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Chinese Water Dragon FAQ

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About this FAQ

      I get a lot of E-mail from dragon owners who are having problems with their dragons. These problems range from a dragon not eating for a few days, to dragons that truly seems ill since they are inactive, not eating, and not drinking. I'm also frequently asked questions about how to set up the dragon properly, such as which substrate to use, lighting, heating and diet questions.

     Unfortunately I get so much mail that at times I fall very far behind in answering it all. I realize your questions are important, so I have made up this FAQ in the hopes that it will address many of your questions and hopefully get you started in caring for your dragon in the best way possible. :)

     Once you have read this FAQ, please feel free to write to me with more questions and I will try my best to answer them for you. :) Please give me as many details about the dragon, it's enclosure, the diet you are feeding it, and the general care you are giving your dragon when you write.

     This FAQ will discuss: Reasons why a dragon may stop eating, diet; various ailments such as calcium deficiency, respiratory infections, snout damage and mouthrot; enclosures; substrates; heating; temperatures; lighting; humidity; UVB fluorescent lighting and direct sunlight and it's importance; housing one dragon with another; or housing a water dragon with other reptiles or amphibians; stress; taming, handling and dragon proofing a room; water dragon socialization; and information about salmonella.

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Reptile Vet Listings

     Please, remember that if you are concerned about your dragon and think that it might be ill please take it to a qualified reptile vet. Do not wait for me to give you some kind of home remedy, as ONCE A REPTILE ACTS ILL IT IS USUALLY VERY ILL AND THERE IS LITTLE TIME BUT TO TAKE IT TO A VET! :(

     If you don't know of a qualified reptile veterinarian in your area please visit

Once there, you will find listings for reptile vets across North America, several European countries, and other international listings.

     If you are in Canada you might want to check out my Canadian reptile veterinarian page at If you know of a good Canadian reptile vet please send me the doctors name and other information so I may add them to the list.

     You might also want to check out the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians (ARAV) To see a listing of veterinarians who are members of this association. There are listings for Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, Latin America, Canada, and the United States.

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The water dragon Mailing list

     The WATER DRAGON MAILING LIST is also another good source of information that you might be interested in joining. The mailing list is free! You can talk to over 250 people who own water dragons and learn more about how to care for your animal.

     To join the list please visit

  • or:
  • send email to:
  • with the words: subscribe waterdragon YOUR FULL NAME (yes YOUR name!)
  • in the BODY of the message.
  • The listserv will then send back a confirmation message, all you have to do is REPLY as directed and ta da you will be on the list!

      Please keep the welcome message that you will receive when you join so that you can change your list options or know how to get off the list when you decide that you've read enough about water dragons. :)

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Answers in this FAQ

     You do not have to send me answers to the following questions, but if you do write to me, and do not find information that addresses the problem you are having in this FAQ please do supply information that is asked for in this FAQ. :)

     * 1. How big is your dragon (snout to vent (base of tail), and snout to tip of tail)?

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* 2 a) If your dragon has stopped eating could it be female?

     Sometimes gravid female dragons stop eating in the last month or so before laying eggs. A female water dragon with a snout to vent length of 6 " or longer, or total length of 18"+ inches might be able to produce eggs. Females can and will develop eggs even if they have never been near a male water dragon- the eggs just wont be fertile.

     Please see my Breeding water dragons page for more information on how to set up an egg laying sight and care of the gravid water dragon. You might also want to visit the egg binding/dystocia page at to read about what could go wrong if you don't realize your female dragon is gravid or if she has problems while gravid. :(

     Whether male or female a dragon that has stopped eating could be ill. Infections in the mouth (mouthrot) or snout damage, systemic (blood) infections, gastrointestinal infections, internal parasite, mite and tick infestations, respiratory infections, stress, injury, and disorders such as Nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism / Metabolic bone disease often cause a decrease or total lack of appetite. Often the first sign of illness, a decrease in appetite or an animal totally refusing to eat should not be taken lightly and should be considered as a possible sign that the animal is becoming ill. Please see my page "Common Ailments of water dragons" for more information about the various illness that may affect your dragon.

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* 2 B) What have you been feeding your dragon?

     Food items of the appropriate size should be offered to your dragon. As a general rule the size of the food item should be no longer than the length of the head, and no wider than half the width of the head, and preferably about one third the width of the head.


     INSECTS are fairly high in phosphorus and low in calcium, but do have nutritious value if not fed in abundance or as the soul diet. Most insects also have a hard indigestible exoskeleton that could cause a bowel impaction if fed in large quantities. All insects should be gut loaded with well balanced offerings of veggies and perhaps even some calcium and vitamins before being offered to reptiles. (See fruit and veggies below for some gut loading ideas)

     Insects that are fairly easy to purchase: crickets, mealworms (tenibrio), Super worms (tenibrio mealworms on steroids- I don't recommend these!), King mealworms (zophobas), and wax worms (very high in fat and very low in calcium- use only as a treat!), and earthworms.

     Insects that can occasionally be found locally or may be purchased by mail order: butterworms, grasshoppers, locusts, Hissing Roaches, cicadas, and silkworms ... (I'm sure there are many others!)

