Size of Food
Generally, food should be approximately 1/3 the width of the head and not longer than the length of the head.
Quality of Food
Feed only well nourished insects fed a highly nutritious diet including:
Fresh fruits and vegetables
Dust with D3 vitamin supplements
Do not collect your own insects (you will be taking your chances with pesticides and this will be passed on to your Water Dragon)
Hatchlings & Juveniles
Hatchlings & Juveniles should be fed everyday. You can offer hatchlings and juveniles 2 to 3 week old crickets supplemented with vitamins every other feeding. Crickets should be gut loaded with a high quality diet.We recommend Harrisons Handfeeding Formula for birds. Finely chopped grated fruits and vegetables should also be offered. When juveniles are larger, you can offer larger crickets, some waxworms and small mealworms. Eventually day old pinkies can be offered. Generally, 3 to 4 items should be offered per feeding.
Adults should be fed about every 2 to 3 days. Small mice, adult crickets, mealworms, and earthworms can be offered to adult Water Dragons. Waxworms can also be offered, however, they are extremely high in fat and low in calcium. Therefore, only offer waxworms on rare occasions. Please see the list below for other food items to offer your Water Dragon.
mealworms (normal , jumbo and super size mealworms)
hissing cockroaches (best right after they have molted)
night crawlers (an earthworm)
small feeder fish (i.e. goldfish)
shredded fruits and vegetables (fruits and vegetables should only make-up approximately 10 to 15% of the diet if your Water Dragon will accept any)
In addition to the above listed food items, adult Water Dragons may be offered:
king mealworms (Zophobas)
pinkies (newborn hairless mice)
fuzzy mice (mice just starting to get their hair)
adult mice and newborn rat pups can even be offered to large adult Water Dragons
Nutrients of Foods Commonly Fed to Reptiles
Insects are generally high in phosphorus and low in calcium. In addition, many insects have a hard exoskeleton that could lead to bowel impactions if fed in large quantities. Earthworms have a soft exoskeleton and are fairly high in calcium. Crickets are considered a very nutritious food item to offer and are high in calcium; however, they do have a hard exoskeleton and should not be provided as the sole diet. Mealworms are said to be deficient in certain minerals and also have a hard exoskeleton.
Caution: Deadly Fireflies
The May, 1999 article in Reptiles Magazine titled "Deady Fireflies" states that scientists from Cornell University have recently submitted a paper for publication regarding the effects of lizards eating fireflies. Three cases were documented where reptiles have ingested fireflies resulting in fatality. The species of lizards named in the documentation included the Inland Bearded Dragon (Pogona vitticeps) and a Leopard or Panther Chameleon (Chamaeleo pardalis).
Whole Prey Food Items
Mice are high in calcium and protein and should be offered to adult Water Dragons. Juveniles can also be offered day old pinkies; however, they have a lower calcium content and should be supplemented with calcium.
Dangers of Feeding Whole Prey Food Items
Feeding whole prey food items could result in a hazardous injury to your Water Dragon. Live prey food items will defend themselves, and unlike the natural conditions in which Water Dragons are exposed to in the wild, the vivarium offers no escape route for the prey food items or your Water Dragon. If your Water Dragon is not hungry the live food item may bite your Water Dragon and cause injury or stress.
There are 2 potential injuries that could arise from feeding live prey food items to your Water Dragon:
Rodents carry infectious bacteria in their teeth. Certain types of this bacteria can produce a toxin that has been proven to be lethal to snakes. Rodents exhibit a natural behavior of gnawing on their food items while eating. This could cause damage to the spinal cord and possibly result in fatal spinal meningitis.
Vitamin & Calcium Supplementation
Food items should be dusted with a vitamin supplement (shake n' bake method) 2 to 3 times per week for hatchlings and juveniles. Adults should be given a vitamin supplement once per week if fed a high protein diet (i.e. whole prey items).
A calcium supplement should also be provided every other feeding. The calcium supplements you choose to give your Water Dragon should contain no phosphorus. Many brands of commercial calcium supplements are available for your Water Dragon. One such example is Rep-cal (just make sure that you purchase the one containing no phosphorus). You can also use human calcium tablets containing no phosphorus by grinding them in a coffee grinder.
Fruits and Vegetables
Most Water Dragons will not accept any fruits and vegetables at all. By gut loading your insects with a well-balanced fruit and vegetable diet, you will be providing your Water Dragon with a better diet.
If your Water Dragon will accept some fruits and vegetables as part of their diet, this should only consist of no more than 10 to 15% of the diet. Also keep in mind that fruit is relatively high in phosphorus and low in other nutrients that are beneficial to your Water Dragon. Moreover, do not feed plant materials with oxalate acids (a calcium binder such as spinach). Oxalic acid will bind with calcium to form oxalate acid. This is of absolutely no benefit to your Water Dragon and could lead to kidney damage. Please see the link regarding Metabolic Bone Disease for more information on why not to feed plant materials containing oxalic acid to your Water Dragon.
General Rules about Feeding
As a general rule, feed your Water Dragon as often as it will eat.
