A chameleon’s feces can tell you a lot about its general health, well being inside its enclosure and whether or not it has any illnesses.
This guide will answer all those burning questions I know you have about Chameleon poop.
How chameleons poop
Chameleons are actually pretty clean animals and captive ones will often designate a particular area in their enclosure and more or less go in the same spot every time.
This makes it much easier for you to spot whether they have gone or not and it makes it much easier for you to clean. If you move things around a bit in their enclosure they will designate a different spot and start going there.
You’ll know when a chameleon is going to poop because they lift their tail up, sort of stick their butt out and give you a look that says ‘do you really have to watch me do this?’ at which point you feel a bit awkward and turn away.
There’s no set schedule and more depends on much and how often they’ve recently been eating. How much it has been basking, whether it has any illnesses, how well hydrated it is and whether the humidity and temperature levels are correct will all play a role in the frequency.
Baby chameleons have the appetite of little tiny pigs and will most likely poop at least once a day, sometimes more. Adults will go at a more infrequent rate of two or three times a week. My chameleon went as long as three weeks on the odd occasion and this was due to him not eating as much when the weather was cooler.
This is really better illustrated by showing a picture but generally speaking a chameleon’s poop has two parts to it. The dark brown, nearly black part is the feces. This contains all the digestive waste of a chameleon and doesn’t usually smell. It should generally be soft, firm and form a good shape although a staple diet of silkworms or hornworms may make the feces a bit runny.
The white part of the poop in the pic above is called the urates and is in fact how chameleons pee.
Reptiles have been around a lot longer than mammals and are much better at making use of water in their body. Instead of removing bodily waste in urine form like we do, chameleons and other reptiles instead produce the urea waste in a solid form and poop it out in a solid white lump.
This way of dealing with urate waste means chameleons are able to retain a lot more water for hydration, something that has proved particularly useful for reptiles to flourish in hotter and drier climates.
Like feces, the urate should be soft but solid and mainly white. A little yellow tinge is ok, think of your own pee and how it is when you’re not quite as well hydrated as you should be.
A more orange color means your chameleon is not getting enough water and needs more access to it.
The only exception to this is when your chameleon hasn’t pooped for a while and the top of the urate is orange with the rest being white. This is because the urate has been sitting longer inside your chameleon’s system and more water has been absorbed by your chameleon over time.
A little bit of clear liquid alongside a pure white urate is a really good sign that your chameleon is exceptionally well hydrated but don’t worry if you don’t see it often or at all. As long as the urate is mostly white then and shaped how I describe your chameleon is doing fine on the hydration front.
- Feces – Dark brown or close to black, soft looking but in a solid round or oval shape with no noticeable smell. Size can vary but as long as it looks more or less like the picture above then things are fine. Can be runny if lots of soft worms are fed.
- Urates – Should be nearly all white or with a tinge of yellow. They need but firm looking and in similar shape to feces. They will often be smaller than the feces part of the poop. Don’t worry if there is a bit of orange at one end of the urates if the chameleon hasn’t pooped for a week or so.
- Feces – Runny even without feeding a diet of soft worms or too dry. Not uniform in shape and will possibly smell. Contains undigested bits of plant matter and insects. May contain blood.
- Urates – Is mainly orange and not in a soft, solid shape like described above.
As far as the feces part of the poop goes, an unhealthy one is mainly a result of parasites in the chameleon’s gut that can tamper with its digestive system and play havoc with your chameleon’s nutritional needs.
The urates part of the poop looking unhealthy will solely be down to varying levels of dehydration.
Fixing the causes of unhealthy poop
- Parasites – These usually live in your chameleon’s intestine and can be contracted from other animals the chameleon has come into contact with, including feeders from an unreliable source. To check for parasites and ultimately treat them you must take a sample of your chameleon’s feces to a herpetological vet who will advise you on the best course of action.
- Dehydration – This is easily fixed by increasing the number of mistings you do and the amount of water provided. If this still isn’t enough you can give your chameleon a shower by placing them on a plant, placing them in your shower cubicle and aiming the water at the wall so it bounces off on to your chameleon for them to drink.
