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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If you’re a chameleon owner, you’ve probably seen them in all kinds of colors. That’s one of the main appeals of getting one in the first place, after all.
The very idea of being able to change colors can seem exciting to us because it’s so antithetical to our being. “A leopard can’t change their spots,” but a chameleon can change its color?
Well, yes they can – but that doesn’t mean that every color they turn is a good one.
For all the incredible colors your chameleon can take on, one color you probably don’t want to see them turn is a sickly pale white. But why does this happen, and what can you do about it?
A Different Color Phase
First, it’s worth noting that this alone does not necessarily mean that your chameleon is sick. We’ll get into a few potential reasons why that might be the case in a moment, but for now, it’s important to remember that chameleons go through different color phases.
Sometimes, chameleons are just paler than usual. It might be due to them getting ready to shed, developing adult colors, or just that that’s the color they have at that moment.
If everything else about your chameleon is fine and it doesn’t show any other signs of being unhealthy, pale color alone isn’t a strong indication of sickness. That’s especially true if it has only recently become pale.
Another thing to keep in mind is that chameleons, like other reptiles, shed their skin when they grow too large for it. These dead skin flakes can appear white.
If this is the reason why your chameleon looks whiter or paler than normal, once again, you probably don’t need to be too concerned. It is a natural part of its life cycle, and it’s getting rid of the white skin flakes, so it isn’t as though this should be a sign of a long-term issue.
Skin shedding can take a few hours to a day or two, and your chameleon will likely refuse food during the process, which is, again, perfectly normal.
However, if at the end of a few days the skin still hasn’t been completely shed and white skin flakes continue to cling to the chameleon’s body while it refuses food, something is wrong, and you should seek help.
If the color change isn’t temporary, and you don’t see any white flakes, then it isn’t merely your chameleon shedding, your chameleon may be sick.
Chameleons typically have bright colors, so a white, pale, ashen color is not typical.
That said, as mentioned above, while pale color may be a temporary thing, when that color change remains for days and is a sign of sickness, it is typically only one of many symptoms. You’ll want to examine those symptoms in relation to one another so as to have the best chance of successfully getting at the root of the problem.
Common problems that can plague chameleons who’ve turned pale include:
- Dehydration, which is by far one of the most obvious symptoms combined with pale skin that something is wrong. While chameleon skin is typically colorful and paleness is a problem, chameleon fecal matter is typically white, so if your chameleon is white-skinned and its fecal matter is yellow or orange, those are strong indications that it’s dangerously dehydrated.
- Additional skin issues, such as issues with shedding
- Low body temperature, especially when combined with a lack of UVB rays
- Malnutrition, since proper nutrition is essential for them to be able to maintain healthy coloring
- Sunken eyes, which can be especially prominent when your chameleon is dehydrated. In addition, eyes can also appear sunken in if their skin is sagging or its casque is misshapen, both of which can likewise be tied to dehydration.
- External factors that may be causing them stress
What You Can Do to Help
If your chameleon is sick, there are several steps you can take to try and make sure it gets the care it needs to regain its former color and health.
As alluded to above, one of the most common causes of unwellness in chameleons, especially with regards to pale, sullen skin and sunken eyes, is dehydration.
If this is the root cause of your chameleon’s sudden color change and unwellness, there are some steps you can take.
For starters, you’ll obviously want to increase the amount of moisture available to it, which in turn means misting it more and making its misting periods longer. You’ll also want to make sure there is plenty of water available for it to consume itself, including on the foliage of its tank.
Sprinkling some more water on the leaves in its tank can allow the chameleon to lap it up itself.
If you need to take a more direct approach, you might want to consider spraying water directly into its mouth with a syringe, dropper, or similar squirting implement. That said, this method is typically reserved for more serious instances since it can be more difficult to administer and dangerous when done incorrectly.
In more intense or emergency-level situations, you can also try giving your chameleon a gentle “shower” via your bathroom shower for 30 to 45 minutes. Make sure the water stream is very gentle, the water is cool, and your chameleon is old and big enough – small ones or those under five months will likely drown.
Last but certainly not least, if the paleness is sustained and serious, or any of those other aforementioned conditions persist as well, you should take your chameleon to the vet immediately. There may be something seriously wrong with your chameleon beyond your ability to help it, and the sooner you get it professional help, the better.
Dealing with a chameleon that’s turned pale can be tricky.
Sometimes it’s nothing.
Sometimes it’s a mild condition or a bit of shedding that’ll pass in a day or two.
Sometimes it’s a sign of something more serious, and extensive rehydration or veterinary care is essential.
Whatever the case, you should examine your chameleon as calmly as possible, check the potential causes of its paleness and, when in doubt, take it to a qualified vet sooner rather than later.