Frequently Asked Questions - Health and Illness

Health and Illness FAQ
This FAQ is a reflection of my experience and opinions on the matter and generally reflects the general consensus of the experienced forum members and experienced enthusiasts. Much credit is given to those with more experience than I who are always offering their expertise such as Kinyonga, Laurie, Jannb, Carol, Chris Anderson, Olimpia, Sandrachameleon, Trace etc.

Q: What is Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD)?
A: Metabolic Bone Disease is unfortunately a common disease of reptiles due to lack of dietary calcium, imbalanced nutrition and/or lack of UVB rays. Just one of these things can cause serious disease even if the other aspects are all present. UVB rays are needed in reptiles to produce Vitamin D3 in the skin, which is necessary to absorb calcium from the food. Without UVB rays from either unfiltered sunlight or a UVB producing bulb then your chameleon cannot absorb the calcium you are giving it. If you are not providing an adequate level of calcium in the diet then no amount of UVB will make up for it. Too high levels of phosphorus in the diet will interfere with calcium absorption so even with good calcium levels and UVB the body is still not getting enough. To compensate for inadequate calcium absorption the body will pull calcium directly out of the bones so there is enough calcium for critical functions like muscle movement and metabolism. On x-rays the bones may not even show up in the end stages because there is so little calcium left. MBD affected animals (doesn't just happen to reptiles) can have bones break just walking because they are so weak. MBD eventually kills them because the body needs calcium for many bodily processes. Signs of MBD include stunted growth, bent legs bones, fractures of those bones (double elbows or knees), grabbing at its own legs, tongue not shooting as far, a soft jaw, the mouth doesn’t close all the way, etc.

Damage from MBD cannot be reversed completely but the process can be stopped and the bones can heal if proper UVB is supplied and the imbalance of dietary calcium is addressed (see nutrition section). A vet may have to give injectable calcium to replace the deficit in more than mild cases. It is very important to address MBD as soon as symptoms are noticed to stop the damage being done.

Q: My chameleon has something red sticking out of his/her butt. What is it?
A: The color red means it is some type of internal organ that has prolapsed, or inverted on itself and fallen out of the body. A prolapse is a medical emergency and needs to be addressed asap. If the tissue dies or dries out it is very susceptible to infection that can then spread to the rest of the body. If it is a hemipene (male reproductive organ) then it can be amputated if it won't stay in since they only use it for reproduction, not urination or defecation. If it is the rectum or uterine tissue that has prolapsed it needs to be replaced and surgically fixed to prevent future prolapse. If the tissue dies then your chameleon will not survive, as there is no way to fix that.

Keep it clean with warm water and moist with ky jelly to keep the tissue alive and get your chameleon to a vet with reptile experience. Warm sugar water can be applied to try to get the tissue to shrink but if this does not work within an hour do not delay in finding a vet asap and keep it moist in the meantime.

Q: What is the white stuff around my chameleon’s nose?
A: Some reptiles have a salt gland near the nose to get rid of excess salts from their diet or water source. This causes crusty white buildup around the nose sometimes. It is NOT purely excess calcium (a common myth), but is actually made up primarily of excess sodium and potassium with very tiny amounts of calcium. Do not change your calcium supplementation as the buildup is completely harmless and reducing calcium can have very severe consequences. Check your water for salt content and you may need to use a different water source with lower sodium. If they bother you or your cham then gently wipe them away with a moist q-tip.

Q: Why is my chameleon’s tongue not shooting out all the way/ missing the bugs/ not sticky?
A: Problems with the tongue may indicate a health problem associated with a vitamin or calcium imbalance or deficiency. Please read Sandrachameleon’s blog for info on this subject.

Q: I have a health question, how do I ask it? (Chameleon not eating, sleeping during the day, laying at the bottom of the cage, not active, etc.)
A: If you are concerned about your chameleon’s health or your cage setup you can create a new thread in the health clinic section. Title it with the symptoms you are seeing. Copy and paste the health form and fill out all the answers in detail:
Chameleon Info:
• Your Chameleon - The species, sex, and age of your chameleon. How long has it been in your care?
• Handling - How often do you handle your chameleon?
• Feeding - What are you feeding your cham? What amount? What is the schedule? How are you gut-loading your feeders?
• Supplements - What brand and type of calcium and vitamin products are you dusting your feeders with and what is the schedule?
• Watering - What kind of watering technique do you use? How often and how long to you mist? Do you see your chameleon drinking?
• Fecal Description - Briefly note colors and consistency from recent droppings. Has this chameleon ever been tested for parasites?
• History - Any previous information about your cham that might be useful to others when trying to help you.

Cage Info:
• Cage Type - Describe your cage (Glass, Screen, Combo?) What are the dimensions?
• Lighting - What brand, model, and types of lighting are you using? What is your daily lighting schedule?
• Temperature - What temp range have you created (cage floor to basking spot)? Lowest overnight temp? How do you measure these temps?
• Humidity - What are your humidity levels? How are you creating and maintaining these levels? What do you use to measure humidity?
• Plants - Are you using live plants? If so, what kind?
• Placement - Where is your cage located? Is it near any fans, air vents, or high traffic areas? At what height is the top of the cage relative to your room floor?
• Location - Where are you geographically located?

Current Problem - The current problem you are concerned about.

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