The Chinese water dragons make good docile, charming, and adorable pets. They are not expensive to maintain and accept handling.
However, while these lizards make excellent pets, they are ideal for advanced keepers who will provide the intense care they need. Poor care will stress, make them ill, and reduce their lifespan. Also, you need to know the guidelines for having reptiles and amphibians pets.
Let us look at the various accessories or supplies they need, care, handling, and where to buy them.
Chinese water dragon foods and diet
Water dragons are omnivores. They feed both on plant and animal matter. While in the wild, they will prey on insects, small mammals, reptiles, and fish as well as some plants and flowers.
In captivity, their diets need to mimic what they eat while in the wild. Here is what to feed them and their dietary composition.
Insects and other small animals 85-90%
Insects and other small animals should account for 85-90% of their daily diets. Some of the popular insects and small animals to feed them include:
- Feeder insects – Crickets (including black and brown crickets), roaches, locusts, silkworms, and beetle grubs like mealworms, waxworms, kingworms (superworms or morio worms), butterworms, and so on. They should account for at least 50% of their animal diet portion.
- Small fish, reptiles, and mammals – They include common goldfish and other feeder fish, pinkie mice, fuzzy mice, and other small reptiles, fish, and mammals. Feed them as only as treats 1-2 times a week to adult dragons.
- Others – worms including earthworms and nightcrawlers
Veggies, fruits and plant material 10-15%
Vegetables, fruits, flowers, and other safe plants should only account for 10-15% of their diet. Some fruits and veggies to feed to your water lizard are:
- Safe vegetables –They include mustard greens, dandelions, green beans, squash (yellow or orange), carrots, parsnips, green beans, collard greens, sweet potatoes, broccoli, parsley, peas.
- Safe fruits – Feed them small quantities of blueberries, raspberries, melons, papaya, mangoes, apples, figs, kiwi fruits, grapes, cantaloupe, strawberries, and bananas, etcetera.
Water dragons should have access to clean, fresh drinking water always. Their water should be free of chlorine and heavy metals. Go for unflavored bottled drinking water, filtered water, or conditioned by ReptiSafe. However, avoid distilled water as it lacks some essential minerals present in water.
Finally, sometimes, they may soak themselves in a water bowl if you don’t have a soaking bowl or pool.
Food not to give your Asian water dragon
When choosing food for your water dragon, there are some you need to avoid which you need to strictly not provide them, and they include:
- Avoid centipedes, millipedes, fireflies, hornets, wasps, bees, scorpions, houseflies, glowing worms or lighting bugs, and so on.
- Don’t feed them any wild-caught insects, worms, or bugs as they may have residual insecticides and pesticides, and they often carry parasites and germs.
- Iceberg lettuce, spinach, rhubarb, swiss chard, or any other that are unsafe or high in oxalic acids. Oxalic acid will hamper calcium absorption.
How to feed your water lizards
Knowing which foods these pets eat isn’t enough. You need to understand how to feed them properly. How to feed them will highly depend on their age since babies, juveniles and hatchlings will have slightly varying diets, and the specific foods you are giving them.
We recommend only farm-raised insects and organically grown veggies and fruits to will ensure they are free from parasites or any harmful chemicals, especially herbicides and pesticides.
Furthermore, always wash before grate or shred veggies and fruits. Grating will make eating much more straightforward. Similarly, choose correctly sized insects or cut them into smaller pieces if they don’t have a tough exoskeleton.
Note that most of these lizards are picky eaters and may refuse to eat some foods, especially veggies. Try to vary their diets as this will encourage them to eat more.
Also, remove any uneaten food at the end of the day to avoid decaying. The warm and humid conditions will favor quick decay.
Finally, avoid overfeeding them as this may increase the chances of being obese. On the other hand, underfeeding them will make them skinny. Feed them as you look at their weight gain to help establish the right portions. Furthermore, seek help from your herpetologists.
Gut loading their food
Gut load their feeder insects 24-48 hours to ensure they are maximally nutritive. Gut-loading will ensure your feeder insects transfer all the nutrients they have to your reptile.
Dusting with calcium and other supplements
Since farm-raised live prey food may not be as nutritious as those that thrive naturally in the wild, you need to dust them with calcium, vitamin D3, and other multivitamins without phosphorus. They will help ensure calcium to phosphorus ratio stands at the recommended value of 2:1.
Dust their food calcium, vitamin D3, and multivitamins 1-2 times in a week. Do it more if you have a young or gravid water dragon. Don’t overdo it. Your vet should guide you further.
