The veiled chameleon is probably the breed you think of when you imagine a chameleon. It has the curly tail, the funny, triangular head, and, most interestingly, eyes that can move 180 degrees. It is a fascinating breed that can grow up to 24 inches long and should live over 5 years. Owning one can be a challenge, but very worthwhile when you get their care and needs just right. As always, we love to make this as easy as possible, so here is the complete low-down of how to care for a veiled chameleon.
Veiled Chameleon Behavior
Getting to know a new pet is always a joy, and veiled chameleons are no exception. Before you get yourself one of these interesting reptiles for yourself, however, there are three key behaviors you should understand:
- They are climbers
Some reptiles come from the desert and are more likely to enjoy burrowing. Although the veiled chameleon hails from the Middle East, it is not a desert chameleon. It is used to living in rainy coastal mountain areas, and, in North America, it has been successfully introduced to Maui and Florida. As such, the veiled chameleon enjoys climbing and hiding in vegetation, so don’t be surprised when you see yours hiding among the leaves.
- They can get stressed
If you want a pet to hug and cuddle, the veiled chameleon is not for you. They do not enjoy being handled, so you should keep this to a minimum. They are territorial and aggressive with other chameleons, and while they may not be quite so violent with their humans, excessive handling can affect their health. Instead you should sit back and enjoy watching and learning about them.
- They change colors!
The veiled chameleon has become very famous around its ability to change color – it is probably one of the main reasons this breed is as popular as it is. It is, indeed, a fascinating aspect of a brilliant creature, but it is worth noting that their abilities are often misrepresented. It cannot match itself to any surroundings as kids’ cartoons would suggest. Most breeds change between various shades of green which, to be fair, does encompass most of the colors that exist in their natural habitat. Just don’t expect them to be able to turn bright red or orange.
Veiled Chameleon Habitat
For all reptiles, housing is essential to providing them with the care they need. Many avoidable health problems in reptiles come from environmental problems like low temperatures or a lack of sunlight. While some reptiles get lonely if you do not provide them with a tank mate, veiled chameleons prefer to live alone. If you have more than one of these reptiles, make sure to provide each of them with a separate tank that meets the conditions we describe below.
First thing’s first, you need to get them the right sized home. These reptiles are climbers, so you are looking for a tall enclosure. You shouldn’t get a glass tank as veiled chameleons need air circulating because stagnant air can cause respiratory problems. Get a screen-sided enclosure instead.
Young veiled chameleons can be as small as 3 inches when they are hatchlings, so do not need as much room. It is wise to start them off with an enclosure that measures 16 inches by 16 inches and is 30 inches tall. At 10 months old, move them to a home that measures 2 feet by 2 feet and is 4 feet tall.
Some suggest you put substrate on the floor of this home to catch droppings and they recommend alfalfa pellets and mulch-type substrates. However, as chameleon’s are climbers rather than burrowers, these substrates may be potential health risks if your chameleon eats them and can provide a hiding place for bacteria, fungus and uneaten food. Alternatively, a simpler method of catching droppings can be to simply put a layer of of paper towels that you change regularly.
As we’ve already stated, veiled chameleon’s are climbers, so you need to provide them with vines and foliage suitable for the size of their feet so that they can climb and hide. Try to make two distinct areas, one for hiding and one with an open space for basking. Good non-toxic plant options for furnishing your veiled chameleon’s habitat include:
- Synthetic plants that have plastic leaves. Do not use silk leaves.
To recreate a veiled chameleon’s natural home in the wild, you will also need to carefully control the temperature, humidity and lighting in their habitat. Be sure to check these conditions regularly. You will need at least one thermometer and other instruments, such as a hygrometer, to help you keep an eye on this.
UVB lighting must be provided for 12 hours a day. Natural sunlight may provide this if your chameleon lives outdoors – remember that UVB light is filtered out by glass – but if you live somewhere that can have overcast weather, it is a good idea to have a full-spectrum fluorescent tube.
You will also need a heat bulb and an incandescent bulb to create a basking spot. This basking spot should be 100 degrees. The opposite end of the enclosure should be room temperature at about 70 degrees. Two temperatures are needed because reptiles cannot regulate their own temperature and need to be able to move between hot and cooler areas to keep themselves at the right temperature.
