Gout in chameleons – thick ankles and wrists

Gout is a disease that is caused by uric acid crystals in the joints and other body parts of your chameleon. These uric acid crystals are sharp and cause inflammation. This can be seen as swellings inside the joints, especially the wrists and ankles of your chameleon. This is very painful for a chameleon, that’s why it will try not to put weight on its legs and will often be seen standing on three legs instead of all four.

Uric acid crystals form because of a high level of uric acid in the blood (hyperuricemia). There are two possible reasons why uric acid levels are elevated in the blood of a chameleon: one is caused by too much protein in the diet of your chameleon (primary gout) and the other one is kidney failure (secondary gout). Both types of gout have the same symptoms and effects.

The symptoms of gout

These are the symptoms of gout in chameleons:

  • Not standing on one leg (usually one of the hind legs)
  • Swelling of the joints
  • Bumps on the joints
  • Pain when moving
  • Extra agression when touching the chameleons joints
  • Not willing to eat
  • Sometimes excessive drinking
An unhealthy veiled chameleon
An unhealthy veiled chameleon. Next to the color and the abnormal skull size you can also notice the thickening of the wrists which could be a sign of gout.

The causes of primary gout

X-ray of a chameleon with gout.
X-ray of a chameleon with gout.

Primary gout develops when a chameleon is fed with a high protein diet. Chameleons are naturally insect eaters, but will also eat small lizards and small mammals. Insects contain a lot of protein, but also fiber, fat and carbohydrates. Chameleons have evolved to be able to digest this well. When you feed your chameleon too much baby mice (pinkies), lizards or other vertebrae, it will eat too much protein. This protein is digested into amino acids and then to uric acid. Normally this uric acid is expelled from the blood of the chameleon by its kidneys. If there is too much uric acid in the blood the kidneys are unable to keep up and the blood levels will remain too high. At some point the concentration of uric acid will be so high that it will crystallize inside and around the joints and sometimes around organs. The chameleon has developed gout at this point.

When you feed feeder cockroaches with high protein food like dog food, cat food or fish flakes your chameleon will also eat a lot of protein. This can also cause gout. When you are feeding your cockroaches with high protein food you should isolate the roaches you are planning to feed for 2 days and feed them exclusively vegetables. This will expel the last bit of high-protein food from the gut of the cockroaches, making them safe to eat for your chameleon.

The causes of secondary gout

gout-in-chameleonSecondary gout is caused by renal failure. The kidneys can be affected by chronic dehydration, overdosing certain vitamins or poisonous substances. The most common cause is chronic dehydration. If this is combined with a high protein diet your chameleon has an even higher chance to develop gout.

Both types of gout can amplify each other and occur at the same time. It is not very relevant to know which type of gout the chameleon has. It is important that it is treated and that it is prevented to develop further.

Prevention of gout in chameleons

Gout is hard to treat but quite easy to prevent. Make sure you do the following to prevent your chameleon from developing gout:

  • Feed your chameleon mostly insects and some fruits and vegetables
  • Feed your chameleon just rarely any vertebrates (pinky mice or anoles)
  • Make sure your chameleon drinks enough water
  • Keep the air humidity at a good level
  • Do not feed your feeder insects with a lot of dog food, cat food or fish flakes. If you do feed them with a high protein diet, keep the insects your are planning to feed separete from the rest and feed them just vegetables.

Treatment of gout in chameleons

Gout is extremely difficult to treat. Always go to a vet that is specialized in reptiles when you think your chameleon might have gout. The vet can prescribe medicine to dissolve the uric acid crystals. Some vets will also operate on a chameleon to remove the uric acid crystals. Make sure your chameleon has plenty of drinking water and actually drinks it. Forcing it to drink water with a pipette might be a solution if it is dehydrated and refuses to drink.

Pseudo-gout

Pseudo-gout (calcium hydroxyapatite) is not gout but actually an overdose of calcium and / or vitamin D3. Excess vitamin D3 in the chameleons food can cause organ toxicity and deposits of calcium in the joints and on ribs. It looks a lot like gout, but the cause and treatment is very different. Always consult a vet when your chameleon has swollen wrist or ankles.