Calcium will ensure strong, healthy bones, among other roles, while vitamin D3 will aid in the absorption and assimilation of calcium and reduce the chances of metabolic bone disease. The Zoo Med Repti Calcium with D3 is the right choice if you need one that has both calcium and vitamin D3.
On the other hand, the Zoo Med Repti Calcium without D3 will be excellent if you don’t require D3, especially if your pet gets access to sunlight as these pets will synthesis enough vitamin D3 using sunshine. Most artificial sources of UV light sources are not as useful as the sunlight.
Last but not least, if you need multivitamins, consider Rep-Cal Herptivite Beta Carotene Multivitamins or any other good brand.
Feeding baby water dragon 0-5 months
Feed hatchlings and baby Chinese water dragon at least twice a day. Give them mainly pinhead crickets, and as they grow, you can include small-sized mealworms once or twice in a week.
Feeding juveniles 5-12 months
Once they are over five months, you can expand their menu to include vegetable salads. Choose veggies that are high in calcium. Also, give them fruit treats once in a month.
Don’t be surprised if these pets ignore or kick off their bowl if it has veggies. In such a case, entice them by smearing them with sweet-smelling fruits like bananas.
However, since smearing with bananas will make the veggies sticky, ensure they don’t fall off their eating bowl if you have a loose substrate as the substrate to stick on them. Ingesting a lot of indigestible substrates may cause impaction.
Having grown, give your lizards crickets, measuring ⅜ to ⅝ inches, include a small number of roaches, while only feed them waxworms occasionally.
Since they are in an exponential growth phase, including pink mice 1-2 times, a week will encourage faster growth.
Finally, juveniles are very active, and you need to feed them 1-2 times a day and check their weight to ensure they are gaining weight. Some may burn all the calories they get from food while playing.
Feeding adult Chinese dragons
Adults should eat once every two days while looking at their weight. You may have to increase or reduce this feeding frequency.
Adult dragon lizards can eat small mice, adult dubia roaches, crickets, locusts, and grasshopper. Also, offer superworms, mealworms, morio worms, nightcrawlers, and other foods they can swallow. Veggies should account for 10-15% of their diet while the rest should be prey animals.
To avoid weight gain, limit beetle grubs like butterworms to once or twice a week, as they are high in fats.
Chinese water dragon enclosure or tank size and supplies
Proper housing is essential in ensuring this agamid lizard is not only healthy but also happy. These lizards are very active. Therefore, small cages will often stress them, limit free movement, and encourage snout rubs. Furthermore, the tank must be escape and predator-proof.
Cage or vivarium size
When choosing the right cage or tank size water dragons, you need to understand that a fully grown water dragon measure up to 3 meters in length, especially males.
While you will see recommendations of 55+ gallon or 75+ gallon tanks as adequate, they should only be ok if you have a baby or small lizard. However, since they grow fast, a small one means that you will have to replace it after a short while.
Ideal tank size should be:
- Small water dragons or hatchlings – Hatchlings can stay in a 20+ gallon fish tank.
- If 1 foot long – go for at least a 2 ft long by 1 ft wide by 2 ft tall enclosure.
- If 2 feet long – your tank should be 3 ft long by 2 ft broad by 3 ft tall.
- For adults up to 3 feet long – Get a cage 6 ft long by 2-3 ft deep by 5-6 ft high.
- If housing 1-3 lizards – Your tanks should be at least 6 ft long by 3ft in width by 7ft in height.
Always remember, the bigger the enclosure, the better. However, an enormous one means more resources in terms of keeping it warm and providing UV lighting.
Finally, to save on the cost, go for a homemade or custom-made enclosure since you are unlikely to get such a big tank. Even if you get it, it will be way too expensive. Similarly, a DIY water dragon enclosure will serve you well.
Indoor vs. outdoor
You have the option of going for an indoor or outdoor cages. If outdoor, it should be in a shaded area and be a wire mesh one. It is ideal if you live in humid regions with the right temperature and humidity.
Avoid putting glass enclosure on direct sunlight as they will heat up, and controlling temperature will be so difficult.
You have an option of going for glass, glass and wood, glass and screen, wood and mesh, PVC, melamine, ABS, and so on. Choose a durable material and ensure there is proper ventilation.
A wire mesh terrarium will make it hard to maintain optimum temperature and humidity while for glass, you will face the problem of the snout or nose rubs as they cannot perceive glass. Their nature to want to run away will only complicate things, especially babies and juveniles.
