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Chinese water dragon

Are Chinese Water Dragons Good Beginner Pets?

Chinese water dragons may not be the first animal that comes to mind when you’re thinking about bringing an animal home as a pet. But when it’s time to adopt an animal, not everyone is ready for the responsibility of a cat or dog. Can a little, exotic green lizard make a good buddy in your home?

At some point, almost everyone wants to adopt an animal friend. But it’s not easy to know which pet is right for your home. Although these scaly tree-lovers have some pretty specific habitats and need a bit of taming, Chinese water dragons can be well worth the effort and make great beginner pets.

While they may not be as fuzzy and warm as a puppy or kitten, once you know a little more about these scaly tree-loving lizards, you might just decide one is right for you.

Chinese Water Dragon Basics

The Chinese water dragon comes from the lowland and highland forests of southern China and southeastern Asia. As its name implies, in this lizard is most commonly found near water, living near creeks and ponds. The average adult grows to be up to 3 ft. long.

Water dragons are long and slim-bodied, with long tails and powerful hind legs. They are arboreal creatures and great climbers. Their strong legs combined and needle-like claws, are built for the climb. These tree-gripping features can make for some painful scratches, so make sure to watch out for that when handling them.

They’re intelligent and generally pretty docile. Water dragons do require some training, especially if other dragons are introduced to their lives. They can get territorial and aggressive toward one another, so it’s recommended to begin with just one lizard.

Chinese water dragon 2
Alina Zienowicz (Ala_z) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

How to Make a Water Dragon Habitat

Chinese water dragons have some very particular needs when it comes to their living arrangements. They’re exotic, cold-blooded animals, so to regulate their body temperature in a man-made habitat, they need your help in monitoring the temperature within their environment. In the natural world, they enjoy high humidity and no shortage of trees to climb. You have to make them a living space that is tailor-made to their needs.

Water Dragon Characteristic

How to Accommodate it in Their Enclosure

Very active

Room to play: 6 ft. tall and about 4 ft deep and long


Include rocks, branches and structures for climbing and basking

Add some vegetation.

Check with pet shop for the safety of plant types.

High humidity

Mist daily and keep about 60-80% humidity


Warm it up to 90°F for the warm end and 70°F for the cool end. Incandescent light for daytime basking and a ceramic heater at night.

Natural sunlight

Or use UVB bulb with full spectrum lighting 10 to 12 hours a day.

Water lovers

Provide a pan that’s deep enough to allow soaking. Clean it often.

Like to dig and scratch

Line the cage with reptile carpet or potting soil

Glass confuses them

Line the edge of the enclosure at their eye-level with plants or paper

Whether you are purchasing an enclosure or building one, there are a lot of great sources for the detailed information you need to make your selections. Here’s a look at a lizard’s needs and what you can do to make them feel at home.

What Water Lizards Like to Munch on

Good news: Chinese water lizards are easy to feed. They are omnivores and will eat insects, fruits or vegetables. They love their bugs: crickets, mealworms, cockroaches, silkworms, grasshoppers and earthworms, for instance. All readily available at the local pet shop.

It’s best to feed them during the day, either every day or every other day. Check with your vet for the specific needs of your dragon. They’ll also need a few supplements: calcium sprinkled on their food two times a week or more, and a weekly multi-vitamin.

Keep fresh, clean water in their enclosure at all time. Chlorine-free water is recommended. It’s best to put their drinking water in a large, shallow dish. They can even soak in it if they like! So clean that water daily.

How to Keep a Lizard Healthy

You won’t have to brush them or walk them, but there are a few simple habits to keep your pet in good health:

· Thoroughly clean and disinfect the habitat at least once a week

· Clean and disinfect water bath at least once daily

· Keep humidity monitored, to allow proper shedding

· Bathe your dragon in a large container

· Keep track of growth, diet and behavioral patterns of a young dragon

What Healthy Looks Like in a Dragon

A healthy Chinese water dragon is alert and active. It climbs, eats and drinks well, sheds its skin regularly and has smooth even skin. When you first get your dragon, it’s essential to monitor and record its habits, so you know what is “normal” for your pet.

Signs Your Lizard Needs to See the Vet

· Less active, lethargic, hiding a lot

· Eating or drinking less

· Runny droppings for more than a day or two

· Weight loss

· Irregular skin: spots, burns or mites

· Cloudy eyes

· Discharge from the eyes, nose or mouth

Not Just Any Vet Will Do

At the first sign of issues or illness, see your veterinarian. Reptiles and amphibians can use a special kind of doctor, called a herp veterinarian. If you are looking for a herp-knowledgeable veterinarian in your area, a good place to start is by checking the list of members on the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarian (ARAV) website.

