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The Veiled Chameleon Care Guide - The Critter Depot

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Table of Contents

Veiled Chameleon Care Guide

how to care for a veiled chameleon

Table of Contents

Ask an Expert

Veiled chameleons are unique and beautiful pets.  But caring for them can be complex and challenging.  If you're a new or experienced owner, you can ask your questions on our Veiled Chameleon forum.  Our community and zoologists will answer your questions, so your veiled chameleon will live a long and happy life.

Veiled Chameleons for Sale

Owning a veiled chameleon is a wonderful experience.  But knowing where to buy one can be a challenge.  CB Reptile breeder healthy veiled chameleons under the supervision of their in-house biologists.  This ensures their genes are well mixed, so your veiled chameleons can live long and healthy lives.  

A Brief Introduction to Veiled Chameleons

Originally from Saudi Arabia and Yemen in the Middle East, the veiled or Yemen chameleon, is a relatively large chameleon species that is well suited for the experienced owner. As with all chameleons, they are a tropical forest, totally arboreal species.

Forget the shifting desert sands that usually come to mind for the Middle East.  Because the veiled chameleon inhabits the lush coastal mountain slopes that receives significant rainfall. More recently, the veiled chameleon has become established in small populations in Hawaii an Florida, where they are considered an invasive species. In fact, even though it is illegal to import these reptiles into Hawaii, there is no law about exporting them from the mainland.  Therefore it is likely that your veiled chameleon is of Hawaiian descent.


The tall casques (helmet-like structures) on the tops of their heads inspired their name. The casque, present in both males and females, aids in steering water that falls onto their heads down into their mouths. Veiled chameleons have bodies that are banded in shades of green, yellow and brown which adjust to varying shades. An excited chameleon my sport neon green coloration, while a placid chameleon will be a muted green/brown. They do adjust to their backgrounds by altering the shades of their skins, but this basically green animal is never going to turn a bright shade of purple when placed in a purple environment. 


Male veiled chameleons may reach a total length of 2 feet, and females can attain approximately 15 inches, making these one of the larger chameleon species seen in captivity. Hatchling veiled chameleons are approximately 3 to 4 inches in total length. They are not the longest living of reptiles, so with the best of care you can count on your male chameleon to live up to eight years, but not much longer. Females are even more short-lived, averaging about 5 years. A sexually mature female veiled chameleon will clutches of infertile eggs, much like chickens. This takes a lot of physical resources and wears out the females over the years, resulting in a life span similar to a well-cared for chicken.

Setting Up a Veiled Chameleon's Tank 

Veiled Chameleons require elaborate naturalistic vivariums. Keepers have found that very young chameleons housed in large reptile tanks may not do well.  So a 10 gallon is nice set up, until the veiled chameleon reaches 10 months of age.

veiled chameleon habitat

After 10 months, they will be sexually mature and should be housed in a 30 gallon tall (vertically oriented) reptile tank or larger. Unlike terrestrial chameleons that do quite well in a horizontally oriented fish tank, vertical activity space is important to these arboreal chameleons.  They enjoy climbing, and will move steadily from branch to branch and perform many interesting maneuvers with help of their prehensile tails.

The cost for vertical habitats is a bit higher than for a tank, but the results in terms of your veiled’s health and happiness will make the investment worth it. For a mature male, the most commonly recommended dimensions are 24 x 24 inches wide and deep and 48 inches high.

Although some well ventilated glass habitats are available which would probably suit your chameleon well, the vast majority of keepers use a screened enclosure. Although this can make humidity maintenance challenging, Veiled Chameleons are extraordinarily susceptible to respiratory illnesses.  But they still need a humidity of around 50%, therefore adequate air circulation is a must. This is what makes them more difficult, compared to bearded dragons or leopard geckos.  Because they require more monitoring and maintenance.   

Veiled Chameleon Substrate

  • Paper towels
  • Slate tile
  • Reptile Carpet

Once you have acquired the correct enclosure, it’s time to turn it into a habitat.  And the best place to start is at the bottom. Choice of substrate is critical for your veiled’s welfare.  They can ingest non-digestible matter in addition to their target food, which can cause health problems.

