Chameleons are fascinating creatures that make great pets, but they can also be quite delicate. If you’re a chameleon owner, you may have noticed your pet shaking or trembling at times.
While this behavior is completely normal in some cases, it can also be an indication of something else, such as stress, improper care, and illnesses – the most serious of which is metabolic bone disease or MBD.
In this article, we’ll explore the reasons why a chameleon may be shaking and what can be done about it.
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6 Reasons Why Chameleons Shake
Here are the most common reasons why your chameleon may be shaking, wobbling, or trembling, ranging from normal to concerning.
Like most–if not all–animals, chameleons behave based on instinct. Even captive-bred chameleons who have never had any interactions with the wild world outside retain many of their instincts.
One of the most common instinctual behaviors you’ll see with chameleons is shaking.
Birds and snakes regularly prey on wild chameleons. Due to this, chameleons are constantly trying to blend into their surroundings.
Shaking, wobbling, or rocking back and forth is one way to do that. This type of movement makes them look like leaves, twigs, and other items in their environment, which helps them stay safe from predators.
Funnily enough, chameleons may also start wobbling slowly when you approach them because they think it will make them invisible to you.
In other words, it’s chams believing they’re being stealthy, even though it actually makes them more noticeable to us humans. It’s basically the chameleon version of a child hiding behind a pole because they think it’s a good enough hiding spot.
If you see your chameleon wobbling while perched on a branch, there’s nothing to be worried about. They’re probably just doing their best to balance themselves so as not to fall.
This is especially true if they’re also walking slowly on the branch – they’re “wobbling” because they want to make sure that they’re grabbing onto the branch correctly before proceeding.
Older chameleons may shake more than younger chameleons. This is normal and doesn’t necessarily indicate a problem.
As they age, their muscles and bones weaken, and they may shake as they move around. While not exactly a problem, you could supplement your chameleon with calcium or vitamin D3 to boost their overall health, particularly their joints.
Chameleons are cold-blooded animals, which means their body temperature changes depending on the ambient temperature.
When the temperature in their enclosure is wrong, they may start shaking because their bodies are having difficulty regulating their temperature.
If your chameleon is shaking due to the wrong temperature, you can gradually change the ambient temperature of its enclosure by a few degrees.
They should have a basking spot to hang out when they’re cold, as well as plenty of shade and hiding spots to keep themselves cool.
Stress is also another possible reason why your chameleon is shaking. Unfortunately, it’s incredibly common and can be caused by anything from improper husbandry to too much handling.
Chameleons who are overly stressed will often shake, as well as display other stress-related behaviors such as gaping or hissing when approached.
Metabolic Bone Disease
Unfortunately, one of the most concerning reasons why your chameleon may be shaking is metabolic bone disease (MBD).
MBD, also referred to as Rickets, is a very common issue in pet chameleons. Sadly, metabolic bone disease is a progressive illness in chameleons, which means there’s technically no real cure – you won’t be able to “reverse” all of the ill effects caused by MBD, such as curved spines and deformities.
The worst part is that many cham owners don’t realize their chameleon has MBD until it’s too late.
In the next section, we’ll discuss MBD in more detail, such as what it is, what causes it, what the symptoms are, and what you can do if your chameleon has MBD.
What is Metabolic Bone Disease?
Metabolic bone disease, or MBD, is an umbrella term that refers to any issues related to calcium deficiency. These issues can range from mild and treatable to more severe and potentially fatal.
Many animals, including humans, can get MBD, and chameleons are not an exception. If you suspect your chameleon has MBD, it’s important to consult with a veterinarian who specializes in reptiles for proper diagnosis and treatment.
However, while MBD in humans can be successfully treated, there’s no real cure for MBD in chameleons. Once a chameleon gets MBD, many of the effects will remain with them for the rest of their days. For instance, broken bones can be treated and healed, but they will stay in their broken positions forever.
The only thing we can do as responsible owners is to minimize the negative effects of the disease to make sure they can still live a comfortable and, ideally, full life.
