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Chameleon Health: Not Eating

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Every chameleon keeper at some stage goes through a period of their chameleon not eating. This can be a pretty worrying time if you can’t work out the reasons why they’re not eating, even when everything else in your chameleon’s setup looks fine.

Chameleons will stop eating for a variety of reasons, ranging from completely minor to more major problems. Not eating for a week or so is usually nothing to worry about, but beyond that may require further medical intervention from a vet.

This article will help you to figure out why your chameleon is not eating, ease your worries and give you some tips on how to get them eating again.

Your chameleon has stopped eating

So you’ve noticed your chameleon has stopped eating for a while, and it’s starting to understandably concern you.

Before you freak out that it’s something serious, you need to carry out a few minor checks first.

  • Weight – If you have a digital scale, weigh your chameleon to check they’re not underfed. A good weight for an adult male panther, Jackson or veiled chameleon is between 80 and 180 grams and females between 60 and 130 grams.
  • Mouth – When a chameleon opens their mouth, check for any signs of yellow pus, increased saliva or any possible wounds on the mouth or tongue swelling. If you see any of these, I recommend a vet visit.
  • Eyes – If your chameleon’s eyes are sunken in, or they’ve been sleeping during the day, this is a sign something else is going on and will require further investigation.
  • Husbandry – Check your chameleon’s cage temperatures are correct, that their UVB bulbs don’t need changing as they should be changed every 6 to 9 months and that their humidity levels are correct.

If after all of these checks have been made, and you don’t notice anything out of the ordinary, it’s likely your chameleon has stopped eating for minor reasons that are easily resolved.

Minor reasons for not eating

  • Food cup too low – If you’re cup feeding your chameleon, the cup needs to be higher up the cage. If it’s too low or even on the floor of the cage, your chameleon will be less likely to spot it or the food inside. Place the cup where your chameleon can see it clearly.
  • Slowing appetite – Chameleons are ravenous when they’re babies, but when they reach a year old, their appetite begins to slow and continues to do so into old age. If your chameleon has reached adulthood and is eating less, this could be a reason.
  • About to shed – A chameleon will go off their food a bit when they are about to shed their skin or are in the middle of a shed.
  • Eating too much of the same food – Too much of one thing can get boring for us, and it’s no different for chameleons. If you feed them crickets every time, some chameleons can get bored and go off their food. Try and mix things up a little in their diet.
  • Low level stress – This can be from moving their cage, adding a new plant or just too many people around. This will usually resolve itself when your chameleon has adjusted after a couple of days.
  • Mating season – Male chameleons will often go off their food during this time, especially if a receptive female is nearby, as all their efforts are focussed on her. The same happens to a female if she is receptive to a male for mating with.
  • Bite from a feeder insect – Some chameleon food, particularly horn worms and super worms, can bite back. This may have happened to your chameleon and although a wound may not be visible they may be feeling sore for a day or two and a sore mouth/tongue means they won’t want to eat for a while.
  • Just not hungry – You may have noticed that chameleons don’t exactly do much, particularly when they’re older. All this not doing much doesn’t burn many calories, so they might not have any desire for food at the moment.

Major reasons a chameleon is not eating

Most of the time a chameleon will go off their food for the minor reasons listed above, but if these have already been ruled out, there might be something more serious going on.

  • Impaction – This is when a chameleon’s digestive system has been blocked by undigested food or a foreign object. This means its intestine is blocked and is unable to defecate. This will require a vet visit as soon as possible.
  • Major Stress – This can be caused by a large variety of things, but usually develops by minor stresses leading to major stress later on. Check any injuries haven’t caused this, or if anything like temperatures and lighting needs fixing in your chameleon setup.
  • Pain – If your chameleon has pain anywhere in its body, it won’t feel like eating. Check for any possible fractures or unusual markings that may indicate a thermal burn.
  • Parasites – These live in the chameleon’s gut, with diarrhea and lack of interest in food being the ain symptoms. Make sure your chameleon’s food is from a clean source, as this is the main way to prevent parasites.
  • Gout – This is a serious and painful condition caused by excess uric acids and salt building up and crystallizing in a chameleon’s system. Gout is either caused by too much protein in a chameleon’s diet or dehydration.
  • Tongue Problems – This is largely swelling of the tongue caused by an infection. It can also be the result of poor supplement provision or if the chameleon has injured their tongue somehow.
  • Mouth Rot – This is a mouth infection that has symptoms like yellow/green pus in the mouth, soft jaw or scab like marks on the outside of the mouth.

How to get a chameleon to eat again

Check your husbandry for correct temperature and humidity levels, as these being incorrect are the cause of a lot of problems, not just lack of eating.

The first thing to do is offer them a juicy chameleon treat. The best thing for this is a wax worm, as chameleons go nuts for them, it’s their equivalent of chocolate.

If your chameleon eats this, it’s likely they’re just being picky eaters. Adding different insects should get them eating again.

Try and free-range the food, as this will give your chameleon the opportunity to hunt it down. New food that requires activity is usually enough to work up an appetite.

If you’re feeding every day, and they’re adults, it’s likely you’re feeding them too much. Let them be for a few days then reintroduce food again but keep to a schedule of about 6 insects every 2 or 3 days to prevent them from being overfed.

If you suspect low level stress or shedding, you just have to let these things pass before your chameleon will eat again.

Same thing with mating season, but if there’s a receptive male or female in view, it’s best to remove either chameleon out of sight if you don’t intend the pair to mate.

When you should be worried

If you’ve ruled out any of the minor issues and your chameleon still won’t eat despite trying the above methods, it’s time to look further.

This will usually involve veterinary intervention.

