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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Bulging Chameleon Eyes

Chameleons are really interesting animals.  Their tongues are the most classic part of them but the rest of their anatomy is equally interesting.  My favorite part is their eyes, being able to move and focus independently.  The eyes are normally prominent, so it was unusual to see a patient with them bulging.

The client drove a good while to get to me since I'm one of the few vets in my area that will see exotic pets.  When I heard that the lizard had bulbous eyes I immediately started thinking about an abscess or vitamin A deficiency, both of which can cause swelling of or behind the eyes.  But when I examined him I started to realize that the appearance didn't fit with either problem.

This had been going on for about a month, gradually getting worse, and was suspected to have started after falling from his foliage.  As it worsened the chameleon's appetite decreased, likely in part because of pressure and discomfort behind the eye as well as difficulty moving the eyes to see the food.

The swelling appeared to be behind the eye itself, within the socket.  I carefully lanced the swelling and was surprised to get a large amount of blood from the puncture.  Even more shocking was that the swelling reduced behind both eyes, even though I only lanced one side.  This meant that there was an injury behind the sockets in the space between the eyes.  However, I couldn't figure out why the blood was still liquid rather than clotted and how he had been bleeding to some degree for so long without getting even worse.

Never having seen anything like this I made a couple of phone calls.  One was to a local exotics specialty practice to speak to the lead doctor there.  He had never heard of this before even though all he did was non-traditional pets.  My next call was to a vet friend of mine in Oklahoma who has extensive practical experience with reptiles.  I managed to stump him as well.  Neither of these experts could figure out what might be going on, and more importantly how to fix it.

This is one of those situations where we elected to do nothing because we couldn't figure out something safe to do.  If we kept draining the swelling we could cause anemia or infection and surgery at that location would be highly risky.  The owner could hand-feed him and elected to do so, hoping for the best.

I really hate not being able to figure out a problem!  Thankfully the client was very understanding about the unique problem and the fact that three vets had no idea what was going on.  

Veterinary medicine is not an exact science.


  1. I was curious about this and found this site:

    Not sure if the client has used this site before, but perhaps there may be a user on there who had a similar problem to their chameleon who could provide some information? Here's where the client can post: and they ask for this info:

    I also want to note that they stress it's not an alternative to vet care. I also hope you don't see me posting this as an alternative to vet care because that's definitely not my intention! Just thinking branching out to a larger network might help :)

  2. That's actually great advice and an option, Maddy, and I certainly don't mind at all. The client is well-informed and does belong to some reptile groups, but I'll pass it along.

  3. [Disclaimer I'm not a vet, obviously] Could it have been an aneurysm? Maybe cancer? A quick search did come up with these articles - "Squamous cell carcinoma associated with a periorbital mass in a veiled chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus" in Veterinary ophthalmology and "Dermatologic problems of reptiles" in Seminars in Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine. In the 1st article it was more skin (scale) involvement. In the 2nd article they only mention Vit A deficiency. Although it appears from other articles they can be infected with Pseudomonas and microfilaria, but none of the abstracts for those articles mention eye involvement. (I mention those journals only because I work at a university, and weirdly enough we have online access to those journals. And we don't have a vet school, so I'm not sure why, except it was a package deal for access to other journals)

    I can see how in the long term it really doesn't matter what the diagnosis is as far as treatment of this pet, because there really isn't a lot available (surgery, medicine) for exotic pets.

  4. Not bad thoughts. However, the problem had started a bit over a month ago and an aneurysm would have resulted in rapid bleeding and death. There was no evidence of a mass of any sort, just the fluid, so a tumor is likely out. An infection would have likely resulted in an abscess, which it wasn't, or in more serious illness.

    Yes, this is a tricky case, and an example of the kinds of things vets have to work to figure out.

  5. this is happening to my female vailed chameleon on the right side iof her head, could someone please give me some advice on what i should do??
    also my chameleon is carrying a clutch of eggs that recently has mated with a male, so thinking when she lays this clutch they will in fact hatch. but that being said im very worried about her condition, also weather or not this will affect her stress level of laying these eggs.
    Cheers, Steve


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