How to Tell if Your Chameleon is Dying (5 Serious Signs)

Worried that your leopard gecko is dying? This guide is for you!

The health and happiness of a chameleon can be affected by a number of things. Even subtle changes in the environment can lead to stress, poor health, and death.

It is not always easy to figure out that your chameleon is dying. But you can check out for early warning signs that indicate your intervention is necessary to avert this eventuality. For example, you must act quickly if you see symptoms like dehydration, metabolic bone disease, and stress.

Often, this reptile does not send signals of death until its immunity has been severely compromised.

Don’t assume anything – early intervention can save your chameleon pet and give you a new lease on life.

Let’s look at some early warning signs you should be aware of, and what to do about them.


Serious Signs That Indicate Your Chameleon is Dying

#1 – Dehydration

Dehydration happens when your chameleon pet loses too many fluids from the body. As a result, the body becomes parched and can’t carry out essential biological functions.

Dehydration is the single biggest cause of chameleon deaths in the wild.

In recent years, the increase in the death of wild chameleons has been attributed to the effects of global warming.

Chameleons are meant to live in humid conditions, where they can comfortably reproduce and carry out their activities.

Unfortunately, chameleons are increasingly forced to live in arid conditions.

Even captive chameleons suffer this fate if their owners are not keen on maintaining the proper humidity levels.

If not treated in good time, dehydration has only one outcome: death.

What Are the Signs of Dehydration in Chameleons?

You can tell your chameleon is dehydrated by studying telltale signs on its body. For example, a dehydrated chameleon has sunken eyes, inflexible skin, and yellow-colored urates.

You can also tell this animal does not have enough body fluids because it loses appetite, becomes lethargic, and rapidly loses body mass.

Don’t wait for a manifestation of all the signs and symptoms to take action. A presentation of one or two symptoms should be enough to alert you that something is seriously wrong.

What Can You Do If Your Chameleon is Hydrated?

  • Ensure the humidity levels in the vivarium are up to standard.
  • If you don’t have one, install a chameleon-friendly misting system in the terrarium.
  • For chameleons, 5 months and older, give the pet a 45 minutes mist shower.
  • Feed the chameleon high-moisture worms and insects.
  • Make an appointment with your vet for further guidance.

NB: The 45 minutes misting shower should not be a direct shower. Instead, put your pet on a tree under the shower plate.

Then fine spray water onto the wall next to the tree so that the water gets to the chameleon in form of mist.

Do not spray directly onto the plant or the chameleon.

#2 – Starvation or Poor Feeding Habits

Animals need food to survive. Without food, the essence of life gradually ebbs out of living things.

Chameleons should be fed quality food to thrive. If your chameleon shows signs of starvation, take it as a warning that death might follow.

A good look at what chameleons eat in the wild will give you a good idea of how to feed your pet. Wild chameleons are omnivores; they eat plants as well as hunt insects.

A starving chameleon is weak. Expels mucus from the eyes, and has sunken eyes. Also, you may notice a big loss in their body mass.

What Can You Do If Your Chameleon is Starving?

  • Give your pet a nutrient-rich omnivorous diet.
  • Feed your pet regularly – about twice a day.
  • Entice him to eat with regular treats.
  • Seek medical intervention if the problem is advanced.

#3 – Elevated Stress

Stress is the number one killer of captive chameleons. Like humans, chameleons face stress on different levels.

These reptiles are particularly prone to stress because they are highly sensitive animals. As a result, small changes in his environment can make your chameleon pet stressed.

If this is not resolved in good time, it gets more severe, and your pet becomes open to opportunistic infections.

Chameleons can go through 4 different types of stress, depending on the source. These are:

  • Temporary stress – limited for a short time.
  • Internal stress – caused by trauma and illnesses.
  • External stress – caused by physical changes in the environment.
  • Emotional stress – is brought about by mishandling by humans.

How Can You Tell Your Chameleon is Stressed?

The chameleon salute

The chameleon slowly recoils by bringing his legs close to his chest. This indicates that your pet is not only distressed but scared, as well.


The chameleon opens his mouth to show his fine row of razor-sharp teeth. Although chameleons are generally calm creatures, they can become aggressive if they feel aggrieved.

Gaping indicates that this animal has been pushed to the wall but is ready to fight back.


When the chameleon bloats its gular (skin around the neck), he is stressed. The gular has a selection of bright colors; you may mistake puffing as a sign of something good.

However, the chameleon does this when dealing with a stressful situation.


There’s a real danger of injury when a chameleon drops from any height. Your pet knows this. So, if it willingly drops from your hands, you can be sure he’s going through major stress.

It could be that this animal does not trust you and need time to get to know him better. This is your cue to stop rushing things with him.

Darkening colors

Chameleons use their colors to communicate a wide range of things – from emotional states to needs and intentions.

By darkening his color, your little friend wants to register his displeasure about what’s happening around him.

Act with speed to find the source of this stress and eradicate it.

Flattening his body

The chameleon looks bigger and more menacing on a flattened body. This indicates he feels threatened by something or someone around him.

Unless this threat is removed, your pet will continue to be stressed, and it won’t be long before this affects his health.


Most chameleons bite as a last resort. This gesture tells you that he feels threatened by your presence.

You have infringed on his space, and he wants you to step back.

Although a chameleon’s bite is not poisonous, it can be painful. It clearly conveys that this animal has had enough of you and wants to be left alone.

Running away

Ordinarily, chameleons deal with an imminent threat by camouflaging and disguising themselves in foliage.

If this doesn’t work, they resort to hissing, puffing, and gaping.

