Chameleons are lovable and entertaining lizards that make great pets for reptile enthusiasts. However, their permanent smiles and bright colors can cause people to think that they are endlessly happy, even when they aren’t. So, how can you tell if your chameleon really is happy and healthy?
A happy chameleon will have relaxed colors. It will be curious, exploring, and looking around at the environment slowly. It will hold its tail out strongly with a gentle curl and spend time basking by the heat lamp. A healthy chameleon will have a good appetite, round eyes, and walk confidently.
But those are just a few key points to get us started. Let’s discover 25 signs that your chameleon is happy and healthy…
Table of Contents
Signs That Your Chameleon Is Happy And Relaxed
It Is Wearing Its Relaxed Colors
We have all seen the incredible videos that have gone viral online of pet chameleons dramatically changing their colors when presented with rapidly changing objects like sunglasses.
In reality, though, chameleons can’t change their colors quite like that, and we wouldn’t want them to!
Wildly changing colors are a sure sign of acute stress in chameleons. They change their colors rapidly in order to scare off threats, adjust their body temperature, or communicate with other chameleons.
Some types of acute stress can be positive, but it is still stress and not an example of a relaxed chameleon.
Observe the most common colors of your chameleon when it is just hanging out. Perhaps even take a picture! This can act as your baseline reference for how your chameleon’s colors look when he is relaxed and not stimulated by the environment.
Its Eyes Are Roving All Around The Environment Slowly
Chameleons’ eyes are incredible! Chameleons can move and focus their eyes separately and can see all the way around their body. That means they have 360° vision!
Chameleons’ eyes look pretty weird, thanks to one colorful, scaly lid that covers most of the eyeball and pupil, leaving just a tiny bit exposed.
Chameleons’ eyes should be beautifully round, clear, and mobile. They are curious animals that like to check everything out. Their eyes should rove gently over their environment looking around, open all the time that it is light.
The chameleons’ eyes should not be frantically darting about in a panicked manner or staring blankly at one spot for a long time.
It Is Holding Its Tail Out Long Or With A Gentle Curl
As with many animals, the chameleon’s tail is a great communicator of their emotional state. Chameleons’ tails are prehensile, meaning they have muscular control over all of it and can use it like a limb.
When a male chameleon meets a rival, they will curl their tail up tightly into a coil to signal that they will fight. When chameleons are walking and balancing, they will hold their tail out long with a slight bend, or a gentle curl at the tip.
When they are sleeping it may curl up a little more. As long as it isn’t a tight spiral, your chameleon is probably pretty relaxed.
Chameleons also curl their tail around branches to hold on, which allows them to travel safely and to remain very still when hunting. A droopy, weak tail is a bad sign.
If you notice any awkward kinks or lumps in the tail, you should take your chameleon to the vet.
It Spends Time Out On Branches Sunning By The Heat Lamp
As a reptile enthusiast, it’s always a nice moment to see your pet come out from its shelter to bask in the warmth of the heat lamp or UV light. This is a sign of a confident and secure animal.
A happy chameleon can be spotted relaxing on a branch and orienting its body sideways to the heat source to soak up maximum energy. This is a great moment to note the colors it is wearing and the posture of its tail and body when unstressed.
It Is Curious And Explores The Space Available
One of the best things about keeping chameleons is that they are curious and interactive lizards. A happy and calm chameleon should be moving around the space, walking over your hands, and checking out the room.
If your chameleon always hides away in a dark corner and doesn’t move or look around much, this is a bad sign. He may be stressed and could possibly benefit from fewer environmental disturbances or some work on building a trust relationship with you.
Signs That Your Chameleon Is Healthy
It Has A Good Appetite
As with all animals, a good appetite is a good sign. Adult chameleons should be eating more than five large insects every 2 or 3 days.
Juvenile and baby chameleons need to eat every day. If your chameleon doesn’t eat as much as it should, or suddenly starts eating less than before, this could be a sign that something is not right.
It Has Big Round Eyes That Protrude Out From Its Head
We already discovered that chameleons have incredibly powerful eyes that can see 360° around their body and work independently. Unfortunately, this complex organ is prone to damage and infection.
Healthy chameleon eyes should be able to move in every direction. They should look around and be taught, like a well-inflated basketball.