Because of the lizard’s sticky tongue, all loose substrates should be avoided. One of the safest and easiest options is paper towels to line the bottom of the enclosure. There is virtually no risk of a veiled ingesting the paper towel and it can be quickly swapped out with a fresh sheet for cleaning convenience. I personally don’t care for the appearance and would opt for a sheet of attractive slate tiles from Home Depot.

Veiled Chameleon's Favorite Furniture

  • Branches
  • Driftwood
  • Bamboo
  • Vines

Veiled chameleons need room to climb.  So providing vertical habitat features such as branches, driftwood, bamboo, and vines at a variety of heights and orientations will please your chameleon. Add a variety of plastic, and/or sturdy live plants (pothos, umbrella plants, dracaena, ficus) as they will hide in the plants for cover. Many keepers prefer mostly synthetic plants. Plastic plants are safe and can be thoroughly sanitized in a manner that real plants in soil cannot survive.

Because these animals are omnivorous, they will try to take a bite out of silk plants, and if successful can make themselves really sick, so stay away from silk. A combination of plastic plants and one very leafy potted real plant like a pothos (which they really love and is harmless) comprise good design elements. Many keepers like a multi-stemmed plant in one pot. This will maximize the climbing opportunities, help to support the plant, and still provide only a single pot to remove when cleaning time comes.

Four plants per pot seems like the perfect number for most set-ups. Be sure to also provide plenty of horizontal stems of bamboo or a similar material all the way up the habitat in an open matrix like fashion. These should be places no closer to the top where the lights are than 8 inches.

Temperature and Humidity

  • 72 - 80 degrees F for ambient temps
  • 85 - 93 degrees F for basking temps
  • A minimum of 50% relative humidity
  • A relative humidity level between 60% and 70% when shedding

Chameleons seldom drink from bowls.  They prefer droplets from plant leaves and any moisture that trickles down to their mouths from their casque. This is why they should be misted twice daily. If this is not possible, then automatic misters on timers can be purchased. It is important that the water emitted by the mister is never less than 70 degrees F. Keepers residing in very arid climates with relative humidity frequently in the teens may find that thrice daily misting is essential. To simulate the chameleon’s tropical native habitat, the humidity level should not drop below 50%. For shedding, the humidity should be somewhat higher for the majority of the day.

The best ambient temperature for veiled chameleons during the day is high room temperature, between 72 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, in addition to a basking spot. By placing the heat bulb approximately 10 inches above a perch inside the enclosure, a basking spot of approximately 85 to 93 degrees should be achieved. This results in the warmest temperatures directly under the heat bulb and cooler temps lower down in the enclosure, so your chameleon has a choice of temperature gradient as suits it at the time.

A good digital thermometer with a temperature probe is crucial for managing the heating regime. Better still; acquire a digital laser thermometer. It is a worthwhile investment and for less than $20, a keeper can take readings from all over the habitat with the push of a button. Be sure to take readings from more than one spot in the habitat, so as not to overlook hot spots (it is more important to identify these than cool spots). Readings should therefore be taken at bottom of the habitat, in the center, at the top and in any areas your veiled seems to hang out in quite frequently. Keepers need to remember that the ambient temperature of the room can affect that of the enclosure, so frequent readings are strongly recommended.

A good hygrometer is a valuable tool, especially if your veiled is shedding. In this instance, they should get several hours of higher humidity (60-70%) every day to ensure that they shed properly. Misting heavily 3 times a day should achieve the required higher humidity levels but do check your hygrometer to be sure. Shedding time can be challenging since it is important to allow the cage to dry to nearly normal humidity levels in between mistings. A too dry environment can hinder proper shedding while an overly wet environment can also cause problems with shedding, and can invite molds and fungi to gain a foothold in the habitat. Best not to guess and instead to consult the hygrometer frequently.

Proper Lighting

A photo period of 12 to 14 hours of light is most beneficial for Veiled Chameleons. Many keepers recommend the Arcadia 8 watt MINI UV light Kit 2.4% UVB. This is an extremely low-level source of UVB and is safe for even very shallow tanks. The light should be on a timer, so that the light automatically shuts off after 12-14 hours.

Be cautious about permitting sunlight to shine directly on the tank. Given other sources of heat, the temperatures inside the tank can quickly climb to 110 degrees F.  Which greatly exceeds their temperature limits, and can kill your chameleon.

