What You Should Know Before You Get a Chameleon

Everyone loves a good exotic pet. Okay, not everyone, but you know who you are. And if you’re the type of person who’s considering adding a cool reptile, bird, or amphibian to your home menagerie, it’s important to know the facts. While it’s really great having an exotic pet at home, it’s important to know that they often have a lot of specific care requirements.

This couldn’t be truer than with Chameleons. Chameleons are a highly popular exotic pet choice because they’re just so fun to play with and look at. Whereas most lizards and snakes spend the lion’s share of their day sitting still as a rock, chameleons move around quite a bit. You can have them climb all over you, and watch them for hours as they move about in their habitat. It doesn’t hurt that they’re so cute!

While we fully support anyone’s desire to own a chameleon, we’ve seen our fair share of exotic pets come into our vet clinic with problems that could have potentially been avoided with better care. In order to keep your exotic pets happy and healthy, we’re here with some guidance. Here are some things you should know if you’re thinking about getting a chameleon:

Chameleons Are Meant to Live Among the Trees

The first thing you need to know is that chameleons are an arboreal species. In other words, they’re meant to live in the trees. Chameleons are climbers by nature, and their unique two-prong hands are specifically meant to cling onto sticks and branches. It’s in their nature to climb all over the place, so you’re doing them a disservice if you don’t provide this kind of habit.

When you’re setting up your chameleon’s living space, give it a lot of room to climb around. Implement branches, foliage, leaves, and anything else that would resemble the arboreal areas in which they’re meant to live. One of the easiest ways to stress out an animal is to put it somewhere that goes against its instincts. Fortunately, it’s not too difficult to create a tree-rich living space, even within the confines of a relatively small terrarium.

Chameleons Are Cold Blooded and Require Temperature Regulation

Chameleons, being reptiles, are ectotherms, which is another word for cold-blooded. Unlike humans and mammals, a reptile’s body temperature is controlled externally. The temperature of their environment greatly affects their mobility and energy. So, if you’re keeping them in a cool space with a lower temperature than their natural habitat, their body may run too cold to be able to even move around.

Reptiles require a warm space that’s tailored to their body chemistry. This is why you usually see heat lights in their terrariums. Without that essential warmth, they simply cannot function how nature intended.

We can’t provide exact specs on what kind of light or temperature you should be using, because it depends on several factors, such as the size of your chameleon, its species, and so on. So, when you acquire your chameleon, make sure to do diligent research on what its temperature needs are.

Chameleons Eat Bugs

While the image of a chameleon munching away at a leaf is an adorable sight to behold, the reality is that chameleon’s primary diet consists of insects. As a pet owner, this can get a bit icky. Are you ready to make regular trips to the pet store to buy crickets, mealworms, or even roaches? Are you prepared to keep those in containers inside your fridge? Are you okay with sending them to their death as they await their fate of being eaten alive by your chameleon?

These things are par for the course for seasoned reptile owners, but sometimes new chameleon owners find that it’s not their cup of tea. Unfortunately, instead of rehoming the chameleon, some people decide to give it a vegetarian diet instead, resulting in an inevitable trip to our Philadelphia veterinary clinic.

When it comes down to it, maintaining an insect diet isn’t that bad, but it’s certainly more of an endeavor than leaving out dry food for your cats and dogs. Make sure you’re ready for this kind of commitment so that your chameleon stays well-fed!

Choose a Chameleon That Was Bred in Captivity

Every animal has a different kind of temperament, and as lovely as chameleons are, one of their natural traits is that they’re extremely prone to stress. They don’t do well in captivity, and being placed in a new environment with unfamiliar people can be a bit overwhelming for them.

The most humane option is to buy a chameleon that has been bred in captivity by exotic pet experts. If the chameleon is already used to life in a confined space, the transition to your home won’t be as jarring. When you take a wild chameleon and place them in a cage for the rest of their life, the stress might end up being too much for them to handle.

Chameleons Drink Water Off Leaves

Water is such a fundamental need for every living creature that you’d think any animal would find a way to drink it as long as it’s in their vicinity. But oddly enough, many animals have very particular preferences when it comes to water. Cats are picky about drinking water that’s right next to their food, because the predator within them knows that water next to a fresh kill is contaminated. In a similar vein, chameleons have a preferred method of getting their H2O — they sip up little droplets on leaves!

If you want your chameleon to stay healthy and hydrated, you’ll want to regularly sprinkle water in the cage or provide a fine mist every once in a while. It’s possible that your chameleon will drink from a puddle if there’s no other option, but generally, animals don’t do well when they feel like they can’t consume water in the way that nature intended. Even if they’re drinking, they will often not drink enough, leading to dehydration and other health problems.

Chameleons Are Loners

Chameleons are fairly solitary creatures, and they don’t do very well when they have roommates. If you’re getting one of these cool little creatures, it’s a good rule of thumb to let them live alone. Humans are social creatures so it’s easy to assume that any animal would want a friend, but chameleons can actually get pretty aggressive and stressed out when they have to share their space.

If you simply must have two chameleons, that’s the limit, and you’d better have a generous living space for them. But ultimately, this shouldn’t really happen unless you have no other choice.

Chameleons Benefit From Exotic Pet Vet Visits

Finally, you should know that chameleons greatly benefit from vet checkups. Chameleons are mysterious in nature and won’t make it abundantly obvious if something is wrong with them. They are also easily-stressed creatures and it can be hard to determine if there are any underlying problems.

If you need exotic pet care, our veterinary clinic in Philadelphia is the office to come to. We are highly experienced in all forms of veterinary care, and we’ve devoted our lives to understanding the biology of pets all across the spectrum. Whether it’s an exotic pet like your chameleon, or a more common companion such as a cat or a dog, you can bet that we have the medical expertise necessary to identify and treat every problem. Keep your pet healthy and happy, stop by All Creatures Veterinary Care Center or contact us today!

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