Basics: Chameleon Nutrition

Summary: Chameleon Nutrition

  • Gutloading is making sure your feeders are nutritious
  • Provide your feeders a rich feast of fruits, vegetables, and grains for at least 48 hrs before feeding
  • Supplementation makes up for limitations in captive food sources
  • Plan for Clacium, UVB/Vitamin D3, and Vitamin A approach
  • Supplements today are our best guesses – still working it all out
  • Learn the signs of vitamin deficiency/overdose, edema and MBD and watch out for them!

What nourishes your chameleon

baby jackson's chameleon

Each animal has been uniquely suited to take in the nutrients available to them in their environment. It is our job to replicate these nutrients in captivity. Doing so for our dogs and cats is almost too easy as there are teams of scientists working full time determining the nutritional requirements of those pets to put a bag on the shelf for you to buy. We in the chameleon world are not so lucky and must figure much of this out by ourselves! As so we do. One central truth we must embrace is that proper nutrition is more than just food. While the insects and what the insects eat are primary sources of nutrition, we must also acknowledge the effects of water, sunlight, the dust swirling in the air, and heat. It is when we consider all these elements and how they contribute to our chameleon’s health that we start to become holistic keepers.

The compromises of captivity

baby jackson's chameleon

Unfortunately, in captivity we do not have access to the hundreds of species of insects, arthropods, and mini vertebrates that chameleons eat in the wild. But as a chameleon keeper you will soon be exposed to the variety of species available to us to purchase or raise ourselves. Most of those species available are nocturnal as those are easiest to mass produce. Some of the most popular have a phosphorus to calcium ratio that is not good for our chameleons. So we are making compromises. It seems, though, that the options we have available to us with nutritional supplements are adequate for a long chameleon life so it is within our grasp to raise healthy chameleons.

While the challenge of replicating the nutritional content of the wide variety of wild insects eating a diverse diet is significant, we can attempt to make up for that by using as many feeder types as possible, making sure they are richly gutloaded before feeding, and  adding supplement powders. And this seems to work for us. But we should be aware of what we are doing. Because we don’t know how to make a feeder insect replicate the wild insect nutrition we end up super loading it with strange diets it isn’t designed for and supplement powders. This creates a nutrition bomb that, although sounds wonderful, could stress the chameleon’s body as it tries to cope with getting periodic blasts of all these vitamins and minerals. Obesity is a real problem with captive chameleons. They are used to neither having endless supplies of food nor food that is super enriched and we have to keep a close ye on them to make sure we are not throwing their body out of balance. Slim and athletic looking chameleons are the goal.

Chameleon Nutritional Components

Feeder Insects/Invertebrates/vertebrates: Chameleons will eat a wide variety of things that move. And that is all it takes! It is important to consider the variety of food sources. In addition to insects, there can be vertebrates such as lizards and even small birds. Critical elements such as calcium and Vitamin A are difficult to find in the insect world, but are in plentiful supply in vertebrate bodies.

Water: Water is critical for all function of life. It is the most important element in any health regimen.

Sunlight: Sunlight provides both heat and UVB for vitamin D3 conversion

Dust: Dust is constantly being churned up and minerals from this dust mix with the water that is  lapped up from the leaves. While it is unknown how much this plays into the nutrition intake, it is a likely candidate for providing calcium.

Heat: The proper temperatures are necessary to for the chameleon to effectively process then nutrients it receives. It is important to understand this because a chameleon may be sick even with the best nutrition possible if the chameleon is always cold.

All of these elements must be in balance. In this module we are focusing on how to make the feeder insects as nutritious as possible. We will do this by encouraging a wide variety of feeder insects as well as gutloading them and then adding an appropriate mineral/vitamin  power.