Additionally, keep an extra bulb on hand at all times.  That way, should your current bulb burn out, you will be able to replace it without a significant delay.  Also, if the lamp does have a cover, it is important that the cover is not designed to filter out UVB light, as this may prevent your chameleon from receiving the proper health benefits.

Some bulbs that have been designed to specifically meet the needs of reptiles, and certain other species and function as both UVB and basking lights.  This can be an ideal solution for those who have only a limited number of suitable power outlets near the enclosure.  At the minimum, use a size and wattage equal to an Exo Terra MINI Compact Top. There should be one incandescent bulb and one fluorescent. Two fluorescent bulbs can damage your pet’s eyes, two incandescent bulbs will be warm enough, but not provide any UVB. Depending on the dimensions of your set-up, a larger bulb system may be warranted.

If you feel you have the lighting issue solved to perfection, but the bottom of the habitat is a bit cool, an undertank heat mat is a good solution.  A heat mat should heat no more than half the bottom.  This will help with ambient temperature, while still providing a slightly cool spot that your veiled chameleon will seldom need.  Adjust your lights in a sensible fashion and then measure, measure, measure the temperatures for at least 48 hours.

Veiled Chameleon Diet and Feeding 

veiled chameleon eating a crickets


  • Crickets
  • stick bugs
  • snails
  • wax worms
  • hornworms

Veileds seem to do well on a diet of crickets, dubia roaches, stick bugs, snails, praying mantis, wax worms, silk worms, butter worms, and hornworms. Some keepers stay away from anything that can’t crawl or jump, as some chameleons don’t like to eat at ground level. Everyone agrees that crickets are the best staple. Whichever food item you offer, remember that it should never be larger than the distance from the chameleon’s nose to its eye, or the distance between the eyes. Feeder insects should always be dusted with a good calcium and vitamin D3 powder.  These supplements are easily found online and in pet stores for about $12 for a year’s supply.

For maximum benefit for your veiled, gut load your feeder Insects before offering them to your herp friend. “Gut loading” means placing the feeder insects on an enriched diet for at least 24 hours prior to being offered to your chameleons. This enhances the nutritional value of the insects substantially. A purchased supplement such as those offered by reptile hobby stores is easily available and affordable. The convenience of a dry gut load diet, purchased from a pet supply house, is undeniable. However, many experienced breeders and keepers have found these products inadequate.  So for the really persnickety keeper (and you know you should be) the following formula for gut loading your feeder crickets or roaches is suggested:

  • 24 pbw whole wheat flour (not self-rising)
  • 8 pbw calcium carbonate with vitamin D3
  • 4 pbw brewer's yeast (Not baker's yeast).
  • 3 pbw soy powder
  • 1 pbw paprika (this is to provide beta carotene)

The ‘pbw’ stands for parts by weight, whatever that weight may be. Think of this formula as a table of ratios. For instance, if you begin with 24 tablespoons of whole wheat, you would add 8 tablespoons of calcium carbonate and so forth. So for every unit of whole wheat flour, you would add 1/3 as much of the same unit of calcium powder and so forth. Place your feeder insects onto this feed for 24 hours and then release a couple into your herp’s habitat.

Fresh Fruits

  • Berries
  • Grapes
  • Apples
  • Peaches

For your omnivorous veiled, many kinds of berries, including blueberries, grapes, strawberries, apples, pears, peaches, raspberries, and blackberries can be offered for a change of pace. For young ones you will need to follow the no wider than the space between the eyes rule, which may require cutting some fruits into smaller bits. Your lizard may relish thin slices of apple, pear or peach. Avoid offering your veiled acidic fruits, such as oranges, limes or grapefruit. Do not let unconsumed fruit sit unattended for more than 12 hours before removing and cleaning any sticky places off the substrate.

Monthly Habitat Cleaning

Real plants should be removed and cleaned by wiping down and spraying off (including the underside of the leaves) monthly at least. Allow the soil in the pot to dry out a little to discourage the growth of molds. Plastic plants should be removed monthly and placed in the dishwasher on the top rack (so they don’t melt). This convenient form of sanitizing the furniture is appropriate monthly if there is no lingering odor or evidence of illness produced by microbes or parasites thriving in the habitat.

