Chameleons are curious and beautiful little lizards that can really have striking personalities, despite their solitary attitude and their aloof demeanor.
Once you get used to caring for these unique little creatures, you may never want to leave them alone again, wanting to stay by their tank for as long as you can to watch them and interact with them when they are feeling confident.
Something that all pet owners will come across is the fact that they will have to make arrangements for leaving their pets behind. Whether it is a business trip, an emergency hospital visit, or something similar, there may come a time when you need to prepare to leave your pet alone completely for the next few days.
With some animals, it is easy to set up care and make sure that the pet has everything it needs to survive and thrive, even if it misses you. For example, with dogs and cats, you can often board them at places that specialize in caring for your animals when you are not home to do so yourself.
The problem with this is that because chameleons are considered fairly exotic, there aren’t many places that will offer chameleon boarding. Even if you can find a sitter for your chameleon, or you can find a place that boards reptiles, the amount of stress that it can cause your chameleon may render it all useless if the chameleon decides to simply not eat or drink due to stress.
Depending on exactly how long you will be gone, it might just be better for everyone involved to leave the chameleon completely on its own. They’re solitary animals, so you won’t have to worry about its social needs the same way you would need to worry about a cat or dog, but what about their food and water?
The first step to making sure that you have everything you need to leave your chameleon alone is to make sure you have enough food and water that you can leave behind with your chameleon to keep it alive and happy.
This means you have to get a good sense of how long a chameleon can go without water, so you have a baseline as to how long you can be away from it for.
As a base rule of thumb, chameleons can go about two days without water, assuming that you give them a thorough misting as the last thing you do before you leave and the first thing you do when you come home.
This is also assuming the chameleon is a healthy adult with no underlying problems that would affect how it absorbs water.
Chameleons and Their Water
In the wild and in an ideal enclosure, you would want to create a situation where your chameleon would get its water from the water droplets on leaves, similar to how a chameleon would get its water from dew in the wild.
Of course, as you might know, it is not nearly that easy to recreate a chameleon’s natural habitat, which is why chameleons need to have their water provided in fairly specific manners.
Chameleons cannot be left with just a bowl of water, as they will not think to naturally drink from it. Most chameleons will not think of a bowl of water as a water source and are likely to become fatally dehydrated if that’s all you leave for them to drink from, making it the worst thing that you could do.
Instead, what you need to focus on doing is making sure that chameleons have other sources of water besides its usual misting as a water source. Some chameleons will prefer having waterfalls set up in their home, but these can cause hygiene problems and can be expensive.
Drip systems can work in emergencies, such as when a misting system breaks down and you need a replacement while you work on fixing it. It can be hard to maintain and it will often get blocked, even in the best of circumstances, making it really a last-chance type of solution to go for.
The best way to hydrate your chameleon is through a process known as misting. This can be done manually, such as with a specific spray bottle, or it can be done automatically, which will naturally be more expensive and take up more space in your room.
Automatic misting is always going to be best, as it will require minimal input from you and it can generally run unsupervised. The problem is that not everyone has the space or know-how to set one up, and if you are leaving on short notice, you may not be able to get this set up for your chameleon.
This leaves hand-misting. This is the most common method of hydrating chameleons and it is considered one of the easiest, but the problem that lies with this is two-fold.
Not only will you have to explain thoroughly to a pet-sitter on how to properly mist your chameleon without causing it undue stress, you are going to stress it out anyway because having a complete stranger in such close proximity is something that can really bother chameleons.
This leaves you with a choice of either taking your chances by giving your chameleon extra water before you leave or stressing it out by relying on a sitter.
The option that will be best for you depends heavily on the circumstances on which you are leaving the chameleon alone. If you are only going away for a single night and will be back the next morning or even in the afternoon, you can generally assume that your chameleon will be fine, especially if you top it off with extra water before you leave.
If you are going to be gone for more than two days at a time, it will be worth the extra stress to rely on a sitter to take care of the manual misting, assuming that you do not have an automatic mister set up.
Even if you have an automatic mister, you should still have a sitter come over to make sure that the chameleon is at least responsive, even if it might be feeling too stressed to eat a lot more than it normally would.
Signs of a Dehydrated Chameleon
Chameleons, as solitary and prey animals, know how to mask the signs of sickness and discomfort well. This means it can be incredibly hard to spot if your chameleon isn’t feeling well, and especially difficult for a sitter who may not have as much experience with chameleons.