Common Health Issues of Chinese Water Dragons

Like any pet, Chinese water dragons have certain problems they are prone to. For a full list of symptoms and treatments, consult with your veterinarian, or check online resources, such as this one


· Intestinal parasites and stomatitis

· Skin infections and fungus

· Respiratory Issues

· Calcium/phosphorus imbalance

· Nose Rub

Do Dragons Need Exercise?

No leash walking or fenced yard needed for this pet! If its habitat is big enough and has lots of things to run on, climb up and hide under, a healthy Chinese water dragon can get plenty of exercise on its own.

Training a Chinese Water Dragon

While dragons aren’t necessarily antisocial, they do need a little time and training to warm up to the people in their lives. You don’t need expensive training classes or lots of training toys and props. You just need a little patience and time. Water dragons can actually be quite friendly, loveable – and well worth the effort.

Water dragons are smart and curious. They may be a little nervous at first, but if you move slowly, gently and show them they can trust you, they’ll eventually warm up. Pick up a dragon slowly – no quick or loud movements. A water dragon might spend a lot of time hiding when you first get her home, but it’s natural until she gets used to you.

Once dragons are used to you, they’ll hide less and start staying out in the open areas of their habitat. They will even start heading your way – especially if you have food.

Before you know it, you’ll be holding and petting your new pet regularly.

Not only will your water dragon eventually enjoy being handled, but some experts, such as note that dragons actually require regular handling to prevent them from becoming aggressive. So, it’s good to get started right away!

Chinese water dragon 3
By Kerstin Franke (Tinie) – from the german Wikipedia [1], CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Getting Your Dragon a Roommate

Water dragons can be very territorial if they’re asked to room with another dragon – most notably if that dragon is of the same sex. Males, especially, can get aggressive when paired together in one enclosure.

If You Want More Than One Water Dragon

· Start with just one and get it comfortable

· Have a male-female pair, when you do introduce another

· Introduce the animals to each other slowly

· Check the new animal with your veterinarian

· Review resources and consult an expert or vet first.

Numerous online resources are available for detailed information on helping two or more dragons live in harmony, such as or

Do Chinese Water Dragons Do Well with Other Kinds of Pets

If you already have a pet or are considering a future pet, it’s important to know whether all of your animals will get along. And it’s hard to say, for sure.

Water dragons can be pretty skittish with new creatures around, so they are likely to be intimidated by the introduction of a new animal. Most importantly, you must ensure that another animal can’t get into the dragon’s enclosure. If that second animal can climb, be sure your water dragon’s habitat is always secure.

If you’re thinking of keeping another reptile in the same enclosure, you may think twice.

The animals may act out aggressively toward one another – or they may simply be very stressed out, which can affect their health.

No matter what, make sure you check with your vet first and make sure the new animal is healthy and isn’t a natural intimidator or predator of your water dragon. For instance, bearded dragons and geckos are incompatible with Chinese water dragons.

Pets Not to Have with a Chinese Water Dragons

Some pets are just not compatible with other pets, particularly if one animal is known to eat another pet. Obviously, you would not want to house predator and prey together, no matter how welcoming the habitat!

Natural Predators of Water Dragons

· Bearded dragons

· Geckos

· Some snakes

· Certain birds

· Many mammals

Dragons as predators

· Insects

· Frogs

· Fish

· Rodents

What if the Chinese Water Dragons Doesn’t Work Out?

If, despite all of your best efforts, your Chinese Water Dragon isn’t working out in your home, do not release it into the wild.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), “Between 1999 and 2016, some 1,722 species of reptiles and amphibians were sold within the United States as pets…Of these…at least 126 species were released at one point or another into the wild.”

Clearly, most domesticated exotic animals will not easily survive in the environment they are released into. Occasionally, those that thrive may multiply, overpopulate and become an invasive, nonnative species.

Releasing an exotic creature into a park, lake or forest preserve is not the right choice for the animal or the environment. Organizations, such as the (NRDC) in New York and the Exotic Pet Amnesty Program in Florida, offer other options. Some agencies even have Exotic Pet Amnesty days, where pet owners can surrender their exotic animals without any charge or penalty.

To find a way to surrender your pet near you, check with your local wildlife preserve, forestry or zoo to learn your options.