     NOTE: Wild caught insects, those found in your yard or otherwise, may be contaminated with pesticides and herbicides so I would advise you not to use these insects. Pesticides are extremely toxic to reptiles! Some insect contain toxins that may make your dragons very ill or kill them. The chemical in fireflies that makes them "light-up" has killed a number of bearded dragons and likely other reptiles, many caterpillars are also poisonous.

     If you would like to keep and breed your own insects to cut the cost of keeping your water dragon or other reptiles please see:

Keeping and breeding crickets,
Keeping and breeding Mealworms, and
Keeping and breeding waxworms.

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     EARTHWORMS are fairly high in calcium, and are fairly well balanced nutritionally. They are also soft so the risk of impaction is lessened.

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     WHOLE PREY food items are generally high in calcium and protein, and due to the calcium content should be included as part of the diet. Mader states in his Reptile Medicine and Surgery " Carnivorous lizards should be fed pre-killed whole prey. Rodents are preferable to chicks, and chicks are preferable to fish." he also goes to state " If mice, rats, rodents, rabbits and chicks make up the bulk of the diet, vitamin and mineral supplementation should not be necessary. It should be noted that newborn pinkie mice have less total calcium than do adult mice, and a calcium should be supplemented if these are used."

     A selection of whole prey food items would range from pinkie, fuzzie and adult mice, rat pups, some people have offered gerbil fuzzies?, young chicks (Mader himself used to feed his dragons chicks), and feeder fish such as minnows. Some people also offer small lizards such as anoles to their dragons as a food source.

      For more information about whole prey food items and why they are necessary for the general health and well being of our water dragons please see Diet- You need to feed whole prey food items!

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Why you should NOT feed live Rodent prey to your reptiles:

     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 rodents:

     "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.

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     FRUIT AND VEGGIES: Some dragons will eat fruit and veggies when it's offered, but many dragons will not take fruit and veggies at all! Keepers that have success with this find fruit is preferred. Unfortunately fruit tends to be very high in phosphorus and very low in many other nutrients with the largest benefit being additional fluids and vitamins.

     Fruit that have good calcium content include figs, raspberries, cantaloupe, strawberries and blueberries ... starting to slide now on the amount of calcium ... I think mangoes and papaya's are ok too?

     Veggies that have an adequate calcium to phosphorus ratio: Greens such as collards, dandelion (flowers edible too), and mustard greens. (Kale, spinach and other greens of this variety are high in oxalates which bind to calcium making it unusable) leafy veggies of the lettuce family have almost no nutrients thus are very low in value other than for their water content. Yellow squash, sweet potato, parsnips, green beans, and occasionally carrots ... Veggies such as broccoli contain oxalates and as stated above that binds to calcium rendering it unusable.

     Please NOTE that all of the well balanced fruit and veggies listed above can be used when gut loading your insects!

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Content of some common food items:

     Here is the content of some common food items (from Melissa Kaplan's page


mealworm 22.3 14.9 .26 .23 2.74
cricket 55.3 30.2 .23 .74 unk
earthworms 10.39 7.2 1.18 .90 4.71
mouse (1-2 days old) unk unk 1.60 1.80 unk
mouse (7-10 days old) unk unk 1.40 1.30 unk
mouse (adult) 19.8 8.8 .84 .61 2.07
rat 7.6 1.9 .54 1.35 .69

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A healthy Diet Combination- Ratio's

     I believe a healthy diet would be a combination of all of the above diet items, using as wide a variety of each item as possible, in the ratio of:

  • Insects 40% - 50%
  • Earthworms 10% - 20%
  • Whole Prey 40% - 20%
  • Fruit & Veggies 10%
    • (If possible, otherwise increase % of whole prey)

     Insects and earthworms should be gut loaded, and dusted with calcium supplement approximately every second day, dusted with vitamins once a week; It couldn't hurt to add some supplementation to the fruit and veggies if the dragon is eating them; unless it's pinkies that is being offered as the whole prey food item calcium supplementation shouldn't have to be added to these food items.

     Dragons receiving diets lower in whole prey food items should of course be getting more calcium supplementation than dragons getting higher quantities of whole prey.

     Please see my "Diet of water dragons" page for more information.

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A word about METABOLIC BONE DISEASE (calcium deficiency):

      NOTE: Improper diet, inadequate heat, and or improper lighting can cause a reptile to not digest it's food properly or not use the calcium and other nutrients in it's food properly. Usually, a combination of all three of the above stated improperly performed basic requirements WILL result in calcium deficiency. This is a very serious ailment!

     MBD is made up of a number of disorders. One of the most common of these disorders is an improper balance of calcium and phosphorus in the diet resulting in hyper or hypo calcemia. MBD can affect the internal organs as well as the bones. When there is an imbalance of calcium in the diet (hypocalcemia or hypercalcemia) bones become weak and spongy. The affected bones will also enlarge, and have irregular outlines i.e. bumps and swellings. These bones will deform easily and may also fracture easily. As the calcium levels in the blood drop muscle tremors, tetany, and or asthenia occur. When the calcium level becomes critically low death from cardiac failure may occur.

