When it comes to purchasing a lizard as a pet, Chinese water dragons are a top pick for many keepers. This is easy to understand because Chinese water dragons are amazing creatures. Not only are they just about the perfect size but they simply look amazing. But are they the right choice for you? Well, that is hard to answer but reading this Chinese water dragon care guide is a good place to start.
We will cover just about everything you need to know about caring for a Chinese water dragon. We will also answer some basic questions about these amazing lizards to help you determine if they are the right choice for you. One of the first questions to answer is: Are Chinese water dragons the right size lizard for you?
Chinese Water Dragon Size And Appearance
Chinese water dragons are awesome-looking lizards. They have an amazing green coloration that can vary a bit from lizard to lizard. Their bellies will typically be white, light green, and maybe even yellow. Chinese water dragons also have stripes that run vertically across their bodies that are a different shade of green.
Sometimes these stripes can even look like a turquoise blue and are very visually appealing. They also have black stripes that run vertically along their tail as well. Males have much bigger heads and jaws than females do. The chins of water dragons also often have great coloration that can range anywhere from yellow, orange, pink, and purple.
A fully grown Chinese water dragon can grow up to 3 feet long including its tail. That said, the majority of the length of a Chinese water dragon is in its tail. In fact, the tail of a Chinese water dragon can make up 75% of its total length in some instances.
Females typically are a little bit smaller than males and typically reach a length closer to 2 feet long. A typical water dragon will likely weigh between 1 and 2 pounds. Though these are not small lizards, they also do not fall into the category of large lizards such as iguanas and monitor lizards.
Because their tails make up so much of their total length, these lizards appear to be smaller than many other lizards of equal length. For example, a 3-foot savannah monitor would probably weigh 3-5 times more than a 3-foot Chinese water dragon. That said, I would consider a water dragon to be a medium-sized lizard.
Growth Rate of Water Dragons
Typically a Chinese water dragon will get pretty close to its full size within its first two years. That said, a Chinese water dragon might not reach sexual maturity until they are about 5 years old.
When Chinese water dragons first hatch they are only about 4-6 inches long. They grow very fast within their first year and will continue to grow somewhat fast until around two years old. After this, a Chinese water dragon might grow a little bit but the majority of its size will already be achieved.
Considering they start out at about 4 to 6 inches when they first hatch, Chinese water dragons grow very rapidly in their first year, then start to grow more slowly as they approach their full maturity.
Well-cared-for water dragons can live anywhere from 15 to 20 years, so making sure their dietary needs are met, and their enclosure is properly set up is a crucial aspect of proper Chinese water dragon care.
Chinese Water Dragon Lifespan
If you plan on getting a Chinese water dragon then you need to be prepared for the potential of caring for them for up to 20 years. Of course, the average lifespan of a Chinese water dragon is closer to 10-15 years if you pick a healthy dragon. Unfortunately, however, Chinese water dragons that are not captive-bred or well cared for are known to suffer premature deaths.
Unfortunately, many if not most Chinese water dragons do not live as long of a life as they should. This is true even with the proper Chinese water dragon care. The reasoning for this is that Chinese water dragons are usually imported from the wild or farmed instead of being captive-bred.
These dragons are farmed from across the world and then loaded up with many other dragons to be shipped across the world. This is one of the reasons that Chinese water dragons are so cheap in most pet shops. However, purchasing one of these dragons might result in getting a Chinese water dragon that:
- Has parasites and diseases
- Is dehydrated or starved
- Gets injured by other dragons
- Suffers from other environmentally based issues that affect their health
Because of these reasons and many more, many people suffer the disappointment of purchasing a water dragon that lives a short life. I learned this the hard way with my pet water dragon Bruce. I was unaware of any of this knowledge when I purchased him at the local pet shop.
Thankfully, however, there are still good breeders, but you might have to do a little work to find a good one. If you can find a good source these lizards can make some of the greatest pets you can ask for. After all, Bruce might have been my favorite pet reptile that I’ve owned. But unfortunately, our companionship was short-lived.
Picking A Healthy Chinese Water Dragon
Picking a healthy dragon from the start is the first step of Chinese water dragon care. Though you might have to do quite a bit of research I would advise getting a captive-bred water dragon. To be honest this, not the easiest reptile to find that is captive bred but I do think it is worth the time.
