I've decided to use this
article to try to answer some of the most commonly asked questions. If your
question is not covered below, or in the Water Dragon FAQ Please go to the main
page of this web site "Tricia's Water Dragon Page" and
look through the index to see if the topic that you are interesting in finding
more about is covered on another page, or use the search engine on the main
page to find a word that you are looking for on the site.
The Water Dragon FAQ covers common ailments extensively and goes
over the basics of water dragon care, including in depth info on their
This "little" <smirk>
article covers lethargy and illness caused by improper temperatures, calcium
deficiency or MBD and mouth rot, then it goes on to discuss other common
questions that I receive such as "how do I tell if my dragon is male or
female?", "how do I tell how old my dragon is?", and links to other pages on
"Tricia's Water Dragon Page" That already address the most common questions
that people send to me.
I sincerely hope that you find this article helpful. Please remember to bookmark this page so that you can refer to it if you have questions or a problem develops with your dragon. Also remember that if you're worried about your dragons health the best thing you can do is take it to a reptile veterinarian.
What temperatures are you
keeping your dragon at? Proper day time temps should be 84 to 88 F (28.8 C to
31.1 C), with a basking spot of 90 to 95 F (32.2 C to 34.99 C); Night time
temps should be 75 to 80 F (23.88 C to 26.66 C). You should have two
thermometers in the cage in case one is faulty!!!!
If you are having trouble
keeping the temperatures correct in the cage try changing the wattage of the
basking bulb you are using until you reach the correct temps. If you are still
having trouble keeping the temps up put a human heating pad under the propped
up cage, set the heating pad on low (prop up the cage so the heating pad
doesn't directly touch the glass or the glass with get very hot and could
possibly burn the reptile or dry out the substrate too quickly causing low
humidity problems!). This will help add some ambient heat to the cage.
Oh and throw away that hot
rock (heat rock or sizzle stone or heat cave)... it will burn your reptile, or
short or smoke ... its a possible fire hazard at the very least! There are no
safe precautions to take with a hot rock to ensure that it doesn't hurt your
animal or endanger even your life or your household. Checking the rock daily
may not help. The best prevention is to simply not use the hot rock.
If the cage has a screen
lid you can try to cover part of the lid with a towel or piece of glass in
order to keep some of the heat and humidity in the cage. If your cage is
screen- good luck!- you can get thick Styrofoam and stick it on the sides and
back to insulate the cage ... just watch that no lights are near the Styrofoam
as you don't want a fire hazard! Please see:
If the temps are too high
your dragon might not eat well, dehydrate and become lethargic.
If the temps are too low
the dragon will likely not eat well if at all, and may gape- this is a big sign
of respiratory infection!, or it could
develop a bowel obstruction due to food not being digested properly due to low
temps. Improper temps leads to all kinds of ailments from respiratory
infections, obstructions, weakens the immune system which might in turn give
any parasites the dragon has in it a chance to multiply and overwhelm the
dragon (stress seems to do that too!), poor digestion due to low temps could
also lead to calcium deficiency. Please see Temperature and Common Ailments of Water Dragons.
Do you have a UVB light
over your dragon?
No ... I don't mean a
basking light ... no, I don't mean a round incandescent bulb. I mean a
Fluorescent tube that has a UVB output in the 290 to 310 nm range such as a
vitalight or a reptisun fluorescent tube. There are many brands of UVB
producing fluorescent tubes, the vitalight and reptisun are just two
IF you do have a UVB
fluorescent tube, is it set up correctly?
