Chameleons are interesting little creatures and make great reptile pets! They may be small, but they are pretty resistant. You might be reading this article because you’re thinking about leaving your chameleon to fend for itself for a few days.
Chameleons can go for around 2 weeks without eating and 1 week without drinking, depending on the species and factors such as age, the environment, activity level, health status, and gravidity.
In this article, we’ll explain how long chameleons can go without food or water, and related questions such as:
- What affects a chameleon’s ability to survive without food or water?
- When should chameleon owners start to worry when their chameleon refuses to eat?
- Is it possible for a chameleon to starve itself?
Table of Contents
How Long Can Chameleons Go Without Food?
Chameleons can survive for around 2 weeks without food, depending on a few factors which we’ll discuss later.
Wild chameleons eat when they are hungry and when they find suitable food, whereas pet chameleons can only eat when you feed them.
Although chameleons physiologically can go for longer periods than other animals without eating or drinking, it’s not to be encouraged.
If you need to leave your chameleon, it’s better to ask someone to come and feed them and give them water rather than leave them alone.
Aside from needing to eat, your chameleon will benefit from someone checking on them and cleaning their tank whilst you’re away.
It might seem a bit of a hassle, but it’s the best thing for everyone involved. This way, you won’t worry whether your chameleon is okay, and they will get checked regularly.
Coming home after a trip to find your chameleon sick or in poor condition is not ideal.
Chameleons who don’t eat or drink enough have increased susceptibility to conditions such as:
- Metabolic bone disease
- Mouth rot
- Dehydration (More on dehydration here)
- Deficiency diseases.
Tip: You can read more about chameleon diseases in our article 7 signs your chameleon is dying.
How Long Can Chameleons Go Without Water?
Most chameleons can go around one week without drinking water.
When it comes to water, chameleons are pretty interesting. Rather than drinking from a water dish, they prefer to sip water from plants.
For pet chameleons, this means you need to mist their enclosure regularly and provide them with a drip system for water.
If you really want to, you can provide them with a water bowl. However, it’s unlikely they’ll use it because chameleons prefer to drink from ‘moving’ water supplies such as drip systems or from plants.
If you put a water dish in your chameleon’s tank, make sure that it’s not too deep and that they can crawl out easily if they fall in. A good way of doing this is by putting a branch as a step or bridge from the dish to the outside.
Chameleons who don’t drink enough are at risk of becoming dehydrated. We’ve listed some signs of dehydration in chameleons below:
- sunken eyes
- dry or dull-looking skin
- abnormal appearance of urates
- decreased activity.
If you’re not sure whether your chameleon is dehydrated, you can try to perform the skin fold test. This involves gently folding your chameleon’s skin and seeing how long it takes for it to return back.
If your chameleon is dehydrated, the skin will move back into place slowly. If they are hydrated, it will move back pretty quickly.
If you think your chameleon isn’t drinking enough water and you’re not sure what to do about it, read our article How to get your chameleon to drink water.
Don’t forget, chameleons get some of the water they need to stay hydrated from their food. This means that if they are eating less, they are also at risk of becoming dehydrated.
What Affects a Chameleon’s Ability To Survive Without Food Or Water?
In this section, we’ll explain the factors which affect how long a chameleon can survive without food or water.
Young chameleons who are still developing, are unlikely to survive as long as adults without food or water. This is because they are still developing, and food has a vital role, not only as an energy source but also in helping them grow.
Young chameleons, like any other species, who don’t have access to food and water often enough, are unlikely to grow as much as they could (stunted growth).
This means they are often smaller or weaker. In the wild, these individuals are easy prey for predators as they are less able to escape.
In captivity, pet chameleons who didn’t get enough water or food when they were developing, are also more at risk for getting diseases.
This is one of the reasons why it’s especially important to get your chameleon from a reputable breeder.
Adult chameleons can survive longer than younger chameleons without food or water.
For the species of chameleon that give birth to live young such as Jackson’s chameleon, pregnancy can affect how long they can go without food or water.
Any animal that is pregnant has higher nutritional requirements than other individuals because they need extra nutrition to help their young develop normally and healthily.
If a chameleon who’s carrying young offspring inside doesn’t eat or drink enough, the offspring may die before or soon after birth.
Even if the offspring do survive, they will probably be underdeveloped or weak, so are unlikely to survive until adulthood.
Chameleon species who lay eggs instead of giving birth, physiologically reduce their food intake before laying, we’ll talk more about that later.
A more active chameleon, won’t be able to go as long without water or food compared to a less active chameleon. This is pretty logical, as more active individuals have higher energy requirements than more sedentary ones.
A healthy chameleon can survive longer without food or water compared to one who has a disease or health condition.
This is because when your reptile pet is unwell, they have an increased need for food and water to help themselves become better.
When the temperature is low or high, chameleons can be prompted to reduce their food intake. As ectotherms, chameleons use the external environment to adjust their internal body temperature.
To be able to digest their food properly, a chameleon needs to have an appropriate body temperature. If their body temperature is not sufficient to help with this process, they may reduce their food intake.
An example of this is during brumation, which we’ll talk about later.
If the temperature is high, then a chameleon will become dehydrated faster than usual.
Chameleons don’t actually sweat, so don’t be fooled into thinking that sweating in warm environments might affect their ability to go without water.
