Chameleon Mouth Inspection


When keeping chameleons in captivity, it is crucial to ensure their health and well-being. However, chameleons are adept at concealing symptoms of illness, making it challenging to detect any disorders or diseases they may have - they are masters of disguise and can foul us easily. Therefore, it is essential to pay close attention to details and develop our observational skills to identify any deviations from their normal state in a timely manner. Waiting until a disease fully manifests and becomes visible is often too late. Since we do not have access to diagnostic tools like x-rays or ultrasounds, which are typically available to veterinarians, we must rely on other means. One effective approach is inspecting three key areas:

1. Skin and body form

2. Faeces

3. Mouth

Inspecting the mouth is usually easier than you might think. Chameleons tend to open their mouths readily when we approach their cage or extend a hand towards them. If not, we can gently hold them from above, securing the posterior part of their head with our index finger and thumb, to prevent biting and immobilize them for examination. By doing this, the chameleon will easily open its mouth, allowing us to inspect it. Another option is to hold the chameleon's casque (head crest) with two fingers while using another two fingers to pull down the skin between the lower jaws, exposing the mouth and gular sac.

You can watch videos demonstrating these techniques here:

Never attempt to forcefully pry open the jaws with sharp objects, as it can lead to serious injuries to the jaw, lips, and surrounding tissues. Such injuries are prone to infection, which can be challenging to treat.

It is also helpful to take well-focused and clear pictures of the mouth, cavity, jaws, and lips. If you have any suspicions or concerns, share these images with a knowledgeable person, such as a certified administrator in one of our Facebook groups or a veterinarian.

The color of the mucous inside the mouth is species-specific and can vary. It may appear whitish, pink, yellowish (e.g. in Chamaeleo calyptratus, Calumma parsonii), yellow (e.g. in Furcifer pardalis), bright orange (e.g. Riepelleon kerstenii, Brookesia thieli, Trioceros hoehnelii), red (e.g. Calumma brevicorne), blue (e.g. at mouth angles of Furcifer petteri) or even dark violet to black, (e.g. Trioceros melleri, Chamaeleo dilepis). It is quite variable even within one species.

The mouth should be inspected not only on color, bit also on the presence of irregularities like wounds, bloody lesions, whitish or black spots, inflammations, swellings, pus etc.

The saliva also indicate health or illness: transparent, sticky but not voluminous are ok, plentiful, milky, or with bubbles are of serious concern.

The jaws should be white or yellowish, they can be discolored to brown or black in older specimens. They should show no breaks and we a continuous row of sharp triangular teeth. The palate is cleft - wearing a y-shaped fissure - the position of the jacobson's vomeronasal organ.

Always be aware of the condition of your chameleon's mouth, inspect it regularly, and seek professional advice if you have any concerns or suspicions about their health.

Author: Petr Nečas