Chameleons are one of the world’s most unique creatures and are quickly growing in popularity among reptile lovers. However, owning a chameleon is certainly not an easy task and involves a considerable amount of responsibility to keep them happy and healthy.
From providing the proper habitat to ensuring a well-balanced diet with essential supplements, chameleons come with many specific needs that require advanced care.
So, if you’ve just purchased a chameleon or are thinking about getting one, you might be wondering:
How do I make my chameleon happy?
To ensure a happy and healthy chameleon, you’ll want to house them in a roomy screened enclosure with appropriate temperatures, UVB lighting, and humidity for their species. Provide lots of foliage for hiding and branches for climbing, and avoid handling them too much. Feed them a well-balanced diet with the necessary supplements for optimal health.
In a world full of misinformation about how to care for these little cuties, it can be tough for first-time owners to get it all right. But by doing some research and finding yourself here, you’re already setting your chameleon up for success!
In this article, we’ll explore all there is to know about how to raise a happy and healthy chameleon. We’ll even touch on some common husbandry mistakes, like if it’s ok to use colored lighting in your chameleon’s enclosure.
So, keep on reading for the best ways to care for your chameleon, and your new little buddy will be super grateful for it!
How To Make Your Chameleon Happy
When it comes to owning a chameleon, there are a few important things to know right from the start.
First and foremost, chameleons are incredibly delicate creatures. If even a single aspect of their care is not quite right, it can cause them to feel stressed and even make them very sick.
Also, it’s good to be aware that chameleons are not naturally social animals. They usually don’t enjoy interacting with humans and can be quite sensitive to our presence.
In fact, they often see us as a potential threat and might even hiss or bite, even if you’re just trying to feed them or take care of their needs.
So, it’s important to understand beforehand that there’s a possibility your chameleon might not be very friendly and that they will need to be more of a “look but don’t touch” type of pet.
Respecting their boundaries will be beneficial when trying to make your chameleon comfortable and happy.
Now, let’s get into some ways to properly care for your chameleon to give them the best chance at a happy and healthy life.
1. Proper Habitat
Most importantly, you’ll want to make sure you have all of the items you’ll need for a proper chameleon setup. This can be costly, so make sure you’re prepared to spend a few hundred dollars to get it all right.
Also, I strongly recommend against purchasing the “chameleon kit” seen at most pet stores. This is actually considered the “chameleon death kit” by experienced chameleon owners, as most of the items that come with it are completely wrong for your chameleon and will cause them to suffer.
Chameleons are arboreal creatures, meaning they live high up in the trees. For this reason, they need a habitat that provides height for climbing and a good amount of airflow.
For adult chameleons, you’ll want to house them in a large screened-in enclosure, like the Zoo Med Reptibreeze XL (24 in. x 24 in. x 48in.)
If you’re purchasing a baby or juvenile chameleon, you can start them in a smaller-sized cage and then upgrade to a larger one as they grow bigger.
I’ve also seen people successfully house chameleons in repurposed bird cages – just be sure there isn’t enough space for your chameleon to escape or for a predatory house pet, like a cat, to get in.
To provide your chameleon with the UVB lighting they need to grow healthy and strong, you’ll want to use a linear T5HO bulb and hood at a minimum length of 24” (the length of your enclosure). Zoo Med and Arcadia brands produce these, and both come recommended.
Depending on the species, you’ll need a certain type of UVB bulb:
Veiled: Arcadia 12% / Zoo Med Reptisun 10.0
Panther: Arcadia 6% or 12% / Zoo Med Reptisun 5.0 or 10.0
Jackson’s: Arcadia 6% / Zoo Med Reptisun 5.0
UVB Lighting can be confusing at first, but the most important thing is to avoid dome UVB lighting because it doesn’t have a high enough output of UVB for your chameleon.
In the wild, chameleons will make their way up to the tops of trees to bask in the sun and warm up. To replicate this, you’ll also want to provide your chameleon with a dome fixture basking light.
Any regular household incandescent BR30-BR40 flood light (65w or 75w) will work. Avoid LED lighting because those bulbs don’t put out enough warmth.
Also, avoid using any red or colored lights! While they may look cool in the enclosure, this lighting is unnatural to your chameleon and will negatively affect their eyesight.
Temperature is another important factor in your chameleon’s habitat.
As cold-blooded creatures, chameleons rely on their surrounding temperatures to regulate their body heat. Without the correct temperatures, they could become lethargic and ill, unable to properly function.
Depending on the species, their temps should be in the recommended ranges:
Veiled – ambient 70-85 F / basking spot 90-95 F
Panther – ambient 70-80 F / basking spot 85 F
Jackson – ambient 70 F / basking spot 80-85 F
It’s a good idea to purchase a temperature gun to monitor the temps in your chameleon’s enclosure.
