One day you start noticing your chameleon is no longer being as active as it was before, you may even start realizing that it seems uncomfortable when holding onto the branches in the enclosure. If you feel related to this, your pet may be suffering from a condition known as gout.
Gout is characterized by high uric acid levels in your chameleon’s blood, which leads to the formation of painful nodules in its joints and/or organs. The most frequent cause of gout is a high-protein diet. Treatment involves the use of drugs and sometimes surgery to help relieve the symptoms.
This condition is easily preventable by taking appropriate measures to ensure your pet stays healthy and lives a long, pain-free life. That is why we tell you everything you need to know about gout, its symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. So, keep reading on!
Table of Contents
What Is Gout In Chameleons?
Gout is a serious and painful condition where the levels of a compound called uric acid in the reptile’s blood are higher than normal (hyperuricemia), which results in the production of abnormal crystalline structures that get deposited in the chameleon’s tissues, joints, mucous membranes, and organs like the kidneys, lungs, and spleen.
Therefore, gout can be classified as either articular gout (when uric acid accumulates in the joints) or visceral gout (when uric acid crystals are found in internal organs).
Uric acid results from the breakdown of nitrogen, which is a substance formed when protein is metabolized in the chameleon’s body.
Under normal circumstances, uric acid is eliminated from the body by the kidneys; but, when the levels of uric acid are too high, the kidneys are not able to efficiently remove it all from the body.
The presence of uric acid crystals can be noted in plain sight in the form of tophi, which are small white nodules that are most frequently visible in the reptile’s mouth and joints.
What Is Pseudo-Gout?
Over-supplementation of vitamin D3, especially when combined with excessive calcium supplementation, can result in the development of a condition known as pseudo-gout in chameleons.
In pseudo-gout, the surplus of calcium (calcium hydroxyapatite) gets deposited in your pet’s joints and ribs.
Pseudo-gout can look a lot like gout, but the cause and treatment of these conditions are very different.
What Are The Causes Of Gout In Chameleons?
Causes of gout in chameleons are varied, and depending on the specific cause, gout can be classified as either primary or secondary.
However, it is not unusual that more than one cause is present and that both types of gout coexist together.
Both types of gout produce the same symptoms and have the same treatment, so it is not very relevant to know which type of gout your chameleon has.
However, we make the distinction between both forms to better understand and identify the causes:
Primary gout happens when you overfeed your chameleon with a high-protein diet.
As we mentioned before, uric acid is the final result of the breakdown of the proteins your reptile eats.
So, when you feed too much protein or low-quality proteins to your chameleon for a long time, eventually, the amount of uric acid in your pet’s body will exceed the capacity of its kidneys to eliminate it.
Additionally, the kidney’s ability to excrete the excess uric acid may be further impaired if your pet is also dehydrated or has any type of renal disease.
Another contributing factor to the development of primary gout is starvation.
Ironically, when a chameleon is not properly fed and gets into starvation mode, it will start “eating itself” and release the proteins from its muscles to utilize them as a source of energy, which will eventually lead to an excess of uric acid in the blood.
Secondary gout can happen when your chameleon has kidney problems.
In this case, you may be feeding your pet adequate amounts of protein, but excess uric acid still happens due to the impaired ability of its kidneys to eliminate it.
Your pet’s kidneys can be affected by several reasons, the most common being chronic (long-term) dehydration, vitamin overdose, or some diseases.
What Are The Symptoms Of Gout in Chameleons?
At early stages, symptoms of gout can be very subtle in chameleons.
Since gout is painful, you may first start noticing your pet shows discomfort or has difficulties when hanging onto the branches of its enclosure.
Other signs of gout in chameleons include:
- Ankles and/or wrists that are swollen or rounder than usual
- Raised cream-colored bumps (tophi) on the joints and/or mouth, usually with inflammation of the surrounding areas
- Difficulty walking or moving
- Unwillingness to stand on one of its limbs
- Aggression when you try to touch its joints
- Gular edema, which is the build-up of fluid that can look like a “collar” around its neck
- Lack of appetite
- Excessive thirst
If you notice any of these symptoms, or you suspect your chameleon may be at the early stages of gout, take your pet to the reptile veterinarian as soon as possible for diagnosis and treatment.
If left untreated, gout will eventually lead to renal failure and to your chameleon’s death.
Diagnosis Of Gout In Chameleons
A veterinarian who specializes in reptiles is the most adequate professional to diagnose gout in your chameleon.
He or she will perform a physical exam on your chameleon to evaluate its mobility range, weight, hydration status, and overall health condition.
Besides this, the vet will also ask about your pet’s diet, access to water, and all other husbandry and environmental conditions that could lead to the development of gout.
Tests that may be done include a fecal analysis to determine the presence of parasites, and a complete blood count (CBC) and biochemical profile to evaluate the presence of any disease and determine the uric acid levels in your chameleon’s blood.
Additional tests may include an X-ray, which can help differentiate gout from pseudo-gout.