     Signs and Symptoms of MBD Signs of metabolic bone disease include hard knobs in the long bones of the legs, bumps along the vertebral column of the back and tail, softening or hard swelling of the jaw, and softening of the plastron or carapace (for turtles and torts). All of these signs may be felt before they can be seen, making a careful physical exam important. Visible signs of moderate to severe MBD include jerky gait when walking, tremors and twitches in the limbs and muscles of the legs and toes when at rest, and shakiness when being held. Advanced cases of MBD include all the above signs plus anorexia and fractured bones. Severely deficient reptiles tend to be lethargic and may only be able to drag themselves along the ground. Arboreal lizards spend all of their time on the ground as they lack the strength to grip and climb.

     Please see Calcium Deficiency in herbivore and omnivorous reptiles and the "Metabolic Bone Disease" page for more information about this much too common ailment. :( Please read the sections regarding diet, supplementation, heating and lighting (UVB lighting or direct sunlight is a MUST!) in this FAQ for more information on how to care for your dragon correctly and hopefully prevent this serious ailment from occurring.

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* 2 C) Are you supplementing the dragons diet with calcium and vitamins?

      In general you should be supplementing the dragons diet with calcium supplements every couple of days, and vitamins once a week. Food sources such as insects should be gut loaded with nutritious food items, vitamins and calcium.

      Many people use commercial calcium products such as repcal as a calcium supplement, human calcium supplements may also be used (grind them to powder in the coffee grinder!), commercial vitamin supplements such as mineral-all and herptivite are also commonly used, again human vitamin supplements (centrum) could also be used after being crushed to powder.

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* 2 D) Have you been varying the diet, or have you been feeding your dragon mainly one type of food exclusively?

      The dragon could simply be tired of that kind of food i.e. if you've been feeding it crickets for months it may stop eating from sheer boredom with the diet- try offering other types of food items and see if the dragon has any interest in something new. Remember, the more variety that you can offer your dragon the better nutritionally and health wise! *

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2 E) Is your dragon drinking?

      Dragons can go for a while without food, but they wont last long without water- If your dragon isn't drinking take it to a reptile vet ASAP. Please see my Dehydration and fluid replacement page

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* 2 F) Is it possible that your dragon is sick or injured?

     Check the dragons body over carefully- look for bumps or swellings, check the snout for damage (could be infected if he's been banging it on the glass enclosure), check inside the mouth for reddened areas, swelling, white cheesy material (pus)... Check the vent for swelling, redness, caked stool... check the whole body for anything that you think might be abnormal.

     The dragon might have an injured area (snout comes to mind for some reason) that might now be infected- if it is infected the infection might become systemic, if it does, or has, then your dragon may experience appetite loss, become lethargic, his colour might change as well i.e. brown... If you think the dragon has an infection, or if he hasn't eaten for close to a week then you should definitely take him to a reptile vet ASAP.

     If the dragon has a swollen leg or arm, is limping or protecting an area of it's body it could be injured and or have a broken bone. Please take it to a reptile vet ASAP! Broken bones could be the result of an accident but they could be a sign of calcium deficiency. If you write to me about a swelling in a limb or limping dragon all I can do is guess at the cause and all my answers will include a "take your dragon to the vet ASAP". In other words, don't waste time writing to people on the Internet- Go to the vet!

     If your dragon is also lethargic (inactive, dull eyes, sleeping ...) and or seems to be breathing with difficulty such as keeping the mouth open, gaping, and or you can hear the dragon trying to breath (gasping, wheezing, popping), and or has an excess of mucous in the mouth and or nostril area- TAKE IT TO A VET RIGHT AWAY - as this could be a respiratory infection!

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Respiratory Infection:

     Respiratory infections are usually caused by inadequate heat, and by being kept under stressful conditions. Reptiles often do a good job of not demonstrating obvious signs of illness until a disease has progressed to the point that it cannot be easily treated.

     Signs and symptoms of respiratory infections include reduced appetite, listlessness, swollen appearance of the body, and as the infection progresses gaping followed by occasional forced exhalations. If you suspect that your water dragon has a respiratory infection he should be taken to the vet, who will probably place him on antibiotics, and the cage temperature should be increased to 85 - 88 F around the clock until the symptoms subside.

     Whatever the cause, if your dragon becomes inactive and lethargic take it to a vet right away as it is likely suffering from a serious illness and there is no time to waste!

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* 2 G) Is your dragon defecating? (passing stool)

      If your dragon is not eating it may not pass any stool, but it is possible that your dragon has eaten something that has lodged in it's digestive tract and cannot eat or pass stool because of this.

     If you are using a substrate such as bark, gravel, loose bedding material i.e. shavings, moss, or Astroturf that has not had it's edges bound or melted then it is quite possible that the dragon might have accidentally ingested some of the substrate and become impacted.

     Your dragon may have also eaten a large quantity of insects that have a hard indigestible exoskeleton and this may be blocking the bowels as well. :(

     If you suspect that your dragon is impacted take it to the vet ASAP.

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* 2 H) Have you ever taken your dragon to a reptile vet for a check up and had his stool checked for parasites?

     Most water dragons sold in pet shops are wild caught or farm bred, and they are often infected with parasites. Captive bred dragons could also have parasites if they have been housed with untreated wild caught herps or if the same cleaning equipment or feeding utensils are used for infected and un-infected herps in a collection.