Gutloading: Feeding the Food

Feeding chameleon feeders

“Gutloading” is the act of feeding your chameleon’s food. The starving crickets from the pet store will offer little nutrition to your chameleon until they are strengthened with a good diet. It is very soon after becoming chameleon keepers that we become experienced in taking care of insects! Your chameleon’s health is a direct result of the care you put into gutloading the insects you feed your chameleon. At the very least, this means that you spend a couple days feeding your feeder crickets/superworms/etc…with grains, fruits, and vegetables before feeding them to the chameleon.  48 hours is considered the minimum, but I like to give them at least three days of feasting to replenish their stores and energy.

Gutloading is a critical step in chameleon husbandry. A starving cricket and a gutloaded cricket look the same from the outside, but are worlds different on the inside.

There are many recipes available for gutloading and there are some excellent premixed gutloads commercially available. You will, of course, need to give your feeder insect any special dietary requirements they have. But for commonly kept crickets and roaches, a combination of one of these gutloads and a plate of fresh vegetables and fruits would do the job nicely. A simple recipe follows. It comes in a dry and a wet part. Put the wet parts on one plate and the dry on another to avoid spoiling.

Wet: Carrots, Sweet potatoes, Apple slices, Oranges

Dry: Bee pollen, alfalfa, seaweed squares

I make it a point to mix up my ingredients and cycle in squash, papaya and whatever is in season. You will have to change out food frequently to avoid spoiling. With feeder insects, fresh food and clean holding bins are critical!

Keepers have put in a wide range of efforts to research the foods and you can get deeper and deeper into selecting the exact items to include into your gutload. We do not know how our feeders process the food items we provide them and we do not now how a chameleon will process the food in the gut of the insect either. The best we can do is provide a wide variety of food to the feeders in hopes they will provide the required nutrition.


Our feeder insects are not the best for the job. Not only can we never hope to match the diversity chameleons find and eat in the wild, but the insects that are easiest to breed for commercial farms are nocturnal and have a different nutritional composition. So even with the best gutloading we are still feeding with a handicap.

Our best solution to this issue is to add a vitamin and mineral supplement which, to the best of our judgement, gives the chameleons everything they need. We are probably giving more than they need, but as long as we are working within the chameleon’s tolerance zone, and do not overdose, we can use our supplements to make up for what our feeder insects do not have.

The issue is that we are just using our educated guesses as to what they need and how much they need. And getting it wrong can have serious medical consequences. It, unfortunately, it not simple. So we rely heavily on extensive testing to determine where the limits are.

For our program here we will start with one supplementation routine that has shown to be applicable and effective to a wide range of species.

There are many supplementation routines that can be used effectively. In fact, in a more indepth class on supplementation we will go over some of the different approaches. The end goal of a supplementation routine is that is produces a healthy, long lived chameleon. If a routine accomplishes this then it is a valid and successful routine. This is the only gauge that is worth using. I say this to emphasize that the routine I am presenting here is not the only one that works. But at this level we need to get proficient at one routine and practice with it. Once we understand how to use this tool then we can try other tools. But we will have the background to understand what we are doing.

dusted crickets for chameleon food

How To Dust Your Feeders

  1. place feeders in a cup or bag with a teaspoon of supplement
  2. Shake the bag/cup until the feeders are coated with the powder
  3. Place in chameleon cage feeder run cup immediately
  4. Remove if not eaten in 30 minutes

The Chameleon Academy Supplementation Routine

Our feeder insects are not the best for the job. Not only can we never hope to match the diversity chameleons find and eat in the wild, but the insects that are easiest to breed for commercial farms are nocturnal and have a different nutritional composition. So even with the best gutloading we are still feeding with a handicap.

Our best solution to this issue is to add a vitamin and mineral supplement which, to the best of our judgement, gives the chameleons everything they need. We are probably giving more than they need, but as long as we are working within the chameleon’s tolerance zone, and do not overdose, we can use our supplements to make up for what our feeder insects do not have.

The issue is that we are just using our educated guesses as to what they need and how much they need. And getting it wrong can have serious medical consequences. It, unfortunately, it not simple. So we rely heavily on extensive testing to determine where the limits are.

