Many chameleon keepers are scared to go to the vet with their animals. Everywhere on the world wide web, people say that a visit to the vet would be “pure stress”. The saying “a sick chameleon is a dead chameleon” is familiar to most keepers after few months of chameleon keeping yet. This article will dispel this rumor a little.
Generally, we need to say first: A sick chameleon ALWAYS needs a reptile vet. The fact that many chameleons die despite treatment is in most cases not due to wrong treatment or an “untreatable” chameleon, but due to a presentation of a deadly sick animal to the vet when it’s far too late.
Why do so many chameleons die early?
1. Chameleons are wild animals, although some species have been breeding for several generations. In captivity as in the wilderness, they always tried to hide any signs of sickness and try to look “healthy” as long as possible. In plain language: When we as keepers see first signs of disease, the chameleon already has been sick for a while in most cases. Additionally, it is not easy to recognize slight, first symptoms if you are not having a lot of experience with chameleons. Keepers who tend to wait some days (sadly in reptiles it’s often weeks), it may be simply too late when the chameleon is finally presented to the veterinarian. Each reptile vet sees such scenarios on a regular basis with different kinds of reptiles.
2. Another variant is that the keeper does notice there is something wrong with his chameleon, but he firsts posts pictures in forums or social networks to ask other keepers for treatment ideas. Unfortunately, the web is full of well-intentioned, but mainly fatal and highly dangerous tips from medical laypersons. Even a vet usually cannot give you a remote diagnosis from some pictures.
Note: A sick chameleon should be presented to a vet as soon as possible. Bites, burns, and other wounds are also a case for your reptile vet and not for Dr. Google.
The right veterinarian
Usually, your dog’s and cat’s vet may not be the right person to treat your chameleon. Today, there are a lot of specialists for reptiles, and with emergency cases, you can often get an appointment short-termed. In the best case, you already look for a reptile vet in your area before buying a chameleon. Two reliable addresses are better because one might have holidays or be full right when your animal has a problem.
Members of AG Amphibian and Reptile Diseases of DGHT (Germany, Austria, Switzerland)
Association of Reptilian and Amphibian veterinarians (international)
In some countries and regions, keepers have to drive far to see a reptile vet. But this should not discourage you from a visit. It is no problem to transport a chameleon even some hours under good transport conditions. We as keepers are obliged and responsible to let our chameleon get medical care in case of a disease. Even financial problems must not and cannot be reasons to let a sick animal suffer. In case of emergency, ask friends or relatives for help or sign an installment contract. But if you already know from the beginning that you have no money left besides daily keeping costs, you should generally do not buy a chameleon – or any other animal. Chameleons are cost-intensive, and they probably will need some medical treatment somewhen in their life. If you cannot afford the money, please do not buy a chameleon.
Transporting the animal to the vet’s
For transportation, the chameleon should be kept safe and warm as described in this article in detail. Before making your chameleon ready to go, please call your vet or animal hospital and ask if the reptile colleague is available and can offer an appointment for you today.
The vet visit
In each waiting room, there are opportunities to place your polystyrene box safely, so it either does not fall from the application desk or is maltreated by the neighbor’s dog. In any case, please do not open the box inside the waiting room, do not take the animal outside, and do not check every few minutes “how the chameleon looks like”. This is unnecessary. The air in a closed polystyrene box suffices for several hours. Especially in sick chameleons, you should avoid all unnecessary disturbances of the animal.
Inside the treatment room, your reptile vet will have a lot of questions about your keeping conditions. Then he or she will first look at the chameleon without touching it. To examine a reptile, the vet “does less” than you are used to in dogs or cats because e.g. a clinical thermometer is useless in ectothermic animals. But the examination is at least as important as in usual pets. While watching and examining the chameleon, your reptile vet gains important information about the state of health and localization of probable problems.
Often the vet needs to do further diagnostics to get a diagnosis and recognize or exclude diseases. Reptile vets can do many examinations, for example, x-rays, blood sampling or skin swabs like your normal vet does it with your dog and cat. Ask if you do not understand something or if you have no idea why the vet is going to do a certain examination. Your vet will be glad to explain it. Many diseases in chameleons are treatable today. Even surgeries under anesthesia or long-term treatment of chronically ill reptiles are no exception anymore. So you really do not have to be afraid of a vet visit, just the opposite.
In conclusion, there are three factors to make a visit to the vet successful:
- an attentive keeper who recognizes the first signs of disease and makes an appointment immediately
- species-appropriate transport of the chameleon
- a reptile vet, who in best case also knows chameleons.
And finally, a note about seriously ill animals: If medicines are no longer helping, your vet can at least redeem your chameleon from suffering. “Natural” death is in most cases certainly not merciful and quick, but protracting over hours and days torturously. So if any treatment is past hope, please help your chameleon on its last way and let your vet put him or her to sleep.