They also should be very prominent, and stick out from the side of the head. The eyes should be clean and bright with no leakage or residues.
It Can Fit Its Tongue Inside Its Mouth And Close It Fully
Chameleons’ tongues are just as impressive as their eyes! They are about twice the length of the chameleon’s body. If a chameleon was the size of a human, it would have a tongue around 4 meters long!
It is also incredibly powerful and can be shot out from the mouth at a speed that reaches 60mph in 1/100th of a second!
Despite the massive size, a chameleon’s tongue should be able to retract all the way back inside its mouth. The mouth should also be able to close comfortably all the way around.
It Has 5 Nails On Each Foot
Chameleons have 5 toes on each foot and should have a healthy nail on the end of each. They use the nails to aid in gripping branches when walking and climbing. They are very sharp and will slice plants and hands.
Once damaged, chameleons’ nails cannot regrow, so preventing contact with dangerous surfaces is very important. Some types of mesh and screening used in enclosures can break the nails.
A stressed chameleon may also chew at the nails. Check your chameleon’s feet frequently to catch any problems early. Oh, and, never clip your chameleon’s nails!
It Walks Confidently With Good Foot Grip
Thanks to those incredible toes and prehensile tails, chameleons are able to climb up and down the most precarious twigs. As they walk along a branch, they should have a tight grip with their toes and move confidently. It is extremely unusual to see a chameleon slip or fall.
If your chameleon is wobbly, weak, and keeps misstepping, there is a problem. It is definitely time to visit the vet. Ensure that your chameleon is not dehydrated and disorientated by misting the enclosure to provide water droplets to drink.
You should also inspect the chameleon’s feet for injuries and collect a fecal (poop) sample for the vet if you can.
It Is Alert And Responsive To Activity In The Environment
A great sign that your chameleon is healthy is that it shows awareness and responds to stimuli such as lights and movement. Watch your chameleon when you turn the lights on.
Does he immediately open his eyes and look about? Good! This is what he should be doing.
Observe whether your chameleon is aware of prey animals in the environment, or watches you move around the room. Chameleons should be alert and lowkey on the lookout all the time.
Try to view them when they don’t know you are there. You should see the same awareness and energy. If they appear to be taking a snooze, they may be hiding symptoms of illness from you as a potential predator.
Signs That Your Chameleon Is Unhappy And Stressed
It Closes Its During The Day
We have talked about the eyes before, but they really are windows to the soul. During daylight hours, a chameleon should always have its eyes open. If the eyes are bright, round, and clear of fluid they are probably healthy.
Therefore, when you see the chameleon close them tightly, it is a behavioral sign of stress or other illness.
While it is difficult to interpret the “emotions” of animals, it is widely accepted that a chameleon with tightly shut eyes is very upset. It may be a method of coping with internal stress or fear.
In which case, the eye shutting may be followed by hissing, biting, or color changes. It may also be a sign of an underlying health issue that the animal can no longer hide.
It Leaf Walks For Extended Periods Of Time
Leaf walking is a very interesting behavior that chameleons do to further camouflage themselves in the foliage of trees and bushes. Chameleons are incredibly well adapted for their leafy habitat.
They sway back and forth to imitate a leaf blowing in the wind. They will do it when sneaking up on prey or when hiding from a potential predator.
A little leaf walking in these situations is normal and quite entertaining for chameleon owners. However, if your chameleons do an excessive amount of leaf walking, this is a sign of a nervous chameleon.
Watch out for leaf walking behavior continuing long after the chameleon has caught its prey or been startled by your entrance.
If your chameleon is endlessly trying to hide by leaf walking, consider providing more shelter in the tank. Some extra leaves and shady places might solve the problem. Otherwise, look out for other signs of stress or ill health.
It Displays Very Dark Or Extremely Vivid Colors
Dark Black And Brown Colors
We spoke about identifying the good colors of a chilled-out chameleon, but what do bad colors look like? While it can differ from chameleon to chameleon, it is generally accepted that very dark colors such as black and brown are signs of stress, fear, or discomfort.
If you find your chameleon has suddenly darkened dramatically, there are a number of actions you can take. Firstly, check the temperature of the habitat.
