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Chameleons As Pets – Are They Right For You?

Advocacy 01.04.2020
By Jill Caren
Panther Chameleon Details For Pet Ownership
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So, you are wondering if chameleons can make a good pet are you?

Well, you will be happy to know that yes – chameleons can make a great pet, but there are a lot of things you should know before jumping in to get one as they are not a good option for everyone. Then there is the decision whether to buy or adopt one from a Reptile Rescue – if you know us you know we recommend you adopt!

Let’s kick off this article with the pros and cons of having a pet chameleon – then we will follow up with some general information to help you decide if it is a good option for you to own a chameleon.

PROS

  • They have little energy so they need less in terms of habitat and entertainment.
  • Many breeds can live up around 10 years – meaning you will have your friend for a while.
  • No noise! They are a quiet pet.

CONS

  • Diet needs are very specific for a healthy happy chameleon.
  • Specific temperature needs for different breeds.
  • Health issues can be hard to address without a local vet who has experience.
  • Habitat requirements can be costly.

So, generally speaking if you are a first time pet owner – we would NOT recommend you start with a chameleon as a pet.

Can You Bond With A Chameleon?

If you are looking for a pet chameleon to bond with – then this is probably not the right pet for you. They require a lot of care – but you will not get the reward of snuggles or admiration from these guys like you would a dog or sometimes a cat (we know they can be loners too!).

There is an interesting thread about whether or not chameleons can show affection to owners you can read to learn more about this!

What Are Common Types Of Chameleons?

There are several breeds of chameleon and understanding the differences in required care and pet ownership responsibilities will help you pick the right breed of chameleon for your family! While the information below is general – you will want to do a deeper dive into finding out more about the specific breed you are interested in to ensure you can meet their unique needs.

Veiled Chameleon

The most popular type for those looking to own a chameleon as a pet! The Veiled Chameleon is known for its ability to adapt well to more captive conditions than some of their counterparts.

They typically live for about 6-8 years as a pet and males have been known to grow up to a foot long – which is pretty big and will require a larger enclosure!

Veiled chameleon as a pet
image credit: Vaughan Leiberum/Flickr

Senegal Chameleon

These are a more difficult breed to keep as a pet due to their high sensitivity to change.

They are smaller than the Veiled breed typically only measuring up to 8 inches in length and live no more than 5 years on average.

Senegal Chameleon as a pet
image credit: Philip Gould

Jackson’s Chameleon

One of the cooler looking chameleons in our opinion because this one features horns on the males! The breed does not particularly care for being handled and can become stressed if they are so these are a breed that you are better watching then touching.

They can grow to 8 to 12 inches and males can typically live 8-10 years while females 3-5 years. It is recommended only one adult should be in an enclosure that should be roughly 18″ x 18″ x 48″ in size.

Jackson Chameleon as a pet
image credit: Nany Merolle/Flickr

Panther Chameleons

Last, but certainly not least is the Panther Chameleon but the brightest colored of the bunch! Their typical length for males is 12 to 18 inches and 10 to 14 inches for females. Males can weight about 140-170 grams on average and females from 70-100 grams.

The typical life span is 5 to 7 years if they are well cared for.

Panther chameleon as a pet.
image credit: Andreina Schoeberlein/Flickr

Interested in seeing how one of these guys changes colors? This video is an amazing journey watching a chameleon change from green to bright yellow – they sped up the video as it does take a while in real life to happen, but the process is amazing!

Important Chameleon Information

Do Chameleons Bite?

While it is not a typical thing for them to do – they can and do bite. But typically chameleons only bite humans if they are provoked or feel a sense of danger. Many will start to hiss or change their colors to give you a warning – so if they are doing that then you know to stay away.

Are Chameleons Good With Kids?

Because chameleons are generally a more independent animal that can stress easily – they are not the best option for younger kids. Because kids typically want to touch, feel and hold their pets – and chameleons do not generally love this type of attention – it can be a disappointing pet option.

Housing & Care Tips For Chameleons

While each breed requires variations in their housing and care needs – there are some general concepts that remain the same for all.