For our program here we will start with a basic supplementation routine that has shown to be applicable and effective to a wide range of species. We will also have a supplementation routine for sensitive species such as Jackson’s Chameleon, Trioceros quadricornis, T. cristatus, T. serratus, and the Parson’s Chameleon.

There are a number of supplementation routines that I have used successfully. If it produced a healthy, long lived chameleon, it is a good routine. But supplementation routines need to be adjusted for each chameleon and each environment. Every individual chameleon will react slightly differently to the routine you use. Those that have raised up an entire clutch to adulthood will tell you that there are some that grew perfectly and some that struggled or had problems. So, you can see how if two babies from that clutch went to different homes and those babies were the only references that the owners of those babies may get into heated arguments over whether the supplementation routine is perfect or is flawed and it is a scandal that the breeder even speaks of it.

Add to that that even the same chameleon will react differently in different conditions. I had a friend talk about Jackson’s Chameleons that would get edema when he lived in a hot environment, but when he moved to a cooler state the edema disappeared even though the supplementation was identical. So even environmental conditions and their effect on the body creates differing responses.

Thus we create both  supplementation schedules that have the widest general usage as well as supplementation schedules that are tightly focused on a specific species and tested over generations.

Our long term goal is to reduce the amount of supplementation. As we experiment further my goal is to be able to confidently remove any fat soluble vitamins from our powders. This is mostly concerned vitamins A and D3. But, at this point, it appears wise to maintain at least a little additional supplementation which the Repashy Calcium Plus LoD handles well.

For the purposes of this term I am choosing a supplementation schedule that will be as general purpose as possible. We will get into different supplementation strategies later and the greater your skill the more you will feel comfortable tweaking the parameters to fit your environment and your individual chameleon’s body make up.

Chameleon Supplementation reference

The recommended general purpose Chameleon Academy Basic Supplementation schedule. This works for Veiled Chameleons, Panther chameleons, and other chameleons that have not show to be species sensitive to our supplement powders.

Sensitive Species Supplementation

The recommended Chameleon Academy Supplementation schedule for sensitive chameleons such as Jackson’s, Trioceros quadricornis, and T. cristatus has only one dose of fat soluble vitamins a month. Species in this group have a wide range of UVB requirements from the high altitude Jackson’s which would get UVI 3 at minimum at basking to Trioceros cristatus, a lowland, deep forest chameleon that would want a UVI much lower Perhaps UVI 1 at basking. This level is still being determined.

The general purpose routine I will go with is everyday supplementation with Arcadia EarthPro-A and a dusting of Repashy Calcium Plus LoD twice a month. This is in conjunction with a UV Index of 3 or more at the basking branch. The following sections will explain what each component is for in this routine.

Click Here to Purchase Arcadia EarthPro-A Supplement

Arcadia EarthPro-A Chameleon supplement

Click Here to Purchase Repashy Calcium Plus LoD Supplement

Special Note for Vit D3 Free Supplementation: If you have a Solarmeter,  are monitoring your UVB levels on a regular basis, and want to use a diet that is free of synthetic vitamin D3 then replace the Repashy Calcium plus LoD with a 50/50 mixture of plain calcium and Reptivite without D3. The Reptivite will provide the preformed vitamin A. The calcium is mixed in to counter act the phosphorus levels in the Reptivite that have been set at the optimal calcium to phosphorus ratio of 2:1 – which means you cannot use it balance out phosphorus high feeders such as crickets without extra calcium mixed in. The extra calcium will not hurt if put on a balanced feeder. This is, actually, the preferred supplementation routine, but is not the one I universally recommend because of the high percentage of keepers that do not have access to a UVB meter for regular checks on the UVB system. In these systems, adding D3 to the diet gives the chameleon a buffer of dietary insurance. But if you are committed to maintaining a solid UVB husbandry then you are able to implement a supplementation that is free of synthetic vitamin D3.

I am currently testing different supplementation routines and hope that I will have enough success with my D3 free routines that I will be able to, next year, make this my officially recommended routine. The next step, after this, will be to remove all pre-formed vitamin A out of the diet, but it is best to move slow and one step at a time! Our chameleons are living long, healthy lives so there is no need to rush the process. We should take a page from the Kammerflage book and propose new supplementation routines only after raising a female from a baby, though a successful breeding, and then a hatched baby until adulthood with it!