Cold chameleons usually turn dark colors. Then, assess potential stressors such as new additions to the environment or disturbances. Do what you can to regulate the habitat and calm your chameleon.
Bright And Vivid Colors
Chameleons can’t actually change their color to match any background, but within a narrow spectrum, they can try to blend in. When they sense a predator, they change colors to blend in as well as possible with the foliage.
Conversely, chameleons use bright, vivid colors to communicate. Bright colors such as red, blue, or orange do the exact opposite of hiding the chameleon, making it stand out brightly against the foliage.
Males put on this bright spectacle when asserting dominance over other males or trying to court a female. Females can change color, but not as much as males.
In short, a brightly colored, flashy chameleon either feels he needs to show aggression and assert dominance or is excited by the possibility of encountering a female. Occasional color shows are impressive, but they shouldn’t be happening all the time.
It Holds Its Mouth Wide Open
Mouth gaping can occur for a number of reasons and none of them are good. When chameleons hold their mouth open or ‘gape’, they may be trying to cool down and could be overheating.
They may be having a hard time breathing. Often, gaping is a sign that they are stressed, so they open their mouth to show that they are ready to defend themselves.
If this is a threatening display that forewarns that a bite is coming, there should be some other behavioral signs. You are likely to see bright, vivid aggressive colors as described above.
You might also notice the throat being inflated. If you are the cause of the stress, the chameleon will face the gaping mouth toward you, ready to bite.
If you see these signs, back off. Retreat to a place where the chameleon can’t see you and observe it. If it relaxes when you leave, it should be a simple case of an angry chameleon.
Try to think about what might have caused this reaction and change it next time. If it continues to gape when you are not there, it is probably a good time to visit the vet.
It Turns Side On To You When You Are Near
Turning side on to you when you approach is pretty rude in chameleon terms. Chameleons turn side-on when they want to look bigger and more intimidating, and to show off those bright aggressive colors.
If you aren’t sure what is causing your chameleon to be upset and flash bright colors, look at what he turns his body sideways towards.
It Bites And Hisses At You
Nobody wants their precious pet to bite and hiss at them, but at least the communication is clear! A biting, hissing chameleon is not happy or comfortable.
The first thing to do would be to consider what could be causing anxiety for your chameleon. Is the habitat large enough? Is there enough humidity and water available? What is the temperature like?
Unfortunately, the cause of hissing and biting is often unwanted handling.
Chameleons are solitary animals that like to live alone. They have no understanding of affection and don’t like to be petted. If your chameleon always responds badly to being picked up, it might be best to stop.
If you really want to work on making your chameleon more comfortable with handling, try the technique outlined in this article.
It Frequently Tries To Escape
The habitat that you create for your pet chameleon should be satisfactory. How will you know if it has everything it needs? It won’t try to escape all the time.
Climbing up screens or hanging from the ceiling is not normal behavior for a comfortable chameleon. Trying to get out shows that your chameleon is not happy and is trying to either find something or get away from it.
Common problems are not having enough space and not having enough shelter. Try introducing more leaves and foliage, or moving the chameleon to a larger enclosure.
Make sure the chameleon can climb branches and raise the tank up if you can. They are arboreal and feel safest high up in the trees.
Heat, humidity, and the availability of UV lighting are also really important. Make sure the chameleon has a good circadian rhythm by programming sunrise and sunset settings for your lights.
It may also be seeking warmth, so ensure that there are sources available within the enclosure.
It Is A Female That Digs Away At The Substrate A Lot
If you have a female that is digging away at the ground, she is feeling uncomfortable. She is very likely to be gravid and is trying to dig a hole in which to lay and hide her eggs. She will be looking for a place that is cool, with soft, moist earth.
If she can’t find a good place to bury her eggs, she will become very stressed and possibly quite ill. What you need to do is provide her with the perfect dirt to dig in.
Place a deep container of clean soft earth or sand in the habitat. Make sure the material is safe and easy to dig a hole into without caving in. Now, give her some privacy and let her lay the eggs.
It is really important to accommodate this biological need, otherwise, she could become egg-bound. This means that she can’t push the eggs out of her body and will need emergency medical or surgical intervention.
Unless she has mated with a male, you can be sure the eggs are infertile. Let her bury them without being disturbed. Provide her with extra food, water, and rest, as she will be exhausted. Then, when she has left the eggs well alone, get rid of them.