The UVB fluorescent should be set up so that it is no more than 10 inches above
your dragon with no glass or plastic between the light and the dragon as UVB
rays do not penetrate through these materials well at all. The UVB fluorescent
light helps your dragon produce the vitamin D2 in it's skin, which in turn
turns into vitamin D3, which helps the dragon use the calcium in it's diet
If the dragon doesn't have
UVB lighting, or doesn't have regular access to unfiltered natural sunlight
(not through glass cage!!!) it may suffer from calcium deficiency, and that can
cause lethargy, lessened or lack of appetite, trembling, seizures, malformed
jaw, swellings in legs, easily broken bones, and eventually death. This is an
ailment that needs veterinary care- immediate veterinary care! If you think
your dragon might be suffering from this ailment please see Metabolic Bone Disease and see
Have you ever taken your
dragon to the vet for a check up?
dragon is lethargic, not eating well, or is eating well but doesn't seem to be
growing or is losing weight, AND it's stools are not well formed but are soft,
break up easily, very smelly, diarrhea like, loose, and the dragon seems to
pass stool frequently and not in it's water dish it could have internal
parasites. You should, at the very least, take a fresh stool sample to the vet
and have it tested for internal parasites, then treat the animal according to
vets instructions which will likely include giving your dragon oral medications
such as Panacur and Flagyl. Please see Internal Parasites and Panacur, antiparasitic drugs, and symptoms of parasite
An initial check-up at the
vets shortly after purchasing the dragon, along with having a fresh stool
sample tested for parasites is one of the best recommendations I can make to
new dragon owners. By going to the vet early you can perhaps catch illnesses
that your dragon might already have in the early, easily treatable, and less
expensive to treat at the vets stage, and you can also learn a bit more about
your water dragon and it's care if you have found a knowledgeable vet. This will
also allow you to investigate your local vet and an establish a good working
relationship with him or her BEFORE an emergency happens!
Already having, and
knowing, a good reptile vet before a health crisis comes up with your reptile
is a very good idea.
If you are reading this
article because your dragon is banging it's snout on the cage and damaging it
you likely have your dragon in a glass aquarium. The tank might be tooooooo
small. Water dragons do NOT understand glass at all so what you are going to
have to do is change the dragons behaviour to eliminate the snout rubbing.
Plant some plants along
the inside edges of the cage to let the dragon know there is a barrier there
(live plants help with the humidity too!).
Or put some paper, or
decorative aquarium background paper, along the lower outside 6" on the cage
(front, back, sides) and this will tell the dragon that there is a barrier
there that he cant pass through.
Also change the angle of
your basking lights if they are causing reflections on the inside of the glass.
IF the dragon can see it's own reflection in the glass it might think another
dragon is trying to invade it's territory and it might be banging against the
glass in an attempt to fight it's own reflection.
Ok now that you've fixed
the behavioural problem of snout banging by moving the dragon into a much
larger home and or putting up paper and plants along the edges of the cage you
have to fix the actual damage. :(
Snout rubbing can be as
minor as bruising or slight scabbing on the snout. This kind of damage can
usually be taken care of at home by applying betadine (get over the counter in
a drug store) to the wound for a short period, and a topical antibacterial
ointment such as neosporin, triple antibiotic ointment or polysporin to the
If the damage is more
extensive or you can see a white cheesy substance (that is puss!) or the inside
of the mouth is reddened, swollen or irritated looking you will have to see a
vet. Your dragon might have a serious infection going on and will likely have
to be put on oral or injectable antibiotics to clear the infection.
An infection left untended
or an abrasion that gets a deep infection within it can lead to systemic
infection and or the infection could spread into the bone and cause bone death.
:( If you've been watching water dragons for a while now you've probably seen
more than a few with the front of their faces missing - actual bone and teeth
missing. This is from snout rubbing that led to infection and bone death. Take
your dragon to a reptile vet BEFORE the damage and infection gets this bad!
Damaged snout tissue will
remain damaged, bruising or scabbing can lead to permanent scale loss and won't
look so terrible, but if the dragon bangs enough that actual flesh comes off or
the infection goes deep and there is bone loss well that damage is permanent.
If your dragon has some
snout damage and becomes lethargic, isn't eating well etc. please take it to a
vet. This could be a sign that the infection has gone systemic or that the
damage is so bad it's hurting the dragon to eat, either way it more than likely
needs proper medical attention ASAP. Please also see Mouthrot/Stomatitis and Snout
Rubbing- Effects of, and Prevention
Is your dragon new?