Cacium as a chameleon supplement

Calcium is important for the development of bones and the proper function of muscles and organs.

It is still unclear how chameleons get their calcium from the wild. Possibilities include

  1. plant sources as found in the gut of the insects they eat
  2. the rare insect that provides calcium in a 2:1 ratio to phosphorus
  3. dust deposited on leaves that mixes with dew
  4. occasional vertebrate prey

But these are difficult to reconcile with how much calcium is needed on an ongoing basis to build an entire skeleton for a growing chameleon whose diet consists of the smallest of insects. There are pieces of this puzzle which are still to be determined. It could be that the above items are enough, there is another source, or that chameleons do not need as much calcium as we think.

Calcium is plentiful in the environment so our only question is what the delivery mechanism is to the chameleon in nature. In this case, though, it is an academic question. However it gets in the chameleon, it is through ingesting calcium orally. The importance of this is that as long as we give calcium orally we are providing it in the way that the body is designed to regulate the amount absorbed with the excess jettisoned in the waste. Giving calcium through the diet is safe with the danger of overdose coming only from an overdose of vitamin D3 and not because of giving too much calcium. Thus we do not have to pay special attention to the amount of calcium we give as long as we give enough. Dusting feeders with calcium every feeding has been shown to be enough. It is certain that we can give less, but how much less is unknown. So, for now, we can continue giving much more than they will use.

The most common feeder insects we have commercially available are out of balance with what we need as far as calcium and phosphorus.  To bring the calcium/phosphorus ratio back to healthy levels we add calcium powder to our feeder insects. Calcium is naturally ingested so adding calcium powder is in line with what the chameleon’s body would expect.

In the Chameleon Academy Basic Supplementation Schedule calcium is offered through our every feeding supplement of Arcadia EarthPro-A. Plain calcium could be used, but EarthPro-A also contains bee pollen which is a chameleon superfood and is something that chameleons would naturally eat in the wild while eating bees.

The Calcium:Phosphorus Ratio Dilemma

Phosphorus is critical for our health. The way the reptile community talks about it, you might think phosphorus is a bad thing! But it is absolutely necessary! The reason why it is talked about is that, like everything in the body, there is a necessary balance required for it to be healthy. In this case, the balance is 2 parts calcium to one part phosphorus and if the phosphorus is out of balance it can cause health issues. It can actually decrease calcium absorption. And our standard commercially raised feeder insects tend to have very high phosphorus amounts with respect to the calcium in their body. The exoskeletons of insects are not made of calcium like our bones are!

The bottom line is that we need to add calcium to our crickets to make sure that there is the right calcium/phosphorus balance that comes with that phosphorus pill. It is important to understand this because you need to check on your supplement jar for the ingredients list. Some supplements come with phosphorus and they brag about having a proper 2:1 calcium to phosphorus ratio. Which sounds great until you try to balance out a phosphorus high cricket with one part additional phosphorus per calcium. And this is why we chameleon people avoid using supplements with phosphorus even though phosphorus is an important mineral for life. (Note that if you have a feeder insect that already has a 2:1 calcium:phosphorus ratio that you can then use the supplements that are balanced.)

Vitamin D3 & UVB light

In order to absorb calcium the body needs vitamin D3. Chameleons make vitamin D3 through a complicated process that utilizes the energy in a narrow band of UVB light. This is the same energy that we humans use to make vitamin D3 and the same light that gives us sun burns. In both humans and chameleons, UVB light hits the skin and is eventually converted to vitamin D3 which is secreted into the digestive track and allows calcium to be absorbed. Without vitamin D3 the calcium would continue uselessly through the digestive track and be jettisoned as waste.