Signs That Your Chameleon Is Unhealthy
It Is Losing Weight And Has Sagging Skin
We know that a good appetite is a sign of a happy, healthy chameleon. However, whether your chameleon is eating well or refusing food, you should be monitoring its weight and body condition.
Weigh your chameleon every month and you can build up baseline data of what is normal for your pet. You can weigh your chameleon by placing an empty container on the scale and zeroing it.
Then, place the chameleon in the container and weigh it. So simple!
You can also spot health red flags by checking your pet’s skin. Chameleons’ skin should be taught, not wrinkly or loose. Loose skin is a sure sign of dehydration and weight loss.
If you notice these symptoms, you should increase misting and try increasing dietary intake.
It Has A Dirty Vent
Chameleons are clean poopers and should not have a mess around their vents. If you see that your chameleon looks dirty, try moistening the area to get it clean, but don’t pick at it.
If the situation doesn’t resolve itself, or you repeatedly notice your chameleon has a dirty butt, there might be an underlying health condition.
Cloacal prolapse is, unfortunately, a common issue for chameleons that needs urgent treatment. Other possible causes could be intestinal parasites or an infection like bacterial cloacitis.
In any case, don’t touch the area. Gently moisten your chameleon, place it in a box and take it to the vet.
Its Eyes Are Flat And Collapsed
We discovered earlier that healthy chameleons have big, round, incredible eyes that protrude out from their heads. So what could be wrong if your chameleon’s eyes are flat and deflated?
A common culprit is dehydration, which is the most common cause of sickness and death in chameleons, so get misting! Another problem is often that the UV light is too close and causes pain and irritation.
If you see any injury to the eye, fluid discharge, or if the eyes do not return to normal after the chameleon drinks, you should see a vet. Chameleons’ eyes are complex and delicate, so don’t hesitate to seek treatment.
There Is Old Skin Stuck To It From The Previous Shed
When your pet sheds, all the skin should come off, revealing a bright and shiny new chameleon beneath. If old bits of skin are getting stuck, or you notice dry patches or strange white bumps and lumps, an infection may be present.
Infections could be from a range of bacterial or fungal origins, so it is important not to self-diagnose. Take your chameleon to the vet to ensure correct treatment.
It Is Drooling And Has A Red Mouth
Mouth rot or stomatitis is a common problem for chameleons. It is a bacterial infection that enters minute injuries to the mouth and causes swelling, redness, and yellow pus. This issue needs antibiotic treatment and you should take your pet to the vet.
It Is Has No Energy And Isn’t Eating
Lack of energy and refusing food are bad signs for your chameleon. Metabolic Bone Disease can cause this and is the second leading cause of death in chameleons. MBD makes the bones go spongy due to a lack of calcium.
Eventually, this leads to symptoms such as inability to use the tongue, lumps on the limbs, disorientation, and broken bones.
MBD can be prevented by ensuring that you provide vitamin D3-enriched calcium supplementation in your chameleon’s diet.
On top of that, your chameleon needs to get 12 hours of UVB light daily, in order to make enough vitamin D to absorb the calcium. Of course, if you are already seeing symptoms of MBD, you need to get to the vet.
Why Should You Keep Your Chameleon Happy And Healthy?
It is important to check that your chameleon is happy and healthy because stress is the silent killer. If your chameleon is showing you signs of anxiety, fear, or sickness, then it is also producing a stress hormone called cortisol.
When your chameleon (or you for that matter!) feels stress, its body makes cortisol, which is an awesome adaptation designed to help it escape from danger.
Cortisol increases the heart rate and boosts energy supplies by making glucose more available. Unfortunately, cortisol also suppresses other bodily functions like digestion, growth, and immune response.
Cortisol is designed to help the body survive in situations of acute stress, such as when predators are around or you want to compete for a mate. After the stress passes, cortisol drops, and bodily function returns to normal.
This is why chronic stress is so dangerous. Chronic stress is ongoing, and this means that cortisol levels stay high and cause damage.
For a happy chameleon, monitor the signs that we have talked about today. For a long and healthy life, remove causes of chronic stress and do more of what makes your pet (and you!) happy.