleons are not eating their food, and it is up to you as the chameleon’s owner to determine what that reason might be.
More often than not, if the chameleon is sick, there will be other signs that you can observe, otherwise it may be a case of the chameleon being picky.
Understanding the Range of Normal
Chameleons are cold-blooded animals, and because their bodies process energy so much differently than a human’s, their range of normal is far from what would be normal for a person. That is to say, if your chameleon isn’t eating three times a day, that is not a cause for concern.
In fact, chameleons are known to go up to a day or two without eating with it being considered normal and even commonplace. While it is much less commonplace, your chameleon can even go up to a week without eating and have it still fall under normalcy.
What this means for your chameleon is that if it isn’t eating for a day or two, you will still want to figure out what is going on in your chameleon’s little head, but this is not a cause for concern when it comes to nutritional deficits.
The chameleon has evolved over time to be able to go for some time without taking in new food, so it is not inherently harmful, depending on the reason why your chameleon has gone on a hunger strike.
As long as your chameleon gets over whatever may be on its mind, you don’t have to worry about it not eating immediately.
A Full Chameleon
As mentioned earlier, chameleons don’t necessarily need to eat on a daily basis. Many chameleon owners feed their little lizards on a two- or three-day basis and everyone gets along happily and healthily.
Likewise, this can mean that if you fed the chameleon the day before, it simply may not be up to eating again. It is a surprisingly common problem that domestic chameleons are overfed because people believe that they need to eat every day, or at least close to it.
Most adult chameleons should be eating no more than three to five pieces of food every other day, skipping the weekends for food. Treats should be given occasionally so your chameleon does not gorge its appetite on nutritionless treats.
Simply keeping in mind how long ago your chameleon has eaten, and remembering that most chameleons eat on an every-other-day basis will help you determine whether your chameleon might be full from a particularly bug-filled night, or if your chameleon is not eating for other reasons.
Feeding Troubles with New Chameleons
One of the most common times that chameleons will seemingly go on a hunger strike is when you have just brought them into your home.
This is ultimately because chameleons are very prone to stress, and one of the biggest stresses they can experience in their lives is being moved into a new tank in a new environment.
It may take your chameleon a few days to truly feel safe after you have first brought it home, but there are some things you can do to ease its adjustment.
You will want to make sure that the tank is in an optimal spot for your chameleon’s stress, meaning that it is away from the eye-level of other animals and kept in an area of the house that doesn’t get much foot traffic.
Depending on how old your chameleon is and how often it has been handled before coming into your care, the sheer presence of you may be enough to scare it away from the bug that you hold in your hand.
This will also take some time for your chameleon to recognize that you are a safe creature and that you are the one who brings food to it, and if it seems to be taking a while, you can also try feeding the chameleon with tongs.
Problems with the Food Itself
Chameleons are known for being somewhat picky eaters. One thing you will quickly learn when caring for a chameleon is that it needs to have some form of variety in its diet.
You cannot just feed the chameleon the same insects over and over again, or you will run into the issue of the chameleon becoming stubborn and simply not eating them, and leaving insects running rampant in the chameleon’s tank is never a good idea either.
You should try and rotate what your chameleon eats over the course of a week or two, depending on how often you feed your chameleon in the first place.
This is also one of the best ways to check if the lack of appetite is attitude-based or if there may be something else going on. If feeding the chameleon an insect it hasn’t eaten in a bit gets its gears going, then it may very well be a case of your chameleon being a finicky eater.
Chameleons, because they eat live insects, run the unique risk of an insect fighting back. Naturally, you shouldn’t feed your chameleon something that is capable of severely injuring it, but insects will fight back when they are facing off against their natural predator.
What this means for your chameleon is that if it has had a particularly troublesome experience with a certain insect, then they may be “traumatized” by that experience and may never want to eat that insect again. After all, if your food bit you back, even if it wasn’t harmful, it would certainly make you wary of eating that food again, right?