In addition, you will likely be paying quite a bit more than you would if you purchased a Chinese water dragon from most pet shops. However, the chances of getting a dragon with health problems from a wild-caught or farmed supplier are very high. So in my opinion it is worth the time and money if you have your heart set on a Chinese water dragon.
Chinese Water Dragon Diet
Another very important part of proper Chinese water dragon care is understanding their dietary needs. Chinese water dragons are omnivores since they eat both plants and animals. That said, the vast majority of their diet is going to come from protein sources. About 80-95% of their diet should come from whole prey consisting of mostly insects.
The rest of their diet should come from vegetables and fruits. The majority of this should come in the form of vegetables with fruit being seen as more of an occasional treat. That said, not all Chinese water dragons will consume as much vegetation as others will. This is especially true of young Chinese water dragons.
The best thing you can do is make sure to feed them plenty of insects and offer some fresh vegetables. If your baby or juvenile water dragon does not seem to take a liking to fruits and veggies there is a chance this could change as they mature. That said, all you can do is offer fruits and veggies.
But as previously said, the vast majority of their diet should come from whole prey consisting mostly of insects. I would suggest 50-60% of their diet should come from insects such as crickets, about 20% from worms, and the rest from other prey and veggies/fruit. That said let’s take a look at some good sources of whole prey.
Best Whole Prey To Feed Your Chinese Water Dragon
All prey should be sized to your dragon and gut-loaded ( meaning they were fed nutrients no more than 24 hours before feeding).
Best protein sources for your water dragon include:
- Worms (mealworms, waxworms, earthworms)
- Dubia Roaches
- Small goldfish
- Pinkie mice (adult dragons only)
- Fuzzy mice ( adult dragons only )
Gut-loaded insects are a water dragon’s most important meal. Pinkie mice and small goldfish are an occasional great addition but shouldn’t be the bulk of the dragon’s diet.
Feed worms in moderation (another good reason to vary the diet). Worms’ exoskeleton is indigestible. Consuming too much at once can cause some severe stomach illnesses. Don’t feed your dragon wild-caught insects – they don’t have the right nutrients and can carry potentially fatal diseases.
Best Veggies and Fruits To Feed Your Chinese Water Dragon
As stated the majority of your dragon’s diet should come from insects and other whole prey. However, if you can get your Chinese water dragon to eat some veggies and fruit it can be beneficial to their health. That said, only about 10-15% of their diet should come from veggies and fruits. Of the two, you should prioritize vegetables over fruit. With that in mind let’s look at some good veggie options to feed your Chinese water dragon.
Best vegetables to feed your Chinese water dragon:
- Collard and mustard greens
- Red tip leaf lettuce
- Sweet potatoes
Think of fruits as more of an occasional treat rather than a staple of the diet. Like humans, Chinese water dragons can become obese. So it is best not to overfeed them with foods high in sugars and fats. That said, some fruits are better than others, so let’s take a look at some of the better options.
Best fruits for your water dragon:
Only feed your dragon the high-quality fruits and vegetables that you would eat yourself. Wash all produce and make sure it’s pesticide-free. Chop up leafy greens and bulky produce to make it easier to digest. Discard any uneaten fruits or vegetables within 24 hours. The decaying produce can cause intestinal issues if the dragon eats them.
Feeding Schedule For Chinese Water Dragons
How much and how often you feed your Chinese water dragon depends on a few factors. The first thing that you will want to consider is the size and age of your water dragon. Baby and juvenile water dragons are growing like crazy and should be fed more often.
Whereas feeding a fully matured dragon too often could cause your dragon to become overweight. So with that in mind let’s look at feeding schedules based on age.
Hatchling and Juvenile Chinese Water Dragon Feeding Schedule
Growing baby and Juvenile Chinese water dragons should be fed daily. At this age, Chinese water dragons will eat a lot more than adults in comparison to the size differences. At this age, water dragons should be eating a very high protein diet. The vast majority should come from insects. Probably your best bet is to feed them gut-loaded crickets and other appropriate sized insects.
They can also be fed a good amount of worms as well. That said, I would certainly feed them crickets and insects like Dubai roaches most of the time. Pinkies and fuzzies are going to be too large to feed your dragon for some time. Simply feed them as much as they will eat within a reasonable time frame.
It is a good idea to either remove the uneaten prey from their enclosure or have a completely separated eating area altogether.
