Assistance Needed: Palliative Care for Sick Jackson's Chameleon


Established Member
Good Evening All,

My Jackson's Chameleon is fairly sick from an abscess turned mouth-rot that developed very quickly over the holidays. I've taken him to the vet, and she gave me ceftazidime injections I need to give him every three days along with subcutaneous saline. I also need to swab his mouth with a dilute nolvasan solution daily. It's a whole process that my animal is (understandably) very unenthused about. I'm supposed to keep it up for three weeks.

I’m currently a week into the three-week course. Fortunately, he seems to be responding to the antibiotics, and his abscess and the associated mouth-rot are well on their way to healing. Unfortunately, the treatment seems to be stressing him out to the point where he completely refuses to eat, though he will drink unprompted. He has also been lethargic and spending about half the day sleeping. Whether this is a side effect of the drugs or just the stress from getting yanked out of his cage for a daily weigh-and-swab, I can't say.

So the issue at hand really seems to be keeping him alive for the duration of the therapy. I'm looking for any thoughts or suggestions on how to maximize the odds of success while minimizing stress. After he dropped about four grams (representing about 8% of his total mass, he's fairly small with his max healthy weight being 52 grams and typically around 50-51) I decided to start a round of gentle force feedings. I have been feeding him a bug smoothie (1mL per day), made up of pulverized crickets, superworms, and waxworms, with a little bit of pedialyte, egg yolk, and "Zilla Jump Start Caloric Supplement." He swallows it and his weight seems to have stabilized, but it's a little too soon to tell.

So my specific questions I’m looking for answers to: 1) Has anyone used ceftazidime for their sick chameleon? What was the animal’s reaction to the therapy? Is lethargy an associated side-effect? 2) Does this sound like a reasonable strategy for feeding? Has anyone else successfully used bug juice for force feeding? Any suggested alterations for my recipe? 3) Any additional suggestions?

Thanks for your help.


Established Member
Side note: I know the typical approach is list enclosure specs and husbandry info. I've consulted with this forum in the past and with the vet and my setup is within recommended parameters and there have been no recent alterations. I'll post a link to a previous thread describing setup (if I can find it, I'm still acclimating to the new site layout). I'm taking my chameleon in for a follow up with the vet once he finishes his round of antibiotics, and at that time I plan to discuss what could have caused the infection to begin with. I figure I should probably get him screened for parasites too.


Chameleon Enthusiast
Did the vet clean/scrape out the area where the mouth rot was?
Did he/she do a culture and sensitivity test?
Some meds can make the chameleon lethargic and most are hard on the keep up the hydration and the "bug juice".

Good luck with your chameleon!


Avid Member
I haven't used that particular drug so can't really say what the side effects are I know antibiotics can be a little ruff. It sounds like you are doing everything you can, and you have a follow up visit with your vet. As long as he keeps improving, and his weight stays stable I think things should work out. After his treatment might try some probiotics to help improve his apatite, and replace beneficial flora. Sorry I couldn't be of more help


Established Member
We didn't do a culture, she said (probably correctly) that is was best to start a treatment with a broad spectrum antibiotic rather than to wait on culture results, and I should come back in if I wasn't seeing improvement. Apparently mouth swabs aren't the best method to ferret out what the infectious agent is because a variety of organisms can take root in the mouth, particularly if there's a pre-existing infection. I was offered a blood test, but she didn't think it was critical and I was told it could be traumatic to their tails.

As for scraping out, we're not sure whether that will be necessary. The vet said she didn't feel any hardened pus and she thinks the infection may clear up on its own with the antibiotics and mouth cleaning. The follow-up is to assess the effectiveness of the antibiotics and determine if there's detritus that needs to be surgically removed. His mouth is healing well, but he remains unthrifty. The vet was fairly positive about her expectations, more so that I am, just because of how cruddy the chameleon looked at the time.

My distinct impression is that the veterinary care my chameleon has been receiving is satisfactory in terms of disease treatment. However, I'm still in the position of having to manage an animal that's not happy and has no appetite, presumably because he's sick and loaded up with drugs. I know I feel sick to my stomach when I have to take antibiotics, and I don't have to chase down and capture my meals.

Is there an accepted "bug juice" recipe? I sort of made my own by piecing together different suggestions I found online. I saw a few people included "ensure plus" (the meal supplement for old people), but I wasn't sure the flavoring of a sweet breakfast drink would be good for a lizard. The Zilla caloric supplement is made for sick reptiles, but I definitely get sheisty vibes from it. However, it contains some vitamins and is the right consistency to help make the other ingredients load into a syringe. The pedialyte, egg yolk, and zilla goo are basically just included to cut the bug mash enough that I can load it into a syringe.


Chameleon Enthusiast
I'm sorry you are going through this. I went through a similar situation with my Jax last summer. After several rounds of various illnesses, including a nasty infection in the soft tissues of his esophagus, I did lose him. He went off food first, completely understandable, and dropped from 65g to 52g, a similar weight loss to your guy. We fought two cycles of infections and parasites. For over a month, he was drinking on his own, and I was force feeding bug mush with reptaboost. He stopped drinking at the end, and no amount of forced hydration, including IV at the vet, could save him. We did a blood test late in the process and discovered that his liver had failed, so I elected to put him down. (I had been told that he was CB, but after I lost him, I discovered some things about the guy who I am pretty sure was his "breeder" that makes me think that was a lie. I don't think knowing would have saved him, but it was an important piece of the puzzle in his care that I did not have.) I suspect my Jax had likely been in progressive liver failure for the last few months of his life, and had I known earlier, I would have made different choices for him.

I share this not to say that the same thing is going on with your Jax, but that with these symptoms I think doing a blood test is very important. Your vet sounds good, so she should be able to draw the sample without much issue. It was pricey and took a few days to get the results back, but I wish I had done it earlier in the illness.

I understand your desire to minimize stress - it was a hard balance for me as well. I don't have any great advice on that except you have to do what needs to be done to treat him. Poor little guy - I really hope he pulls through.


Avid Member
I'm curently treating my young female veiled with Ceftazidime for an RI. She has about 3 more doses left and she'll be done. As for loss of appetite, definitely with mine. She stopped eating completely. I've been having to force feed her every other day (when she gets her shot). Only takes 30 second or so for me to do so. But I know it stresses her. Mine has also as yours did, keep drinking. She actually started drinking more after starting the medication. Mine lacks the lethargic behavior yours is displaying though. She's still up and moving just fine and isn't showing signs of weakness. Hope this helps!
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