Do Chameleons Make Good Pets?

Chameleons make good pets for people who don’t handle their animals very often. These solitary creatures thrive in tall terrariums filled with branches.

Jun 27, 2023By Colt Dodd
_AI do chameleons make good pets

Is the ideal pet one that curls up on the couch while its owner watches TV? Or one behind the glass walls of its terrarium, never to be touched? If the latter sounds like a good pet, then yes; chameleons make great pets.

Chameleons are not interactive like dogs. They get stressed and die very easily if handled improperly. Even some of the most advanced reptile owners think twice about adopting a chameleon from a pet store. Still, for those who are dead set on owning their own color-changing companion, here’s what to know.

Chameleons Make Better Conversation Pieces Than Pets

veiled chameleon sitting on a branch

Having a chameleon in a lush, heated terrarium is like having a museum exhibit in the living room. But, just like many of the art pieces in a museum, chameleons are mostly for looking, not touching. In the wild, chameleons spend most of their lives alone, peacefully navigating tree branches and eating the occasional fly.

Chameleons are also sensitive to sudden temperature changes. In fact, its terrarium should have multiple hot and warm places to accommodate its needs. But what does this mean for pet owners? If a Jackson’s chameleon goes from basking in a 90-degree tank, then gets placed on a table in a 70-degree apartment, it could go into shock.

The good thing is that chameleon lovers don’t have to worry about entertaining their little friend as they would a kitten or puppy. A chameleon can have hours of fun just climbing around on the branches in its terrarium, unbothered.

Chameleons Are Generally Better for Looking, Not Touching

chameleon in a tree branch staring

Despite being active during the daytime, chameleons don’t like to be handled. When stressed, they may quickly change colors, hoping to ward off predators. Yet, this sometimes only works to delight inexperienced owners who mistake the defense as a fun feature.

Yet, with some patience, a chameleon can grow to view its owner as a neutral presence and not a threat. Some bonding tips include:

  • Giving the chameleon stuff to grab: Chameleons have two-pronged hands that are ideal for grasping twigs and branches. Ever given a chameleon one of those toothpicks with a flag on it? Great photo op.
  • The hand treadmill game: As noted, chameleons are active. Some people find that having their chameleon walk endlessly over the backs of their hand and onto another hand is amusing.
  • Giving it snacks: Who doesn’t like to eat? Chameleons enjoy small pieces of fruit as a snack. They especially like peaches, mangoes, and bananas.

It’s vital that even experienced reptile owners treat chameleons with care. While it’s not uncommon for chameleons to survive falls, it’s a trauma that no one wants to deal with.

Chameleons Are Long-Term Investments

a chameleon_s terriarium with branches

Chameleon-keeping is an expensive hobby. Prospective pet owners could find themselves paying at least $300 for the cost of the terrarium, substrate, plants, and food alone. Some panther chameleons can easily exceed $100.

What’s more, many run-of-the-mill veterinary clinics don’t treat chameleons. So, if a chameleon gets under the weather, an owner might have to pay extra for an exotic vet.

Long story short: getting a chameleon is a big financial commitment. It’s not the same as getting and keeping a hamster, for instance. One should carefully consider the cost of setup and maintenance when determining whether to bring a chameleon home.

What Potential Chameleon Owners Should Consider Before Adoption

chameleon baby on a leaf branch

As suggested, getting a chameleon shouldn’t be a spur-of-the-moment decision. It requires preparation, budgeting, and research. Before bringing one of these camouflaging creatures home, one should ask:

  • Am I okay with feeding my pet insects? Some people may hesitate at the idea of feeding their chameleon mealworms or crickets. If one has a strong aversion to bugs, one may want to reconsider getting a chameleon.
  • How long am I willing to commit to this? When properly cared for, chameleons can live anywhere from five to 10 years. For some, that’s the perfect amount of time. For others who are looking for a forever friend, they should consider a Russian tortoise.
  • Would I know what to do if my chameleon got sick? Not all veterinarians treat chameleons. Many reptile owners turn to exotic vets to get specialized care. Before getting a chameleon, research any exotic vets in the area. If there’s one, great. If not, owners should have a plan in place if the lizard gets sick.

There Are Other Reptiles That Make Better Pets

bearded dragon on its owner_s hand

After learning about the nuances of caring for a chameleon, some may wonder whether other animals can fit the reptile-as-a-pet bill. They’re in luck. These reptiles are easier to care for and offer more interaction:

  • Bearded dragons: Bearded dragons love being handled and can even recognize their owners. They can also wave and bob their heads, adding another level of interaction.
  • Leopard geckos: Leopard geckos are hardy little guys that tolerate a surprising amount of touching and handling. They also store fat in their tails. The fatter a leopard gecko’s tail, the more nourished it is.
  • Russian tortoises: If one’s truly looking for a lifelong friend, one may find joy in the Russian tortoise. The more they’re handled, the more they trust their owners and truly come out of their shells.

Chameleons Are Great as Household Decorations––Not Really for Pets

panther chameleon in a tank

Chameleons are not good pets in the traditional sense. They don’t enjoy being handled, and too much interaction can stress them out. Yet, there are many other scaly friends that would love nothing more than to ride around on their owner’s shoulder.

Colt Dodd
By Colt Dodd

Colt Dodd is a sighthound enthusiast with three years of freelance writing experience. He has an Italian greyhound/Shetland sheepdog mix named Homer. In his spare time, he enjoys going to dog parks and writing fiction.