Insects should also be appropriately sized as well. A good rule of thumb is to feed them insects roughly the same size as the space between their eyes. Or some will measure the space between the eyes on the tip of their nose. Once they have grown up a little bit, you can start to incorporate the occasional pinky mouse.
You should also offer vegetables and fruits as well, though there is a chance they will not be too interested. Just make sure you chop up the fruits and veggies to an appropriate size for your water dragon.
Adult Water Dragon Feeding Schedule
When you Chinese water dragon begins to mature it is more likely that they will eat more vegetables. But like we have already stated fruits and veggies should only account for about 15 percent of their total diet.
Once fully grown you can also reduce their feeding frequency. An adult dragon only needs to eat once every 2-3 days. Of course, you can offer a smaller amount on a more regular basis but this is not necessary. In addition, you will want to make sure that your dragon does not become overweight. This is more likely to happen if you feed an adult dragon daily.
Watering Requirments For Chinese Water Dragons
There is a reason these lizards are called Chinese water dragons. That is of course because they love water. Getting the water right is a very crucial part of Chinese water dragon care. Water dragons will require a watering bowl that is large enough for them to fit their body in. It should be just deep enough that the water covers partially covers the body while standing.
The biggest issue many people face caring for water dragons is the constant upkeep on cleaning their watering bowl.
Thankfully, there is another option that you could do that can help. My suggestion would be that you invest in a good quality water filter. This way you can ensure great water quality for your Chinese water dragon.
With their enclosure remaining somewhat hot and dry, their water bowl keeps them moist. You may even need to spritz them with water throughout the day if they aren’t spending enough time in their bowls. You can also invest in a humidifier/fogger for your dragon. This will help with the humidity and will make your life easier.
You will also want to make sure to use water that is safe for your water dragon. Do not use tap water because it contains harmful chlorine. Instead, you will want to use bottled drinking water. It does not contain chlorine but it does include some of the minerals that your dragon will need to stay healthy.
Distilled water also should not be used because it lacks the minerals mentioned above. Without these minerals, your pet may develop medical issues.
If you don’t have a water filtration system built into your tank, you will have to change the water bowl often. Ideally, you should change this water daily.
Vitamins And Mineral Supplements Water Dragons
Most of the vitamins and minerals should be present in your Chinese water dragon’s diet. This is especially true if you are gut-loading insects at least 24 hours before feeding your Chinese water dragon. Do this by feeding your insects high calcium foods like fruits and veggies. Stick to the same fruits and veggies you would feed your dragon.
Or you could simply buy high-quality cricket food. In addition to this, it could be a good idea to dust your insects with a reptile calcium supplement 2-3 times per week. Choose a brand with minimal phosphorous. In addition, you can also dust the insects with a reptile multivitamin once per week as well.
Juvenile and hatchling water dragons need more supplements than adults. Consult your vet for the best calcium supplements to feed your growing reptile. In general, you should consult your vet before giving your water dragon supplements.
Enclosure Requirements For Chinese Water Dragons
Providing the proper enclosure is crucial for proper Chinese water dragon care. One big commitment you must accept before purchasing a Chinese water dragon is the amount of space they will require. So expect to purchase or even build a cage that is quite large.
Chinese water dragons are climbers so you will want to choose a cage that is tall. I would say that a Chinese water dragon cage needs to be at least 5-6 feet tall for a full-grown dragon. The enclosure should also be at least 4-6 feet long and 3-4 feet wide.
You might also remember that they will require a lot of space just for their watering bowl as well. Because of this, your best bet would likely be to build the cage yourself or get one custom built for you.
Custom Built Cage
Building a custom enclosure for your Chinese water dragon is likely the best solution. Even if you were to find an enclosure that fits these sizes it still might be the better choice. Water dragons need a tall enclosure but one that also holds the correct humidity.
Because of this screened enclosures are not a very good fit for a Chinese water dragon. In addition, Chinese water dragons also do not do great in pure glass tanks either. They are known to bump and rub their faces into the glass and cause harm to themselves.
The best way to solve both of these problems is to build your own enclosure. You can still use glass for some of the enclosure but will want to avoid glass at the bottom of the cage. I would suggest making the bottom two feet of the enclosure out of wood or another material that is not see-through.