Because UVB lighting technology has been slow to catch up to enthusiasm of reptile keeping, we had to make up for the lack of UVB by including vitamin D3 directly into the diet. This is effective, but there is an issue with controlling amount. Vitamin D3 starts to become toxic when there is too much. The body is designed to limit the production of vitamin D3 when it has enough and the body works in perfect harmony. The chameleon’s body does not have a way of limiting vitamin D3 that it gets from diet. Thus there is a possibility of overdosing your chameleon with vitamin D3 when provided orally. There are no solid studies telling us how much is too much. Muddying the issue are hobbyists making overdose diagnosis over internet pictures and then dictating care advice based on shaky analysis. The solution to this is to follow the supplementation and lighting protocols of experienced breeders as they do it. To be clear, supplementation schedules that include dietary vitamin D3 can be safe and used long term. Simply ensure that the supplementation schedule you use comes from someone with long term experience using the regimen and that you also follow their lighting recommendations.

Even with UVB lighting providing the necessary vitamin D3, including vitamin D3 with a multi-vitamin that contains vitamin A seems like a good idea. Vitamins A and D3 seem to have a close relationship that we don’t fully understand. Sometimes they are referred to having an “antagonistic relationship”. So what does this mean for us chameleon keepers? That is up for debate. The current position here on the Chameleon Academy is that the usual source for vitamin A would be from some sort of carotenoid or carotenoid combination coming from plants that their feeder insects ate. The body does the conversion. The other know source would be when they eat the occasional vertebrate. At this time they would be getting the retinol, or pre-formed, vitamin A and they would also get vitamin D3 as well. So it makes sense, with what we know now, to include dietary vitamin D3 with dietary vitamin A. Thus the multi-vitamin supplementation recommended has both vitamin A and D3 even though there is a sufficient UVB system in place.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is necessary for the proper functioning of the immune system and is a strong component in skin and eye health. In the chameleon world, lack of vitamin A is directly linked to swollen eyes and poor hatchling health. Keepers and breeders have seen the benefits of including vitamin A in the diet. Though there is a huge black hole of mystery as to how chameleons get vitamin A in the wild.

Vitamin A is found in the organs of vertebrates and, although larger chameleons will occasionally include birds, mammals, and reptiles in their diet, the smaller the chameleon the less likely that they will have reliable access to vertebrate prey. Fecal analysis from the wild does not indicate that vertebrate prey is common. This would suggest that they obtain vitamin A from a different source. Humans use both the preformed vitamin A found in animal organs as well as retinol that is created by converting certain carotenoids found in ingested plant material. As chameleons do not eat vertebrate prey often enough to be a consistent supply – especially not baby chameleons – we are left considering the carotenoid option.

It would be a logical assumption that chameleons get their vitamin A by eating insects that have fed on plants that contain certain carotenoids. Research has yet to find those carotenoids, though. A study in the 90s concluded that beta carotene, the prime carotenoid that humans use to produce retinol, was not used by panther chameleons – at least not as an isolated carotenoid. So we are left to sort through the 750+ other carotenoids to figure out which ones of them chameleons use. Luckily, it appears that vertebrates use only a very small number of those so perhaps a scientist will take up the challenge of determining which one(s) it is.

Some supplements approach this by simply adding in preformed vitamin A which gets straight to the point. Unfortunately, we cannot just close the case and go home. Vitamin A, like Vitamin D3, is a fat soluble vitamin and has natural checks and balances in the body which are bypassed when we give dietary preformed vitamin A.

The issue with this is the same as with vitamin D3. We do not know how much vitamin A is necessary and how much becomes toxic. Because, yes, too much vitamin A causes as many problems as too little. So determining the amount of vitamin A we should supplement is trial and error and any results will be species specific. The vitamin A content of the commercially available supplements varies widely and so our guidelines regarding what is safe comes from trial and error over long periods of time. It appears that the safe ranges are supplements with 100k IU/lb to 200k IU/lb of vitamin A and a tenth of that in vitamin D3. The accepted ratio of vitamin A to vitamin D3 is 10:1 and so that is the reason why most supplements have this ratio.