In case of nose rubbing, consider visual barriers like placing substrate, cardboard, or anything they can perceive.
On the other hand, a wooden one will be good in insulating heat but require proper preservation since these pets thrive in higher humidity that may damage the wood.
An excellent choice should be a tank with a screen on top or front. Depending on which one you choose, ensure you have a means of mounting your UV lighting since UVB rays don’t penetrate glass.
How to house your Asian water lizards
Chinese water dragons are social and can live together. Although they will be healthiest and happiest if they live alone, pairing them will still make them thrive if done correctly.
While still young, you can house several siblings together, but once they are over four months, only house one male and females, preferably one or two. However, this way, they will reproduce.
Since they are territorial, don’t house two or more males or females alone as they compete or fight for resources with the dominant one chasing the subservient, denying them a chance to eat, bask, and so on. Sometimes, fights may result in injuries or even death and stress the submissive lizard.
Finally, while having a massive cage with each having their resources may reduce fighting and competition instances, there is no guarantee that they won’t fight at all.
Where to place their tank
Since intense nose scares them and they get startled easily, avoid noisy places or entrances, or sites where children often access.
Space available, accessibility, lighting, safety, visibility, and so on may influence where you place your tank. This location should allow you to clean, maintain or feed them easily.
Also, you may want a location where you or your visitors can see these magnificent creatures.
Supplies and accessories
The essential accessories you need are substrate, water pool, thermometers, hygrometers, thermostats, branches, basking platforms, among others.
Humidity and hygrometers
The ideal relative humidity for your water dragon is 60-80%. Your water pool and drinking water bowl, live plants including potted ones, having a waterfall, misting your tank twice a day, and the use of a humidifier will ensure your humidity doesn’t drop much.
To help measure humidity accurately, invest in an accurate reptile hygrometer. Have at least two or more to help measure humidity at various spots in their vivarium.
Finally, if you need a humidifier, the Evergreen Pet Supplies Reptile Humidifier/Fogger and Zoo Med Reptifogger Terrarium Humidifier will serve you well.
Temperature and heat lamps
The green water dragons are ectotherms, meaning they control their body temperature depending on the ambient temperature. Their ideal day time temperature should be 84 to 88 °F and nighttime temperature 75 to 80 °F. A daytime temperature of 80–90 °F is ok.
Unless you live in tropics with these temperature ranges, you need a basking bulb to keep their enclosures warm during the day. You can go for incandescent bulbs, ceramic heat emitters, mercury vapor lamps, or metal halide lamps.
Heat sources such as heating pads, mats, rocks, and strips should serve as a secondary heat source and not a primary source.
While keeping their tanks warm, you need to create a temperature gradient with the basking area set at 95-100 °F and covering at least 1/3 of the tank area. This warmer side is where you place your basking branches, logs, or rocks.
On the other hand, set the colder side at 75°F using a secondary heat source or a lower wattage basking lamp or bulb.
At night, if the ambient temperature goes below 75°F, you need a night heat lamps that don’t emit light as it will disturb their healthy sleep being diurnal reptiles. The most recommended option is going for ceramic heat emitters or other nocturnal bulbs.
Finally, invest in the right quality fixtures with correct rating, guard them, don’t place them on wood, near flammable material or artificial plastic plants. Also, ensure your lizards cannot reach them, including from climbing branches or they can not access hot surfaces near them.
Chinese water dragons require UV light, both UVA and UVB rays. UVA helps stimulate their circadian cycle, daily, and seasonal activities. On the other hand, UVB light helps their skin synthesis vitamin D3 necessary for calcium absorption.
Therefore, buy UVB light bulbs that may include mercury vapor lamps, metallic halide UVB lamps, UV fluorescent liner, and compact bulbs, UVB emitting halogen lamps, and so on.
Once you have them, place them at recommended distances depending on the brand and replace them as their manufacturers require. Note that UVB doesn’t pass through glass or transplant material but can pass through reptile screens though this will reduce their efficiency.
Finally, the UV lighting hours should correspond to the duration of days, about 10-12 hours, and should cover at least 75% of your enclosure. Overlapping them with basking lights will ensure your reptile catches UV rays as he or she is basking.
Since these pets thrive in areas with high humidity, the ideal substrate should be the mulch type since they will hold moisture for a long time. Such bedding coupled with misting, waterfalls, live plants, and so on will help keep humidity at optimum levels.
Some of the ideal substrates include:
- Coconut fiber
- Repti Bark
- Sterile soil, including potting soil without fertilizers, chemicals, or vermiculite.
