Mouth rot in chameleons


One of the most severe disorders in chameleons is mouth rot.


Mouth rot is typically caused by improper captive conditions, particularly when there is overheating and high humidity in cages that lack proper ventilation.


It often begins as a small injury to the lips, gums, or jaws, and progresses by attacking the decaying tissues through airborne bacteria, such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Many people mistakenly believe that their chameleon was injured by a feeder insect, but this is often a fabrication or only applies to very weakened animals. If left untreated, mouth rot can develop into a large cavity filled with whitish or yellowish, cheesy, foul-smelling substance that damages the tissues and often leads to the destruction of bones (turning grey or greenish), which then become unhealable.


Chameleons are adept at hiding disease symptoms, and in the early stages, diagnosing mouth rot can be challenging. Over time, a significant swelling develops in the affected areas, causing the jaws to bulge and giving the affected area an unnatural appearance. Since the progression can be slow, some keepers may mistakenly believe that the mouth looks normal.


Treating mouth rot is problematic and often unsuccessful. It involves:

1. Cleaning the affected area of pus and dead cells.

2. Treating the cavity with a disinfectant (e.g., Betadine).

3. Applying local antiseptics (e.g., propolis tincture) to the area.

4. Applying local antibiotics.

5. Administering systemic antibiotics orally or through injections.

Steps 1-3 can be performed by an educated keeper, but specific antibiotic treatment should be exclusively handled by a veterinarian. An alternative treatment option involves filling the emptied cavity with pollen and providing the chameleon with manuka honey if veterinary care is not immediately available.


Proper husbandry is crucial in preventing mouth rot, including providing well-ventilated cages with living plants and supporting the immune system through daily administration of bee pollen and biweekly to monthly preventive feeding of small amounts of high-quality honey, especially high-grade Manuka honey with an MGO exceeding 600.


Always be vigilant about the health of the chameleon's jaws, lips, and gums. If you notice any problems or have suspicions, reach out to certified administrators of our Facebook groups or a competent veterinarian.

The pictures show: terribly swollen jaws in a female of F. pardalis and mouth rot in a female of C. calyptratus

Author: Petr Nečas