It’s also crucial to ensure that the moisture levels in your chameleon’s enclosure are just right for their species. Typically, this means aiming for around 40-60% humidity during the day, and 80-90% humidity at night.
Misting a couple of times a day and providing a dripper that drips water into your cham’s enclosure are good ways to keep the humidity up. Using live plants will also help.
If you happen to live in a dry climate where it’s a challenge to maintain high humidity levels, try covering one or two sides of the enclosure with a shower curtain or some plastic covering.
This will help to keep moisture in, just be careful not to create a sauna effect by covering all sides. Remember that they still need that airflow.
You can also bump the humidity levels up at night, if needed, by using a fogging machine set to a timer.
Provide your chameleon with lots of live plants (cham-safe, of course!) and plenty of branches and vines to climb around on.
The dense foliage will allow them to feel safe and give them places to hide, while the branches will allow them to be mobile.
All of the above elements put together will create the proper natural environment for your chameleon, and give them the best possible chance at a happy life.
2. Diet And Supplements
Feeding your chameleon a varied diet and supplementing their vitamin and mineral needs is essential for their health and happiness. Neglecting any of the following details could lead to serious health problems for your cham.
Crickets, dubia roaches, silkworms, soldier fly larvae, super worms, and hornworms are a good variety to serve. Mealworms and waxworms aren’t recommended due to potential digestive issues, high fat, and low nutrition.
For optimum health, you’ll want to gut-load the feeder insects you feed to your chameleon about 24 hours prior to meal time. This allows the insects to absorb additional nutrients that are beneficial to your chameleon.
Carrots, mango, parsley, sweet potato, dandelion greens, and mustard greens are a few healthy choices you can gut-load your bugs with. Sprinkling powdered bee pollen on top of the veggies is an excellent way to add additional immune benefits for your cham.
Next, you’ll want to lightly dust the insects with a plain calcium supplement (without vitamin D3) at every – or – every other feeding. If you’re doing every feeding, maybe only dust 2-3 bugs and leave the rest undusted.
It’s important that the calcium does not have vitamin D3 in it because they get that from their UVB bulb, and too much vitamin D can lead to an overdose.
Then, twice a month (every two weeks), you’ll want to dust the insects with a multivitamin (with D3) with preformed vitamin A.
Be careful not to overdo it on the dusting – we don’t want powdered doughnuts. Too much of a powdered supplement can cause liver failure in chameleons.
3. Provide A Lay Bin
If you happen to own a female chameleon, you’ll need to provide her with a “lay bin”.
Female chameleons have the remarkable ability to produce and lay eggs every 2-3 months, regardless of whether they’ve been fertilized or not. Because of this, they need somewhere to dig a hole and lay their eggs, just like they would in the wild.
You’ll want to use a lay bin that’s at least 8” deep and 12” wide. A large planter pot works well, or any other deep container.
Fill it with an organic, chemical-free soil mixture that is damp enough that it clumps up when squeezed in your hand. She needs to be able to dig tunnels in the soil mixture without it collapsing in on her.
Providing this for your girl will enable her to happily go about her instinctual behaviors, while hopefully preventing any issues, like her becoming egg-bound.
4. House Separately
By nature, chameleons are solitary creatures who assert their territorial boundaries. If a trespassing chameleon wanders into a space they deem as theirs, they will put on a threatening display, warning the intruder to back off.
The same can happen in captivity if two chameleons are housed together or if they can see each other in the room. It’s always best to house chameleons separately and to also make sure they’re unable to see each other.
You can do this by placing them in different rooms, or by putting a cover or divider between each of their cages that blocks their view of one another.
This allows them to thrive and be happy without feeling threatened by the presence of another chameleon in their space.
5. Be Calm
Another way to ensure the happiness of your chameleon is to have a gentle and calm demeanor when interacting with them.
Speak softly, using a soothing tone, and avoid making sudden loud noises that could startle them.
Always move slowly around your chameleon, allowing them to feel comfortable and secure in your presence.
6. Hand Feed
Hand-feeding your chameleon is a great way to build trust with them.
Chameleons are naturally timid creatures, so by offering them food directly from your hand, you are showing them that you’re a trusted source of nourishment and care.
This act of trust-building can help your chameleon to feel at ease when you’re around them, leading to less stress and more happiness.
7. Minimize Handling
Since chameleons are so captivating, it can be hard to resist the urge to hold them. However, these little creatures generally prefer to have their personal space respected.
Try to refrain from reaching in and grabbing them, especially from above, which can be perceived as a threat. Let your chameleon come to you when they’re comfortable.
By giving them the choice to engage with you, you’re creating a positive and comfortable experience for them, which ultimately leads to their contentment.
8. Let Them Free Roam
On the contrary to the above, if your chameleon is comfortable with handling and enjoys some freedom, a great way to make them happy is by letting them explore beyond their enclosure.