     If the dragon has a heavy load of parasites he may lose his appetite and become ill- if you haven't had his stool checked you should! Take a fresh sample (less than 24 hours) to the vet to be checked.

     Signs and symptoms of parasite infection can be as simple as a decrease in appetite, to no appetite (anorexia), to the more severe- frequent loose stools, very offensive smelling stool, diarrhea, dehydration because of the diarrhea, and extreme lethargy.

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Mite and Tick infestation

     Mite and tick infestation is a common problem with water dragons, and other herps for that matter, that have been kept in poor conditions during shipping, and while being kept in the pet shop. When you bring your new dragon home there is a very high possibility that it may in fact have some ticks and or mites on it. If ticks and mites are allowed to flourish they can become quite difficult to eradicate, and may in fact stress your dragon to the point of it's becoming ill, not to mention that a very bad infestation of mites and ticks on your dragon could cause quite a severe blood loss. Please see the Mite and Tick eradication Page for further details.

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Fungal or bacterial infections

     Occasionally a water dragon may be purchased whose skin is infected by a fungal or bacterial growth. Fungal and bacterial infections are usually caused by being kept in too damp and enclosure and living in a poorly cleaned cage where fungi and bacteria can grow and spread in the warm moist conditions that they love.

     The affected area's may have darkened swollen scales that are discoloured. Two of my dragons had a fungal infection when purchased and they had several dark brown swollen (almost appeared fluid filled) scales on their underside and tails. The scales may be lifted and or damaged in areas (Keep in mind that scale damage could also be caused by mites, ticks and or crickets in the enclosure).

     If you suspect that your dragon has a fungal or bacterial infection you should take it to a qualified reptile vet for diagnosis. The vet will likely give you an antibiotic or antifungal cream to apply to the affected areas. Clean the enclosure thoroughly disinfecting branches and the water container with a mild bleach solution. Replace the substrate and any other cage furniture that is easily replaceable in order to limit the spread of infection.

     In conjunction with a topical antibacterial or antifungal ointment the dragon may be bathed in 80-85F chest deep water that has betadine (enough betadine to make the water a medium tea colour) in it for a half an hour per day for a couple of weeks.

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Toe, Spike or end of tail damage and loss

     Darkening of, obvious damage to, and loss of toes, spikes and the end of the tail can be the result of a number of problems. Improper Shedding can result in the skin becoming stuck to a toe, spike or the end of the tail. If the skin remains stuck onto the appendage while the tissue below continues to grow the circulation to the area may become decreased and lead to dry gangrene, infection, and death of the tissue. Please see my Shedding page-

     Breaks from falls or becoming stuck in tight areas can result in broken toes, or the end of the tail snapping off. The end of the tail may also snap off if grabbed in an effort to keep the struggling animal from getting away, or may even drop suddenly when the animal is frightened by something (although this last is least likely to occur with water dragons).

     It is always wise to take your reptile in for a visit to the vet if there has been an unexplained fracture of the toe, foot or leg (for the animals sake!) because the break could be a sign and symptom of a more serious ailment such as Metabolic bone disease (often calcium deficiency).

     If your reptile is suffering from MBD it is best to catch it in the early stages before it becomes so serious as to cause irreparable damage (bent crooked back, misaligned jaw!) or death.

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     Please see my "Enclosures for water dragons" page for detailed information about housing water dragons properly!

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* 1. What kind of enclosure, and what size of enclosure do you have your dragon in?

     An adult dragon 24 inches or greater in size needs to have an enclosure that is at least 3 feet long (4 or more preferred), 3 feet high (5 or more preferred), and 2.5 to 3 feet deep. If a dragon is housed in an enclosure that is too small it will bang it's snout frequently, damaging it, perhaps become stressed in the too small cage, and possibly become ill.

     Many people keep their dragons in glass aquariums- unfortunately dragons don't seem to recognize glass and end up repeatedly banging their snouts on the glass- if this behaviour is allowed to continue then the dragon will likely get an infection in it's snout. There are many dragons out there missing teeth and parts of their jaw from this damaging behaviour. :(

     If your dragon has a damaged snout or seems to have a mouth infection please take it to a vet! It might need to be put on antibiotics. Please see the "mouthrot/ Stomatitis" page for more information about how to care for snout and mouth injuries.

     Remember, once scales, or tissue is rubbed off that damage is permanent! Prevent this from happening! If your dragon is in a glass tank or mostly glass enclosure it would be a GOOD idea to tape some paper or nice aquarium background paper all around the outside lower 6" of the cage. This will tell the dragon that there is a barrier there and hopefully the snout rubbing will lessen. Planting plants all along the sides of the glass may work as well. Also, adjust your basking lights so that they do not cause too much reflection on the inside of the glass. If the dragon sees its reflection it may think another dragon is invading it's territory and rub and bump into the glass while it is trying to fight off the other dragon (the reflection) and this too will cause snout damage. :(

     Dragons that seem to do the best are kept in fairly large enclosures, and enclosures that have 3 sides made out of a wood or non see through material.

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* 2. Are you changing the water daily?

     The water should be changed when the dragon defecates in it- so at least once a day in most cases. You may set your dragon up with a permanent pool that is filtered- but water will likely still have to be changed every 5 to 7 days depending upon your filtration system and the area of water available to the dragons.