This might just be fear ... the dragon is
threatening to bite you, although I've heard of very few aggressive dragons.
Consider this more talk than action.
If you've had your dragon
for a while and it's been doing this all along or has just started doing this-
Check that the cage temps are proper, high temps could cause panting and
gaping, low temps could cause a Respiratory
infection which would need Immediate medical attention.
Look your dragons mouth
over carefully. Is the snout damaged from snout banging or rubbing? Is the
inside of the mouth reddened or swollen? Do you see any white cheesy material
anywhere? Your dragon could have mouthrot or an infection. Please take him to a
reptile vet if you see any of these problems!
Is there anything going on
in the room i.e. noise, lots of activity, that might be scaring him? Can he see
other pets of yours that might frighten him such as a bird or cat, or maybe
even a dog? Can he see outside, and if so are there lots of birds flying around
Water dragons do commonly
go underwater for periods of time, but usually because they are frightened or
stressed - they are hiding. They can stay under for about a half hour but are
sometimes lethargic or dopey when you rescue them.
If your dragon only does
this on the rare occasion I wouldn't worry about it too much. Do make sure
there is nothing in the water that the dragon could get caught under and drown
while in this frightened state, unfortunately this happens often enough.
If this is happening
several times a month or several times a week I would check how you have him
set up and what he might be able to see and hear from his cage and adjust
things for him so that they are quieter.
They do this on occasion.
It's fairly normal. However if your dragon is doing this a lot it might mean
you aren't feeding him enough, or that there aren't enough nutrients in the
diet you are feeding him. Evaluate his enclosure and the basic care that you
Some times reptiles and
other animals eat their own stool in order to replace some of the good bacteria
in their gut that helps them digest food properly. You might try giving your
dragon a tiny dab of berry flavoured yogurt (with live bacterial culture in it)
on the end of his snout. The dragon should lick this off easily enough. The
live bacterial culture in the yogurt might help to replace some good bacterial
flora in the gut and aid the digestive processes.
A dab of yogurt might also
be good to offer after your dragon, or other reptile, has been on antibiotics
too, since antibiotics tend to kill both the good and bad bacteria in the
gastrointestinal system. This might help get your dragons digestion back on
Gut loading is feeding the
crickets or mealworms (or other insects) nutritious food items like collard,
mustard or dandelion greens and other veggies high in calcium but low in
phosphorus, and perhaps sprinkling some calcium and vitamins on the food items
that the bugs eat. Gut loading helps ensure that the insects have some
nutritious food items inside them when they get eaten by the lizards. :)
Is it the eye that is
closest to you that is always closed when you are near, but open when you are
far away from the dragon? If so, he's hiding or avoiding you. :) Little bit of
fear there. Otherwise it could be that that eye is getting ready to shed and
he's closing it, and maybe making it bulge out a bit to stretch the skin and
help it peel off easier ...
If he's keeping the eye
closed most of the time he could have something in the eye or an infection. Try
flushing it with clean water and see if that seems to help. If the eye does not
improve or worsens (reddened, puss or sticky material surrounds the eye) please
take your dragon to a reptile vet ASAP.
You might be happy to know
about this eye bulging just before shedding behaviour ahead of time. I had one
person send me a humorous, yet concerned letter asking me if her dragon had
something wrong with it because it looked like it was going to explode, and if
it was she just wanted to be prepared for that event! LOL :)
You can try hand feeding
or putting it in a bowl. Make sure the fruit and veggies are small enough to
eat easily. Your dragon may not eat them though, most dragons it seems do not
eat fruit and veggies, but if yours will go for it .
Some dragon owners have had
success with getting their dragons to eat some veggies and fruit by putting
some live bugs- mealworms or legless crickets in an escape proof bowl for the
dragons to eat from. The idea is that the dragon trying to eat the insects
should accidentally end up eating some of the fruit and veggies too.