You can also make the sides and back out of this material as well and use glass in the top front part of the enclosure so that you can see your dragon. You will also want to provide plenty of things to climb on but position them towards the back of the cage. This way your dragon has less of a chance of rubbing its nose on the glass.
Best Substrate For Chinese Water Dragons
Another important aspect of Chinese water dragon care is picking the right substrate. What you want to look for is a substrate that is safe for water dragons and holds humidity well. My top pick would be cypress mulch.
Cypress mulch is excellent for holding humidity and also doubles as a light cushion for the floor of your enclosure. After all, Chinese water dragons love to climb and might take a fall from time to time.
You can also use plain sterilized soil as well. Just make sure that you are not picking any soil that has fertilizer or any chemicals in it. You can also add sphagnum moss to further help with humidity.
Temperature and Humidity
Proper temperature and humidity levels are very important when caring for Chinese water dragons. The best daytime temperatures should be roughly 85-88 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition, there should also be a basking area of the cage that reaches temperatures of around 95 degrees.
At nite time these temperatures can drop down to the mid to high 70s but never below 75 degrees Fahrenheit. One of the more challenging aspects of caring for Chinese water dragons is getting the proper humidity levels.
The ideal humidity level for a Chinese water dragon is around 80%. This can be challenging without the proper equipment and enclosure. This is why choosing the correct enclosure and substrate is so important.
You will also need to mist the enclosure daily or invest in a misting system. Personally, I think is certainly worth the money to get a misting system. Having to do this yourself multiple times per day is a lot of hassle.
Lighting Requirments For Chinese Water Dragons
For proper health, you will also need to provide good UVB lighting as well. Purchase a good fluorescent UVB light that is specifically designed for water dragons or other similar reptiles. I would go with a Zoo Med T5HO Reptisun 10.0 116cm for a full-sized water dragon enclose. Do note that these bulbs do need to be replaced seasonally even if the light is still shining.
For more on this simply follow the directions that come with the UVB lighting.
Most Common Health Issues With Water Dragons
Unfortunately, water dragons are often affected by many common health issues. But as previously stated many of these issues can be avoided by selecting the right breeder and proper care. That said, even with a good breeder and proper care there can still be health issues. Let’s look at some of the more common health issues for Chinese water dragons.
The most common are:
- Facial injuries from banging their face into the glass
- Metabolic Bone Disease
- Respiratory illness
Let’s start by addressing the first issue of facial injuries from rubbing their faces on the glass. The best way to avoid this is by building the proper enclosure. For more on this refer back to the enclosure requirements previously mentioned in the care guide.
Metabolic bone disease is another nasty health issue common with Chinese water dragons. Consult your veterinarian if you notice bulging joints, difficulty walking, or your water dragon acting generally unwell. This is typically caused by a lack of calcium absorption. The best way to prevent this is to make sure you have the proper UVB lighting, diet, and supplement with calcium.
If you see your Chinese water dragon having trouble breathing or making odd raspy sounds, they may have a respiratory infection. Respiratory issues are often caused by an inadequate heat source. If your water dragon gets too cold, it will have a much greater propensity to develop a breathing problem. Be sure your water dragon’s habitat is getting warm enough during the day, and that the dragon is maintaining a good sleep schedule.
Lastly, there is a high likelihood that your Chinese water dragon could carry a parasite. If you notice your dragon has less energy, or they seem bloated, suspect this issue. If this or any other issues arise make sure to contact your veterinarian. Your vet will be able to give your water dragon a de-worming medication to help them clear the parasite.
Recommended Equipment For Chinese Water Dragon Care
Though this list does not cover everything you will need for proper Chinese water dragon care, here is some equipment that I would recommend for a Chinese water dragon!
- UVB Lighting: Zoo Med T5HO Reptisun 10.0
- Heat Dome: Zoo Med Repti Deep Dome Lamp
- Heat Bulb: Zoo Med Repti Basking Reptile Spot Lamp
- Substrate: Zoo Med Forest Floor Natural Cypress Mulch Reptile Bedding
- Humidifier: Zoo Med Reptile Fogger Terrarium Humidifier
- Temperature and Humidity Gauge: Exo Terra Combometer Digital Thermometer & Hygrometer
- Supplements: Rep-Cal Orginal Calcium with D3
- Water Filter For Custom Built Cage: Sunsun Hw304B 525GPH Pro Canister Filter Kit with 9-watt UV Sterilizer