Julia, an approximately 2 year old female veiled chameleon, presented to evaluate some abnormal red tissue at the area of her vent. Julia was obtained by her owner on a trip to another country about a year ago. She was being fed mealworms and crickets and was supplied with a UV lamp in her enclosure. Her owner took her outside regularly for exposure to natural sunlight when the weather allowed.
On examination, Julia was found to have a very thin body condition but a distended, tense abdomen and a cloacal prolapse, meaning that her rectum, or cloaca for reptiles, had become exteriorized from her body. We performed an x-ray and found that Julia had many eggs in her abdomen but because she was not receiving proper calcium supplements, her muscles and bones were too weak to pass the unfertilized eggs. This condition is called “hypocalcemia”, referring to an abnormally low level of calcium in the body. This is a very common condition in reptiles caused by incorrect husbandry which may include a diet lacking important vitamins and minerals and/or not enough exposure to proper lighting. Julia was pushing so hard trying to pass the eggs that she pushed out her cloacal tissue.
In most cases when inappropriate diet causes low calcium and eggs cannot be passed regularly, the reptile patient can be given a calcium supplement by injection and/or by mouth. In Julia’s case, because of her cloacal prolapse, surgery was needed. She was given an injection of sedative medication and gas anesthesia. Left and right flank incisions were made to remove the eggs. In this case, because the owner was not interested in breeding, the patient was spayed. Her uterus was removed along with the eggs. The prolapsed cloaca was reduced (placed in the proper position) and sutured. The patient was given injectable antibiotics, pain medication and calcium supplement. She was started on oral calcium supplement at home.
Recommendations were also made to correct husbandry issues. Julia was to be kept in an enclosure with a UV and basking/heat lamp with a thermometer to regulate temperature and hygrometer to regulate humidity. For this type of reptile, diet should include live prey such as crickets, waxworms and mealworms dusted with powdered calcium supplementation at every meal. Different types of reptiles, and even different types of chameleons, require a specialized diet, temperature and humidity range. It is impossible to replicate in a captive setting exactly what reptiles eat in the wild, so it is important to discuss diet and husbandry/environment with your veterinarian to make sure proper care is being taken of your pet. Remember that not every veterinarian sees reptiles.