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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There are many things that you should come to expect when you are taking care of a chameleon. For instance, you generally need to expect that they will not be particularly affectionate companions. Even the most tightly bonded chameleon will only tolerate being held on a hand for a little bit at a time and even then, not that often.
When planning to take care of a chameleon, you need to think about where you are going to be housing its enclosure. More often than not, people will want to keep their chameleons in the same room that they will be spending the most time in.
If the chameleon is not a pet to be held, then it will be a pet that will be observed so it would make sense to keep your chameleon with you in your room.
If you are planning to do this, there is one thing that you will need to keep in mind. Chameleons, while not particularly odorous on their own, can absolutely have the potential to start smelling bad.
Most of the smell that will come from your chameleon will be situational and/or occasional but you should still know what to expect so that it doesn’t catch you off guard.
When Do Chameleons Smell Bad?
Chameleons, on their own, do not have any scent glands on their body in the way that cats and other territory-marking animals do. They will not emit a musk or an odor as ferrets, hamsters, rats, and other small animals do.
There is one situation, aside from your standard pet excretions, where a chameleon will emit a scent that is unpleasant; however, this does not happen all that often so you won’t have to worry about it.
There are, however, more than a few situations where the environment, food, and situation that your chameleon is in can lead to a smelly enclosure. From simply not cleaning the enclosure often enough to using the wrong soil, substrate, or feed for your chameleon, there are plenty of ways that you can create a situation where your chameleon’s enclosure is smellier than normal.
These situations can be split up into two categories. There are situations where it was due to your choices, such as in substrate or feed, that lead to the smell in the chameleon’s habitat.
More often than not, these types of situations can be remedied as soon as you take out the problematic element of its enclosure. After a little bit of time for the smell to dissipate, you won’t have to think about it.
Other times, it will be due to an issue stemming from the enclosure itself. This includes situations that can be summarized as “accumulative smell.” Examples of this would include having standing water in the enclosure, not cleaning the enclosure often enough, or because the plants in its habitat are sick themselves.
Speaking of sickness, there is a subcategory of smells that come from your chameleon’s own health. These include three things: the natural smell of your chameleon’s excrements, the mechanism that chameleons use to hunt their prey, and when your chameleon is sick or unhealthy.
Between these categories, you can feel confident in knowing that if you notice a smell coming from your chameleon’s enclosure, you will be able to figure out the cause of it and have it taken care of before it becomes a menace to your nostrils.
In short, your chameleon may occasionally emit a stench from its enclosure, but they are pretty odorless animals.
Choices That Can Lead to Smelly Chameleons
There are many conditions that can lead to an environment where your chameleon’s enclosure may not smell too good.
To begin with, consider the plants that you keep in your chameleon’s enclosure and what soil you would use with them. Some soils aren’t the best idea for a chameleon’s enclosure.
By this, you should not use organic soil that has been mixed with manure in your chameleon’s enclosure. It will be safe for your chameleon and it will not cause any harm to it if it takes a curious bite, but the problem comes with the fact that a chameleon’s habitat needs to be kept moist and humid.
One can quickly begin to see how the combination of a humid habitat and manure-mixed soil does not work very well.
If you notice that you used organic soil that was mixed with manure for your potted plants, you can easily switch to an organic soil that makes use of coconut husks or another form of organic fertilization that will not have the same component of smell that manure will have in the constantly humid environment of your chameleon’s home.
Other issues that can lead to a smelly environment for your chameleon can be caused by the food you are feeding it. Both roaches and crickets can lead to an unpleasant smell emanating from the enclosure for a fair amount of time after the bugs have been eaten. In particular, crickets are more prone to smelling bad and their smells lasting longer than that of roaches.
With crickets, they will move around a lot and may pose a challenge for your chameleon to try and catch. While this might be entertaining at first and may provide some interesting activity for your chameleon, it can begin to be a problem when you realize that crickets naturally do not smell good.
Add on to this the fact that they will not stop chirping and you will be in for a world of inconveniences when you try to feed your chameleon crickets. The best way to fix this is generally going to be to just choose a different live insect to feed the chameleon.
Roaches, on the other hand, do not have a particular smell to them. If anything, the container of roaches that you purchase from your insect supplier may have an earthy tone to it, but this will be it for the most part, especially if you keep them well ventilated. With that being said, roaches may release an unpleasant smell as a defense mechanism when they are being hunted by the chameleon.
