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Chameleon Not Using Its Tongue

My lizard's stool has white strings and recently there are signs of blood in his stool. What is wrong?

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Q: I'm very concerned about my male panther chameleon (Nosy Be). In December I took him to the vet because he had worms or parasites and was treated with Panacur (fenbendazole) two times. But since then, in his stool there are these white strings and recently there are signs of blood in his stool. What can this be? The vet says it is nothing to be concerned about it. Help me, please!

P.S. Since February he has stopped using his tongue. Could it be related to the problem he has with his parasites? Waiting to hear from you.


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A: You are obviously very concerned about your chameleon, so I will try to help you.

When you say he has stopped using his tongue, does that mean he isn’t trying to zap insects or that his tongue is just hanging out? A paralyzed tongue is most often a sign of nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism (aka one form of metabolic bone disease).

Questions you need to ask yourself are these: do you gut load your crickets with a vitamin/mineral (calcium) or dust the insects? Do you have a full-spectrum light that provides the UVB spectrum? Is the light within your terrarium the correct distance to provide ultraviolet light to your lizard? Have you changed the light as recommended by the manufacturer? Is the light not filtered through glass or plastic, which removes the UVB portion of the spectrum? Do you keep the correct temperature gradient in his environment? The daytime temperature should be 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit, and at night, the temperature can drop to no lower than the 70s. In addition to the full-spectrum light emitting UVB, the lizard also requires a basking spot, and this can be heated with an incandescent light, to provide temperatures in the low to mid 90’s. Water should be supplied by a drip system. Insects should be varied, so that the chameleon does not just consume one or two types. The more varied the diet, the better.

Okay, so now we have covered husbandry. I’m not sure why he isn’t using his tongue. Is he still able to catch and eat his food, or are you hand-feeding him? The most common reason for a chameleon not zapping bugs with its tongue is due to a form of metabolic bone disease, nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism. This is all related to calcium metabolism, vitamin D3 synthesis and ultraviolet (UVB) light.

Since you are so troubled about your lizard, I would suggest you speak with your herp veterinarian and voice your concerns again. If your herp veterinarian feels he or she can provide no further help, then I would ask your vet to refer you to a larger referral center, or you could ask your vet to request a consultation from the lab your vet uses. Most large diagnostic labs offer this service at no charge. This way, your vet can speak with a more experienced herp vet who can offer advice regarding your chameleon. This is an invaluable service for vets who do not have experience in a particular species or regarding a particularly difficult case, or just want a second opinion on a case. That is what this consultation service is for. So, hopefully, your herp vet will take advantage of this, or refer you to a more experienced herp vet.

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Margaret A. Wissman, DVM, DABVP has been an avian/exotic/herp animal veterinarian since 1981. She is a regular contributor to REPTILES magazine.


Need a Herp Vet?

If you are looking for a herp-knowledgeable veterinarian in your area, a good place to start is by checking the list of members on the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarian (ARAV) web site at www.arav.com. Look for DVMs who appear to maintain actual veterinary offices that you could contact.