The Chinese Water Dragon is an amazing species. It is beautifully colored, is docile when tamed, and it can attain an impressive size.
But, is it a great addition for the reptile hobbyist?
The answer to that question is that it depends…
You see, whether or not this lizard makes a good pet ultimately depends on your level of commitment AND your ability to meet its needs.
Fortunately, this care sheet will provide you with the needed information so that you can decide for yourself whether this reptile will make a great pet for you!
So, without further ado, just keep reading to discover everything you need to know about the Chinese Water Dragon including proper care.
Table of Contents
What is a Chinese Water Dragon?
The Chinese Water Dragon (Physignathus cocincinus) is also known as the Asian Water Dragon, the Green Water Dragon, or the Thai Water Dragon.
A member of the Agmidfamily, the Chinese Water Dragon has no subspecies. In fact, according to Pet MD (opens in new tab), its closest relative genetically is the Australian Water Dragon (Physignathus lesueurii).
Chinese Water Dragons come from the tropical forest of Asia. Their home is one of frequent rainfall and permanent standing water.
More specifically, the Chinese Water Dragon’s range includes China, Southeast Asia, Cambodia, Vietnam, and some Indonesia islands.
As a diurnal species, Chinese Water Dragons can be frequently found in trees.
They are strikingly colored with their bright green bodies, a dark streak behind their eyes, and a throat that can range from blue, orange, red, or yellow.
Males have larger heads, jowls, and a head crest with prominent spikes. Their throat can be white, blue, or orange in color. The throat color is determined by the genetics of the individual.
Males also have larger femoral pores than females, which scientists have found release pheromones and play a direct role in mating.
Meanwhile, females have a less prominent head crest, a blue stripe down their back, and a pink colored throat. Additionally, the black streak behind the eye may be lighter than that of the males.
Chinese Water Dragons attain an average length of 3 feet (1 meter), however, approximately 70% of their body length is composed of the tail.
Overall, females tend to be smaller than males.
Their highly developed hind legs make them effective climbers, jumpers, and swimmers. Additionally, their muscular legs allow for bipedal movement. In other words, they can run on their hind legs.
Both their fore and hind legs are armed with sharp claws, something to consider when handling them.
In the wild, Chinese Water Dragons live in small groups that consist of one male and multiple females.
Both genders are territorial, an important note to consider when keeping them in captivity.
Female Chinese Water Dragons can do something that only 1% of vertebrates can do. They can reproduce WITHOUT a male dragon being involved. This is one liberated lizard!
Lifespan of the Chinese Water Dragon
Chinese Water Dagons can live up to 15 years though some have been known to live up to 20 years in captivity.
However, this kind of longevity is reserved for those specimens that receive optimal care. Unfortunately, most specimens are short-lived due to improper care.
These issues are addressed in this care sheet.
Chinese Water Dragon Care Sheet
The Chinese Water Dragon is a species that has very specific needs if it is to thrive in captivity.
It is for this reason that they are NOT recommended for the beginner hobbyist. This care sheet addresses important husbandry requirements for this remarkable reptile.
Chinese Water Dragons are omnivores, feeding on both animals and vegetation.
They are an active species and burn up a lot of energy, which is why they can be voracious eaters. In the wild, Chinese Water Dragons eat insects, vegetations, other reptiles, and even small mammals.
In captivity, Chinese Water Dragons have been known to eat:
- Small feeder fish
- Mice (juvenile and pinkies)
- Leafy greens like Collard greens
- Sweet potato
- Green beans
The diet for Chinese water dragon changes with age. Hatchings do well on traditional feeder insects.
When they become juveniles (three to five months old), young dragons experience a growth spurt. At this age, you can start introducing plant matter like mustard and collard greens.
Both of these greens are high in calcium, which is critical for Chinese Water Dragons.
Calcium deficiencies in captive Chinese Water Dragons are very common. They are among the major causes of ill health in this species.
Though omnivorous, it is not unusual for captive dragons to not eat their vegetables (If you are a parent, you can relate to this).
Also, always make sure to thoroughly rinse vegetables before feeding them to your dragon so that they do not ingest any pesticides that may be on them.
🤓 Expert Tip: Chinese Water Dragon not eating their vegetables? Fear not! Try smearing banana on their greens before offering them.
It is important to feed a variety of foods to your dragon. Not only does offering a variety of foods provide a more balanced diet, but it also prevents boredom in these lizards.