Your chameleon must be highly stressed to take the deliberate action of running away. This shows it is not possible or viable to use the other defense mechanisms.

What Should You Do If Your Chameleon is Stressed?

  • Make proper changes to his habitat
  • Remove any mirrors that show the chameleon his reflection
  • Separate him from other chameleons
  • Check on heating and lighting
  • Ensure he is eating proper meals
  • Avoid startling the chameleon
  • Respect his space
  • Seek the services of an exotic animal vet for guidance

#4 – Metabolic Bone Disease

This is one of the deadliest diseases that affect reptiles. If not treated in good time, fatalities stand at 95%.

Metabolic Bone Disease, or MBD, is caused by a calcium deficiency in your chameleon’s diet. This means your pet’s body turns on itself for calcium.

The result is broken bones, weakened body structure, swollen limbs, and inability to close the mouth.

Signs of Metabolic Bone Disease

Bent limbs

Because of calcium deficiency, the chameleon presents libs bet at the joints. As a result, the bones and body structure are severely weakened, and the reptile is unable to cling to trees. Their movement also becomes compromised.

Loss of appetite

Because his jaws and teeth are weakened, the chameleon refuses to eat as often as he should. Unfortunately, this gives rise to a host of other problems, such as lethargy, starvation, and death.

Lethargy and Weakness

Does your chameleon look weak and lazy? If this is the case, it is lethargic. This is another problem caused by MBD, leading to coma and death.

Difficulties closing the jaws

The jawbone has been weakened by this disease. As such, it cannot open or close as powerfully as it should.

What Should I Do If My Chameleon Has MBD?

  • Urgently see your vet. This disease calls for immediate intervention.
  • Dust your pet’s food with calcium supplements.
  • Expose the chameleon to UVB lighting at least once a day.
  • Closely monitor your pet’s moods, habits, and routines to identify the source of his problems.
  • Maintain optimal conditions in the enclosure.

#5 – Parasitic Infections

Most reptiles carry parasites in their bodies, which don’t provoke many problems. However, these parasites multiply if your chameleon is stressed or suffers from dehydration or disease.

They become more active and start attacking your pet’s internal organs. If these parasites are not contained, they may compromise the chameleon’s life to the point of death.

Chameleons can be attacked by two types of parasites: ectoparasites (which live on the skin) and endoparasites (which live in the internal organs).

Examples of ectoparasites include arachnids and ticks. Examples of internal parasites include flagellates, cryptosporidia, and coccidia.

Signs of Parasitic Attacks

Chameleons attacked by parasites exhibit such symptoms as a swollen belly, loss of appetite, constipation, diarrhea, and smelly stool.

What to Do If Your Chameleon Has Parasites

  • Make an appointment with an exotic animal vet.
  • Take fresh chameleon feces to your vet for analysis and diagnosis. This sample should be taken no more than 24 hours before the visit.
  • Avoid feeding your chameleon wild bugs such as crickets and grasshoppers. These bugs are often laden with parasites.
  • Clean your chameleon’s terrarium with the right equipment and disinfectants.


You must be very perceptive to know your chameleon is in trouble and could die.

You should closely observe your pet from the moment you bring him home to learn his routines and habits.

This way, you’ll quickly be able to tell when something is out of place with your pet’s way of life.

The bottom line is that chameleons are very sensitive. As such, don’t hesitate to talk to your vet in case you have any doubts about your pet’s health.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How Long Do Pet Chameleons Live?

Pet chameleons live longer than their counterparts in the wild. While a wild chameleon lives for only 2 to 4 years, you can expect your pet chameleon to live for 10+ years.

The reason for this is that pet chameleons are better protected. They don’t have to hassle as hard for food and are treated whenever they are sick or injured.

This is your cue to take good care of your pet chameleon if you want to see it live long.

Another factor that comes into play is gender. Males live about 3 to 5 years longer than females. This is because females spend a lot of resources and energy in the breeding process.

While the reproductive process takes its toll on the female chameleons, it doesn’t impact negatively on males.

At the same time, female chameleons are smaller, weaker, and more prone to infections and diseases. This further shortens their life.

What Does a Sick Chameleon Look Like?

The appearance of a sick chameleon largely depends on what they are ailing from. However, some general signs and symptoms can indicate if a chameleon is not well.

For example, a chameleon with inflexible skin, sunken eyes, and dull colors points to ill health. Another common sign of illness is lethargy.

A chameleon is lethargic when it spends most of its time immobile because of weakness. Because of the effect of disease, such a chameleon is unable to carry out most of its activities.

Can a Chameleon Play Dead?

Chameleons can be ingenious when they want to escape danger. Although rare, this reptile can play dead just to fool a predator.

A chameleon that senses imminent threat curls into a fetal position until the danger disappears.

Most predators are not keen to feast on dead animals when many live ones roam around.

When the chameleon plays dead, it is less likely to be attacked or eaten.

Why Do Chameleons Die So Fast?

Despite being awesome pets, chameleons are delicate animals. Also, they are high-maintenance pets, not recommended for first-time reptile pet keepers.

They are best handled by advanced pet owners.

Since these creatures don’t adapt well to new situations, they suffer greatly when the environment changes.

Does the Size of the Chameleon Determine the Size of the Enclosure It Needs?

Yes, the size of the chameleon you want to keep determines the type and size of enclosure you choose.

Actually, this goes for all pets and not just chameleons. As such, you must select suitable housing arrangements for your chameleon.

Keeping this pet under the wrong arrangements is bound to trigger stress, which opens a flood of other health issues.

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