Water dragons are
considered omnivores. Please see the diet section of the water dragon FAQ for
more information on what to feed your dragon. You can offer food items by hand,
by holding the food item (fish, pinky, insect ...) in tweezers, or you can drop
it in front of the dragon, or you can serve it to him in a bowl. The point is,
it doesn't matter how you feed the dragon ... just do whatever works best for
If the dragon isn't eating
well, try offering different types of food items, sometimes they get bored, and
try offering food in different ways if your dragon doesn't seem too interested
with the way you normally offer the food. Throw crickets in the dragons water
dish ... sometimes the sight of struggling crickets sparks a non eating dragons
interest. Feeding the dragon at slightly different times of day may make the
dragon take more interest in the food being offered. Dangle or dragon pre
killed food items such as pinky mice in front of the dragon ... this makes the
pre killed food item move a bit and seem alive and sometimes that is all that
is needed to get the dragon to try the food.
If you are trying to feed
your dragon fish for the first time ... especially live fish ... you likely
wont have much luck if you just put the fish in the dragons water dish. Try
letting the fish flop on the ground in front of the dragon. This usually works
When offering pinkies or
feeder fish for the first time you might want to be SURE the dragon is hungry.
If the dragon is healthy and is not too thin, you might want to try not feeding
it for a day or two, then offering a pinky for the first time. You might have
more success this way. A well fed dragon may not be quite as eager to try
Some people offer their
reptiles live prey in the form of live pinkies, fuzzies, mice, rats etc. I've
always been against this practice because it seems inhumane, and because of the
risk of injury to the reptile being fed. It might be natural for the reptile to
eat live prey in the wild, but when they are living in the wild they are also
not confined to a small area perhaps with prey that they are not yet ready to
eat. Live prey will defend itself. Live prey may also decide to bite or prey on
the reptile if the animal is not interested in feeding and the rodent is left
in the cage unattended.
The April 1999 issue of
Reptiles Magazine, Veterinarian Q&A by Dr. Douglas Mader, M.S., D.V.M.,
D.A.B.V.P. Page 18 states in reference to bites and injuries inflicted by
"Now for the first
question. Why is it that this is often a very serious and sometimes fatal
wound? There are two reasons. The first is that rodents carry a number of very
infectious bacteria on their teeth. Some of these bacteria are associated with
rat-bite fever in people. When these bacteria are inoculated into the skin from
the bite wound, certain types can produce a toxin that can be lethal to snakes.
It doesn't take long for these toxins to be produced, and that is why time is
of the essence in getting the snake to the veterinarian for treatment. Even if
the offending bacteria are killed with antibiotics, the antibiotics will not
kill or remove the toxin that the bacteria have produced. Any toxin that is
produced will be absorbed by the host animal. If the bitten animal is strong
and healthy, and only a small quantity of toxin has been produced, then there
is a chance of recovery."
"The second reason these
wounds are often fatal is due to the actual mechanical nature of the wounds
themselves. Rodents have a habit of gnawing when they eat. When they attack the
predator, they usually make their first bite over the backbone region and then
continue either toward the head or the tail of the snake with each successive
bite. These bite wounds will often puncture the spinal cord. If this happens,
an often fatal spinal meningitis will occur."
Mader is discussing the
fatal wounds on a correspondents' snake, but I'm 100% sure that the information
he has states applies equally well to live rodents being fed to lizards.
If you decide to get
another dragon, please keep the new dragon in a separate cage for one to three
months. During this time period have the new dragon tested for parasites and
take it to the vet for a check up. The last thing you want to do is introduce a
sickly dragon to your healthy dragon and end up with two sick or dying dragons!
This will also give the new dragon time to get used to being in your home and
to de stress. Please see New Reptile- Quarantine and
signs of Illness.
Your new dragon should be
approx the same size as the one you already have. This will lessen stress and
aggressive behaviours from one or the other dragons when they are introduced.
Two females generally get along well, a male and a female also generally get
along very well. Two males will not get along and may fight to the death. Do
not house two males together- EVER. If you aren't sure of the sex of your
dragon please see Sexing your water dragon
Short answer- Not likely
... in most cases it's a very very bad idea ...
