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.
My 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 a chameleon is 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 eating less then 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.
- 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 hornworms 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
As I said earlier, 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 its best to remove either chameleon out of sight if you don’t intend the pair to mate.
When should I be worried by my chameleon not eating?
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 anyway. 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 because they can get sick and deteriorate pretty quickly if left untreated for too long.