Unlike most other animals, reptiles like chameleons don’t need to eat daily. It’s not uncommon for adult chameleons to go two or three days without eating, even in captivity.
Does this mean you can just leave your chameleon alone so you can take a weekend trip? Not necessarily.
Let’s explore how long chameleons can go without eating, how often you should feed your chameleon, and a few reasons chameleons stop eating.
How Long Can a Chameleon Go Without Eating?
There are several factors that determine how long your chameleon can go without eating. These include:
A healthy chameleon can survive for quite some time on stored fat and body moisture while still actively seeking its next meal. Chameleons can also regulate their metabolic rate to conserve energy, slowing their metabolism by not moving less and sleeping more.
So, how long can a chameleon go without eating and still survive?
Assuming your chameleon is a larger species, very healthy, an adult, and living in optimal environmental conditions, most reptile vets agree that your chameleon can survive for up to two weeks without food, and up to a week without water.
However, this is just for extreme conditions – like trying to break your chameleon of a treat bug addiction. Under normal circumstances, your adult chameleon needs to eat on a regular schedule.
Pro Tip: If you’re taking a three day weekend or going on vacation, set your heat lamps, UVB lights, and misting system on timers. Then find a friend who’s willing to check in on your pet chameleon and offer it some feeder insects.
How Often Should You Feed Your Chameleon
How often you should feed your chameleon depends in large part on your chameleon’s age.
If your chameleon is a baby or juvenile, its body is using up tons of energy to grow. Young chameleons grow very rapidly and shed often. Because of the amount of energy your chameleon’s body is using, it needs to eat more food more often.
Your adult chameleon’s feeding schedule, on the other hand, doesn’t need to be as intense as your juvenile chameleon’s feeding schedule. Adult chameleons’ bodies use up less energy than baby and juvenile chameleons. Because of this, adult chameleons don’t need to eat as often or as much as babies and juveniles.
To feed your chameleon, simply place your Dubia roaches, crickets, or other feeder insects inside your feeder cup. Place the cup inside your chameleon’s cage, somewhere up in the branches where your chameleon will see it. Allow your chameleon to feed for about 15 minutes, then remove the cup and any leftover insects.
Alternatively, you can hand-feed your chameleon using feeder tweezers. This works best if you’ve already built a trusting relationship with your chameleon, and you know about how many insects your chameleon eats per feeding.
Chameleon Feeding Schedule
As much as it wants
Every Other Day
Every 2-3 Days
To learn more about what and how often to feed your chameleon, check out our article “What Do Chameleons Eat?”
Possible Reasons Your Chameleon Isn’t Eating
If your pet chameleon hasn’t eaten for a couple of days, it’s not necessarily a cause for immediate concern. There are many reasons chameleons slow down or even stop eating, and not all of them are indicative of health problems. Some possible reasons chameleons stop eating include:
Your chameleon isn’t ready to eat. Chameleons don’t need to eat as much or as often as many people think they need to. Unlike other animals, adult chameleons don’t eat daily. They’re opportunistic feeders who only eat when they’re hungry and may refuse food if they’re not hungry. Typically this translates into eating a few insects every two or three days.
Your chameleon is new. If you just got your chameleon, then it may still be getting used to its new surroundings. It’s normal for new chameleons to refuse food for up to a week while they adjust to their new home. Just continue to offer food to your new chameleon. It’ll eat when it’s ready.
Pro Tip: Cup feeding is the best option for feeding your new chameleon. This will give it the privacy it needs while it adjusts to its new home and gets used to you. Once it’s comfortable, you can try hand- or tweezer-feeding.
Hunger strike/only eating one type of bug. Chameleons can get addicted to eating one type of insect, especially treat bugs like hornworms, superworms, or wax worms. If this happens, your chameleon will refuse to eat anything else. Unfortunately, the only solution to this problem is to stop offering the one type of bug your chameleon eats. Rest assured that your chameleon won’t starve itself to death. Eventually it’ll eat whatever it’s offered.
Entering adulthood. As juvenile chameleons mature into adulthood, their feeding habits change. When your chameleon was young, it needed to eat daily to keep its energy up and grow to its full potential. However, as your chameleon reaches adulthood its growth slows and it requires less food to maintain its health and energy. It may go from eating 10 or more insects per day to only eating three or four insects every two or three days.
Shedding. Your chameleon’s appetite will naturally go down when it’s about to shed. It may even stop eating altogether until after its shedding is complete. You’ll know your chameleon is about to shed when you notice its color going dull and a foggy film seems to cover its body. As a juvenile, your chameleon will shed every 3-4 weeks, and every 6-8 weeks as an adult.
Boredom. In the wild, chameleons eat a wide variety of insects. As a chameleon keeper, you need to mimic this by feeding your pet chameleon more than one type of feeder insect. Just like humans, chameleons can get bored if they’re only offered one type of food. So be sure to offer your chameleon Dubia roaches, crickets, black soldier fly larvae, mealworms, and other nutritious live feeder insects.
Pro Tip: To get Dubia roaches moving, put 15-20 of them in the feeder cup and allow your chameleon to feed for 15 minutes. When more Dubia are in the cup, they’ll walk all over each other and try to get out of each other’s way. The activity will draw your chameleon’s attention.
Mating season and egg laying. Chameleons tend to lose interest in eating during mating season. In captivity this is especially true if you keep a male and a female in the same cage, or in nearby cages. Female chameleons will also stop eating for several days while they’re laying eggs. Once she’s done laying, she’ll start eating again. However, if you suspect that the eggs are stuck, take her to the vet.
Chameleon cage environment. If your chameleon’s cage isn’t kept at optimal conditions for a chameleon habitat, this may affect its eating habits. Extremes in temperature and humidity can cause your chameleon to eat less. For example, a cold chameleon won’t be able to properly digest its food, and so won’t eat as much.
Parasites, impaction, or other illness. Your chameleon’s health impacts its eating habits. If you suspect your chameleon is impacted, has parasites, or is suffering from some other illness – like metabolic bone disease (MBD) – then you need to get it to your reptile vet as soon as possible.
If you notice a change in your chameleon’s eating habits, you’ll want to closely monitor your pet chameleon for signs of illness. If your chameleon hasn’t eaten in more than three days, you should play it safe and contact your reptile vet. It may be time for a checkup.
Takeaway: Most reptile vets agree that a large, healthy, adult chameleon can live for up to two weeks without food, and up to a week without water. However, your pet chameleon should eat on a regular schedule. This means daily feeding for juvenile chameleons, and feeding ever two or three days for adult chameleons.
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