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* 3. How are you heating the cage?

      Basking lights, ceramic heaters, and human heating pads are all good sources of heat for your dragon. Heaters can be set up on a dimmer or a thermostat to help regulate the temperature in the enclosure. Lights can be set up on timers.

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* 4. What are the day time temps, night time temps?

     Day time temperatures should be between 84 F and 88 F (28.8 C - 31.1 C), and night time temperatures should be between 75 F and 80 F (23.8 C - 26.6 C) The cage should be set up so that one side is cooler than the other i.e. one side is 84 F during the day and the hotter side is 88 F during the day, with a basking spot that is up to 92 or 93 F.

     Keeping your dragon at the proper temps will aid in digestion of food items and nutrients such as vitamins and minerals (CALCIUM!). IF the temperatures are inadequate the dragon could suffer from various serious illnesses such as respiratory ailments and calcium deficiency.

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* 5. What is the humidity in the cage?

     The humidity should be as much as 80%, but most people have trouble achieving such a high humidity, so I'd have to say that if you can keep the humidity between 60% and 80% then you are doing just fine. :) Misting once or twice a day, live potted plants or a substrate of potting soil all help to keep the humidity up.

     Kidney disease (renal failure) can occur in reptiles that do not get enough water. Low humidity could further these problems with water dragons. (Kidney disease can also result from improper diet, improper digestion of nutrients in the diet (due to low heat or improper lighting) and use of antibiotics (please make sure your reptile well hydrated whenever antibiotics are used to treat it!)).

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* 6. What kind of substrate are you using?

     Substrates that seem to cause the least problems with dragons seem to be astroturf with bound or melted edges so that the tufts cant come off, sterilized potting soil, newspapers or paper towels.

     Substrates such as moss, shavings, bark, and gravel all seem to cause impaction problems- whether the dragon accidentally eats the substrate or eats some out of curiosity- if it is ingested and gets lodged in the digestive tract. Some people are quite successful keeping their dragons on these last mentioned substrates- but when I hear about impaction problems these substrates are often listed as the culprit so be warned.

     NOTE: Substrates that are made of pine or cedar (especially cedar) are toxic to most herps- don't use them!

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* 7. How are you lighting the cage?

     Are you using a UVB fluorescent tube?

     If not you should be- or else you should be getting him outside daily for some sunlight.

     UVB light is important because it helps the dragon produce the vitamin D2 in its skin, which in turn becomes vitamin D3, which in turn helps the dragon use and digest the calcium in his diet properly. If he doesn't have a UVB light or access to direct sunlight then he could end up with a CALCIUM DEFICIENCY (MBD).

     The UVB fluorescent tube should be no more than 8 to 10 inches away from your dragon and there shouldn't be glass or plexiglass between the dragon and the light as UVB rays do not penetrate these materials well. If you use a screen lid over your dragons enclosure you may place the UVB fluorescent tube over the screen material but do keep in mind that up to 30% of the UVB rays are filtered out if fine screen material is used. If you must set the light up in this manner please use a larger holed screen material. UVB fluorescent tubes only produce UVB for approximately 6 months- they will have to be replaced twice a year as a result even though the tubes themselves will still produce light they will no longer be outputting much if any UVB after a 6 month time period.

     Exposure to direct unfiltered sunlight is the best way to provide your dragon with UVB. Even as little as once a week (with use of artificial UVB producing fluorescent tube lighting the rest of the time) could make a HUGE difference in your dragons health. Getting your dragon out in an outdoor cage, holding it securely in your hands while outside, or simply opening a window so the dragon can bask in front of the screen in the sunlight are all good ways to expose your dragon to some direct sunlight.

     Regular lighting and UVB lighting can be hooked up to a timer so that they will only be on for 10 to 14 hours a day depending upon the season. Lights should be out at night as water dragons are diurnal (day time) lizards.

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* 8. Is your dragon housed with any other herps?

     The dragon might be being intimidated by another dragon or herp that you have in the enclosure. Particularly if the other dragon is larger. Stress from house mates can cause a dragon to stop eating and become very ill.

     Please do not house water dragons of different sizes together ... especially if there is a great size difference! Adult water dragons have also been known to attack, injure and also eat young water dragons (or other smaller reptiles!) housed in the same cage with them. Please be careful!

     IF you are housing to similarly sized dragons in the same cage and one is not doing well or not eating please try to separate them. If you cannot do this (and really you should because new dragons should be housed separately for three months or so to make sure they are doing well and that they do not have a disease that could be passed on to your established dragon ...) please feed them separately. Perhaps feed the one that is doing well first and then remove it from the cage while you attempt to feed the dragon that is not doing as well. This often helps a great deal.

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* 9. Do you have any other pets (dog or cat) that might be stressing him out?

     Housing a water dragon with other herps is often a no no ... there are very few reptiles that have the exact same environmental and diet needs as water dragons do ... not to mention that each species of reptile or amphibian can have various parasites or other diseases that they may be able to pass on to each other.

     As a general rule it is best to house reptiles and amphibians of different species separately.

     Please see my "cats and dogs, water dragons and other herps" page at for more information as to why housing different species together is NOT a good idea.

