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Chinese Water Dragon Care

Chinese water dragons (Physignathus cocincinus) have become a popular pet in recent years. Since there is a lot of detail required to care for these creatures, you need to be aware of the commitment involved before owning one. This tropical Asian reptile’s distinct personality traits, habitat, and size all factor into their care. The life span of a Chinese water dragon can exceed 20 years, so having this reptile as a pet is a long-term commitment.


Hatchlings are about 6 inches long. Their bodies are mostly brown and green with white stripes on the sides of their bodies. Their tail is also brown and green. The eyes are large, and the snout is short. The tail makes up around 70 percent of the dragon’s body. The tails are used for balance when they climb.

They can grow up to 3 feet long, and they have a third eye which can sense light changes. An adult dragon is green, and the lower body can be white or yellow. Vertical stripes are located on the sides of the body and are a light green color. The throat colors range from yellow to pink. The head is triangular shaped, and they have nuchal crests. Their legs are well developed and have five toes and claws.

Providing the right Chinese water dragon habitat

Owning a Chinese water dragon takes responsibility and attention to detail. You need the right habitat, cage size, and humidity level.


Here is a list of supplies for the care of a Chinese water dragon.

  • Glass cage approximately 6 feet long, 3 feet deep and 4 feet high.
  • Fluorescent Ultraviolet B (UVB) light bulb
  • Dome light 100 watts for heating
  • Under tank heater
  • Temperature and humidity gage
  • Large water bowl
  • Hide house
  • Coconut fiber substrate (slightly moist)
  • Foliage
  • Small tree branches


Water dragons need a moist environment with at least 80 percent humidity. Water, live plants, and soil will help sustain this humid atmosphere for your pet. The dragons enjoy lounging in water as well. Keep the water clean to prevent infection. Cleaning the large tub of water will also help with daily care and upkeep.

Size and climbing materials

These types of reptiles like to climb and are relatively large animals. The glass enclosure needs to be at least 6 feet long by 3 feet deep. The dragons also enjoy branches and shelves for lounging. Adding fresh foliage or plants contributes to the overall humidity as well.


Temperatures need to be consistently at 84 – 88 degrees Fahrenheit, with a basking area of 95 degrees. Maintain nighttime temperatures between 75-80 degrees. Keep thermometers on hand to make sure these temperatures are accurate. Never put a glass cage containing a water dragon in direct sunlight. The sunlight can heat up the enclosure and cause the dragon to overheat and die.


Fluorescent lighting is best to provide UVB light required for vitamin D3 for the dragon’s skin. If the water dragon does not get enough UVB light, it can cause secondary nutritional hyperparathyroidism. This condition causes the bones to soften and break.


Perform general cage cleaning daily, including the feeding bowl and water bottle. Remove visible droppings as well. Replace the top layer of coconut fiber every few days.

Deep clean the cage every few months. To deep clean, you will need to put your dragon in a different cage. Remove all cage material, then use a mild liquid dishwashing soap to clean the tank inside and out. Replace old foliage and branches with new branches and greenery. Make sure the habitat is soap free before placing your dragon back inside.

Maintaining a Chinese Water Dragon’s diet

Water dragons need to be fed every day. They are omnivorous and can eat meat, vegetables, and fruit. They enjoy live food such as crickets, mealworms, waxworms, earthworms, grasshoppers, locusts, feeder fish, and pinkies. Most dragons also enjoy fruit and vegetables like shredded lettuce and small portions of apples. However, only 15 percent of your pet’s diet should be fruits and vegetables.

If necessary, you can use supplements in the food, such as a calcium supplement fortified with vitamin D3. However, always ask your veterinarian before giving supplements to your pet.

Avoiding food and water problems

Lightning bugs are very poisonous to Chinese water dragons; do not feed them fireflies. Their water must always be free of chlorine and heavy metals. Bottled water is recommended for your water dragon’s bathing, swimming and drinking needs.

Keeping your water dragon healthy

A healthy water dragon will have smooth, even skin.  However, the lizard sheds its skin in patches every 4-6 weeks. Never peel off the skin, as it can be both painful and dangerous to the dragon. it is important to maintain the correct humidity level so the dragon can shed on a normal schedule. Keep track of your pet’s environment to ensure proper health. The reptile will eat their old skin, so you do not need to remove it from the cage.

An ill dragon will have irregular skin, mite bites, cloudy eyes, thin body, and their feeding will not be regular. If the dragon is limp or has unnatural color to their skin, they need to see the veterinarian as soon as possible. There are some common illnesses in lizards such as parasites, skin infections, respiratory infections, snout damage, egg binding (in females), and calcium imbalance. A regular veterinarian exam should be conducted every year.

Grooming your pet

To avoid the risk of salmonella poisoning, all pet owners should wash their hands when handling any reptile. When grooming a Chinese water dragon, handle with care. Never pick the dragon up by the tail. Regular bathing and trimming the dragon’s nails are necessities. Your Chinese water dragon also needs regular soaking to keep healthy.

Sexing Chinese water dragons

Knowing the sex of your dragon is imperative. Enclosing two males in the same habitat will result in fighting. These fights may lead to injury or death. Two female dragons can cohabitate; however, they are territorial. Mixing one male with a female is best. Make sure you have multiple enclosures if you have more than one dragon. It is not guaranteed they will be able to live in the same cage together.

How to sex a water dragon

When determining the sex of your Chinese water dragon, look for certain traits. Adult male dragons average three feet in length, while females average two feet in length. The male also has a large head, jowls, and crests behind their neck. The femoral pores are larger than those of females. It can be difficult to know the sex of your dragon until they are fully mature at around two years of age. You may have your veterinarian probe the dragon to determine their sex, but in most cases its best to wait until you can easily identify its gender. Water dragons are old enough to breed when they reach two years old.


On average, the Chinese Water Dragon lives from 10-15 years. When you maintain a healthy lifestyle for the dragon, its lifespan can exceed 20 years. Having a proper habitat, diet, and lighting can extend the lizard’s life.

Owning a pet can be fun and enjoyable. Being aware of the behaviors, diet, and necessary supplies is essential to the care of a Chinese water dragon. Remember never place two males in the same cage, and never feed the dragon a lightning bug or firefly. Owning a pet carries responsibilities, and it is important to be committed to proper care when choosing a water dragon as your pet. 

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