Why Does My Chameleon Keep Going to the Bottom of His Cage?

If you’ve provided your chameleon with plenty of leafy branches and interesting places to explore, it can be strange to see your pet hanging out at the bottom of its enclosure. You may be wondering whether your chameleon just likes to sit down there, or if it’s suffering from some sort of health issue. 

So why does my chameleon keep going to the bottom of his cage? Spending time at the bottom of its cage can be a sign of an unsuitable environment, dehydration, or illness.

Read on to find out exactly what causes chameleons to spend an excessive amount of time at the bottom of their enclosures. We’ll give plenty of details on the proper environment for chameleons, how to cure dehydration, and what kinds of illnesses are common for these pets. 

Environmental Issues

Most of the time, if a chameleon is hiding at the bottom of its cage, this is a sign that the temperature of the enclosure is too warm. Your pet is attempting to escape the heat by getting as far away from it as they possibly can, and typically they’re able to find some shade and cooler temperatures at the bottom of the cage. Here are the basic guidelines you’ll need to follow in order to provide your chameleon with a safe and healthy environment.

Temperature

You’ll need a temperature gradient in your chameleon’s enclosure, which in this case means that the bottom of the cage will be cooler and the top will be warmer. During the daytime, the cool area should be around 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and the warm area should range from 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

At night time, the overall temperature should be between 65 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Be sure to have two separate thermometers in your chameleon’s enclosure in order to keep track of the temperatures in both the cool and warm areas.

Keep in mind that your chameleon needs exposure to UVB light for 12 hours out of the day, and the other 12 hours should be spent in darkness to keep up a regular day and night cycle. Without a UVB light, your pet won’t be able to process calcium and could develop health issues.

Humidity

In order to stay hydrated, your chameleon needs a humidity level of 50 to 75 percent. To maintain this humidity level, you can invest in a rain system or use the misting method. While rain systems can be expensive, the benefit is that once they’re programmed, they do all the work themselves.

On the other hand, the misting method is much more affordable but requires more effort to maintain. You’ll need to mist your chameleon’s enclosure about three times per day in order to provide it with enough water and hydration.

Substrate and Accessories

Make sure to cover the bottom of the enclosure with substrate, about two to three inches deep. You’ll want to include lots of rocks and leafy branches for your chameleon to climb on as well. The branches can be fake or real; just know that you’ll need to carefully maintain any real plants you use in your pet’s cage. 

Chameleons and Dehydration

Dehydration is actually the most common cause of death in chameleons that are kept in captivity, so it’s definitely not something to take lightly! Chameleons not only need constant access to fresh water, they also need to have the proper level of humidity maintained in their enclosure in order to stay hydrated.

Signs of dehydration include yellow or orange urates, sunken eyes, lethargy, and loss of appetite. Your chameleon may go to the bottom of its cage in an attempt to find more moisture, or it may hide away as a result of the discomfort it feels from being dehydrated.

The good news is that although dehydration can be very serious, it has a simple and easy solution: mist your chameleon more often and for longer periods of time. You can use a “shower” method to do this as long as your chameleon is at least five months old. Baby chameleons can drown as a result of a shower.

Giving Your Chameleon a Shower

To give your chameleon a hydrating shower, put a large fake plant with lots of foliage in the bathtub. You’ll want to adjust your showerhead so that the water doesn’t hit the plant directly, but instead hits the wall and reflects water droplets onto the plant. 

Set your chameleon on the plant and give it a few minutes to get comfortable with this different environment. Then turn on the shower for 30 to 45 minutes. Avoid leaving your chameleon alone during this time! Repeat every two days until dehydration symptoms disappear.

It’s important to note that the shower method is only to be used in cases of dehydration, and not as part of a regular routine. Showering can cause stress, so you should only do it if the benefit of rehydrating your chameleon is higher than the risk of discomfort. 

Common Chameleon Illnesses

Chameleons are delicate creatures, and because of this they’re susceptible to a variety of health ailments. The most common are upper respiratory infections, parasites, gout and kidney failure, and metabolic bone disease. Any of these issues can cause your chameleon to spend extra time at the bottom of its cage as a result of its discomfort.

Upper Respiratory Infections

Usually, upper respiratory infections develop as a result of a problem with your chameleon’s environment. As long as it’s caught early, a respiratory infection can be treated quickly and effectively. Symptoms include:

  • Wheezing or popping sounds while breathing
  • Gaped mouth
  • Excessive mucus
  • Bubbling and swelling around nose and mouth

In order to prevent respiratory infections, make sure to keep your pet’s enclosure at the correct temperature and humidity level. It’s also important to regularly remove any soiled litter from the bottom of the cage. If you suspect your chameleon is suffering from an upper respiratory infection, don’t delay in taking it to the vet!

Parasites

It’s recommended to get your chameleon tested at least once a year for gastrointestinal parasites. Your pet can pick up parasites through its food, especially if you feed your chameleon wild insects. Additionally, chameleons that are wild-caught rather than bred in captivity often have parasites, even when they’re advertised as being parasite-free. A chameleon with parasites will experience:

  • Weight loss
  • Swollen stomach
  • Weakness and lethargy

Again, don’t hesitate to take your chameleon to the vet if it seems to be suffering from parasites! Your veterinarian can easily test for and treat them. 

Gout and Kidney Failure

Kidney failure is often caused by prolonged dehydration, and in turn your chameleon may develop gout. Kidney failure is accompanied by a variety of symptoms, such as:

  • Lump in front of pelvis
  • Difficulty defecating or passing eggs
  • Fluid under the skin
  • Swollen joints
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • White deposits in lining of mouth

Some good methods of preventing this issue are to always keep the enclosure’s humidity between 50 and 75 percent, and to ensure hydration through a water drip system. 

As with any health issue, it’s extremely important to get your chameleon expert treatment from the vet if you think it’s suffering from kidney failure or gout. Your vet will perform tests to determine whether or not the damage is reversible, and from there will figure out a treatment plan for your pet. 

Metabolic Bone Disease

This disease most often develops as a result of insufficient UVB rays. In order to process the calcium they take in from their food, chameleons require at least 12 hours of exposure to UVB light each day. While real sunlight is preferable, indoor bulbs are also sufficient. If your chameleon has metabolic bone disease, you’re likely to notice the following indicators:

  • Bowed legs
  • Clumsiness
  • Rubbery jaw
  • Difficulty eating
  • Weight loss

You can work to prevent your chameleon from developing metabolic bone disease by providing appropriate lighting and taking your pet to the veterinarian regularly for check-ups. This ailment is a slow and painful killer, but if diagnosed early enough, you may be able to treat it effectively and fix any problems with your pet’s environment. 

Conclusion

If your chameleon has been spending a lot of time hanging out at the bottom of its cage, you definitely need to do some investigation. Your pet could be doing this because temperatures are too warm in its enclosure, or it may be dehydrated or suffering from an illness. 

Make sure to keep temperature between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit near the bottom of the enclosure, and 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit near the top of the cage. Humidity levels should stay around 50 to 75 percent. 

If your chameleon is dehydrated, you can give it a shower to replenish its hydration levels. As far as illness goes, the most common are upper respiratory infections, parasites, gout and kidney failure, and metabolic bone disease. Make sure to take your chameleon to the vet if it displays any worrying symptoms!

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