     Dogs, cats, birds, other herps that can be seen from the water dragons cage, can all stress the water dragon and cause it to stop eating or become ill.

* 10. Is the room that you have him in busy or noisy?

     That might stress him out as well....

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* 11. How long have you had your dragon?

     New pets will often go through a period of not eating, acting frightened or stressed when they first come into the home. Give your pet a week or two to adjust. If your dragon hasn't eaten for approx. a week and it's new to your home you may want to take it to the vet for a check up to make sure that it is healthy though. :)

     Actually you should take any new reptile to a reptile vet for examination in the first week of owning it. This will ensure a healthy start!

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     A short period of training and taming may be in order when you get your dragon. Dragons are often wild caught, and are usually skittish and stressed when they are first brought home, and may run into the glass in an effort to get away from the huge human that they think is going to eat them. :)

     When you first bring your dragon home, the best thing to do is to set up the tank or Large enclosure in a quite area. Give the dragon a few days to adjust before stressing it out by trying to handle it right away, and then, after it is less skittish at the sight of you, you may gradually begin to hold it for short periods of time during the day. Perhaps as little as 15 minutes once or twice a day for the first couple of weeks, gradually increasing the amount of time spent handling the dragon each day as it begins to trust you.

     Eventually, as the dragon begins to realize that you are not going to eat it and realizes that you are actually the source of its food etc., then you can start to bring it out into a small room (den or washroom) that is well heated and escape proof and let it roam around while you are in the room with it. This will eventually build up trust and bonding.

     At first the dragon may hide under furniture but if you just gently get him out from under the furniture and put him back in the center of the room (not the tank right away) he or she will eventually realize that it is safe to roam and that hiding and finding does not mean going back to the cage immediately.

     It may take a month or longer to build up this trust with your dragon but if you do it everyday and always treat the dragon well then it should calm down quite nicely. I believe most herps need this period of adjustment, and, if they are handlable herps, period of gradual handling.

     **Note that in the first couple of weeks that you have your dragon home with you he or she may not eat much, may not eat for up to a week in fact, and may be quite skittish when you approach the enclosure. Talk softly to your new dragon and do not rush into handling the dragon daily if he or she is not eating. Moving into a new environment is very stressful and the dragon should be allowed a period of time to adjust.

     Keep in mind that your new dragon could be ill, very stressed or improperly set up. Please read my Problems with water dragons FAQ. This FAQ will inform you of common problems that occur with water dragons - especially in the first few weeks in a new home, and offers suggestions on how to solve these problems. **

     As long as the dragon is active in the cage as opposed to lethargic, and appears to be using it's water area all should be well. If the new dragon is lethargic, doesn't eat, doesn't bath or drink then he or she may be ill and should be taken to a qualified reptile vet right away. I always recommend a visit to the vet when someone purchases a new dragon anyway.

     Reptiles are very good at hiding illness and usually do not act ill until they are almost too sick to help. If your dragon shows any signs of illness do not hesitate to take it to a qualified reptile vet- you may not have much time to help your dragon!

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     Some water dragons like being held more than others. Most do not enjoy the two hand hold, they much prefer to rest on your hand, arm, shoulder, head, lap.... whatever, just so long as it's not being restrained by two hands! Several dragon owners have mentioned that their dragons sit on there shoulders etc. for hours at a time, and are quite docile and handlable.

     Talk to your dragon softly before attempting to pick him up- this is very important in the beginning. Gently place one hand over his body, placing one index finger over the shoulder, and have your thumb wrap around the underside of the opposite arm- this is hard to put into words so I hope you understand my meaning. By placing your index finger and thumb in such a manner you will effectively be able to restrain your dragon if he struggles as you will be blocking both of his arms with your fingers. Place your other hand under the dragons belly to give him a sense of support and slowly lift the dragon out of the enclosure or from where ever he happens to be at the time.

     If the dragon struggles restrain him gently- do not squeeze him in order to stop the struggling as you will likely injure him.

     By holding your dragon in this manner you will be giving him support when being lifted, and if the dragon does decide to struggle you already have one hand ready to restrain his upper body and the hand supporting his underside can be used to gently restrain his lower body.

     Once you have picked up your dragon and he or she appears calm you can remove the hand that is holding his upper body. The dragon will still be resting on your other hand or arm by this time and if the dragon is calm he will likely stay there for you or climb up to a more desirable perch such as your shoulder.

     Never pick your dragon, or any other lizard, up by the tail. :( Most lizards have tails that will simply break off when frightened or threatened by a predator, and picking up a struggling lizard by the tail is one sure way to have it either drop it's tail or to have the tail break off. :(

     I don't even want to mention this here because I can see a lot of you going over and picking up your dragon and trying it just to see if it's true....... Do not hold your dragon upside down or turn it over so that it is on it's back!

     Many people have written to me and told me about the cute thing their dragon would do when they turned it over on it's back or held it upside down- it would go to sleep.

      I hate to tell you folks but your dragon is not going to sleep. It's having difficulty breathing and could suffocate if kept in that position for a period of time. :(

     Lizards do not have diaphragms to help them breath. Their ribs moving in and out actually cause their lungs to inflate and deflate. When a dragon is held upside down or on their back their stomach pushes on their lungs making it difficult for them to breath and will eventually result in suffocation. Please do not do this to your dragon.