If the temperature is lower than the optimum, they may last longer without water. If it is higher, then chameleons will be able to go for less time without water.
Temperature and humidity usually act together when it comes to food and water requirements.
A chameleon in a more humid environment will last longer without food or water compared to a chameleon in a very dry environment.
This is because they will get more water from the air saturated with water. Additionally, in more humid environments their skin is less likely to dry out.
As we mentioned, humidity acts together with temperature in affecting a chameleon’s ability to last without water.
We’ve ranked the combinations of temperature and humidity and their effect on how long a chameleon can go without water and food below (from longest time to shortest):
- High humidity and low temperature
- Low humidity and low temperature
- High temperature and high humidity
- High temperature and low humidity.
When Should Chameleon Owners Start To Worry When Their Chameleon Refuses To Eat?
If your pet chameleon hasn’t eaten in a few days, no matter their age or sex, it’s probably best to contact a reptile veterinarian in case the reason for them refusing to eat is an illness.
Don’t forget, chameleons get lots of water from their food. This means if they refuse to eat, they may soon become dehydrated.
Possible diseases which can cause chameleons to eat less include:
- Impaction (blockage in the gastrointestinal system)
- Injury to the mouth
- Infections such as mouth rot
- Infections with parasites.
If you can’t get to a reptile veterinarian straight away, there are 3 things you can try to help your chameleon:
- Offering them a different type of food item – it’s possible for a chameleon to become bored of eating the same food all the time
- Mist their enclosure – to decrease the chances of them becoming dehydrated from lack of food.
- Check and correct all the environmental parameters in their tank – if the external environment isn’t optimal for your chameleon, they could go off their food.
You can read more about the correct tank conditions for chameleons in our articles Panther Chameleon Care Guide: Diet, Housing, Facts and Veiled Chameleon Care Guide: Diet, Housing, Facts.
If none of the above points help your chameleon start eating or you spot other signs of disease, it’s especially important to contact a reptile veterinarian.
We’ve listed some signs of disease in chameleons below (source):
- Weight loss
- Abnormal movement
- Swellings or lumps
- Changes in color
- Material exiting or surrounding the eye, nose, or mouth
- Changes in activity level (lethargy)
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Evidence of parasites on the skin or in their poop.
Even though you may be worried, try to keep calm and tell your reptile veterinarian as much as you can about the circumstances surrounding your chameleon’s food refusal.
Tip: You can read about how to assess your chameleon’s body condition in our article: Is Your Chameleon Too Skinny?
You can read more about decreased appetite in chameleons in our article 15 Reasons Why Your Chameleon Is Not Eating + How To Help.
Is It Possible For a Chameleon To Starve Itself?
In some situations, a chameleon may decrease their food intake physiologically. We’ll describe some circumstances when this can happen in this section, and suggest how you can differentiate this from a health problems.
Since we’ve already mentioned a few diseases which can cause a chameleon to lose its appetite, in this section we’ll focus on non-infectious causes of reduced appetite.
Female chameleons can lay a clutch of unfertilized eggs every 3 to 6 months regardless of whether there is a male chameleon present, depending on the environment, species, and health status of the female.
When female chameleons are ready to lay their eggs, it’s not uncommon for them to stop eating, however, they will still drink normally.
You may notice them scratching in the tank, staying at the bottom of the tank, hiding, and digging to prepare a space for laying. Interestingly, if your pet is a veiled chameleon, you might also see her change her colors.
You can read about how to help your chameleon if she’s laying her eggs in our article How to make a lay bin for your chameleon.
Many reptiles brumate when the weather becomes cold (or more dry), as a survival adaptation to help themselves save energy at a time when food is less available.
Although the food supply for a captive pet chameleon should be pretty regular, they may still brumate.
Signs that your chameleon is brumating include:
- decreased or absent movement
- less bright skin color
- reduced eating and drinking
- reduced or absent urate and feces.
When a chameleon is preparing to shed, or shedding, it has been frequently observed that they decrease their food intake. They’ll most likely become less active too, and may even hide.
Signs that your chameleon is preparing to shed include:
- Less bright skin compared to usual
- Rubbing on their tank or items within it
- Puffy appearance of eyes.
Did you know? Most fully grown chameleons normally shed around every 2 months.
If a chameleon is always fed the same type of food, it’s possible for them to become bored and go off their food. Changing the food items you give them encourages them to have a healthy appetite.
Another reason to vary your chameleon’s diet is to decrease the chances of them getting a deficiency disease.
Just like some of us humans, when a chameleon gets stressed, they may have a decreased appetite or stop eating altogether. In this case, it’s important to look for potential stressors and remove them to get a chameleon eating again.
Examples of things which can cause a chameleon to feel stressed include:
- Loud noises near their tank
- Inappropriate tank environment (lighting, humidity, temperature)
- Changes in their tank
- Being housed with another chameleon (chameleons prefer to live alone)
- Close contact with other pets
- Not enough objects for climbing in their tank
Signs of stress in chameleons include frequent color changes, puffing themselves up, and scratching at the glass in their tank.
Compared to other species, chameleons have an interesting ability to go for longer periods without eating or drinking. If you notice your chameleon hasn’t eaten or drunk in a while, it’s best to investigate the cause.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to check your chameleon’s condition, read our article 25 signs your chameleon is happy and healthy.
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