Disregard the feeding schedule guidelines suggested for juveniles and adults if your Water Dragon is underweight, ill, or recovering from an illness. In this case, offer your Water Dragon food items on a daily basis 2 to 3 times per day
It is also a good idea to keep a record of what you have been feeding your Water Dragon. This will help you determine if a problem is developing. In addition, it is a good idea to purchase a kitchen scale to weigh your Water Dragon with periodically.
DISEASES & HEALTH
Rules of Care: Preventative Measures
There are two categories of diseases your Water Dragon could become a victim of. These are nutrition related and trauma related maladies. Make sure that you have a veterinarian check early to look for signs of parasites and/or bacteria for early prevention.
Please do not take on the attitude that it is suffice to allow nature to take its place if your Water Dragon becomes ill. When we take these beautiful species from their native environment we become responsible for their health and well being.
Find a qualified veterinarian as soon as you purchase your Water Dragon. By the time signs of an illness can be observed, it is often too late to help. Your Water Dragon may be seriously ill and there may be irrevocable damage done.
Quarantine all new Water Dragons
Hygiene is imperative at all times
Change the water daily
Keep stress to a minimum
Record your entire observations daily including behavior, eating, digestion, temperature and humidity levels. These can lead to specific conclusions to detect signs of an illness early.
Research your Water Dragon's specific needs
Exchange information through newsgroups and mailing lists
Have an initial veterinarian examination as soon as you purchase your Water Dragon
Have a stool sample performed annually
Shedding problems may occur if an enclosure is too dry or overcrowded. In addition, a change in the enclosure or aggressive Water Dragons in the same enclosure may induce stress causing shedding problems. Moreover, shedding problems could be an early sign of metabolic problems. If the problem persists, take your Water Dragon to a veterinarian.
Endo (Internal) Parasites
When Water Dragons are exposed to capture, shipping and handling, endo-parasites often proliferate. Look at the overall appearance and weight of your Water Dragon. Symptoms may include a loss of appetite, failure to gain weight, loss of weight, odorous stools, diarrhea or discoloured stools. A failure to gain weight or a loss in weight despite eating well is a good sign that your Water Dragon may be suffering from parasites.
Almost all imported Water Dragons bear parasites. Basilisks, Water Dragons and Sail-tailed lizards, specifically, usually bear heavy loads of parasites. They must be eradicated or they may become lethal. Dirty water is an ideal opportunity for parasites. Be sure to change the water daily.
Have a fecal exam performed as soon as you purchase your Water Dragon or as soon as signs of parasites are observed. Quarantine the infected Water Dragon from other lizards until the examination is complete and all medications have been administered.
Ecto-parasites (Ticks & Mites)
Ticks are often found on wild caught Water Dragons. They can be easily removed. Dab the infected area with rubbing alcohol. Wait a few minutes and pull the tick gently but firmly out with forceps or tweezers. Daub the puncture made from the mouth parts with rubbing alcohol or betadine solution.
Mites are tiny, pepper grain-sized black specks that may be found moving avidly on your Water Dragon and the vivarium. They can be very difficult to eradicate. Ticks favour armpits, eyelids and the femoral areas. Prevention includes quarantining new Water Dragons before introducing them to your collection.
Treatments: Injections by ivermection is now being used to combat mites on snakes; however, the toxicity of ivermection is unknown of lizards. In addition, trichlorfon spray may be effective; however, it has been proven to be lethally toxic to many taxa of geckos.
Metabolic Bone Disease or Calcium Deficiency
Metabolic Bone Disease ("MBD") is the most common illness you are apt to encounter with captive kept Water Dragons. MBD is known by several other names including decalcification, demineralization and fibrous osteodystrophy. Veterinarians can confirm a diagnosis by checking the blood-calcium levels in your Water Dragon. X-rays may also be helpful.
Early symptoms include pliability of the lower jawbones (making eating difficult for your Water Dragon) and softening of the bones. Intermediate symptoms include kinking of the tail, swelling of the limbs, lack of rigidity in the leg bones, fibrous osteodystrophy (swollen hind limbs causing an inability to move), jerky gait when walking, tremors and twitches in the limbs and digits when at rest and shakiness when being held. Severely advanced symptoms include anorexia, fractured bones and extremely lethargic behavior.
Causes include an insufficient amount of calcium or an inadequate ratio of phosphorus to calcium in the diet, lack of D3 which allows Water Dragons to absorb calcium and/or an improper metabolization of calcium. Please see the nutrition link for more information.
How to Avoid MBD
Provide unfiltered natural sunlight or full-spectrum lighting at all times
Provide calcium in the diet
The ratio of calcium to phosphorus in the diet should be at least 2:1, even 3:1
Do not feed plant materials which contain oxalic acid (a calcium binder such as spinach, oxalis and wood sorrel)
Reasons for the Above:
UV-B helps to synthesize vitamin D3 in your Water Dragon's skin. Without this, vitamin D3 cannot be metabolized. Most lights in pet stores do not produce adequate amounts of UVB including ones labeled as full-spectrum. Therefore, it is imperative that you provide your Water Dragon with unfiltered natural sunlight or full-spectrum lighting at all times, a well balanced diet that includes whole prey food items, and proper calcium and vitamin supplimentation. High levels of phosphorus will offset the benefits of calcium. Oxalic acid will bind with calcium to form calcium oxalate, which is of absolutely no benefit to your Water Dragon and could lead to kidney damage.