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     Dragon proofing a room is quite easy to do. It is preferable that the room have a door that can be closed to keep other pets and people out of the room, and to prevent the animal from escaping into other areas of the house. If the door has a gape under it that might be large enough for your dragon to slip through please place a towel or blanket at the foot of the door.

     If the room contains heavy furniture that may be difficult to move should the dragon crawl under it- or if the furniture is so heavy that it might injure the dragon when you move it to retrieve him or her, please block off access to that piece of furniture as well by placing a towel at the foot of it.

     If you happen to have any holes or cracks in the walls, radiators or water heaters that can possibly be climbed into- please block off access to those areas as well.

     It might be a wise idea to place tape over the openings of power outlets and cords with unused sockets.

     Take a good look around the room and try to think of where your dragon might hide if it got loose or were to run away from you. Is that area a place that you can easily rescue your dragon from? Look both high and low as frightened dragons will take off fast and may seek out a low refuge under some furniture, usually where it is dark and cool for some reason, or it may climb a curtain or something and try to go to the highest area in the room.

     Make sure their are no toxic plants, or objects that could easily fall over and hurt your dragon if he or she were to run into them.

     Likewise make sure that you don't have valuable irreplaceable items in an area that a dragon may knock them over and damage them.

     If you plan to take your dragon out and let it roam around one room on a regular basis you might think about purchasing a tree for your dragon to climb on. I have two hibiscus trees in my living room that my dragons just love to climb after spending some time exploring the room.

     If your dragon is going to be out for several hours at a time then you must make sure that the room temperature is more than adequate. If you need to, please purchase a portable room heater (electric or oil) and use it to heat the room to at least 80F while the dragon(s) is out and about.

     My dragons are basically out when ever we are home. So I have placed two heating pads, set on low, in different areas of the room for them to use to heat themselves. I also heat the room using a portable electric heater.

     In addition, you might think of placing some basking lights and one or two UVB fluorescent tube lights in the areas that the dragons like to be in most often. Remember- if you are letting them out for several hours they are not getting the UVB lighting that they would be getting inside their home, and they really need this, so please think about setting up some special lighting for them.

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      Several people have been quite successful keeping one male and one to four females together in large enclosures. The enclosure would have to be very large if it were to be inhabited by two males and some females, as males tend to not get along and will fight viciously.

     Water dragons seem to develop a hierarchy, that is, there is often an alpha male, and an alpha female, the other dragons are all subordinates whether they are male or female.

     Superiority is achieved by arm waving, head bobbing, and chasing in each sex. The alpha dragon will often wave one arm, then bob it's head, and if the subordinate dragon has not appeased the alpha dragon by either running away, or lying down, head and body touching the ground in a submissive position, then the alpha dragon will often charge the subordinate and culminate the attack by resting it's head on the subordinate or beta dragons back.

     If there is only a male and female dragon in the enclosure the male is often alpha and the female is beta, but there are cases where the hierarchy has been reversed. If two females are kept, one would be the alpha and the other would be the subordinate beta dragon. There is always a boss!

     Sometimes water dragons will bob and wave at their human keepers, and they will also puff up their throats, and stand so that their body is off the ground in a defensive posture. For the most part this is just for show.

     As well as the arm waving, bobbing and chasing I have observed aggressive licking! :) My female Rogue got her name, which means mischievous and scoundrel, because of this behaviour. Night had very bad snout damage and was sickly when I first got her- so Rogue was the boss! She would run up to Night and head butt her and then give her a quick lick with her tongue. She would move away, or assume a submissive pose and Rogue would charge her again and do the head butt and lick once more. This went on for a few weeks until Night recovered from her infection. Then she started waving, bobbing, chasing and licking her back for the first time.

     Be aware that aggression from a larger dragon or the alpha dragon could stress the other dragon out if you are housing more than one dragon, and cause the second dragon to stop eating and perhaps become ill. If you see any of the behaviour mentioned above please keep a close eye on the dragon that might be being picked on!

     Females will occasionally chase each other and tumble around together. I would assume that the females are fighting over territory, or the beta is fighting the alpha in order to achieve superiority.

     When my two younger female dragons Puff and Forrest were juveniles, and were put in the large vivarium together, or got too close to each others territory on the couch or tree, they would puff up their throats, open their mouths, hiss, and run at each other. While they were doing this they would circle each other, head butting one an other with their open mouths (note they did not bite each other- they just threatened to). I have observed Puff and Forrest also tucking one of their back legs under their bodies while they fought. The fight would generally end when one of the dragons ran away from the other. Other people that I have spoken with have also observed similar behaviour. Now when they fight they DO bite each other and I must keep them separated. :(

     Another page that you should visit is the Breeding water dragons page if you would like to find out more about the kind of behaviour that is exhibited during breeding season.

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     Almost all animals- reptiles and mammals can carry salmonella bacteria. It is something that all pet owners should be aware of- not just reptile keepers!

     While many reptiles do carry one form or another of salmonella please keep in mind that if you take proper precautions the chances of a healthy adult becoming ill with salmonella from a reptile will be very low. It would be much easier to get a salmonella infection from poorly cooked or prepared eggs or chicken.

