Parasites in chameleons

A chameleon could be infected with parasites. These can be bacteria, flagellates, worms or mites.

Worms in chameleons

A chameleon can be infected with intestinal worms through contact with excrement of other animals that have worms. The excrement contain worm eggs and will be accidentally ingested by the chameleon. The eggs will develop in the chameleons digestive tract into worms. At some point these worms will produce eggs again, these will be found in the poop of your chameleon. These eggs can infect other animals again.

The symptoms of intestinal worm infections are:

  • Swollen belly
  • Getting skinny
  • General weakness

A vet can look at your chameleons poop under a microscope and see if there are worm eggs present. If there are, the vet can prescribe a very effective anti-worm medicine that is safe for chameleons.

Bacterial infections and protozoans in chameleons

Chameleons with a low immune system or that have been in close contact with other reptiles could be infected with a number of bacteria. These include coccidia, salmonella and trichomonas. Sometimes these bacteria are present in the gut of a chameleon without causing any problems. Their numbers are being kept in check by the chameleons own immune system. When its immune system is compromised by stress, other diseases or lack of a proper diet the micro-organisms can increase in number rapidly and cause disease.

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Coccidia (Coccidiasina) is a group of protozoans that can cause trouble in reptiles and other animals. Protozoans are not bacteria, as they are more primitive, but are still microscopic, spore-forming, single-celled parasites. They live and reproduce inside the body cells of animals. In your chameleon they will infect the cells that line the gut. The most common types of coccidia that affect chameleons are isospora and eimeria. Coccidia can be treated by a vet with sulfa type drugs. You should also clean out the terrarium thoroughly. Wash everything with ammonia solution or use a steam cleaner. Heat, chloride, ammonia and dehydration will kill coccidia. If you do not sterilize the terrarium well enough, the spores of these protozoans will survive for months and can re-infect your chameleon.

Salmonella is a commonly known bacterium that can be found on eggs, meat, poop and in other contaminated animal products. Salmonella is also dangerous for humans when ingested. There are birds and reptiles that have salmonella bacteria in their guts without causing problems. When the animal gets weakened by stress, poor nutrition or another disease the amount of salmonella bacteria can increase and cause problems like dehydration, diarrhea and poor digestion. A healthy animals can contract salmonella from the faeces of an infected animal. A vet can treat salmonella and can also diagnose it.

Trichomonas is another protozoan, a one-celled flagellate. It can live in the digestive tract of reptiles including chameleons. Chameleons can contract these parasites by feces of infected reptiles or by eating infected mice. It can be treated and diagnosed by a vet.

Symptoms of infections by bacteria and protozoans

These are the possible symptoms of infection with intestinal one-celled parasites:

  • Diarrhea
  • Orange color of the white part of the chameleons feces (poop)
  • Normal looking feces with an extremely bad smell
  • Slimy feces
  • Refusing to eat
  • Losing weight
  • Dehydration
  • Poorly digested food in the faeces

Blood-sucking mites

A parasite that lives outside of the body of your chameleon are mites. These are not common in chameleons, but pretty common in snakes, bearded dragons and iguanas and can be transferred from them to chameleons.

The species of mite that parasitizes on reptiles is Ophionyssus natricis. These mites are small (1 mm when adult) and rounded. They hide in the environment of the chameleon and come out every few days to suck blood. When they are feeding you can see them as black dots on your chameleons skin. They mostly feed at night and are hard to spot when they are hiding in the terrarium. Sometimes they can be seen as black dots inside water reservoirs, they accidentally drowned there.

You can treat against this parasite by sterilizing the entire enclosure of your reptiles. Use hot water, steam or a ammonia solution. You can dry wood and other terrarium decoration in the oven at a low temperature for one hour or more. You could also boil any decoration in water, or freeze it for around 2 weeks. You can remove mites from the body of your chameleon with a moist q-tip. Check for mites again after around a month to see if you killed all of them. If not, you will have to repeat the cleaning process again.