The Supplementation Challenge

Supplementation is the most mysterious of our husbandry components. And one we need to get right. There are no studies done that determine what levels of supplements chameleons need. And we already know that different species need different nutrition. We have roughly grouped “montane” species such as the Jackson’s and Four-horned Chameleons into a group that is very sensitive to certain vitamins and Panthers and Veiled Chameleons are in a group that is less sensitive. There is no really reliable way of determining how any particular species will fare with our supplementation powders besides long term testing across multiple generations and age groups.

Commercial supplements are guesses. We know the basic building blocks of life and we can make an educated guess as to what needs to go into a supplement powder. But we truly have no idea in what balance the vitamins and minerals need to be with each other. And, to complicate things, each species will be different. Luckily, it seems that most chameleons are pretty similar in needs and can be split into two groups – the ones more sensitive to supplementation and the ones less sensitive to supplementation. If you are expecting something a little more precise then I fear you will get only more and more disappointed as you dig deeper and find out what we truly know. We are only beginning to understand what levels chameleons need.

The reason why it is so difficult to determine supplementation regimens is because to do it reliably we need to see the effects of long term usage across a couple of generations in a controlled environment. There are precious few breeders who have the discipline to do this. But there are a few that have used the same supplementation routine over generations and we can benefit from their work.

So much of the advise tossed around on the internet as absolute truth is being tested on a handful of animals of different species. Anyone who has raised up a clutch of babies knows that a number of them will react differently to the same routine. It would be premature to make supplementation decisions based on a small sample size – yet that is what is routinely done. Take care out there!

Nutritional disorders

Jackson's Chameleon Baby Struggling

Regardless of how many people have tested the supplement schedule that you are using, you will be implementing it under unique conditions. You will have a chameleon whose body is unique, you will be feeding your own blend of gutload to your own range of feeder insects, and your husbandry will be slightly different than everyone else’s. Your feeding style will dictate how much supplement actually gets into your chameleon. Therefore, you will still have to watch out for nutritional disorders. The three most common are metabolic bone disorder (MBD), edema, and vitamin A deficiency. The causes of these center around deficiencies or overdose of vitamins – usually fat soluble D3 and A.

Vitamin D3 Deficiency or Overdose

It is difficult to determine if there is a vitamin deficiency or overdose. The only way to be sure is through a veterinary test, though even that can be misleading. The best we can do is make guesses regarding husbandry. Vitamin D3 is used for helping absorb calcium. When manufactured naturally through UVB and the body both the liver and kidneys are involved. As long as UVB exposure is sufficient and the organs are working you will not have to worry about vitamin D3 deficiency or overdose. The chameleon will exposure himself to the necessary amount of UVB and the body will shut down production once its stores are filled.

With dietary D3 we bypass all the safeguards. Therefore, the responsibility falls to us to regulate the intake. The signs that there is not enough vitamin D3 are the signs of Metabolic Bone Disease. But BEWARE – there are so many other things that could be going wrong that the symptoms of MBD could be because of another failure/deficiency/overdose and changing the vitamin D3 intake could be useless or even make the situation worse.

An overdose of vitamin D3 can result in calcium deposits in soft tissue and organs. It can also result in MBD-like symptoms so a serious investigation of your nutrition husbandry is necessary to ensure your response is appropriate and not making it worse.

Vitamin A Deficiency or Overdose

Every animal works within a balance of vitamins and minerals. When one vitamin goes out of balance there is a domino effects and many conditions can occur that can be a result of any number of imbalances. Vitamin A imbalance is no different. Too much or too little and you can get complications due to vitamin D levels. That is because vitamin A and vitamin D work together to maintain balance. So the deeper we dive into nutrition the more we realize how many lifetimes we will need to get a firm grasp on what is going on.

The most obvious signs we chameleon keepers can detect with a vitamin A deficiency is swelling of the eyes, low health of babies, and skin issues. This is why some keepers deliberately give vitamin A to gravid females. Unfortunately, amounts are tribal knowledge with no universally accepted guidelines. Overdose of vitamin A is a real problem as well. An overdose results in a number of internal problems. Externally, we can see skin issues.