Fixing the problem of a past feeding trauma is up to you, as the pet owner. Sometimes, depending on the offending insect, it is easier just to never feed the chameleon that insect again, though if the insect was a particularly easy and cheap feed, you may want to set aside time to try and show your chameleon that it should be eating its prey and not fearing it.
Problems with Female Chameleons
Another situation where you may find that a chameleon is not eating for whatever reason could be that your chameleon is about to give birth.
This reason is exclusive to female chameleons that have been exposed to male chameleons that are able to mate, so it is a highly situational reason, but it is something to take note of nonetheless.
Expecting chameleons will often stop eating a few days before giving birth, simply so that they have the energy reserves to be in a secluded area to give birth to their young. It can take between two and four days of not eating before your female chameleon gives birth.
Problems with Stress
Mentioned briefly when considering how chameleons that are first being introduced into their homes will often not eat much during the first few days, chameleons are considerably prone to stress.
There are other stressors your chameleon will encounter throughout its life that may send it into a day or two of not having an appetite when it should.
One of the most common examples of this is when you have to move the chameleon to clean out its tank. Chameleons do not appreciate being handled and they much less appreciate being transferred from one tank to another.
This means that even though it is a necessary aspect of owning a chameleon, you are going to have to stress your chameleon out for an uncomfortable amount of time when you are taking care of its enclosure.
You can generally expect this discomfort to last a day or two (longer if the chameleon isn’t used to tank cleaning) until it realizes that everything has gone back to a normal schedule.
Another common stressor that chameleons face is seeing other animals and people. Chameleons are naturally solitary creatures, and they do best when kept in low-traffic areas of the house where you are generally the only person handling it.
If the chameleon can see other pets you have, or if many people frequently pass by its enclosure, you could be causing a considerable amount of stress to the chameleon.
Even if you know that nobody in the house means any harm to the chameleon, or that your house pets cannot even access the chameleon’s enclosure, your chameleon doesn’t know that for sure, making it a very stressful scenario.
Be mindful of what your chameleon can see and try to keep it as solitary as you can.
Another stressor that chameleons face is loud and unusual noises. These are inevitable in a multi-person household and even within a single-person home.
You could drop the dishes, accidentally leave the speakers on max, or someone in the neighborhood could leave their car alarm on. There are countless situations that can result in loud noises that can stress your little chameleon out enough that it may not want to eat for a day or two.
To avoid this, consider keeping your chameleon in an environment where it will be exposed to these noises as little as you can possibly handle it, and also consider that if those noises do happen, you may just have to realize this will be a normal part of dealing with a chameleon’s finicky diet.
Problems with Sickness
Chameleons, just as with most other creatures, will lose their appetite as their health becomes more focused on dealing with other issues.
Whether your chameleon picked up a parasite from one of the insects it ate or your chameleon is having another issue, it is important to be mindful of when your chameleon is sick and what the signs of sickness can be.
As much as people love their chameleons, they are not very good at communicating when they are not feeling well. This can make it a bit of a hassle to try and determine if your chameleon is genuinely sick or not, but thankfully, there are some main signs that you can look for.
The most common signs of sickness in chameleons include lethargy and closing its eyes during the day. More severe signs of sickness can include unsteadiness, shaky arms and legs, problematic feces, and weight loss despite a normal appetite.
Because chameleons are often not very clear about when they are sick and when they are not, if you notice that there are some of the more common signs of sickness in your chameleon in addition to its decreased appetite, then you may need to just take your chameleon to a veterinarian who is experienced in handling these exotic lizards.
While this will cause even more stress to your little pet, it can be considered choosing less of two evils when you are facing an unknown sickness in your chameleon. Chances are that your vet will examine the chameleon, determine what is going on in its little body, and then inform you of the best course of action.
In some cases, you may need to actively request a fecal sample taken from your chameleon, as its feces can actually tell quite a bit about its current health. You may even want to contact your vet beforehand to see if there is anything you should prepare or collect from the enclosure of your chameleon to make the examination even easier on their side.
By being mindful of all these various aspects of chameleon care, you can feel confident knowing that you will be able to give your chameleon the best life that you can.