Cats, and Dogs, Other Herps, and water dragons
First of all- Good for you.
Hopefully by doing your research first and learning all you can about the kind
of care a water dragon needs you will do very well with your first dragon. :)
To learn even more about water dragons you might think of joining the water
dragon mailing list. It's free! Please see http://www.triciaswaterdragon.com/wdmailng.htm for more
As for breeders or where to
buy a dragon?
Lots of people ask me if I sell them, so the number one
answer, no I don't sell dragons. :) I've either had dragons given to me,
rescued them from pet stores, and I bought my first two - Rogue and Night- at a
reptile show. Rogue and Night are the only two dragons that I've actually
If you are serious about
getting a healthy dragon try to find a breeder in your area. If you have a
herpetological society in your area call them up and ask them if anyone breeds
water dragons. Call reptile vets and even local zoos and ask them the same
question. If you can't find a local breeder you might want to see if there is a
reptile show in your area. Often breeders take their animals to local reptile
shows to sell them.
If you can't find a breeder
or a reptile show you will likely have to purchase your dragon from a pet store
or from a reptile mail order supplier. Please see Purchasing a water dragon for more info on how to select
a healthy dragon and how to find breeders and mail order suppliers.
Purchasing a captive bred
animal is usually best. They may cost more but they will save you money in the
long run because they should be healthier and less stressed. Wild caught
animals often have internal parasites (although captive bred animals can too),
are highly stressed and may have other ailments which often requires multiple
visits to the vet for treatment. With a captive bred animal, I still suggest an
initial check up and testing the stool for parasites, but if you keep it well
that might be the only vet care it requires.
IF your dragon is digging a
lot is there any chance that it's female?
IF it's about 20 inches in
length or longer it might be mature enough to develop eggs and it might be
digging because it's trying to create a nesting site. For more information
about the care of female dragons, breeding, preparing a nesting site,
incubating eggs, and care of hatchlings please see http://www.triciaswaterdragon.com/breeding.htm
Otherwise, the home might
be too small, or some dragons seem to be diggers although most are not.
Carefully evaluate your set up and make adjustments after reading the
FAQ if possible.
Could your dragon be
female? Gravid (pregnant) females often become more active shortly before egg
laying time and are well known for not eating well or not eating at all in the
last month before laying eggs. Please see Breeding Water
Dragons for more info.
Sexually mature male
dragons often become more active, and try to get out of the cage during
breeding season. They also may eat a lot less as well. I believe this is due to
the fact that they have one thing, and one thing only on their minds (guess
what that is? mating).
Any time a dragon changes
its behaviour in any way - even if it's subtle, please try to remember to check
it's enclosure over careful and evaluate the care you are giving the animal.
Small changes in behaviour may be the first sign of trouble.
http://www.triciaswaterdragon.com/age.htm for a general
No, your dragon isn't
sleeping! More likely he's suffocating!
Lizards do not have
diaphragms. The diaphragm in a human is located under the lungs. It helps our
lungs expand and contract to bring in air or expel air from our lungs. The
diaphragm in humans also helps keep the abdominal organs from getting into the
Reptiles don't have this so
they use the their ribs to expand or contract their lungs and fill them or
expel air from their lungs.
When a lizard is placed on
it's back the abdominal organs may displace and apply pressure to the lizards
lung cavity and rib cage. This may make the act of breathing very difficult for
your lizard. So when you turn your dragon on it's back and it closes it's eyes,
it's probably not sleeping ... it might be zoning out to some degree though ...
it's most likely concentrating on breathing.
A reptile left on it's back
for a period of time will often die of suffocation ... and in some cases
exposure such as a turtle turned on it's back that cant right itself, baking in
the hot sun. :(
Dragons are frisky when
they are new to a home and it takes a while to tame them. Please see
Behaviour of Water Dragons for more info on taming,
handling and dragon proofing a room so that your dragon can roam around for a
short period- safely.