Determining Vitamin Deficiency or Overdose

The difficulty giving a diagnosis of what vitamin is in over or underdose is that vitamins work together and in balance. For example, there is so much interaction that gets calcium to the right place that includes vitamins A and D3, minerals calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium, and organs liver and kidneys that excessive calcium deposits around organs or lack of calcium in the bones could be due to a wide number of failure points along the chain. The reason why this is critical to understand is that a great deal of internet advice is given with 100% confidence, but with no true understanding. MBD could be caused by an issue besides lack of D3 and the typical quick draw reaction of advising more D3 may make the situation worse with a D3 overdose on top of the MBD.

Understanding supplementation will be a focus within this program. At this point, you do not have to understand the details. Understand that to know what deficiency there is requires veterinary tests. Understand that the internet is full of experts that have based their expertise on a handful of animals in very uncontrolled environments. Proceed with caution.

Listed below is an overview of the three most common nutritional disorders.

Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD)

Panther Chameleon with MBD

MBD is a slow, painful, and deadly condition. This is where there is not enough calcium in the body and what calcium is left in the bones is being leeched out to serve critical organ functions. This leaves bones weak, flexible, and brittle. A chameleon with MBD will try to climb, walk, and chew food and find that his legs cannot hold him up and his jaw cannot aim his tongue and cannot chew. Bones will break and heal in unnatural positions just to break again. His body will eventually stop working. MBD can be halted and, to some extent, reversed. But all the breaks and bizarre shapes the body will have taken are permanently disfiguring. If you see your chameleon having a hard time holding himself up, or not being able to shoot his tongue your chameleon may be under the influence of MBD. Get to a vet immediately for calcium therapy and evaluate your UVB/supplementation as a top priority. The ideal situation is to start off right and avoid this totally preventable deadly disease. Do not cut corners with your UVB light or your supplementation.

The panther chameleon shown here has classic MBD issues. The leg bones are weak, flexible, and prone to breaking. Note the rounded bowing in the leg. And, with a lack of bone density, the jaw is misshapen. She can no long close her mouth or shoot her tongue properly. All of this comes from not enough calcium in the bones to make them rigid and strong.


Panther Chameleon with edema

Edema is where a vitamin imbalance creates excess fluid under the skin of your chameleon. It is most often seen as a fluid collar around the neck. You will notice a puffiness. We have associated this with some sort of issue with over-supplementation. We can make the swelling go down by drastically reducing or cutting out supplementation. This is very common in montane species such as Jackson’s Chameleons or the Cameroon species. We do not know what in our supplementation causes edema and it could very well be different causes in different species. Complicating the analysis is that it may not be an excess of one vitamin or mineral, but the relative amount of one to another. You are looking for a general puffiness especially around the neck area. And this is an indication to cut back on the supplementation. Although this condition is not generally fatal it is a clear warning sign that the husbandry is off and more health failures are in store.

Vitamin A Deficiency

Jacksons Chameleon with closed eye

The most likely manner that you will run into Vitamin A deficiency is in an eye disorder. Vitamin A is important for proper eye function and if there is a deficiency the eyes will close and the chameleon will have trouble seeing. Although a chameleon with its eyes closed is a critical situation, it is a symptom of a wide range of issues. Vitamin A deficiency will result in the eyes being “goopy”.

There is a still a mystery in the community why some breeders need to supplement vitamin A or they face eye issues and birth defects and other breeders do no supplementation of vitamin A and they have no issues. Could it be the carotenoids in the gutload? Perhaps some breeders are unknowingly gutloading the vegetation that contains the correct carotenoid for that species. Unfortunately, this is an area where much more work needs to be done to crack this code.


This seminar is part of the introductory course Chameleon Basics which, in turn, is a module within the even larger Term 1: Getting Started With Chameleons.

Chameleon Basics Home Room

Jackson's Chameleon Male

Next Module: Chameleon Taming & Handling

Bill with Veiled Chameleon