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Problems with Chinese water dragons- FAQ


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've made up this general questionnaire for those of you who have concerns about your dragon. Some of the questions may apply, others may not, but if you are having problems with your dragon ask yourself some of the questions that I have listed throughout this document, read some of the answers and see if you can apply some of the suggestions throughout this page to your dragon and its care.

      Once you have read this page you may write to me with more questions about your dragons condition (give me as much detail as you can and I will try to help), but remember 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 a 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 have a reptile vet please visit The Canadian Reptile Vet page or for international vet listings please see U.S.A or other International Reptile vet listings

     Please see the Water dragon FAQ For even more detailed descriptions of problems, and how to solve them.

If your dragon has stopped eating

  • 2. 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... Please see the Breeding page for more information.

  • 3. What have you been feeding your dragon?

          (crickets, mealworms, king mealworms, pinkies, wax worms, earthworms, feeder fish ...) Please see the Diet, and the Importance of Whole prey food items page for more information about proper diet.

  • 4. Are you supplementing the dragons diet with calcium and vitamins?

  • 5. 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 ie 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.

  • 6. 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. You may also be interested in reading the dehydration in reptiles page.

  • 7. Is it possible that your dragon is sick?

         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), 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 ie 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.

    Pages on this site that might offer more information-
    Snout damage and how to prevent it,
    Calcium Deficiency in herbivore and omivorous reptiles
    the metabolic bone disease page (calcium deficiency), and
    Common ailments of water dragons.

  • 8. 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 ie shavings, moss, or Astro-turf 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. If you suspect that your dragon is impacted take it to the vet ASAP.

  • 9. 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 uninfected 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. please see Parasites and antiparasitic medications.

General Housing, and lighting questions

  • 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. Please see the Enclosures of water dragons page for more information.

         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. :( Please read Snout damage and how to prevent it

         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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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 ie 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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

  • 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 D3 which in turn helps the dragon use the calcium in his diet properly. If he doesn't have a UVB light or access to sunlight then he could end up with a calcium deficiency. Please see Calcium Deficiency in herbivore and omnivorous reptiles and the the metabolic bone disease page for more info on what kind of illness your dragon might get if it doesn't have the right kind of lighting and or an improper diet. The UVB fluorescent tube should be no more than 18 inches away from your dragon and there shouldn't be glass or plexiglass between the dragon and the light or else the UVB rays won't be effective.

         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.

  • 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.

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

    Please see the Cats, Dogs, Other herps and water dragons page

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

         That might stress him out as well....

  • 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. :) You should read the Behaviour of Water dragons page for more information about taming and handling of your new dragon.

    If you are thinking of getting another dragon or if you are housing a new dragon with other herps or another dragon you should read the Reptile Quarantine page!

     Hopefully this FAQ will help some of you out. :) Remember, if you are concerned about your dragon then go to the vet! It's true that not all problems require a vets intervention- but if you are concerned and think your dragon might be ill it's better to take your dragon to a reptile vet to ease your own mind at the very least. :)

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
Mar, 19, 2010

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