Within the first week of getting my chameleon, I had many anxieties about his health. Is he ok? Is he scared? Am I bothering him too much? Has he eaten enough? Just on and on!
In fact I always had anxieties about his health throughout his life because chameleons are just so fragile looking! The first big one I remember having was panicking about the white around his nose
So, why do chameleons get white stuff around their nose? Because they can’t sweat like we do they have a gland around their nose which they use to excrete excess salt. This excess salt is what forms the white substance.
Do chameleons sneeze?
You might think an obvious source of the white substance is a result of sneezing. You may have even heard what sounds like your chameleon sneezing.
That little sniff type of sound you sometimes hear that sounds a bit like a sneeze is actually a mini hiss of annoyance because you may have noticed that chameleons get a little bit annoyed from time to time!
So if you stand up too quickly, move too fast around your chameleon’s cage or any other movement that might startle them they will sometimes let out a little sniff sound to let you know you they’re a bit annoyed.
It’s perfectly possible that that little sniff may push out some white crust from its nose but the reason for it being there is more interesting than that.
What the white substance around a chameleon’s nose is
Humans get rid of excess salt through our urine and our sweat. Chameleons don’t have the ability to sweat so they have to get rid of it another way.
They do this by expelling this excess salt through a gland that they have around their nose. The gland is also used to get rid of excess chloride and bicarbonate.
In captive chameleons, excess salt is caused by either watering the chameleon with tap water in a hard water area or it comes from the salt which is added to many brands of reptile supplement powders.
When the salt is excreted through the gland a white crust remains and this is what you see around your chameleon’s nose.
However, it is possible you have mistaken the crust for something else and that is simply the chameleon’s skin.
When I first saw this on my chameleon he was approaching four months old. Everything is still growing and developing in a chameleon at this age and everything is still so cute and small!
Because everything is so small at this age your chameleon’s nostrils are still quite shallow so it’s easy to see inside them and the skin inside a chameleon’s nostrils is white.
This fact is made even more obvious because it shows up really well when contrasted with your chameleon’s colorful skin tones so it’s easy to mistake it for something more serious.
While we’re on the subject of skin have you seen your chameleon shed before? In case you weren’t aware, chameleons shed their skin periodically in order to clean themselves and as a result of the rapid growth chameleons undergo when they’re young.
If you haven’t seen your chameleon shed before the white stuff could be the beginning of a new shed or the remains of a previous one you didn’t notice before.
You can read more about what happens when a chameleon sheds its skin in my article about it here.
The least likely cause of this would be that your chameleon has somehow sustained an injury, most likely a thermal burn as a result of being too close to its heat lamp.
In this case, the white crust is a result of your chameleon’s skin healing in the same way we heal any burns and cuts by scabs.
What the white stuff around a chameleon’s nose isn’t
So now I’ve told you what it is it’s important to tell you what it isn’t because believe me, some information you might read will have you thinking all kinds of worrying thoughts and making adjustments you don’t need to make.
It is not excess calcium: Chameleons need a variety of vitamins and minerals to survive and thrive. In the wild they will get these needs met by eating a variety of insects. In captivity the availability of insects is limited so a supplementation regime needs to be in place to ensure these needs are met.
A common misconception is that the white crust is an excess of calcium caused as a result of over supplementation of this mineral at feeding times. It is understandable why this mistake is made.
The substance is white, calcium is white, the supplement powder is white – arrgh! I’ve used too much calcium! No! Some minor adjustments to supplementing may be required but the crust won’t be caused by too much calcium because chameleons don’t deal with calcium in this way.
Should the white substance around my chameleon’s nose worry me?
In any of the above mentioned causes there is absolutely nothing to worry about.
Your chameleon will have no trouble breathing through its nose while the white crust is present and it is unlikely to be bothered much by it.
When I had my chameleon I only saw this build up a few times when he was very young and once in his later years so it’s not something that reoccurs often as your chameleon gets older and as you get better at taking care of your scaly companion.
How to treat and prevent it the white substance around your chameleon’s nose
The crust will either fall off on its own or washes off through regular mistings. It’s possible your chameleon will rub its face on a branch to get rid of it too, particularly if it’s skin at the beginning of a new shedding but I didn’t observe this in my chameleon.
If you feel it is bothering your chameleon you can gently remove it with a q-tip but this isn’t something I recommend and would probably unnecessarily stress your chameleon out.
There is an easy way to tell if it’s salt crystals or skin. Try and look at the substance when your chameleon is basking under its heat lamp. That way you should be able get a better look at the color of the substance in the light.
If it’s pure white and not crusty looking then it is most likely to be skin, either from a shed or inside its nostrils. If it has a slight yellow quality to it and looks like crust then it is the salt excretion I’ve already talked about.
As already mentioned, the white crust round your chameleon’s nose is nothing to worry about and doesn’t require a trip to the vet but there are some things you can do to prevent it happening in the future.
Your chameleon getting rid of excess salt will be the likely cause of the crust. To prevent excess salt buildup in future you should start by reducing the amount of supplement powder you sprinkle on your chameleons feeder insects.
It is usually not necessary to reduce the number of days you supplement your chameleon’s food but just the amount sprinkled on the insects should be enough to prevent it returning. A light dusting rather than completely coating each insect is usually enough to give the chameleon the nutrition it needs
If you live in a hard water area and you think this might be the cause of it I recommend you use distilled water instead for just a few days and see if that clears things up.
Usually tap water is perfectly fine for chameleons to drink, I used it for all of my chameleon’s life and I live in a hard water area. I wouldn’t recommend using distilled water for longer than a few days as it is not really necessary to do so but for a little while might help. You can read more in my article about chameleons and water here.
If you think its likely to just be skin then don’t feel silly! I mistook loads of different behaviors and markings on my chameleon as things being more serious than they actually were. It is the nature of owning such exotic pets and is a sign that you really care for your chameleon.
If this is the case then just simply let the skin shed in its own time. Your chameleon will know what to. Even if its skin left over from a previous shed it will disappear in its own time.
You can buy products to assist in shedding but I never found these necessary. Do not try to pull the skin off with your fingers as this can be painful for your chameleon.
In the extremely unlikely event that the white substance is a result of an injury then I recommend letting the healing take its course but keep a close eye on things as the wound heals.
If you have concerns the wound is becoming infected or any other concerns about your chameleon’s health you can have a 1to1 consultation with a fully qualified reptile vet on our partner site, justanswer.
That’s it for this post! I hope you found it useful and it has put your worries at ease. Any questions or comments you have then please leave them below and I will do my best to answer them.
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