Is Tap Water Safe For My Chameleon? The Answer Might Surprise You.

Chameleon Tongue EYES CLOSED tap waterTap water is not suitable for chameleons. In fact, it is not even suitable for fish. Many pet stores have advisories posted not to use tap water for fish tanks – fish live in water, so we consider them an authority on the matter.

Anyone who tells you your tap water is safe is lying to you – it’s sanitary, not pure. ‘Safe’ can be a misleading term. Yes, it’s safe from organisms like giardia, e. coli, and cryptosporidium. But the chlorine kills living cells in the body the same way it kills those living organisms. Once disinfected & sanitized by the city, you must purify the tap water yourself.

The reason tap water is a hazard for all living creatures (including you), is because of poor regulations. There are over 80,000 chemicals available in North America, and over 200,000 available worldwide. The Environmental Protection Agency only strictly limits 91. Arguably, all of these chemicals end up in the water. There have been over 500,000 infractions against the Safe Water Drinking Act (SWDA) in the USA affecting over 23 Million people. In Canada, the laws are actually voluntary guidelines, where most violations are rarely reported and are not punishable by law. Furthermore, some cities filter sewage into the tap water: CNN – From toilet to tap: Getting a taste for drinking recycled waste water

In one study in Northeastern USA, a study found male bass were developing eggs within their testicles. And it wasn’t just one or two bass, it was 60% – 100%. Endocrine (hormone) disrupting chemicals, or EDC’s, mimic estrogen in the body. This affects small animals much more than larger animals.

BPA is found in over 90% of people, and is a common chemical leached from plastics into water. A Canadian study in 2015 showed that turtle eggs exposed to BPA turned out to be 100% female – overriding natural selection and gender determination, usually caused by temperature variations. “Our findings show that BPA essentially overrides the temperature in determining the sex of the turtle, creating turtles that are probably unable to reproduce.” Explained in the following video:

The following video explains how other pharmaceuticals get into your tap water, and that the World Health Organization says there is a ‘knowledge gap’….they don’t yet know what the effects are.

So now we know that anything can be in tap water…but what does the city intentionally add?

Many city water treatment plants use Aluminum Sulphate in the water to coagulate turbidity (cloudiness). Unfortunately, there are no regulations on how much can be used, and how much can be left in. Aluminum in water acts differently than aluminum in food. In food, aluminum is bound to the molecules within the food and the body only absorbs less than 1%, excreting the remaining 99% as waste. In water, aluminum is not bound to anything and is better absorbed by the body. While we don’t have to worry about our chameleons getting dementia, there is a concern of heavy metal buildup – many tap water sources also contains copper, uranium, barium, cadmium, lead, arsenic, iron, sodium and minerals. Some of these, particularly sodium, will cause edema (swelling of tissue) and kidney problems.

Another thing the city adds is chlorine. Chlorine itself is a free radical, or a volatile oxidant….the Chlorination Byproducts (CBP’s, or Disinfection Byproducts DBP’s) are what’s dangerous. CBPs are created after chlorine is in water – it reacts with other chemicals and common organic matter to create new chemicals. This includes the 4 types of carcinogenic Trihalomethanes, and the carcinogenic and mutagenic Haloacetic Acids (HAA’s). CBP’s and HAA’s are possibly one of the major causes of the increase in global cancer rates and other diseases – it is absorbed by the skin in the bath/shower, it is absorbed by the lungs as steam in the bath/shower, and it is absorbed into the stomach when you drink or cook with tap water. These chemicals are RARELY even tested for in drinking water, and are very seldom reported. Most people do not even know about them. Not only can these chemicals be an irritant to your chameleon’s eyes and skin, they can also absorb into the body and cause damage to DNA. Honestly, this is just as serious for your health as it is for your chameleon – CBPs have been proven to cause bladder, rectal and colon cancer. There is growing evidence to suggest it causes lung, skin, and breast cancer, as well as heart disease.

There may also be a connection between exposure to CBPs during pregnancy and miscarriages, premature births, low birth weight, and birth defects. In studies on reptiles and Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals, the damage is done while the animal is developing in the egg.

Finally, the major problem with all water in the developed world is the piping systems. You might have a beautiful stainless steel, porcelain, or granite sink, and brushed nickel taps….but what’s underneath the ground is not so pretty. Every city has damaged pipes, and the cost to replace them nation-wide would be in the trillions. Most pipes cannot be accessed because you’d have to demolish every home, building and road to get at them. It costs $20 per foot *just to dig down and assess* the condition of the pipes. In a medium sized city of 100,000 people, there can be over 300 miles (400km) of pipes, and over 35-45% are damaged and leaking – allowing contaminants into the holes. This would cost $28-Million just to look at. In the City of Toronto, over $700 Million worth of water is lost through compromised pipes – enough to fill 131,000 Olympic Sized swimming pools. While the city is more concerned about the water getting OUT of the pipes, we are more concerned about what is getting IN.

The director for the Cancer Research Beaureau for the Center For Disease Control, Dr. Donald Wigle, said “In fact, given the widespread and prolonged exposure to CBPs and the epidemiologic evidence of associations with several cancer sites, future research may establish CBPs as the most important environmental carcinogens in terms of the number of attributable cancers per year.”