A good rule of thumb is if you suspect a minor issue as to why your chameleon hasn’t eaten, and it’s been 7 to 10 days since they last ate, then you need to take them to the vet. Chameleons can go without food this long OK but any longer than that, regardless of the suspected cause, I recommend a vet visit.

If you suspect any of the major issues listed, then I recommend a vet right away. Regardless of what the major issue is, the chances are your chameleon will need some treatment for it, so it’s better to get them to a vet sooner rather than later.

To wrap up

I hope this guide has helped you be better informed about why your chameleon has stopped eating. Most of the time chameleons stop eating due to minor issues, especially boredom with the same food, and they’re just on strike to pressure you into providing more variety.

If you suspect any deeper issues, or you’re just worried anyway, then take them to a vet. It’s better to be safe than sorry, particularly where a chameleon’s health is concerned.

About the author

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13 responses to “Chameleon Health: Not Eating”

  1. Rhonda McCoy avatar
    Rhonda McCoy

    I just purchased a baby chameleon yesterday and she will not East. Should I be concerned? Also, how do I now if she is drinking water or not?

    1. Dave avatar
      Dave

      Hi Rhonda, congratulations on your new baby chameleon :). If you only got her yesterday don’t worry about her not eating yet. She is in a new environment which means she feels nervous and shy. Just leave her to settle in for a day or two. Offer food to her via cup feeding (I have an article on how to feed chameleons also) and leave her be. Don’t watch her eat because she may feel uncomfortable being watched at first. Babies have huge appetites so she will eat when she feels comfortable.
      As for drinking just mist the enclosure until everything is wet, do not spray her directly, just the plants until everything is soaking wet and again, just leave her be to drink. Once she is settled in and feels more comfortable she will be less nervous about eating and drinking. At the moment she’s just a bit uneasy because of her brand new environment.

  2. Joey avatar
    Joey

    Hey, i just got a 3 month old panther and he isnt eating. I got him yesterday and I havnt handled him at all. Is it something I should worry about, or will it just take him a couple days to adjust?

    1. Dave avatar
      Dave

      Hi Joey,

      Yes this will just be him adjusting. It’s a pretty scary thing for a baby chameleon to be moved to a new enclosure and unfamiliar surroundings. Just give him a bit of space and he’ll settle in soon. Make sure you feed him food small enough to eat, so baby cockroaches and pin head crickets will be perfect.

  3. Nadia avatar
    Nadia

    Hello my son just got a chameleon about 2 weeks ago when I first seen it looked a lil more bigger, it won’t eat every day I see it more skinny

    1. Dave avatar
      Dave

      Hello Nadia, I wouldn’t worry about this too much. Chameleons don’t eat every day and sometimes they look skinnier. As long as they eat two or three times a week your chameleon will be fine.

    2. Damian avatar
      Damian

      I’ve had my chameleon for about a month and a half and he just out of the blue stopped eating what can I do

  4. Myra avatar
    Myra

    Hi my chameleon hasn’t eated in 3 weeks or at least that I notice I think it has to do with food change. Because he still drinking and doing chameleon things but he just doesn’t want to eat. Now he is overweight and I don’t see drastic weight loss. I want to go to the vet but the reptile vets here don’t really know much of chameleons they usually say if u don’t see anything or if he acts normal than he is probably fine. What do you think? His basking spot is a little colder because of the season it 28-30 C° sometimes it sticks at 30 (he is 10 months) I give dubias, superwoms and dubias most of the times. Humidity is between 40-70 40 is usually when I’m late with spraying and sometimes it’s 80 but that’s only for half hour.

  5. Mike avatar
    Mike

    My 5 yo Male Panther is really slowing down. How do you tell if it old age or something else. All the perimeters are the same as always (I’ve had him since he was 6 mo.). His climbing is not the best but he tries, eating and tongue speed has slowed but still eats and drinks (I do help him when he needs assistance). I’m taking care of him like an old man as that is what everyone is telling me it is, old age.

    1. Dave avatar
      Dave

      From what you describe it does sound like old age. Panther chameleons do usually start to decline at that age. It’s sad but it sounds like you’re doing everything you can for him. Just keep him fed, watered, and comfortable like you have for his entire life. If you’re worried it’s something else then a visit to a vet for a check-up would be a good idea.

  6. Jeremy Beaulieu avatar
    Jeremy Beaulieu

    My female veiled chameleon is about 4 years old and she is going on week 3 of refusing to eat. I feed her super worms, humidity stays in the 60-70% range and she stays under her heat lamp. She has ample plant coverage and all the plants are thriving. She seems to be trying to lay an egg as she gets down on the soil about every day these last 3 weeks. Is there anything I can do to help her or peak her appetite or pass her egg? I do not have access to a reptile vet that is under 2 hours away.

  7. Sara avatar
    Sara

    Hello, I have around 6 month old male veiled chameleon. He stopped eating regurally maybe a month ago. I gave him different insects, he usually ate them from a cup or from my hand but now he doesnt want to do that at all. His basking spot is about 27-28C. He used to go down the cage and scratch the glass with his head thats why I got him a bigger cage but he still doesnt want to eat like he used to and sometimes I see him go down the cage and scratch the glass but not as often as in his old cage. I noticed he still drinks water and goes around his cage as always. Most of the time he’s only greyish color. Is it possible that season change might be one of the reasons or it might be something more serious? I also bought a new UVB light maybe a year ago but it was unused for more than a half a year, could this be the problem? Thank you very much for your answer.

    1. Dave Pyke avatar
      Dave Pyke

      Hi Sara,

      His basking spot is too cold, that’s why he’s a greyish color because he’s trying to darken his skin to absorb more heat. Raise the basking temperature to 30-32 degrees and that should help. Also, offer him some wax worm treats along with other insects to get him eating again.