Chinese Water Dragons have been known to refuse to eat when fed the same thing consistently.
It is recommended that insects make up 85-90 percent of your dragon’s diet, with plant matter comprising the remaining 10-15 percent.
Professional keepers recommend the following breakdown for meals:
- 50% insects
- 20% worms (mealworms, silkworms, earthworms, etc.)
- 15% vegetables
As stated before, Chinese Water Dragons are voracious eaters, so it is important to give the RIGHT quantity of food to your dragon.
Hatchlings need to be fed more often than older ones. It is recommended that you feed them every day. Adults need only to be fed every two or three days. Another alternative is to feed the adults small meals every day.
Even if you only have one dragon, your pet could benefit from what professional breeders do, develop a feeding schedule.
Each Chinese Water Dragon will be different in terms of how much it eats and what it eats. Keep records on when and what it eats. Doing this will give you an idea of how much your animal(s) is eating.
As mentioned before, maintaining your dragon’s calcium levels is critical to their health. For this reason, they need added calcium to their diet as a supplement.
Dust your pet’s food with calcium powder two to three times a week.
The kind of enclosure needed for your Chinese Water Dragons will make it the MOST expensive aspect of their care…
Besides temperature and humidity levels, which will be discussed in the next sections, you will most likely have to build your own enclosure.
The reason for this is that Chinese Water Dragons do NOT adapt well to transparent barriers.
They are notorious for running into glass barriers or rubbing their nose against aquariums’ walls until it is raw and bleeding. However, if you opt for screen barriers, you will lose the high humidity level that this species requires.
To further complicate things, Chinese Water Dragons need ample room to move around. The enclosure needs to be large and constructed out of wood or plastic.
Young dragons (between 1-2 feet) should have an enclosure that is at a minimum of 3 feet long, 3 feet high, and 2 feet wide.
The enclosure for adults should be at least 75 gallons, or 4 feet long by 18 inches wide and 21 inches high.
However, an enclosure that measures 4 feet wide by 4-6 feet long and 6 feet high is IDEAL for adult dragons as it allows them to climb.
When it comes to building materials, you’ll need to provide visible barriers if using glass to prevent your dragon from running into it.
🤓 Expert Tip: Plan on building your Chinese Water Dragon’s enclosure using glass? Try taping sheets of paper so that they cannot see through the glass. You can also add wooden framing around the glass edges to discourage them from trying to burrow through it.
As stated earlier, Chinese Water Dragons are territorial. Until they are four months old, there should be no problem keeping them together.
At around four months, their territorial instinct kicks in. For this reason, you would be better off keeping them alone or keep a male and a few females together.
If you keep more than one lizard together, you will need two to make the enclosure larger. An enclosure housing three adult dragons should be at least 4 feet wide, 6 feet long, and 6 feet tall.
Three Chinese Water Dragons is ideal, because it ensure the male can split his time between 2 females instead of constantly aggravating just one. Also, be sure all dragons are similar in size and old enough to breed.
Lastly, regardless of whether you choose to provide 1 or 2 females, be sure to monitor interactions at least initially. Not all Chinese Water Dragons will get along and you may need to separate the male and female(s) if fighting ensues.
Since Chinese Water Dragons are arboreal, the enclosure will need to be furnished with branches for your dragon to climb on. Adding plants, be they artificial or living, is recommended as well.
Chinese Water Dragons are found in tropical jungles, so the more you simulate their natural surroundings, the better it will be for your lizard.
As Chinese Water Dragons live close to permanent water bodies, a large dish for bathing and drinking is essential. The water needs to be changed daily as this species will defecate in their water bowls.
Lighting and Temperature Requirements
Chinese Water Dragons require UVB lighting and a temperature gradient. The term “temperature gradient” refers to a range of temperatures in the enclosure.
Your dragon should be able to move around the cage and find the spot that has the temperature that it needs.
Basking Spot Temperature for Juveniles & Adults: 120 degrees Fahrenheit
Basking Spot Temperature for Babies: 95-100 degrees Fahrenheit
Cool Side Ambient Temperature: 77-82 degrees Fahrenheit
Nighttime Temperature: 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit
UVB lighting MUST be provided for your Chinese Water Dragon’s bodily functions to operate correctly.
When purchasing UVB lightening, it is recommended that you go to a pet shop that is familiar with reptile care. There are a number of lighting options, so you want to make sure that you get what your Chinese Water Dragon needs.