If your veiled is ill, or if the habitat just seems smelly within 24 hours of cleaning, suspect that normal maintenance is not sufficient. Remove all elements from the habitat immediately. Soak any artificial furniture in a 10% bleach solution for at least one hour and then allow to air dry. Remove and destroy all substrates. Remove tiles or other substrate and sanitize the sides and bottom of the habitat with bleach solution, paying attention to the bottom corners in particular. Allow it to air dry for at least 3 hours. Sanitize tiles in the dishwasher with a bleach rinse afterward for good measure. Replace the live plants with new ones(do not use the old ones again for at least 6 months), and the newly sanitized synthetic furnishings and tiles. These extreme measures may not be necessary very often if your chameleon is healthy, and with any luck you will not have to resort to this process more than twice a year (which you should do religiously regardless because of the levels of humidity required to keep your tropical friend comfortable).

While you are doing the monthly cleaning, you may want to have your chameleon in a temperature controlled station. A large Rubbermaid type container with paper towels on the bottom, and a sensibly warm spot for the duration will do better than asking a friend or family member to hold your pet for 2-3 hours, which is too long for their comfort. I like to just remove the undertank heating pad and place it under the Rubbermaid tub, with a hand towel between the plastic bottom of the tub and the pad. Let it preheat for an hour, check the temperature, mist the towels thoroughly and place your friend inside while you clean. Remember to preheat the main habitat again after cleaning and drying is complete and to mist all leaves and furniture. Your pet will not have had a chance to drink during cleaning, so don’t ask them to wait any longer, just give them moisture right away.

Common Health Problems of Veiled Chameleons

Proper sanitation and husbandry is critical for veiled chameleons.  If you think your pet is suffering from some type of infection or disease, it's important to find a reptile veterinarian near by so that you can get him treated quickly.  

Mouth Rot

Like many reptiles, Veiled Chameleons are susceptible to mouth rot (stomatitis). This condition can flair up due to compromised immune system function from an improperly managed temperature or humidity regime in the habitat that results in a constantly stressed (read miserable) chameleon. The pathogen is present in the mouth at all times and is kept in check through a strong immune response. An injury to the mouth can also allow pathogen entry to vulnerable tissues.

  • Symptoms include:
  • Excess mucus
  • Redness around the mouth
  • Pus inside the mouth

Respiratory Infections

If you notice your veiled is wheezing or drooling, this may indicate the presence of a mild respiratory infection, another common chameleon ailment. It can also be associated with stomatitis if the chameleon is mouth breathing because the sinuses are blocked.

  • Symptoms include:
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Unusual wheezescrackles, or other odd sounds while breathing
  • Discharge from the mouth and/or nose
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite resulting in weight loss

Metabolic Bone Disease

Metabolic bone disease (MBD) refers to a deficiency of calcium being taken in through diet, leading to calcium being taken from the bones to support other metabolic functions. It generally takes the form of disfigured  bones, especially in the spine, hips and tail.

  • Symptoms can include:
  • Swollen limbs (“Popeye” arms)
  • Swollen jaw or a weak jaw that hangs open
  • Underbite or overbite
  • Hunched back or otherwise irregular spine
  • Kinked tail with multiple zig-zags
  • Shaking, trembling, or twitching of the torso or extremities

This particular ailment is a direct result of poor husbandry practices. If you have doubts that the calcium being presented to your veiled via dusting of the prey items is adequate, it is prudent to include a calcium supplement to the gut-loading ration of the prey items (like the formula suggested above) to ensure ingestion by the veiled. The disfiguring tends to be permanent, so err on the side of caution.

Upper Respiratory Infections

Last but not least is the dreaded URI (Upper Respiratory Infection). URI’s are generally related to improper environmental conditions such as being kept too cold or too wet. Symptoms to watch for are pointing head upward, drooling, gaping, wheezing, or bubbles in mouth. Your pet will be listless and not eating. An upper respiratory infection requires immediate treatment by a reptile veterinarian as antibiotics to treat the infection are needed. An immediate correction of temperatures, humidity, and ventilation will assist in healing. If left untreated a URI can turn into pneumonia, which is more severe and harder to treat, with a prolonged recovery.

There are other ailments and conditions that the owner should be aware of.  And almost all of them can be prevented with good husbandry practices. Sanitation, correct management of temperature and humidity within the required parameters, and a good diet will help to ensure your veiled’s longevity.


Happy Herping!


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