Having a chameleon as a pet seems like a great choice. They’re colorful, can change color, have a long tongue that shoots out at live food and they’re kinda mysterious looking. But you may have read that they’re not a good choice and might be hard to take care of.
Chameleons are not that hard to take care of once you have their setup correct. Once the set up is correct it’s much easier to care for them. However, they do require more attention and vigilance than most other pets to ensure that they are happy and healthy.
Why are chameleons considered hard to take care of?
Chameleons are considered hard to take care of for several reasons:
- Chameleons look fragile – The keyword here is look. Don’t get me wrong they’re not tough as old boots that can take a lot but they’re not delicate little flowers either. I think chameleons are a lot tougher than we give them credit for, they’ve been around longer on earth than we have so they can handle a thing or two. That being said though…
- Chameleons can get sick easily – Furthermore, they’re very good at hiding the fact they’re sick as well, meaning any illness they have might have been present for a while before you notice. This is precisely why…
- Chameleons need lots of vigilance – Granted, they don’t need constant attention but you do need to check every day for any signs something might be wrong like certain markings, whether they’re eating, drinking, whether they shed properly, what their poop is like and any changes in behavior that are unusual. To make things more difficult these changes in behavior are often subtle so you have to be pretty familiar with your chameleon’s behavior in general.
- A chameleon setup needs to be finely tuned – Some chameleons, like panther and veiled chameleons, are more forgiving than others when it comes to any mistakes you might make in their care but they’re less hardy than many other types of pet. Due to the fact they can get ill easily and any illness is usually caused by husbandry mistakes their setup needs to be finely tuned. This means certain feeding and misting routines need to be followed, insects need to be looked after and gut loaded properly, supplements balanced correctly, temperatures need to be monitored and lighting checked. All this means…
- Chameleons require lots of research – To me, this is the hardest part. Any animal should be thoroughly researched before choosing one as a pet but chameleons need more than average. This is to ensure you get all the above correct and to give your chameleon a good start in your care. Many people still buy chameleons on impulse and this is a recipe for trouble as the wrong setup is often provided. Once you get the setup correct and know what you’re doing to maintain it, chameleons become easier to take care of.
- Chameleons are not very sociable – This can be difficult due to the frustration it may cause. You can and will put quite a lot of effort into caring for a chameleon but you’re unlikely to get much back in the way of companionship. They’re solitary creatures that are just not physically wired for social interaction, particularly with humans.
What do chameleons need?
In general, chameleons need the following items in their enclosure:
- Chameleon cage – This ideally should be a screen mesh cage of a hybrid with some parts of it being glass. You can provide an all glass cage if you wish but I recommend a mesh one.
- Heat lamp – Chameleons are ectothermic creatures meaning they can’t regulate their body temperature on their own and instead use the sun. This needs to be mimicked in captivity by providing a heat lamp.
- UVB Light – Chameleons need UVB from the sun in order for them to make vitamin D3, which helps the absorption of calcium. Like the heat lamp this needs to be mimicked in captivity and can be done so with a UVB light that’s been specifically designed for reptiles.
- Measuring equipment – The temperature and humidity needs to be monitored daily to ensure a chameleon remains healthy. This can be done with a thermometer and a hygrometer.
- Live plants – Chameleons are arboreal meaning they spend nearly all of their time in trees. This means they require lots of live plants for their enclosure. You can learn about what types of plants are suitable for chameleons in my article here.
- Misting system – Chameleons are difficult to provide water for but it’s really important as they can dehydrate easily causing big problems. They also need humidity to remain at certain levels too. A misting system is the easiest way to take care of both these needs.
Those are the main things a captive chameleon needs but you can read more about what they need and what I recommend here.
What do chameleons eat?
Chameleons are insectivores meaning they eat only insects and small invertebrates. They will eat some live plants as well but insects are the mainstay of their diet. They will only eat live insects too and this means you have to provide those in captivity for them to feed on. I’ve written a more in depth article about what chameleons eat but in general, pet chameleons eat:
Do chameleons cost a lot?
I’ve written a more detailed article outlining all the costs involved with caring for a chameleon but in general, it will cost anywhere between $30 and $300 to buy the most commonly kept species as pets, more exotic species will sell for more.
The cost to buy the entire setup of lights, cage and plants will be around $500 and ongoing maintenance costs including money aside for vet bills is around $1000 a year. So not exactly cheap but not that much different from what you might spend on owning a dog.
How can I make it easier to take care of a chameleon?
Research, research, research… There’s one other thing I need to mention… Research! Seriously, this is the hardest stage of caring for a chameleon but it will also make caring for one much easier. When I say research I don’t just mean what they eat and what cage they need I mean everything from their temperament, what plants are suitable, what lights they need and why, and so on. Do all this and you’ll have a much better understanding of how to take care of a chameleon and therefore an easier time of it.
Yeah, chameleons are kinda hard to take care of and extremely difficult if you don’t research properly beforehand and buy impulsively. Don’t be that person! The fact you’re on this website researching the answer to this question shows you’re doing your research already.
Many people will say chameleons are not for beginners but I’ll let you in on a little secret… I was a beginner! I had no idea what having a chameleon would entail but I did as much research as I possibly could before getting one. I still made some mistakes, thankfully minor ones but I learned from them. If you research as I did you will be fine. This website is a great place for that research ;). Hope you found this article useful.