- A mixture of soil, sand, and peat as well as soil and moss mixture
- Coarse wood chips or shavings will be an excellent choice since they are easy to clean, spot clean, and are dustless.
- Reptile carpets
- Old newspaper
- Bioactive substrate
If you are using soil, you can cover it with sphagnum moss to help retain moisture and boost humidity.
Also, on top of your substrate, place large pebbles if you are worried that your pets may ingest some of the loose substrates as they are eating. Don’t forget to use a feeding bowl as ingesting too much of some substrates may cause intestinal blockages and use a reptile carpet if your lizard is less than 6 inches.
Finally, avoid coconut husks, or anything that may irritate their eyes or poisonous substrates.
Water pool or bowl
In their natural habitat, these pets love living near freshwater bodies. Similarly, you need to provide a water pool or bowl for soaking, swimming, and ensure it is deep enough, i.e., and it should submerge at least half their height. Place it on the cooler side on the cooler side of their enclosure.
This water should be safe for drinking and replace it daily or immediately if they defecate in it. Otherwise, if these lizards don’t usually poop in their water, with quality aquarium filters, you can keep the water in their pool clean and create a naturalistic habitat.
If they love jumping from branches into their water pool, the water pool should be near their climbing branches and large.
Finally, you can create a beach-like habitat with a shoreline, and if they don’t spend time soaking themselves in water, you should soak them in the water at a temperature of 68-70 °F.
Artificial and live plants
Both synthetic and live plants will help in creating a sheltering place, make their cage aesthetically appealing, and serve as a perching place. Additionally, live plants will serve as a snack and will help in raising terrarium humidity.
Some safe live plants include dracaena, staghorn fern, ficus, pothos, philodendron, spider plants, vines, hibiscus, among others.
If you need artificial ones, consider Exo Terra plants, Fluker’s Repta vines, among others.
Basking platforms and climbing branches
Since they are arboreal, besides having a high tank, you need to have climbing branches placed diagonally. If placed horizontally, they can serve as basking spots. The branches should be large enough to allow these pets to lounge comfortably.
You can use sanitized basking rocks, sandblasted grapevines, driftwood, and so on. Unless sanitized, avoid picked branches as they may carry parasites.
If for basking, your braches or rocks should be elevated and beneath their basking lamps.
Periodically clean and sanitize your climbing branches, logs, or basking platforms and ensure you fix them firmly. If they fall, they may injure your pet.
Hideouts or hiding places
Hideouts will help minimize stress and give these pets a place to sleep. You need to choose cages, cork barks, and other hollow safe items. These hiding places must be large enough to allow your water dragon to fit inside.
When new, avoid handling them for at least a few days to weeks since they need time to adjust to their new environment. They are already dealing with relocation stress, and excessive handling even to socialized ones causes stress.
Secondly, when handling them. Don’t grab these critters by their tail since they drop their tails as a means of escaping from predators. When dropping their tails, there will be “a vertical fracture plane of fibroconnective tissue and cartilage runs through the body and part of the neural arch of each caudal vertebrae,” notes LafeberVet.
Even little pressure on their tail can make them drop it, and once they do so, they will regrow a cartilaginous rod.
The best time to handle them is while feeding them. As your water dragon try to pick food from your hand, lift it from their belly and allow it to crawl up on your palm. Don’t grab them.
Finally, if your lizards seem uneasy or struggle to go away, leave them alone. Try handling them another time.
Proper maintenance is an essential part of good raising. Some of the routine things you need to do include the following.
- Discard or throw away uneaten food at the end of the day, change drinking water daily and spot clean your vivarium in case of soiling.
- Depending on the bedding choice, you should remove wastes after a week and replace your bedding regularly, like once a month.
- Don’t microwave their frozen food, especially pinkie mice, and don’t handle their foods where you use for your food. In case you do, disinfect the area well before using it.
- During thorough cleaning, move your reptile to a secure place and scrub or clean their accessories. Afterward, thoroughly sanitize these commercial reptile disinfectants, 3% bleach or vinegar, and water at ratios of 1:8 to disinfect, rinse and dry them.
- Avoid using bleach and vinegar at the same time as their reaction forms a harmful product.
Healthy and sick Chinese water dragons
Poor husbandry, stress, and wrong terrarium conditions may make these pets vulnerable to disease, conditions, and parasites.
Healthy and signs of illness
When healthy, these water lizards will be alert and active, have bright eyes, full and round body, healthy skin, smooth jaws, and a clean cloacal vent as well as nose. They will also eat (have a good appetite) and poop as usual.