  1. Because in nature they live in trees, there enclosure or habitat needs to be rather large and include enough foliage for elements and climbing elements to keep them happy.
  2. Make sure the foliage is not toxic as they are known to eat some foliage.
  3. Ventilation is critical to allow fresh air to get through.
  4. Variations of temperature within the habitat to allow the chameleon to enjoy varying temperatures will also keep them happy.
  5. Each species has unique needs in terms of humidity and temperature so be sure you learn about these needs for the breed you decide to get.
  6. A mister or drip system is best for their water needs as they do not drink from bowls or water bottles. If this is not an option – sometimes ice cubes on a screen at the top of the cage – letting the droplets drip through to the leaves can work too.
  7. Typically – chameleons enjoy a variety of insects as their main source of food like worms, crickets, wax moths etc. On occasion they may also enjoy small bits of veggies like lettuce of spinach – and some enjoy small bits of fruit. But make sure you read up on the breed you decide to get to ensure they are getting the right nutrients!
  8. Chameleons should be alone in their habitat – they are a solitary creature.
  9. Their home should be away from busy areas of the home to help prevent stress.

Where Can I Learn More About Chameleons?

Great question! We hope you will take some time to learn more about them before deciding to add one to your family! We also hope you will talk to those that have experience with this species so they can really offer you the best way to bring a chameleon into your home.

Chameleon Education & Outreach Inc. (ChamEO)

This nonprofit organization is solely dedicated to helping chameleon lovers learn more about them and how to properly care for them. They also take in chameleons and do rehabilitation then adopt them to great new homes!

They are located in Woodland Hills, CA and you can visit them online here.

Chameleon Forums

Yep – a forum just for chameleon owners and lovers. It is a fairly active forum that covers everything from care to photographing your chameleon. We highly recommend reviewing these forums before making a decision on the breed you want – and if it really is the right pet for your family!

You can visit the forums here.

Books

There are a few great books out there to help you learn more about these amazing creatures before you decide to get one to make sure it is right for you!

Both of the books below give an overview of the different breeds and general care.

Chameleons: Care and Breeding of Jackson’s, Panther, Veiled and Parson’s

Chameleon Handbook

Can I Rescue A Chameleon?

As with just about any domestic animal – there are opportunities for you to rescue a chameleon as opposed to buying one.

Because chameleons do require very special care and equipment to keep them healthy and happy and sometimes owners do not realize how much work they are, they give them up to rescues.

The bonus of adopting is that most rescues will make sure the chameleon is healthy and have them throughly vetted before adopting them out so you can be assured you are getting the healthiest pet possible.

1. ChamEO as noted above does offer adoptions – you can learn more about the chameleon adoption process here.
2. Sunnyside Lizard Rescue is located in Hastings/East Sussex England and you can visit them online here.
3. While we do not love this option – you can check Craigslist or Reddit to see of others are giving their chameleons away. Many posts we found around the web showed people acquiring their chameleons this way.
4. Check out local Pet Expo’s or fairs that are pet related and you may find reptile rescues exhibiting to get more information and possible adopt.

We love this story from a couple of years ago about the heroes that saved over 100 chameleons and geckos – it is people like this that you want to seek out so you can adopt!

Realize A Chameleon May Not Be Right For You?

If you love chameleons but realize it may not be the best pet for you – you can still help them in other ways! By reaching out to the rescues above and offering help in terms of donations – or even sharing a post for them can help!

There is also the Adopt A Chameleon campaign from the World Animal Foundation that allows you to “adopt” a chameleon. In return you can feel good about doing good for them and you will receive a Chameleon Kit with a photo of a chameleon you are helping! This is also a great gift idea for the animal lover in your life.

Do You Own & Love A Chameleon?

Please feel free to tell us about your pet – the best way to learn is from those that own one. Think we missed something important in this article? Do tell and we will be glad to update it!

Are chameleons the right pet for your family? See the basics for the care they need, types of chameleons and how you can rescue one if you decide they are a great fit.

Jill Caren

Jill Caren Bio Logo

Jill Caren

Jill is the owner and creator of CharityPaws and has been involved in animal rescue for over 12 years as a volunteer and board member for Jersey Animal Welfare Society. You can read all of her articles here.

Reader Interactions

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  1. Priscilla says

    Im interested in taking home a baby chameleon, please any constructive criticism, tips and FYI

    • Jill Caren says

      Hi Priscilla, I would reach out the organization you are looking to adopt from for more detailed information as they would be the best to guide you. Good luck!

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