When it comes to UV lighting, it is important to replace them every 9-12 months, even if the bulb is still working. The reason for this is that the bulbs’ UV potency will diminish with time.
In the wild, Chinese Water Dragons live in the tropical forest, where it rains almost daily. In the morning, the humidity level can reach 80 percent and fall to 60 percent in the evening.
To simulate these conditions, it is strongly recommended that you purchase a misting system. You can program it to spray frequently in the morning hours.
Along with the water dish, the misting system should be enough to keep your dragon’s enclosure within the recommended range of 75-80% humidity during the morning hours and 50-60% in the evening.
Hand misting is NOT a substitute for misting systems.
The substrate you use in your dragon’s enclosure needs to be able to absorb moisture. It is recommended that you use a product like Zillo Jungle Mix, mulch, or wood shavings.
There is a question as to whether it is appropriate to use coconut fiber as a substrate. Some keepers believe it makes an excellent substrate, while others claim it can cause irritation to your dragon’s eyes.
Besides creating a natural look in the enclosure, the substrate will also help maintain the humidity level. The substrate should be damp but never soggy.
It is important to spot clean the enclosure DAILY and change it at least once a month to prevent bacteria or fungus growth.
Chinese Water Dragon Health Concerns
When acquiring reptiles, it is always recommended that you obtain them from a reputable breeder rather than through a pet shop.
Wild-caught reptiles commonly have parasites or other health issues and The vast majority of reptiles offered by pet shops are wild-caught.
Unfortunately, there is not much captive breeding going on with Chinese Water Dragons. For this reason, you should assume that the dragon that you acquire has health issues.
As such, when you get your Chinese Water Dragon(s), the FIRST thing you want to do is have it checked out by a veterinarian who has experience treating reptiles.
Also, because knowledge is power, brush up on your understand of the more common health issues found in Chinese Water Dragons, like the following…
Mouth rot is often caused by dragons rubbing their snouts against the exhibit walls, especially if the wall is made of glass. Mouth rot can appear as swelling or ulcers in areas around the mouth.
Metabolic Bone Disorder
When Chinese Water Dragons are kept without adequate UVB light exposure or calcium supplements, they develop metabolic bone disorder.
This disease is a very common aliment in captive dragons. This disease is just one reason why your pet should be examined by a veterinarian.
- Swelling in the leg and back
- Muscle spasms
You should assume that your newly acquired dragon has parasites. When you bring it to the vet for examination, they will test for parasites by examining the animal’s stools.
Signs of possible parasitic infection include the failure to gain weight and lethargy.
Skin infections will be either bacterial or fungal in nature and are normally caused by not properly maintaining the enclosure. Skin infections appear as patches on the skin that are raised or filled with fluid.
Handling Chinese Water Dragons
One of the characteristics of Chinese Water Dragons that make them SO appealing as pets are that they can become extremely tame. They actually seem to enjoy being handled!
However, to get to this level of handleability requires building trust with your lizard.
Do not attempt to handle your dragon for at least a month upon its acquisition. By doing this, you will allow your Chinese Water Dragon to get used to its new environment and you.
After a month, offer it some food by placing it in the palm of your hand. When the lizard is about to go for the food, slowly and gently extend your hand beneath the lizard and slowly lift it up. Do not try to grasp the lizard as that will cause a fear response. Practice this daily until your dragon becomes used to being lifted up.
Where to Buy Chinese Water Dragons
As indicated before, it is ALWAYS preferable to get reptiles from a reputable breeder instead of a pet store.
Though not an endangered species, Chinese Water Dragons are classified as vulnerable due to the pet trade, destruction of habitat, and being hunted for food by local people.
By dealing with breeders, you will be doing your part to avoid further stress on the wild population.
You will also be getting a healthier animal. However, as stated before, this species is not commonly bred due to the wide availability through the pet trade. You can either be patient as you search for a breeder or take your chances with a pet store.
Are Chinese Water Dragons A Good Pet?
Having read through this care sheet, it is our hope that by now you know whether the Chinese Water Dragon is a good pet for you.
Though the lizard itself is not expensive, its enclosure and care will not be cheap. There is also the ongoing costs of replacing UVB bulbs, providing a varied diet, and vet bills.
But, suppose you have the financial resources and the time to commit to its husbandry needs? In that case, the Chinese Water Dragon can be a great pet!