Both male and female dragons exhibit arm waving,
head bobbing, tail twitching or flicking tails and chasing.
Males tend to do more
bobbing, flicking and chasing while females tend to do more arm waving (don't
say it guys ... I can hear a line about human females here too!).
Just because your dragon
does one or more of these things will not be a good determinant as to it's sex.
Please see http://www.triciaswaterdragon.com/sex.htm for
more info on how to tell males and females apart.
Arm waving and bobbing are
considered aggressive - even sitting on another dragon can be deemed as
aggressive if the dragon being sat on all the time or arm waved at isn't eating
well, isn't growing as much as it should or seems sickly - it could be
suffering from stress due to it's cage mates aggression and should more than
likely be moved to a separate cage.
If you can't move the
dragon that is being picked on to another cage do give it more attention and
when feeding, feed the more aggressive dragon first, then take that dragon out
of the cage and offer food to the dragon that isn't doing as well ... it may
eat better when the threat of the other dragon bothering it isn't present. IF
one of your dragons isn't doing well, likely due to aggression, it could be
more susceptible to illness ... it would be a good idea to take it to a vet for
a check up at this time before it really does become ill.
How often is he shedding?
A young dragon in it's first year sheds every
three to four weeks. Older dragons shed less often but in general about once
every two months, but an older dragon wont appear to be doing much growing of
How often are you feeding him?
I would feed him every day, up to 10 or so
appropriately sized food items such as crickets or mealworms or earthworms
(dragons over 12 to 14 inches in length can also eat feeder fish and baby
pinkies (1 to 5 depending upon size of food item and size of dragon)).
Do you have his cage temps correct?
aids digestion of food and growth, and absorption of calcium from the diet.
Do you have UVB fluorescent lighting over him? And is it
set up correctly?
Have you had him tested for internal parasites by taking
a fresh stool sample to the vet?
Check the dragon over for any problems in
the mouth or snout area, and for any cuts, abscesses or bumps in the body or
limbs or tail.
Take the dragon to the vet if you discover a problem as the
dragon might have a systemic infection or calcium deficiency.
Please read my shedding
Yes, your reptile does have
the potential to make you ill, just as even a cat or dog might carry zoonotic
disease (an illness that can transfer from animal to human), or parasites.
Many reptiles, birds,
hedgehogs, dogs and cats carry salmonella. There are over 2000 species of
salmonella bacteria. Not all of them are harmful to humans and only a few are
carried by reptiles. It is however best to consider that your reptile might
carry salmonella bacteria and take proper precautions when handling your
reptile or washing its food or water dishes and other items used by the lizard.
Please see http://www.triciaswaterdragon.com/salmonella.htm to
learn more about salmonella and how to take precautions against this
I think I have covered the
top questions that I get asked most frequently. If I think of more I will add
them to this list. Please remember that almost any question you can think of -
it's been asked before, and more than likely the information is either right
here in this article, on the water dragon FAQ or
somewhere in the 100 web pages that make up the "Tricia's Water Dragon Page"
site. I know the site is extensive, but take a good look around, I think you'll
find just about all the answers to your questions right there. :) Use the
search engine on the main page to find key words listed in the site.
It would also be in your best interest to perhaps purchase
a book specifically about the care of the Chinese water dragon. I have created
a Recommended Reading- Reptile and Amphibians
page on which there are two water dragon care booklets listed.
If you have questions
concerning the health of your animal, and you believe that it is sick PLEASE
take your reptile or amphibian to a reptile vet, and get the proper treatment
for it. I am not a vet, and while you may write to me about your animals
health, I can give advice on care prior to or after medical attention, but I'm
no substitute for proper medical attention. :)
Please see a reptile vet if
you are concerned for your reptile. If money is an issue- talk to the vet about
a payment plan or about postdated cheques- many veterinarians will work with
you if you are low on funds.
If you do not know of a
good reptile veterinarian in your area please visit one of the following pages:
Canadian Reptile Vets and for
USA or other International
Reptile vet listings