Chameleons, like all living creatures, need vitamins and minerals to survive. If you intend on getting a pet chameleon figuring out what a chameleon needs is vital to their health and wellbeing.
Do chameleons need calcium? Yes, calcium is absolutely essential to a chameleon’s health. Without it they will suffer serious illnesses that can lead to their death if not treated.
Why do chameleons need calcium?
Calcium is essential for a wide range of functions in a chameleon’s body.
- Muscle function – It is used for the contraction of a chameleon’s muscles, like curling of the tail or shooting out their tongue to catch prey.
- Bone health – Calcium is needed to form bones and teeth for a strong skeleton.
- Organ function – Calcium is finely balanced with phosphorus levels to maintain organ function and help with the metabolism of energy.
- Reproduction – Female chameleons need calcium to form eggshells when producing eggs, fertilized or not.
Calcium also regulates blood clotting, heart beat and the transmission of nerves around a chameleon’s body and for the activation of enzymes.
How do chameleons get calcium?
In the wild a chameleon will get their calcium needs from eating a wide variety of insects and plant life. The insects consumed will have eaten plants that will be undigested in their guts.
Whatever nutrients are undigested in the insect’s gut will pass into the chameleon’s body to be digested and used there.
While mainly insectivores, chameleons do consume plant life in the wild too, some more than others, this will also help provide sufficient calcium levels.
When having a pet chameleon in captivity it is impossible to provide the scale of variety and plant life a chameleon will eat in the wild.
Instead a chameleon needs to have calcium provided for them by you, their owner and carer.
How do I give calcium to my pet chameleon?
In captivity, calcium is provided in two ways:
This is where you feed insects calcium-rich food, such as collard greens, before feeding them to your chameleon. Remember what I said about whatever the insects eat in the wild chameleons eat? This is the same principle.
There are different ideas of how long to gut load before feeding insects to your chameleon but the best way is to just keep gut load foods with the insects all the time, that way they always have them on hand to eat. This has always worked for me.
Gut loading is great but there is no way of knowing whether the insect has eaten food before you feed them to your chameleon or what stage of digestion they’re at.
This is where supplements come in because they are there to provide a backup source of calcium to make sure your chameleon is getting enough.
To supplement your chameleon you simply sprinkle a little bit of calcium powder onto the insects before feeding them to your chameleon.
You need to have two types of calcium. One is a standard calcium powder that is phosphorous free and without vitamin D3. The other is calcium with vitamin D3.
If you have a panther or veiled chameleon you need to supplement with calcium every day. You also need to supplement them using a calcium with vitamin D3 powder every other week.
For Jackson’s chameleons calcium needs to be provided twice a week and with D3 once a month.
For calcium on its own without D3 I recommend Zoo Med’s own brand or any powder really as long as it’s phosphorus and vitamin D3 free.
For calcium with D3 I recommend Repashy plus as it contains vitamins too and these need to be supplemented at the same frequency for the species I mentioned above.
Can you put calcium in a chameleon’s water?
This is seemingly a logical way to give your chameleon calcium but it’s actually ineffective.
Commercially available calcium supplements like the ones mentioned above are not designed for this purpose. Instead they are specially formulated to stick to insects long enough so your chameleon can eat them before the powder falls off.
Attempting to dissolve calcium in water will mean a calcium residue will be left on the plants and the screen mesh of the cage. This looks messy and is a nuisance to clean.
Spraying water with calcium in also risks getting into your chameleon’s eyes, which can be damaging and cause further health problems.
What happens if a chameleon is calcium defficient?
Calcium is so vital to a chameleon’s health that it’s probably easier to tell you what doesn’t happen rather than what does.
Calcium deficiency is the cause of a whole host of health problems for chameleons.
The main early symptoms of calcium deficiency to look out for are not climbing as effectively, falling, tongue not extending fully and legs hanging from the branch. These can of course be symptoms of other illnesses but these are the sorts of symptoms that should cause you investigate further.
The main problem caused by lack of calcium is metabolic bone disease (MBD). This is when a chameleon’s limbs become brittle and deformed.
MBD happens because when calcium is lacking in a chameleon’s diet the chameleon’s body begins to draw calcium from the bones instead of the gut. This is the only source of calcium the body can draw on to maintain organ and metabolism function. The longer calcium deficiency the worse the MBD gets.
MBD is a leading cause of death in chameleons and is irreversible. It can however be treated and prevented from progressing further through treatment from a qualified herpetological vet.
As you can see calcium is essential to your chameleon’s health so it’s important to supplement your pet chameleon with the correct amount and frequency.
Hopefully this guide has been useful to you and helps you to spot any potential problems early.
Any questions please leave in the comments below and I will try to answer them as quick as I can.