Veterinary Article
Management of Egg-laying Fatigue in a Female Veiled Chameleon
by Marc H. Kramer, DVM
The following case report illustrates an example of the extreme metabolic demands placed upon gravid female chameleons. Many of these chameleons become physically drained in the process of egg production and egg laying, sacrificing their own energy resources for the benefit of their future offspring. Without veterinary intervention, many of these exhausted female chameleons die. However, with proper medical care, good nutritional management, and optimal husbandry, these females can recover and go on to lead healthy productive lives.

"Camille" is a 3 year old female veiled chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus) that presented to the Avian & Exotic Animal Medical Center (Miami, Florida) for a gradual onset of weakness and weight loss, culminating in difficulty laying a clutch of eggs. This chameleon was successfully bred to a male 35 days prior and became gravid. During gestation, she experienced excessive loss of muscle mass and a decreased appetite. Towards the end of the gestation period, she exhibited lethargy, inappetance, and spent an excessive amount of time with her eyes closed. This was to be her second clutch of eggs.

She was placed in an egg-laying chamber at days 28, 30, 32, and did not engage in digging behavior or egg laying. The egg-laying chamber was utilized again at day 35, and nest digging behavior was observed. Several hours of digging ensued, and the chameleon appeared quite exhausted during this strenuous task. After 12 hours passed, the female had buried the nest and was returned to her cage in fatigued condition
The nest was manually excavated by the owner and 8 eggs were recovered. Over the next 12 hours, the female dropped 8 more eggs from her perch onto the cage floor, and she progressively became weaker, unable to maintain a firm grip on her perches. A loud "thud" was heard in the owner's adjacent bedroom several times as she fell from her branches to the cage floor. Upon closer examination by the owner, she appeared dehydrated, her overall color darkened, and she appeared generally thin and unthrifty. She was uninterested in accepting food items, which was very unusual for her.

The chameleon was then brought to the veterinarian. On physical exam, she was weak, thin, dehydrated, and eggs were palpable in the abdomen. Her body weight was 100 grams which was down from her usual weight of 150 - 160 grams. Radiographs (x-rays) were performed and demonstrated the presence of approximately 10 more eggs in the abdomen No other radiographic lesions were seen and bone density was judged to be adequate for a laying female. Blood work was declined by the owner. These findings revealed that the egg-laying process was incomplete, and that the female was exhausted and dehydrated.

Oral fluids were offered in an attempt to re-hydrate the chameleon. However, the chameleon refused to accept fluids by mouth. Therefore, an intraosseous catheter was successfully placed in the left femur for fluid administration. This type of catheter enters directly into the marrow cavity of the bone, and allows for rapid fluid absorption. The limb was aseptically prepared with betadine scrub, the limb was flexed, and a 3/4" 22 gauge needle with a spinal needle stylet was inserted into the distal femur. The position of the catheter was verified radiographically.
Fluids were then delivered at a constant infusion rate via a syringe pump and fluid line. The initial fluid rate was calculated based on maintenance fluid requirements of 35 mL/kg per day, which amounted to 3.5 mL/day. Estimating dehydration at 10%, an additional 1 mL divided over 2 days would be needed to satisfy this chameleon's fluid requirements, totaling approximately 4.0 mL per day. Divided in 24 hours, the fluid rate was calculated and programmed into the syringe pump to be delivered at 0.2 mL per hour.

The chameleon was placed in a warmed hospital cage kept at 95ºF, and provided with multiple branches for perching. Fluids, specifically lactated Ringer's solution plus 2.5% dextrose, were delivered at a constant infusion. A bolus of injectable calcium gluconate was given intramuscularly at 300 mg/kg. The author routinely dilutes this drug 1:1 with normal saline to reduce muscle irritation or necrosis.

Throughout the day, the chameleon responded well to the therapy and quickly regained its strength. Although it continued to display the gravid or stress coloration for the day, after several hours crickets were offered by hand and were eagerly accepted. Her eyes opened and she became bright and alert.

The following day the chameleon was discharged from the hospital with the intraosseous catheter still in place. Instructions were given to the owner to give periodic slow small fluid boluses through the catheter for the next 2 days. In addition, injectable intramuscular calcium gluconate was to be given at 100-150 mg/kg twice daily for the next 2 days. Feeding instructions were to provide plenty of oral fluids and to feed calcium-dusted gut-loaded insects as frequently as possible.

3 days later the chameleon returned to the hospital and the intraosseous catheter was removed. She had regained her appetite and vigor and was sent home with a favorable prognosis.

Over the next few days, she intermittently dropped about 10 more eggs, for a clutch total of approximately 26 eggs. The 8 eggs originally deposited were fertile healthy eggs. Unfortunately, most of the eggs laid after the original 8 in the nest box were not viable


Gravid female chameleons face great metabolic demands in the production of a clutch of eggs. This can often lead to their unfortunate illness or demise in captivity. Providing proper husbandry, ensuring the animal is well hydrated, and offering a high quality diet is key in getting them to survive the challenges of gestation.

Dystocia, which is defined as difficulty giving birth, is unfortunately not an uncommon occurrence in chameleons. Also called egg binding, or egg retention, dystocia in oviparous (egg-laying) reptiles refers to the inability to lay eggs. Qualified help from an experienced reptile veterinarian should be sought when dystocia is suspected, as delays or home remedies can worsen the prognosis.

Dystocias can be managed in a variety of ways, but each case must be addressed on a case-by-case basis. Examples of managing this condition range from basic supportive care to aggressive calcium supplementation and fluid therapy (as seen in the above case) to hormonal management using oxytocin or prostaglandins to Cesarean section or ovariohysterectomy (spaying).

Generally speaking, chameleons used for breeding should be of a fully mature size and age and in good body condition. For veiled chameleons, this may mean delaying breeding until they reach 9-12 months of age. It is a common MISCONCEPTION that female veiled chameleons need to be bred at their first signs of sexual receptivity, which may be as early as 3.5 – 5 mo 5 months. In actuality, those females first bred at a later age, once they are fully grown, appear to live longer lives and experience fewer problems with egg binding. Finally, chameleons that are ill, debilitated, geriatric, or obese should not be bred.

While spaying female chameleons is not a routine procedure at this time, it is an issue to ponder for those animals kept as pets where there is no intent to breed. Such a procedure might improve longevity in females and eliminate egg-related disorders. As veterinary medicine advances into the 21st century, reptile surgeries such as this will become more commonplace.

This page last updated on: Wednesday, November 27, 2002

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