At night, veiled chameleons are comfortable with a temperature drop, but this must not go below 45 degrees. If you live in a cold climate that has temperatures below 45 degrees at night, you must also invest in a heat source that does not emit light, such as a ceramic heater. Be careful with these heaters as they have been known to burn animals when used incorrectly or placed too close to an enclosure.
In terms of humidity, you will need to regularly mist your veiled chameleon’s enclosure to provide moisture and a drinking source. Aim for the leaves of the plants as droplets are a crucial source of water for chameleons. Misting will raise the humidity of the enclosure, but you must make sure to never exceed 60% humidity. Aim for 50% and your chameleon should thrive.
Veiled Chameleon Diet & Nutrition
If you get yourself a veiled chameleon, you should feed them a mixed diet because they are omnivores who can eat both animal and plant matter. The two main components of this diet is:
- Insects, such as gut-loaded roaches, mealworms, waxworms and crickets.
- Green, leafy vegetables, such as ficus leaves, pothos leaves and collard greens.
Insects should make up the majority of their diet. The insects should be gut-loaded, which means they are fed food that is nutritious for the chameleon, such as collard greens. Young veiled chameleons will need more insects than adults and should be given a constant supply of food to support their growth. Once they become fully fledged adults, feeding can be restricted to once every two days.
Any vegetables that you offer to your chameleon that are not eaten with in 24 hours should be discarded. You do not want them to become a breeding ground for bacteria and illness. You also should not leave live prey in an enclosure as they can attack their predators, risking infection. It is important that you provide the right amount of insects for your chameleon so that they do not overeat, and you don’t have to deal with left-over live insects.
It is a good idea to provide a variety of insects because some insects are fattier than others. You wouldn’t want to accidentally put any animal on a diet of only hamburgers and hot dogs! Similarly, supplements are important for reptiles. At least once a day, you should sprinkle a meal with calcium supplements, and at least once a week you should do the same with a multivitamin supplement. Pregnant reptiles will need more vitamins, particularly calcium.
When it comes to providing water for your veiled chameleon, you must mist their enclosure at least four times a day. Supplementing this mist with a dripper is also a good idea, particularly if you have to go to work, but you should not solely rely on a dripper. Let the humidity in the enclosure be your guide, spray to keep it at 50%. Dishes of water are also a bad idea because your chameleon will not recognize them as a source of hydration.
Veiled Chameleon Grooming & Hygiene
Most illnesses in chameleons occur due to either an insufficient habitat, such as excessively low temperatures, or due to poor hygiene. You should treat grooming and hygiene as one of the most important aspects of keeping your veiled chameleon. It may help you to view it as veiled chameleon preventative health care, as without high standards of care, your chameleon will become ill.
Good hygiene requires daily care of your veiled chameleon beyond just feeding them. You must:
- Remove uneaten food
- Remove dead feeder insects
- Remove shed skin
- Remove fecal matter
Chameleon fecal matter is known to carry bacteria that can cause disease in humans, so keeping their environment clean is as much for your sake as theirs.
At least once a month, you should also do a full clean of their habitat. This must be undertaken carefully and thoroughly. It is not enough just to quickly wipe down their cage. To help you, we’ve outlined a step-by-step process of habitat cleaning:
- Wash your hands
- Move your veiled chameleon to a temporary cage that is sufficiently warm but in another room to avoid encountering toxic fumes. It is advised that you use this as an opportunity to check your chameleon for signs of illness, disease or any other health issue.
- Remove plants and furnishings and clean them. Replace any live plants that you think are dying or will no longer support the weight of your chameleon. Disinfect anything artificial.
- Remove substrate and waste materials and discard.
- Scrub and disinfect their entire enclosure.
- Rinse the surfaces carefully. Do not allow any disinfectant to remain.
- Wash your hands to ensure no disinfectant remains
- Allow everything to dry completely.
- Provide fresh substrate
- Put all their furnishings back
- Double check that their conditions are optimal. This means checking temperature, humidity and lighting conditions.
- Return your chameleon to their home
- Wash your hands a final time.
If you follow this advice at least once a month, your veiled chameleon should live a healthy and happy life. Some bonus tips that should help you during this cleaning process include:
- Have three sponges: one for cleaning, one for rinsing, one for disinfecting.
