Water is a crucial element in successful chameleon keeping. If not presented properly, water-related disorders kill chameleons faster than any other.

Being arboreal (tree living), chameleons are not likely to encounter standing water so using a traditional water bowl will not work. Most fail to ever recognise this as a source of water.

Drinking the morning dew and during rain storms as well as the naturally humid conditions of their environment keeps the chameleon well hydrated in the wild.

In captivity ventilation would normally be sacrificed in order to create a humid environment. Unfortunately this is not an option with chameleon keeping as clean fresh air is equally as important to the chameleon. In fact it appears successfully providing humid conditions in a vivarium comparable to natural conditions for the more commonly kept species, such as Veileds and Panthers (80-90% humidity) can results in respiratory problems. Its almost impossible in a small environment to maintain a good flow of fresh air to prevent bacteria/mould buildup as well as high humidity. For this reason keepers tend to recommend medium humidity (50-60%) and greater access to water.

To achieve this balance it is important to understand how a chameleon sees and reacts to water.

Light reflecting off dew or shining through water droplets entices and eventually triggers the drinking mechanism in chameleons. This is not hugely different to the principle advertisers use to advertise cold drinks. Most are shown in glasses covered with water droplets in brightly-lit conditions and these images subconsciously make us thirsty.

The usual way to provide water is by spraying the enclosure several times a day or by using a dripper or both. In theory this is fine however in practice these methods are rarely sufficient.

To understand why we must again look to conditions in their natural habitat. Misting to simulate dew does not really work in captivity. This is because the water tends to evaporate too quickly. In their natural habitat the high humidity prevents this from happening. Therefore misting must represent rain.

Most mistings only last a few minutes at most which is far too short. Sometimes it can take in excess of 5 minutes constant spraying to trigger the drinking response. A guide should be 15 minutes of spraying twice a day and the spray should always be angled so the water drips over the foliage to provide as natural an effect as possible. Unless the chameleon chooses to sit in the spray, try and avoid spraying them directly as this can put them off taking water in this way.

It is important for the cage, particularly the branches, to dry out between spraying.

Water Drippers

Water drippers are excellent additions to all cage setups if used correctly. They work best if they drip onto and through foliage so the light catches the drips.

Drippers can be as simple as a cup with a few holes in or purpose built. They are best used after spraying when the drinking reflex has been triggered. A dripper not only makes it easier for the chameleon to drink a lot of water but can also be used to administer water soluble supplements where needed.

Drippers are recommended in addition to heavy misting for all large chameleon species as there is a tendency for them to suffer from kidney problems in later life if not fully hydrated.

If using a dripper, make sure you see the chameleon drinking. Just because the dripper is in the right place for the owner does not mean it's necessarily in the right place for the chameleon. They are fussy!

Points to consider when presenting water

Any containers used for holding water should be approved for food use. Some plastic containers may taint the water and therefore lead to rejection.

Treat ALL water used with Reptisafe. This will remove chlorine etc from the water and prevent eye problems which untreated sprayed water can cause.

Do not use artificially softened water. This is usually too high in salts for Chameleons.

Hard water (or bottled water with added calcium) may help get additional calcium into chameleons.
Some studies suggest hard water gives humans more usable calcium than taking calcium supplements so it may be assumed that chameleons get more calcium from hard water than regular dusting the food with calcium powder.

Use warm water in drippers and hot (not boiling) water in sprayers. Water as a mist looses temperature quickly hence hot water going into the sprayer will only be warm once sprayed.

Additional water can be given manually by dripping water from a syringe (no needle on end!). If you can train the chameleon to drink in this way administering vitamins and drugs is very easy and stress free.

Occasional use of water soluble supplements via the dripper is a good idea. Products we have used successfully are the vetark range:

BSP Drops Liquid multi vitamin drops
Critical Care Soluble total rehydration and food product
Avipro Soluble multi vitamin and pro-biotic (re-establishes good gut bacteria)
Calcium Lactade Soluble Calcium
Zolcal D Liquid Calcium and Vitamin D



Note: Like all supplements they should be used sparingly. As some chameleons are sensitive to artificial/manufactured supplements, where possible it is suggested the majority of their nutrients come from properly gutloaded food. Therefore when using supplements always use less than the stated dose unless advised otherwise by your vet.



Hydration/Re-hydration of sick animals


Dehydrated chameleons like this oustalett may have sunken eyes and casque at the later stages. This is serious. Not only will it kill a chameleon quickly but even ones that recover may suffer from related problems later on in life if not treated quickly enough. As always, prevention is better than cure.

If you check your chameleon daily you should notice the early stages of dehydration. Often only greater access to water is needed. But do make sure the way you present water to the chameleon is acceptable to it, not you. If you don't ever see your chameleon drink it probably does not. This is particularly common in Veileds kept in the UK and in most cases can be
rectified by spraying for in excess of 5 minutes prior to running a dripper.

Chameleons have small stomachs so any attempt to force liquid intake must take this into consideration.
A Chameleon can drink between 10 and 30 ml per kg of body weight throughout the day. This will vary due to metabolic rate. Small amounts every few hours works better than all at once which can be detrimental.

For a sick animal, particularly one with poor food intake or vomiting/diarrhea then more than plainwater is needed. Most re-hydration products used for babies/young children are suitable eg dioralite. You can buy a product called lectade through your vets and this is better in the long term as it's a complete liquid feed.
Work out the daily dose then divide this into as many doses as possible throughout the day without stressing the chameleon too much. If you have a particularly nervous chameleons fewer doses must be used compared to one that drinks from a syringe already.

Not providing Chameleons water in the right way and in the right quantities will cause serious and often fatal health problems. Chronic low-level dehydration is often undetectable to the eye, and usually leads to kidney failure followed by death.
This is seen more often in the larger species such as Veileds and Panthers and usually in males at around 3-4 years old. I believe it's only more common in males because the females have usually already died from the huge demands of egg laying before this really becomes noticeable.

In the latter stages of dehydration/kidney problems the chameleon usually refuses food. If you suspect chronic dehydration or kidney problems see a vet immediately. The vet will need to measure the uric acid levels in the blood.

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