Designate a free-roaming area with vines and branches, or let them hang out in an indoor tree or cham-safe house plant. You can even take them outside for some fresh air and real sunlight every once in a while.
Just be sure to keep a watchful eye on them as they roam, because they can easily get lost or become prey to outdoor predators, like birds flying overhead.
9. Give Them Space
Lastly, respecting your chameleon’s need for space is crucial to their happiness. These creatures value their solitude and don’t always want constant human presence.
Allow them to explore their enclosure and enjoy their alone time without someone hovering around them.
By understanding and honoring their need for personal space, you’re promoting their well-being and overall happiness.
6 Signs A Chameleon Is Happy And Content
The below behaviors are signs of a happy and healthy chameleon. You can also check out this video to learn more about some of these signs, here:
They Have Vibrant Colors
A happy chameleon should have healthy skin with vibrant coloring.
They should be showing more mellow hues, like greens, blues, and browns, that are often displayed when your chameleon is just lounging around or exploring freely.
These colors are a good sign that your chameleon is feeling at ease and in a positive state of mind.
Their Body Posture Is Relaxed
When a chameleon’s body is relaxed and its tail is not curled up tightly in a coil, this is a good sign of positive body language.
It suggests that they’re feeling safe in their environment and have no immediate threats or stressors to worry about.
Their Eyes Are Open And Wandering
A chameleon’s eyes play a vital role in expressing its well-being.
When a chameleon is happy and healthy, their eyes will be open and alert, casually scanning their surroundings. You’ll notice that their eyes are clear with a distinct brightness, and a plump, round shape.
This is a sign of good hydration and proper eye function, which indicates overall happiness and good health for your cham.
They’re Actively Exploring
You can easily spot a happy chameleon if it actively and curiously explores its enclosure during the day, without any signs of fear or stress.
It should be moving about with ease and walking confidently as it checks out its environment.
They Have A Good Appetite
A happy chameleon loves to eat! When it comes to feeding time, your chameleon should be eagerly hunting down its food and consuming it without hesitation.
Its tongue should be able to shoot out swiftly and reach a good distance, and it should be able to target its tasty meal with precision.
Whether it’s munching on crickets or savoring a juicy hornworm, a chameleon with a good appetite indicates good health and overall well-being.
They Spend Time Basking
A content chameleon will show a sense of confidence and security in its surroundings.
Instead of staying hidden away under leaves, it will venture out into the open and spend time leisurely basking on a branch, soaking up the warmth from its heat source.
5 Signs A Chameleon Is Unhappy Or Stressed
The below behaviors indicate that something might be bothering your chameleon, and are signs to pay attention to:
Their Eyes Are Closed During The Day
Closed eyes can signal a chameleon’s discomfort or a desire to withdraw from its surroundings.
Suppose you notice that your chameleon is closing its eyes during an interaction with you or while sitting in its enclosure during daylight hours. In that case, this is a strong indication that your chameleon is either stressed or very ill.
It’s important to pay attention to these signs and reach out to your veterinarian if you have any concerns.
Their Colors Drastically Change
This dramatic shift in coloration can indicate that they are experiencing heightened emotions and are not in a calm state.
They Puff Up Into A Defensive Stance
Along with drastic color changes, chameleons will puff up their bodies, curl up their tails, and open their mouths wide when feeling defensive. This is their way of looking as big and intimidating as possible to their perceived threat.
If the threat persists, they will really turn up the aggression by hissing, lunging, and biting if necessary.
When you see your chameleon doing this, it’s one of the telltale signs that they are extremely unhappy and uncomfortable.
They Try To Escape
Similarly to other reptiles, if you notice your chameleon constantly trying to escape, climbing the walls, or scratching at the screen, it’s a clear sign they are feeling uneasy and seeking a way out.
This behavior could be triggered by various factors such as improper habitat conditions, lack of hiding spots, or even feeling overwhelmed by external stimuli.
They’re “Leaf Walking” Or “Hiding” From You
Chameleons have some unique tricks up their sleeves when trying to camouflage themselves, and it doesn’t have to do with their coloring.
When they feel exposed or uncomfortable, chameleons will engage in a behavior called “leaf walking”. This involves moving very slowly while rocking back and forth, almost as if they’re imitating the swaying of a leaf in the wind.
They also sometimes lean off to the side of a branch, seemingly hiding from view behind the width of it.
These peculiar actions serve as a defense mechanism, allowing the chameleon to blend in with its surroundings and avoid detection.
Take a good look at the picture below. Can you spot my chameleon “hiding” from me?
To sum it all up, making your chameleon happy is all about understanding their unique needs and providing them with a suitable environment.
If you take the time to observe their behavior and body language, they will communicate their feelings and preferences to you.
By creating a comfortable and stress-free habitat, offering a varied and nutritious diet, building trust through gentle interaction, and respecting their need for personal space, you will create a joyful and fulfilling life for your colorful little companion.