- Have a variety of brushes, including a toothbrush that is small enough to get into the tiny cracks and grooves of the cage
- Always wash your hands before and after doing anything with your chameleon. If in doubt, wash your hands again.
- Ask your vet for advice on disinfectants. It is always worth going for reptile-safe disinfectants rather than taking a risk on bleach or any other toxic chemical.
Another important issue of hygiene that will probably arise is shedding. As we’ve already stated, it is important that you remove shedding from their environment daily. You should not attempt to help your veiled chameleon to shed by pulling at the skin. It should happen naturally. If you do want to encourage healthy shedding, you can provide them with a shed box, which is a hide box filed with sphagnum moss. You can also try a gentle, warm shower.
Veiled Chameleon Common Health Problems
Unfortunately, your veiled chameleon can still have health problems. Even the most conscientious pet owner can struggle with getting a reptile environment perfect, and even if you do, they may still fall ill. Although veiled chameleons have relatively short life spans compared to other reptiles, they can live to as much as 8 years.The best way to encourage this longer lifespan is to learn how to recognize the symptoms of the most common health problems you may encounter. Here are five common issues you may come across with your veiled chameleon, and what you should do about them.
- Shedding Problems
Shedding in a veiled chameleon can take just a few hours, but usually takes around a day. If it takes longer than three days, there may be a problem. Most often, this is a sign of low humidity. As we’ve already touched on, you can try a warm shower to immediately help them, while increasing the humidity in their habitat through upping your mist routine.
Poor shedding can result in infection or restrictions on their limbs and blood flow. If you are concerned that this is happening, you should visit your vet. They will be in a better position to manually remove their shedding skin. You should not try this yourself, unless it seems like an emergency, such as the very unlikely scenario that their dry skin is restricting their breathing.
- Gastrointestinal disease
Both parasites and bacteria could cause gastrointestinal disease. Your chameleon may also suffer from gastrointestinal problems if they eat something they shouldn’t, such as substrate. This is often called impaction and is comparable to constipation. Symptoms of gastrointestinal disease include:
- Loss of appetite
- Runny stools
- Caked stools
- Other changes in stool
Gastrointestinal disease must be treated by your veterinarian. Visit them as soon as you can to get a diagnosis and treatment.
- Vitamin Deficiency
There are a number of ways that your veiled chameleon could suffer from vitamin deficiency. The most common is known as Metabolic Bone Disease, which happens when your pet does not have enough calcium. Vitamin deficiencies will eventually lead to:
- Softened bones
- Swollen limbs
Unfortunately, the solution is not to simply increase the amount of calcium and other vitamin supplements that you give to your veiled chameleon. Often, vitamin deficiencies occur because your chameleon is unable to absorb the minerals due to insufficient amounts of UVB light. Understanding what exactly has caused the deficiency will require a consultation with a vet. You must implement their suggestions of how to change their exposure to UVB lighting and how much more vitamin supplements to provide.
- Respiratory Disease
Veiled chameleons are very prone to respiratory disease. This is why glass tanks are not recommended enclosures, as we have already touched on. Respiratory disease is an infection in the respiratory tract or lungs. Symptoms include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Mucus around the nose or mouth
- Excessive saliva
- Bubbles in mouth
- Pointing head upwards to breathe
Your chameleon may need antibiotics to treat the infection and you should go to a vet as soon as possible to confirm the diagnosis and get treatment. Most respiratory disease are caused by environmental problems, such as stagnant air, dampness and low temperatures. You should carefully adjust their habitat’s temperature and humidity to ensure that this health problem does not happen again.
- Mouth Rot
Another common infection that ails veiled chameleons is mouth rot, also known as stomatitis. It usually occurs due to food caught in their teeth or cuts in their gums that promote infection. Signs that your reptile may be suffering from mouth rot include:
- Less interest in water and food
- Thickened saliva
- Yellow plaque in the mouth
- Yellow pus in or around the mouth
- Swelling in the gums, mouth, or even face
As with all infections, they could be fatal if left untreated. Go to your vet for treatment. Once again, keeping your pet strong and healthy is the best way to prevent this health issue taking hold. Check that their environment meets the high standards we have outlined in this article.
- Veiled Chameleon Care Sheet, Reptiles Magazine