Symptoms of MBD in Chameleons
It’s important to catch the signs early if you want to make sure your chameleon’s MBD doesn’t get worse. Some of the symptoms to look out for include:
- Difficulty walking or balancing
- Lack of coordination
- Bent jaws
- Weak back legs
- Underdeveloped or deformed casques
- Curved or deformed spine
- Curled toes and hind legs
- Swollen ankles
- Lack of appetite
At first, you may notice your chameleon having problems walking properly. But as the disease progresses over time, they will slowly lose the ability to grab onto branches and even climb.
What Causes MBD in Chameleons?
There are three main culprits of MBD in chameleons, although they all technically revolve around calcium.
Not Enough Calcium
MBD is usually caused by a lack of calcium in the chameleon. It’s most common in captive-bred veiled chameleons than any other chameleon species, mainly due to the speed of growth that they experience in captivity as opposed to the wild.
Veiled chameleons usually live in arid climates, which means they don’t always have easy access to calcium. When kept in captivity, their growth is accelerated, and they need more calcium than normal to keep their bones healthy.
Without enough calcium through supplements or gut-loaded feeders, these chameleons may eventually develop metabolic bone disease.
Too Much Phosphorus
Phosphorus is an essential mineral that plays a significant role in the development and maintenance of bones in chameleons. That said, an excess of phosphorus or a deficiency of calcium can lead to metabolic bone disease (MBD) in these reptiles.
When a chameleon’s diet is high in phosphorus compared to calcium, the body will take calcium from the bones instead to meet its needs. This results in weak, brittle bones and improper bone growth, leading to conditions like MBD.
Insufficient UV Light
We always say that chameleons need UV lighting in their enclosures, but it’s especially important if you want to prevent them from developing MBD.
That’s because insufficient exposure to UVB rays means that chameleons won’t be able to get the calcium they need to maintain healthy bones.
When chameleons are exposed to UVB light, they produce vitamin D3, which helps their body absorb calcium from
So, if a chameleon does not have access to a full-spectrum UV light source, then it won’t be able to produce enough vitamin D3 for its body to absorb the necessary amount of calcium.
This is the biggest reason why MBD is most commonly found in captive chameleons and not wild chameleons.
In the wild, chameleons can get all the UV light they need from the sun, unlike pet chameleons, who have to rely on their owners to provide them with the right lighting.
While these three are the main causes of MBD in chameleons, other factors can also play a part.
- Lack of physical activity. Chameleons that don’t move or exercise enough are more likely to develop this disease than those that are active. Not moving means the bones can become weak over time, which can lead to an increased risk of MBD.
- Weight. Excess weight in chameleons can alter the hormone levels in their body that regulate calcium absorption. Extra weight also increases the amount of calcium they need, which they can’t produce on their own. Plus, overweight chameleons may have a hard time moving, which can further contribute to the development of MBD.
- Genetics. Some chameleon species simply have a genetic predisposition to developing MBD. As mentioned above, veiled chameleons are more likely to develop MBD than other species like panther chameleons or Jackson’s chameleons.
How to Prevent MBD in Chameleons
Since there’s no real cure for MBD in chameleons, it’s only natural that prevention is the best way to go. Here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Provide adequate UV lighting. One of the most important things you can do for your chameleon is ensure it has access to full-spectrum UV light. Remember not to put it too close, as this can cause burns. You can also set up a safe and secure outdoor enclosure for your chameleon so that it can soak up the sun’s natural rays. Just a few hours per week should suffice.
- Feed a balanced diet. As we mentioned before, the ratio of calcium to phosphorus in your chameleon’s diet is very important. Maintaining a balanced, nutritious diet that is low in phosphorus and high in calcium and Vitamin A is absolutely essential in preventing MBD.
- Check your hydration system. Chameleon owners should also strive to maintain proper hydration levels by misting, drip systems, or hydration pools to make sure their chameleons can hydrate properly. A dehydrated chameleon is not a healthy chameleon, so their ability to absorb calcium will be compromised.
As you can see, preventing MBD in chameleons requires a bit of effort, but it’s definitely doable.
Just remember that if you’re new to the hobby and you suspect your chameleon has MBD, it’s best to take it as soon as possible to a reputable herp vet so that you can stop the disease in its tracks before it gets worse.