So what’s a chameleon owner to do?

water5First of all, forget bottled water. The #1 and #7 plastics are the worst offenders for leaching chemicals into water, only #2, #4, and #5 are safe. Also, over 25% of bottled water *is* tap water. Almost all the bargain brand water we tested was as bad or worse than our city’s tap water. Of all commercial bottled water we tested, only Aquafina and Dasani made the cut for purity. There are, however, small local businesses that offer high quality Reverse Osmosis water in big blue #7 plastic jugs – we recommend getting a glass jug, such as a carboy used for making wine, available on Amazon. This will be about 60lbs when full, so get a carboy handle available on Amazon. Or simply use smaller glass jugs, like those found at organic dairy farms.

Also forget carbon pitcher filters like Brita. They ‘reduce’ not *remove* contaminants in the water. Your total contaminant PPM (TDS) count might be 200, and these filters might only bring it down to 180. A high quality reverse osmosis will bring it from 200 down to 5. The carbon in pitcher & fridge filters simply flavors the water and reduces smell/taste, without removing all the harmful contaminants. Don’t believe me? Check out the Brita Wiki – “The BRITA filter is not intended to purify water.”

Also, forget about boiling the water – boiling the water causes steam *which is the pure water leaving*. What’s left behind is the same water with a higher concentration of contaminants.

What kind of water to use for a chameleon? Your best option is to install a Reverse Osmosis filter under your kitchen sink, so you yourself can benefit from pure water for drinking & cooking. We recommend this 5-stage Reverse Osmosis, available on Amazon. We also highly recommend getting a plumber to install it, this may cost $50 – $150 depending on the plumber. For safety, get the plumber to install a safety leak detector from Amazon between your cold water line and the first connection into the RO. Ask for a few extra absorbent tablets as replacement backup in case you accidentally spill something like Windex on the leak detector, as any moisture will shut it off. The detector must be screwed to the floor near or below the RO, and will detect any leaks if there is something loose or damaged or not installed properly. Always turn off water appliances if you are leaving for extended periods of time – especially in the winter when water can freeze and expand if your home is left unheated.

Your filters should be changed once per year and remember to grease and/or replace the O-Rings – you will be shocked at what builds up in the filters that used to go into your body. If you do some cost analysis, the RO pays for itself quite quickly compared to buying bottled water forever, and you can use it for cooking rice, soup & pasta…making tea & coffee….your dogs, parrots & cats….making iced tea & kool-aid…and of course, your chameleon.


Chameleons become dehydrated very quickly, and must have access to water daily. Misting your chameleon is the best way to mimic natural access to water. Chameleons drink rain water that collects on leaves and in tree wells in the wild, which is as pure as water can possibly get in nature. Rain water is distilled water. You should spray your chameleon moderately up to several times per day. The most important thing to remember is to let the environment dry completely between mistings. This may take 20 minutes in a dry climate, or 2 hours in a humid climate – whatever climate you are in, allow the cage to dry completely and remain dry for 1-2 hours between mistings. It is also a good idea to spray the environment (plants, screen, vines) more than spraying the chameleon directly. Direct spray is important for flushing the eyes out, as well as keeping the skin hydrated – but too much direct spraying can cause water droplets to be inhaled into the lungs, causing respiratory infections. A 25%/75% rule is ideal, where you spray the chameleon directly for 25% of the misting, and 75% of the remaining misting should be directed at plants. Misting can last from 30 seconds to 20 minutes. The younger the chameleon, the shorter misting should last, as a single water drop on the snout is enough to cause fluid buildup in the lungs for young babies. An automatic misting system like The Mistking avialble on Amazon. A smaller version is available through the Mistking Website. Direct your nozzle to hit the largest plant in the enclosure, and avoid the basking area where your chameleon might be shocked by the water if he is warm & comfortable under his light. Don’t waste your time on other commercially available misting systems, the Mistking is superior and will serve you better & longer. Search the with the keyword “Drainage” to learn how to make your enclosure more efficient.

The Little Dripper by ZooMed is a great addition to your chameleon’s water intake. Be sure to have a catch-basin at the bottom of the tank, or have a false-bottom to allow water through. A small bucket with a screen lid will make sure water collects in the bucket and your chameleon won’t fall in and drown! A slow drip is best, try to adjust it to last the majority of the day.

Chameleons do not require any additives to the water. Misting babies by hand is recommended. Using warm water will mimic tropical rain, but room temperature is fine. If you shower your chameleon if he is severely dehydrated, direct the spray towards a wall and not directly on the chameleon – you may put a large plant in the shower so that the fine mist bouncing off the walls just barely hits the plant. The goal here is to increase humidity and have water droplets – use warm water and not hot. NEVER FORCE WATER INTO YOUR CHAMELEONS MOUTH unless supervised by a vet and dehydration is being treated. Your chameleon knows when and how much water it will need.

DO NOT USE A FOUNTAIN OR WATERFALL – they will breed bacteria and cause infections.







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