In contrast, depending on the cause, some signs of illness include lethargy, not eating, swellings, mucus in their mouth or nose, labored breathing, diarrhea, limb paralysis, cloudy eyes, sunken eyes as well as being skinny (poor weight gain or being limp).
Also, they may have skin sores, bumps, and abrasions, not defecating as usual, have visible bite marks or wounds, abnormal belly colorations (pink patches or spots), among other symptoms.
Common diseases and conditions
The often disease that these water lizards often suffer from including the following:
Metabolic bone disease (MDB)
MBD is a group of bone disease or disorders whose symptoms include soft bones, skeletal deformation, lethargy, swollen limbs or spine, muscle spasms, twitching, fractured bones.
The metabolic bone disease occurs due to inadequate calcium in their diet, lack of UVB light that helps in vitamin D3 synthesis. Therefore, always ensure you provide the required supplements, especially calcium and vitamin D3, as well as the right UVB lighting.
Parasites and gastrointestinal infections
A stressful life can wreck these pet’s immunity making them vulnerable to parasites and other GI pathogens. These internal vermins and bacteria will multiply and cause symptoms like runny stool, loss of appetite, poor weight gain, dull eyes, and a caked or smeared vent.
Let your vet perform a fecal test and recommend the right treatment that may include antiparasitic medications.
Nose or snout rubs – Rostral abrasion
Since these lizards cannot perceive glass, they may continually rub or hit their nose against glass as they try to run away. This hitting will result in a red, swollen, injured or broken snout and nose. Also, they may suffer from irreversible jaw or snout damage, lose their jaws, end up with infections, or even die.
To solve the problem, include visible barriers like a thick substrate, cardboard, and so on the lower parts of your glass terrarium. Also, ensure you have the right size of an enclosure.
Mucus, labored breathing, whistling noise while breathing, and so on may indicate respiratory infections, which occur commonly due to cold and very damp habitats.
Nose rubs, untreated oral injuries, or those not treated well may result in mouth rot characterized by open ulcers, swellings, curd-like secretions on the mouth, and nose areas.
Skin infections and external parasites
An unhygienic living condition may result in skin infections, especially fungal dermatitis, mites, and other skin infections. Reddish-brown spots around the nose, eye, or ears will indicate mite infestation while flat, raised, or fluid-filled bumps and dark splotches may indicate skin infection. Talk to your vet for diagnosis and treatment.
Egg binding or dystocia
Sometimes, if they carry eggs without mating, the female water dragon’s eggs may bind together and stick inside their bodies. Talk to your vet if you see signs such as an enlarged belly, pooping difficulties, and reduced appetite.
Besides the above, these pets may suffer from dental problems, including periodontal disease, obesity, gingivitis, among other diseases and conditions.
Chinese water dragons on sale and price
The pet market has many vendors of water dragons all over the world. While the market has many wild-caught imported lizards, some breeders have captive-bred water dragons.
Captive-bred lizards are expensive than wild-caught ones. However, they are the best choice. Captive-bred dragon lizards adapt well to living in captivity and will thrive unlike the wild-caught counterparts which may have these problems:
- They carry a lot of internal and external parasites, and treating them may prove expensive at the end of the day.
- They may not adapt to live in captivity, something that may stress them, and reduce their lifespan tremendously. Common behavioral problems include nose rubbing,
- May have scars, scabs, and so on.
Where to buy them?
There are many vendors of male, female, baby, juvenile or adult Asian or Chinese water dragons that include reputed breeders, pet stores, and rescue centers near you. You will also get them on shows, classified ads like Craigslist, and so on.
Familiar places you will find them include PetSmart (in-store), Petco (in-store) Backwater Reptiles, Underground Reptiles, Reptile City, Preloved (in the UK), Uncle Bill’s Pet Store, Kijiji (Canada), Snakes at Sunset among others.
Always ensure you buy them from experienced breeders since some pet stores may lack enough space to keep these lizards, have inexperienced staff, and lack enough resources to keep them happy.
Once you find the one you like, take it to your vet for a general health check including parasite as
How much do they cost?
Although they will vary depending on where you bought them, the average price of a Chinese water dragon ranges from $15-$50. For instance, PetSmart sells them at $39.99.
Bringing them home
Once you have spotted the one you want, before bringing your water lizard home, you need to ensure their cages have an optimum condition. i.e., humidity, UV lighting, and temperature.