     There are over 2000 strains of salmonella bacteria. Many of these strains are species specific and cannot cross over from one species to another.

     Many of these strains do not cause symptoms in their host but may make another species quite ill if the bacteria is one of those that is able to infect another species.

     Of the strains of bacteria that can cross over from an animal to a human, many will cause no noticeable illness, or will perhaps make the person feel slightly ill and they may only think that they have a mild form of the flu. Other strains can make humans quite ill with severe flu like symptoms. Please see the Salmonella article for more information

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To help prevent transmission of salmonella bacteria:

     You should wash your hands between handling each animal- at least ones housed separately so if they are contaminated with salmonella or have any other contagious health problems you are not passing it on from one reptile/animal to another...

     Keeping cages clean etc. will not prevent your animals from getting salmonella... in studies that have been done it's been shown that over 50% of the animals carry one or more strains of salmonella... so it's best to just assume that your herps, cat, dog, mouse, gerbil or rabbit all have salmonella and take proper precautions.

     Salmonella bacteria can infect the eggs too as they pass through the females cloaca, so even captive bred animals could be infected with salmonella. :( (why do you think 90% of the chicken eggs sold for human consumption are infected by salmonella?)

     Wash your hands in warm water, soaping well and scrubbing the skin and under the nails after handling any animal, their enclosures or utensils/dishes you for their care; or preparing chicken or eggs. You may use an antibacterial soap, but do keep in mind that many bacteria's are becoming resistant to antibiotics and antibacterial soaps may actually contribute to the problem and make a bacteria become resistant to some forms of antibiotics.

     Keep the cages very clean- removing any feces as soon as you see them, and keep their water clean... disinfect the cages, water bowls and their food dishes with either a mild bleach and water solution, a quatricide compound or Novasolon.. and if your herps are allowed to free roam don't allow them in areas used for human food consumption or preparation i.e. the kitchen, don't wash their things in the kitchen sink either- use the tub or a utility sink and bleach it all when you are done...

     And most importantly... do not allow infants, or young children (up to the age of 8 or so), the elderly, or immunosupressed (cancer, hiv) individuals to handle your animals or preferable even go into a room that reptiles are allowed to free roam in. There are some very virulent forms of salmonella, and salmonella in general seems to affect all of the above types of people in a much more serious manner than say a generally healthy adult.

     ** The salmonella bacteria can live outside of the host for quite a long time. In some studies it's been shown to live on formites (contaminated inanimate objects i.e. your couch..) for several months. In one study some researchers tested an old snake skin shed that had been hanging on a wall for years and it had viable salmonella bacteria on it!!!! So those of us with free roaming reptiles are particularly vulnerable to contamination, and any visitors we may have are also susceptible too.**

     I do not recommend letting any reptile free roam in the kitchen or areas frequently used by humans. Many reptiles (and other pets!) have one strain or another of salmonella- nothing we can do about it- it's part of them ... it's all around us really!

     Salmonella bacteria is usually shed in the animals feces and sometimes their saliva ... so if you have a water dragon or ig walking around licking things and dragging it's body all over stuff you have potentially contaminate a large area of your home.

     Your reptiles may or may not have salmonella- it's very hard to tell They shed the bacteria in their stool- sometimes but not always. So you can have the stool tested for salmonella and find out it's negative, then a few months later you can have it tested again and get a positive result. Treating the reptile for salmonella is out of the question. First- you'd have to know exactly what strain your animal has, and then use the proper antibiotic to kill that bacteria. Too many animals have been treated with broad spectrum antibiotics to kill bacteria such as salmonella without finding out what antibiotic works best on that strain, and this only serves to make the bacteria resistant to that antibiotic if the bacteria isn't wiped out, creating a more virulent or harder to fight strain of bacteria.

     So, in general it's best to think of all reptiles and animals as carrying salmonella and to use proper precautions such as good hand washing techniques, and using a bleach and water solution to clean surfaces they come in contact with, their enclosures, their dishes, and their water containers, and not to clean their things in the kitchen sink either! Clean their things in an area not used by humans and use bleach to clean the sink or tub that you used for their stuff.

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Water Dragon Books

Green Water Dragons, Sailfin Lizards and Basilisks (General Care and Maintenance of Series) by Philippe De Vosjoli

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      Basic but detailed information about the care, diet, and health of green water dragons, sailfin lizards and basilisks.

Anoles, Basilisks, and Water Dragons Anoles, Basilisks and Water Dragons : A Complete Pet Care Manual (More Complete Pet Owner's Manuals) by Richard D. Bartlett, Patricia P. Bartlett (Contributor)

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     Discussion of the general care of many species of anole, basilisks and water dragons. Excellent information regarding enclosures, cage building, and insect care and breeding.

Eat this Bug Eat This Bug : A Guide to Invertebrate Live Foods for Reptiles and Amphibians by Lynn Davis

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      This book is a guide for owners of reptiles and amphibians who feed insects and other live foods to their pets. Advice is offered for selecting , ordering and raising your own supply of live invertebrate foods. More than a dozen species of live foods are discussed. The book includes instructions on keeping cultures of insects, and recipes & diets for insects.

Last updated
April, 10, 2012

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