If you are going to be away for an extended period of time, make sure to fully inform the sitter of the signs of dehydration to look for to make sure that the chameleon is doing well, and to establish regular contact in case there are any unforeseen situations.
If you have just returned from your trip, you should check your chameleon for these signs as a routine check to ensure that it was fine while you were gone.
Signs of a chameleon that hasn’t had enough to drink can be hard to see at times. The most prominent signs are going to be sunken eyes and yellow or orange urate.
Although other problems can cause these symptoms, they tend to be the warning signs that people look for when monitoring for dehydration in their scaly little friends.
Aside from these signs, you are simply going to have to monitor your chameleon’s general demeanor to see if anything is off from how it usually acts to get a sense of whether its health is suffering or not.
This can be harder to do if the chameleon was seen by a sitter or has experienced some stress for whatever reason, as the behaviors that are seen by stressed chameleons are often replicated when chameleons are sick, and vise versa as sick chameleons are often stressed out.
You will often want to make sure you have the full context for your chameleon’s health before jumping to any conclusions.
If you are ever seriously worried about dehydration or that your chameleon didn’t have enough water, the first thing you should do is get in touch with a vet who specializes in caring for reptiles, preferably chameleons.
Veterinarians who have experience with reptiles will often have the equipment needed to care for them and to administer treatment if the chameleon is chronically dehydrated.
The best thing you can do, when you are in doubt, is either to give the chameleon an extra watering when you are home and increase the frequency of misting after you have returned for a little bit to make up for any missed hydration, or to instruct a pet sitter to do so while you are gone.
Leaving your pet in another person’s care can be stressful for both you and the chameleon, but as long as you know what your chameleon needs, you should be good to go.
Making Sure Your Chameleon Is Looked After
If you are leaving for a set amount of time and need to search for a pet sitter to take care of the chameleon, there are a few things you can do to make it easier on yourself.
First things first, you will want to do everything you can to find a sitter who has reptile experience, as this will mean that they are most likely to understand what needs to be done and what signs to look out for in terms of sickness.
From here, you should make sure that you have a checklist of what you should leave the chameleon with, including food and water, for the sitter to work with while you are gone.
If you are only going to be gone for one night or even half a day, you should top up the chameleon’s resources so that it at least has what it needs if you end up taking longer than you planned for and so that it will not be strained while it is waiting for you to return.
The night before you leave, you should provide a thorough tank cleaning, make sure that any misting devices you have are completely topped off with enough water to last you as long as you are gone, and you should make sure to put out spare bulbs for the enclosure as well as the vet’s contact information in case anything goes awry.
You may even want to give an extra heavy misting on your own before you leave, just so your chameleon has that to work with.
In the morning, besides the thorough misting to ensure that the chameleon has had more than enough water before you leave, you should make sure to provide at least two feeding bowls with a day’s worth of food in each on different ends of the enclosure for the chameleon to eat from, so it is not overly stressed by a sitter coming in and trying to feed it.
You should also make sure that your chameleon’s room is kept at a suitable temperature while you are gone, although this may not be as necessary if there are still going to be people in the house when you leave.
No matter how long you are going to be gone, make sure that someone is able to come and water your chameleon every two days.
While a robust chameleon may be able to last three days without someone coming and giving a thorough misting, this is putting an unnecessary strain on the chameleon’s health and should only be done when there is an emergency and physically no other choice than to do this.
As a bottom line, your chameleon should go no more than two days without a refill of water or without access to clean water. Chameleons will not drink from stagnant sources of water such as bowls, ponds, or similar, so you need to make sure to have an automatic misting system or to have an experienced sitter come and manually provide water for the chameleon.
Above all, make sure that whoever is caring for the chameleon has experience with reptiles or at least knows what signs to look for to give your chameleon the best care that it deserves.
I have a bachelor’s degree in construction engineering. When I’m not constructing or remodeling X-Ray Rooms, Cardiovascular Labs, and Pharmacies, I’m at home with my wife, two daughters and a dog. Outside of family, I love grilling and barbequing on my Big Green Egg and working on projects around the house. Growing up, I had pet dogs, cats, deer, sugar gliders, chinchillas, a bird, chickens, fish, and a goat.