Why Won’t My Chameleon Open His Eyes?

Is my chameleon just sleepy, or is there something else going on? You might be wondering this if your pet has started to spend a lot of time with its eyes closed, especially if it’s usually very active. 

So why won’t my chameleon open his eyes? Your chameleon may be shutting down due to emotional stress, or it could be in the late stages of an illness. However, it is possible your pet is simply about to go to sleep.

Below, learn more about each of the possible reasons why your chameleon won’t open its eyes. You’ll find plenty of information about stress in chameleons, as well as the most common illnesses and ailments that can cause your pet to shut its eyes for long periods of time. 

Going to Sleep

While keeping its eyes shut during the daytime is typically a bad sign when it comes to chameleons’ health, sometimes there’s a much simpler explanation. If your chameleon only shuts its eyes about an hour or so before the lights go out, then this behavior shouldn’t cause any worry.

This is because in nature, there is a gradual transition between day and night. This gives chameleons lots of time to find a good place to sleep and prepare for the night time. But in captivity, the transition from day to night is immediate–it literally happens at the flip of a light switch. Because of this, some chameleons adapt by finding a spot to sleep before the lights go out. 

photo provided by Angelica Rosario

Emotional Stress

This cause is the most likely one for chameleon owners who handle their pet often. Chameleons are solitary, shy creatures that don’t enjoy prolonged contact with others. They prefer to spend time alone. Aggressive chameleons will make it clear when they’ve had enough handling for the day, but nervous chameleons react much differently.

While aggressive chameleons may hiss or bite, nervous chameleons will simply get overwhelmed and eventually close their eyes as they shut down emotionally. Unfortunately, many owners will take this as a sign of love or affection from their pet; they believe their chameleon trusts them enough to go to sleep on them. This isn’t true at all!

While we all want to be loved by our pets, it’s extremely important to realize that a chameleon is simply not the same as a cat or a dog. Chameleons have no concept of affection, and forcing them to be affectionate is a surefire way to cause stress, which in turn can cause various health issues. 

Symptoms of Stress

Look out for the following symptoms if you think your chameleon may be experiencing a lot of stress.

  • Darker or brighter coloration
  • Hiding behind branches
  • Rocking back and forth
  • Loss of appetite
  • Watery feces
  • Change in body temperature
  • Trying to escape from enclosure
  • Scratching bottom of enclosure
  • Uncharacteristic aggression

Causes of Stress

One huge cause of stress is housing more than one chameleon in the same enclosure. We often assume that all animals are like us and prefer companionship over solitude. But chameleons are most happy if they never come into contact with another chameleon (or any other animal).

They are truly unsociable creatures that are most happy when left alone–even seeing their own reflection can be a traumatic experience! 

It’s best to keep your chameleon’s enclosure away from any high-traffic areas in the home, and make sure not to let any other pets near your chameleon’s habitat. Lots of movement and loud noises are very stressful for chameleons.

Aside from loud and busy environments, there are many other factors of your chameleon’s enclosure that can cause stress. Keeping the temperature and humidity at suitable levels is extremely important.

The temperature gradient should run from about 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit on the cool end and 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit on the warm end, and humidity should range from 50 to 75 percent. 

Switching up the position of the enclosure or its layout can also cause stress. Chameleons like to be familiar with their environment, so any change can cause them to feel overwhelmed until they’ve had a chance to thoroughly explore their surroundings. 

The way water is presented can also cause stress. For example, if you have a rain system installed and the spray is too sudden and strong, that could have a negative effect on your chameleon.

Or if the water is too cold, your pet might become fearful or uncomfortable. Therefore, if your chameleon spends a lot of time with its eyes closed, you’ll want to check out all the different aspects of its environment to see if there are any possible stressors. 

Late-Stage Illness

Sadly, many chameleons shut their eyes when they are preparing to die after trying to fight off an illness. This is because they are dealing with an overwhelming amount of internal pain. If you know your chameleon has been sick and you notice them closing their eyes during the daytime, take them to the veterinarian immediately.

A less serious explanation as to why your chameleon is closing its eyes is that it has a Vitamin A deficiency. This is much less fatal, but you’ll still need to take your chameleon to the vet for testing.

While it’s easy to assume that providing your chameleon with a Vitamin A supplement would solve the problem, too much Vitamin A can be toxic. Therefore it’s best to let the vet determine whether a vitamin deficiency is the culprit before administering any supplements. 

Common Chameleon Illnesses

  • Dehydration. Dehydration takes place when the humidity level in the enclosure isn’t sufficient, or your chameleon isn’t being provided with enough fresh water. Symptoms include sunken eyes, dry feces, folding skin, and yellow or orange urates. Treatment can include showers or increased misting.


  • Gout. Gout is caused by too much protein in the diet, or it can also be a result of kidney failure. Signs of gout are a decrease in movement, swollen joints, loss of appetite, extreme aggression, and excessive drinking. Gout must be treated by a veterinarian and cannot be fully treated at home.


  • Metabolic Bone Bisease. A slow and deadly illness, metabolic bone disease develops as a result of lack of UVB exposure. Rubbery jaws, bowed legs, and clumsiness are all indications that your chameleon is suffering from metabolic bone disease, but these symptoms are slow to develop, so it’s important to schedule regular check-ups for your chameleon.


  • Parasitic Infections. Usually picked up through food or unhygienic conditions, parasites will cause a swollen stomach area, weakness, slimy feces, dehydration, and loss of appetite. While mites can be treated at home through sterilization of the enclosure, most parasites will need to be taken care of by a veterinarian.


  • Thermal Burns. Although not an illness, thermal burns are a common injury for chameleons. When the heat source is kept too close to the enclosure, your chameleon can develop a severe burn because it doesn’t have the skin sensitivity to realize that damage is being done. You’ll notice gray or black blisters and lethargy. The healing process for burns is a long one and should be supervised by your vet.


  • Edema. Edema is an excess of fluid under the skin, usually caused by too many vitamins, renal disease, or lymphatic blockage. This ailment is usually easy to detect because of the extreme swelling that develops. You shouldn’t attempt to treat edema at home.


  • Egg Retention. Also referred to as egg binding, this is when female chameleons can’t produce mature eggs. Signs of this issue include a pregnant and lethargic or inactive chameleon, especially one that raises its hind legs and strains in an attempt to release eggs. Egg retention can be fatal, so if you notice these symptoms, take your pet to the vet immediately. 


  • Respiratory Infections. Caused by low temperatures or incorrect levels of humidity, respiratory infections are a common ailment in chameleons that present with labored breathing, lethargy, loss of appetite, and excessive mucus. Respiratory infections are very dangerous, and you shouldn’t attempt to treat them at home.


  • Stomatitis. Often called chameleon mouth disease, stomatitis can be caused by a bacterial infection, unsanitary environment, or poor nutrition. Symptoms include jaw swelling, a stained gumline, and loss of appetite. Stomatitis usually requires antibiotic injections for treatment.

Conclusion

It’s usually not a good sign if your chameleon is closing its eyes for extended periods of time during the day. If this activity only occurs about an hour before bed, it’s likely nothing to worry about. But if there’s evidence of stress or illness, you’ll definitely need to take action to correct the situation.

Emotional stress can cause your chameleon to close its eyes as it reaches its breaking point and emotionally shuts down. Many illnesses in their late stages can also cause your chameleon to shut its eyes as it attempts to handle the internal pain it’s experiencing.

Regardless of whether the cause is stress or illness, it’s a good idea to take your chameleon to the vet for expert advice and treatment. 

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