Finally, the vet might also want to take a small sample (biopsy) from any of the tophi in your chameleon’s body to confirm the diagnosis.
This biopsy can be taken either by using a needle to aspirate one of the lumps directly from your pet’s joints (in case of articular gout) or from your pet’s organs (in case of visceral gout) by performing a procedure called endoscopy.
Tip: Also read our article on tail rot in chameleons. It will show you the symptoms, causes, and treatment for this horrible disease.
What Is The Treatment For Gout?
Getting the disease under control is very difficult and will require a lot of consistency from you as your chameleon’s main caretaker.
The treatment for gout starts with making sure your chameleon has an adequate hydration status. This can be done with frequent soaking, but sometimes fluid therapy will also be necessary.
You will need to talk to your veterinarian about your pet’s menu and feeding schedule to make sure you are not accidentally overfeeding it with protein.
In some cases, a moderately low-protein diet is encouraged during the first stages of treatment.
Specific treatment for gout is prescribed by a veterinarian. The standard drug of choice is called allopurinol and the dosage will vary according to your chameleon’s weight. This drug will help keep uric acid deposits from occurring.
However, it is important to mention that all drugs used for the treatment of gout in reptiles were originally designed to be used in humans.
So, there are no scientific studies that can confirm their efficacy and long-term effects when used in chameleons.
Other drugs that may be used to help alleviate the pain and inflammation produced by the disease include corticosteroids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and should also be prescribed by your pet’s vet.
In severe cases of the disease, when your chameleon is suffering from arthritis and its joints are greatly compromised, surgery may be required to help alleviate the pain.
During surgery, the vet will remove the uric acid crystals from your pet’s joints. However, sometimes the damage to the joints may be too severe and irreversible for the surgery to completely fix it.
Can Gout Be Completely Cured In Chameleons?
Once your chameleon develops gout, it will continue to have the disease for the rest of its life. That is why prevention is of utmost importance.
Treatment can help improve your pet’s mobility and control its pain; furthermore, it can help prevent more tophi from forming in your chameleon’s tissues and joints. However, it must be maintained for life.
Once you stop treatment for your chameleon, the chances of gout returning or getting worse are very high. Therefore, the goal of treatment should always be aimed at trying to achieve a good quality of life.
Overall, the prognosis for chameleons with a severe case of gout is very poor and recovery rates are very low. In these cases, euthanasia may be an option to consider.
How To Prevent Gout In Your Chameleon
Gout is a serious and painful disease that may be difficult to treat, but it is very easy to prevent. Here is a list of the things you can do to prevent your pet from developing gout:
Feed Your Chameleon Adequate Amounts Of Protein
Chameleons are omnivorous. They feed primarily on live insects and other small animals, but some species will also take some fruits and vegetables in their diet.
Insects that are suitable for a chameleon’s diet include fruit flies, crickets, roaches, house flies, mealworms, silkworms, waxworms, and superworms, among others.
Other small animals that can be fed on rare occasions to chameleons include snails, pinkie mice, and small-sized lizards. However, these should not be part of your pet’s regular diet as they contain very high amounts of protein.
Also make sure to not gut-load your feeder insects with cat food, dog food, or fish flakes, as doing so will increase the amount of protein your chameleon ingests.
Always gut-load your feeder insects with vegetables for at least two days before offering them to your pet.
In addition to this, you can also offer your pet some dark mixed greens and some fruits and vegetables like strawberries, raspberries, mango, apple, papaya, squash, and carrots.
Remember that young chameleons need to eat every day, while adults should eat every other day. Gout can easily be prevented by not overfeeding your chameleon.
Keep Your Chameleon Hydrated
Make sure your pet drinks enough water.
The best way to do this is by installing a drip system in the enclosure, that way your chameleon will be able to drink water from the droplets that form in the leaves of the plants and trees, just as they do in their natural habitat.
Putting a water bowl in the enclosure or setting up a constantly running drip system is not recommended since chameleons do not like drinking from flowing or still water.
So, these setups won’t do any good to prevent your pet from getting dehydrated.
If you want to know more about dehydration in chameleons and how to prevent it, you can visit our other article here.
Make Sure All Husbandry Settings Are Appropriate
Make sure all the environmental conditions, and especially the humidity and temperature settings, are appropriate for the specific species of chameleon you have:
The humidity levels in the tank should range from 50 to 80% depending on your chameleon’s species. You can monitor this by setting up a hygrometer in the enclosure, this one from REPTI ZOO is a great option.
To keep the humidity levels at an appropriate range, you must mist the leaves of the plants in your chameleon’s enclosure at least once or twice per day. Alternatively, you can also set up an automatic misting or fogging system.
Good options include this device from Evergreen Pet Supplies or this one from COOSPIDER.
Depending on the specific species of your chameleon, the daytime ambient temperature in the enclosure should range from 68 °F (20 °C) to 82 °F (28 °C).
Higher temperatures will cause a quicker evaporation rate of the water in the enclosure, which can lead to your chameleon getting dehydrated.
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