On the subject of healthy and unhealthy poop do not be alarmed if you have a male chameleon and you see something like this on its own or next to poop in the enclosure.
This is nothing to do with any parasites or dehydration. This is a sperm plug your chameleon has deposited when it was in mating season. Not all chameleons do this, mine never did but some do and some do it more than others. They’re perfectly normal and nothing to worry about.
Fecal Float Exam
Fecal tests, or fecal float exams, are required when the feces is looking unhealthy in the description above and you suspect parasites.
Many people suggest you should have a test done for your chameleon once a year. Just to play it safe I think you should definitely get one done when you first get your chameleon, especially if it comes from an environment that has other chameleon or reptiles.
If you do have other pets, especially other reptiles, I recommend having an annual test done as they don’t cost very much and it’s better to have peace of mind. Otherwise, unless you suspect parasites by seeing unhealthy looking feces your chameleon will be OK without.
How to get a fecal test done
Make an appointment with the vet and then collect a sample of your chameleon’s poop as fresh as possible and as close as possible to the day of the test, don’t collect a dried one as they are not useful for testing purposes. You also don’t need the urates for the test.
If you can’t get to the vet straight away store the sample in an airtight container and in a cool dry place. Too hot or too cold could destroy any microbes in the sample that need testing.
The vet will take the sample from you and add it to a solution of sodium nitrate to highlight any microbes in the fecal sample. It will take a few days to receive the results.
If your chameleon is unfortunate enough to have parasites your vet will prescribe a course of anti parasitic medication, usually Panacur, that is given in drop form by mouth at a frequency recommended by your vet.
Chameleon Not Pooping
This will vary from one chameleon to another but there will be times your chameleon won’t poop for ages. My one never really went much longer than about ten days and would usually poop at more or less the same frequency mentioned at the top of this article.
So if your chameleon has gone a few days or getting on for a couple of weeks I wouldn’t immediately start to worry. If it carries on for longer than there is probably some issue you need to look at, particularly if your chameleon has been eating well but still not pooping.
Before you rush to call your vet you can try a prolonged misting session with warm water. Things may have just gotten a bit backed up and your chameleon may just need a little help to get things moving.
If you mist the crap out of him for a few days, literally, then you may just see a rather large bowel movement and things will be fine again. Think of a warm misting session as something like an irrigation but less invasive.
If that doesn’t help and you still feel worried then take your chameleon to the vet as something more serious could be wrong, like impaction.
This is when something has gotten stuck in your chameleon’s colon, like an insect leg or a piece of substrate and has blocked the digestive system. Fortunately this is not very common and not pooping usually goes with not eating, eating not enough variety of insects or things just needing a little help to get going.
Chameleon has poop stuck to its butt!
First you need to determine whether it is actually poop to begin with. Do not attempt to pull on it or remove it with your hand or tweezers. Instead gently mist the area with warm water. If it is poop this should help your chameleon get rid of it.
If this doesn’t do anything straight away it could be something more serious, like a prolapse. This can happen in reptiles and would require emergency veterinary treatment as soon as possible.
If you suspect it is a prolapse you need to keep the area moist and humid. Do this by misting the area and when transporting your chameleon to the vet place it in a box with a moist paper towel on the bottom.
Do not attempt to push the prolapse back in yourself. This is a serious medical problem that requires veterinary treatment.
Cleaning up chameleon poop
Chameleon poop is not particularly messy or smelly. You should clean it as soon as you see it in the enclosure but don’t worry if you don’t notice it right away and the poop has dried up. This will in fact make it easier to clean.
Another thing that will make spot cleaning poop easier is if you pick the right substrate. In my opinion less is better and you can read my run down on the best substrate in my article here.
To clean just pick up any feces you see using a paper towel and give the area a little wipe with a damp cloth afterwards to clean up any residue. It can be a bit more fiddly when cleaning off a leave or perch but the same process applies. Do a more thorough clean of the cage once every two or three weeks.
Phew! We made it through a whole post about poop! Not my favorite chameleon subject to write about I must admit but it’s a really important one because of the information it can tell you about your chameleon.