This odor is not harmful to anything but your own sense of smell, and given some time and ventilation, the smell will go away. It is still unpleasant to smell when you are just trying to feed your chameleon something that it will enjoy.
The best way to go about avoiding this is to either choose a different feeding insect for your chameleon, or you can try to keep the chameleon’s habitat even more well ventilated so that when the smell lingers, it won’t be for much longer.
And finally, the last choice that can lead to a smelly enclosure is the wrong choice of substrate in your chameleon’s home. Certain substrates can be hard to maintain in the context of a chameleon’s home and, more often than not, these substrates are going to carry some risks to your chameleon’s health, such as sand and bark.
The problem with these is that the regular misting that comes from the enclosure will lead to a high water content in the bark, which can lead to mold growths, which will then lead to more unpleasant smells and potential health conditions.
This can be fixed by simply changing or removing the substrate and replacing it with paper towels. Most other chameleon-friendly substrates besides bark and sand are going to be odor-free as long as the habitat is cleaned on a regular basis so that you don’t have to worry about a buildup of feces.
Conditions That Can Lead to Smelly Chameleons
Just as there are choices that you can make that will directly lead to a smelly chameleon enclosure, there are also certain conditions that will lead to problems with the way your chameleon’s habitat smells.
The way that these cases can be fixed is often going to be through more long-term and more noticeable adjustments to your chameleon’s lifestyle so that the conditions in question can be avoided.
A common example of this would be not cleaning the chameleon’s enclosure often enough. Obviously, there is going to be feces that will begin to stink when it is not removed from the humid environment.
There will also be dead bugs that are left to decompose because your chameleon didn’t finish eating them (and in rare cases, even hidden and live bugs that live in fear). This can also happen with worms that will eventually pupate, which only increases the smell of the enclosure.
Of course, the best way to fix this problem is going to be to set up a regular schedule where you can clean the chameleon’s enclosure regularly without disturbing the chameleon as much as you can. Doing this on a regular basis will ensure that you are able to keep the smell of the chameleon down to a minimum.
Another aspect to consider is that you will want to make is ensuring that there is a good draining system between all of the potted plants and the water in your chameleon’s habitat. Because chameleons need a lot of water, and not just in terms of needing to drink water, it makes sense that there will be some degree of standing water in your chameleon’s home.
However, when that standing water is left out for too long, it will mean that the water begins to pool underneath the plants. Combined with the humid environment, the feces of the chameleon, and the health of the plants, this can begin to produce the smell of rot and this will become unpleasant in your chameleon’s enclosure.
There are two ways to prevent this from happening. You can either change the potted plants and their organization to ensure that they are fully drained and will not build up moisture with each misting. You can also make sure that the misting only happens when the entirety of the enclosure is dry so that you don’t run that risk of having too much water.
Speaking of the amount of water and plants, if there is a drainage issue in your chameleon’s habitat, this will lead to a condition known as root rot in the plants of your enclosure. As the name suggests, this means that the roots of the plants are beginning to die and rot away, which can lead to awful smells from the chameleon enclosure.
This can be fixed by getting rid of the roots, eliminating the plant, and/or fixing the drainage in the enclosure.
Your Chameleon’s Health and Smell
Your chameleon may also smell bad due to one of two reasons. The more unfortunate of the two reasons is that your chameleon may be infested with parasites.
This will be most noticeable when your chameleon poops, as its feces will smell noticeably worse than normal. Ideally, even if it isn’t pleasant, you should have an idea of how your chameleon’s feces usually smells so that you can determine when it is abnormally smelly.
When this happens, it is often due to a parasitical infection as chameleons are known to be prone to them. When you notice your chameleon’s feces smelling worse than normal, it will mean a stressful trip to the vet; however, after that, your chameleon shouldn’t smell noticeable any more, aside from one situation.
Chameleons have been known to emit a scent from their jaw that smells akin to rotting meat. The chameleon will then place a scent marker somewhere in its habitat with that smell, and chances are that you will notice it as soon as it does so.
This isn’t indicative of anything wrong with the chameleon. Rather, this is a normal and curious behavior done by the chameleon to try and attract prey to its location.
After all, if chameleons mainly prey on insects and insects are often lured toward a location that smells of rotting meat, then it would make sense that setting up a “decoy” of sorts would be an efficient way to hunt insects in the wild.
Unfortunately, your chameleon is not in the wild; it is in your house. This smell will not be pleasant but it will dissipate eventually and chameleons are not known to do it often, especially when they are well fed.
This is just one of the many natural smells that you will get used to over the course of owning a chameleon.