In the normal food you feed to pet chameleons, there is not enough calcium and usually also not enough vitamins. You can give your chameleon food supplements with these important nutrients to keep it happy and healthy.
Extra calcium for chameleons
Insects do not contain a lot of calcium. Their exoskeleton is not made from calcium like our bones, but made from chitin. A chameleon needs calcium for its bones and for other normal bodily functions. Therefore you need to supplement the food of your chameleon with extra calcium.
Adding calcium is easy. You need to buy a jar of calcium powder for reptiles at your pet shop. Tap some of this powder into a clean plastic box or cup with lid. Add the feeder insects to this cup just before you intent to feed them to your chameleon. Gently shake the box or cup until the insects are completely covered in calcium powder. Feed them to your chameleon as soon as you are done, because they will clean the powder off themselves again.
There are different opinions on how often you need to feed calcium to your chameleon. It is not neccessary to cover all its food with calcium. This would create an overdose of calcium, which could also be detrimental to your chameleons health. It is also dependent on the age of your chameleon and on if you feed it more calcium-rich prey like baby mice. I personally do not feed mice to my chameleon, so I would cover all crickets and cockroaches with calcium but leave the grasshoppers, stick insects and worms as-is. A young chameleon that is growing needs more calcium than one that is already adult. I would recommend that around 80% of the feeder insects will be covered with calcium powder for any veiled chameleon under 8 months of age.
A lack of calcium will cause the following diseases in chameleons: rachitis, growth retardation, metabolic bone disease and in females egg-binding.
The relationship between vitamin D and calcium
To obtain calcium from its food a chameleon needs vitamin D. More specifically it needs vitamin D3, a version of vitamin D. A chameleon is able to produce its own vitamin D3 with the help of UV-B light. This can be found in sunlight and from special UV lights. Sunlight that falls through glass does not contain UV light anymore. In almost all cases a special UV light is crucial in your terrarium. To read more about these lights, check out our page UV light for chameleons.
Vitamin D3 is sometimes added to vitamin mixtures or to calcium powder for reptiles. Generally this is a good thing, as it is possible that your chameleon does not produce enough vitamin D to obtain enough calcium from its food. However, it is possible to overdose vitamin D, causing problems with your chameleons kidneys and liver. You cannot overdose vitamin D through UV light, so it is always a safer bet to make sure the light is enough. If you want to supplement vitamin D, do so with caution.
Extra vitamins for chameleons
Like us, chameleons need vitamins for their body to function properly. Vitamins are already present in healthy food for chameleons: in different kinds of feeder insects, in fruits and vegetables. The feeder insects should be fed with high quality food with vitamins, like fresh vegetables, grass or fruit. If you make sure you do this, you do not need to add more vitamins as vitamin powder or vitamin supplements.
It is difficult to know if you chameleons gets enough vitamins through its normal food. That’s why some people choose to add vitamin supplements anyway, just to be sure. If this prevents a vitamin shortage, this is of course a great idea but an overdose of vitamins is very unhealthy for a chameleon. It can seriously harm the health of your chameleon. By overdosing one type of vitamin, the uptake of other vitamins can be inhibited. For some vitamins an overdose is very harmful in itself, especially for the kidneys and liver of your chameleon. Vitamin A is one of the vitamins that is a problem in veiled chameleons: a shortage and an overdose of vitamin A will both cause problems in chameleons.
How to administer vitamin supplements
Some people add vitamin supplements to water and spray this in the terrarium of the chameleon. The idea is that the chameleon will drink this water and thus obtain the vitamins. This works, but a lot of the vitamins are also lost in this way. Plus, you are never sure if your chameleon actually drank the vitamin water and how much it drank. You could drip a solution of vitamins and water over fruits and vegetables, but you will still not be sure if your chameleon ate it and how much vitamins it will have ingested.
You can also pipette water with vitamins into your chameleons mouth. Some of them will learn to drink that way, most will have to be forced to drink from the pipette. You can force a chameleon to drink from a pipette by opening its mouth and drip the vitamin solution into its throat. It will swallow some or all of the solution this way. The vitamin solution should not be too concentrated and should not be given often. A weak solution every two weeks is plenty. An overdose of vitamins can be very harmful, often more harmful than a shortage.