Once MBD is in progressed stages, veterinary attention is absolutely mandatory and will probably not even be effective. Preventative measures are of paramount importance. Treatment may include injectable calcium and diet correction.
Snout damage is extremely common in captive kept Water Dragons. It is caused by nose rubbing against the walls or glass in the enclosure. Glass, screens, even solid walls are not understood by most Water Dragons. Abrasion occurs initially by shipping containers and is worsened by banging the nose into the cage. It occurs because your Water Dragon is panicked, attempting escape or sees its reflection. I do not recommend using glass aquariums for this reason. A wooden enclosure with a glass front is your best choice. In addition, the glass front should start at least 6" above the ground floor. This way the Water Dragon cannot see out from the bottom of the vivarium, minimizing reflections as much as possible. If glass aquariums are utilized, barriers must be used to help prevent snout damage from occurring. Neosporin or another antibacterial cream will help soothe and heal infected areas. Snout damage may progress to mouth rot if attention is not given to this issue right away. With captive bred Water Dragons, snout damage is less likely to occur.
Infectious Stomatitis (Mouth Rot)
Symptoms of mouth rot include white cheesy (caseous) material found on the gums and teeth. Physical barriers in the vivarium are a good preventative measure. Treatment includes using Neosporin or Polysporin on nose injuries. However, if mouth rot has begun, remove caseous materials with a betadine solution dipped with a cotton swab. Reswab the infected area with betadine and apply an antibiotic cream.
Articular & Peri Gout or Pseudogout
Symptoms may include hard swellings and difficulty moving of the limbs, joints, and/or digits, eventually leading to an entire extremity, inflammation and hardening of the internal organs. Gout can include all 4 limbs and deformities may occur preventing normal movement. There are no treatments and the cause is has not yet been determined. It could be a result of excessive urea deposited in the joints causing an irritation and a buildup of scar tissue. An excess of protein together with an inability to metabolize it may also trigger this malady. In addition, an inadequate supply of drinking water could be a cause. Improper hydration is commonly related to this disorder. Zoos have conducted studies connecting this problem with the temperature not being high enough to allow for the metabolism of food in the diet. Gout is most common in herbivorous lizards fed large amounts of animal protein (i.e. iguanas). It has also been reported in Water Dragons, Basilisks and Sail-tailed lizards fed mainly on mice. A diverse diet is absolutely mandatory to avoid this terrible malady.
A diagnosis can be verified by determining the uric acid levels in the blood.
Broken bones and tail breaks (atomization) occur somewhat frequently with captive kept Water Dragons. Watch the enclosure closely to ensure that all decorations are secure. Crisscrossing branches can also be dangerous. If broken bones do occur, take your Water Dragon to a vet as soon as possible. Improper diet could lead to broken bones. Moreover, it could be a sign of MBD.
Lizards in general exhibit a primitive nervous system that can lead to serious harm before the lizard is even aware of any damage. Ensure that all heating equipment is functioning properly. In addition, avoid using heat tapes, heat pads, hot rocks and heating limbs. All of these could potentially burn your Water Dragon. Warmth is best provided from an above heat source. All basking areas should be shielded and ensure that they do not exceed temperatures of 90oF at the closest spot to the bulb.
Direct sunlight can cause overheating even in just a few minutes to an enclosed tank. Lizards will gape and try to escape. If cooling does not occur, your Water Dragon will become unresponsive and a considerable change in colour will be evident (usually a lighter shade). If your Water Dragon is alive when found, cool as soon as possible in a tub of water (72oF to 76oF or 22o to 24oC). Your Water Dragon may have neurological problems associated with brain damage as a result.
Caution: Make sure that you slowly bring the Water Dragon back to normal temperatures. If it is done too quickly your Water Dragon could suffer from traumatic shock.
Overcooling may cause the same reactions as overheating; however, instead of an initial period of extreme activity they immediately become lethargic and dark in colour. This can occur during power outages in northern climates or escape. Overcooling can be as fatal as overheating. Respiratory ailments can occur during prolonged periods of hypothermia. Warm your Water Dragon in an environment of 80oF to 88oF or immerse in a body of water (except for the head) at the same temperature.
Caution: Make sure that you slowly bring the Water Dragon back to normal temperatures. If it is done too quickly your Water Dragon could suffer from traumatic shock.
This is fairly rare in Water Dragons, however, it can still occur if the substrate is too moist, fouled or the water is fouled. Blisters and pustules can occur on the skin but only in the most serious situations. Moving your Water Dragon to a drier, cleaner enclosure can rectify this situation. Blemishes will usually disappear during your Water Dragon's next shed. In advanced cases, where blisters reach the body tissue, see a veterinarian as soon as possible.
Symptoms include a loss of weight, listnessess, loss of appetite and diarrhea. Please see a veterinarian as soon as possible and have a stool check performed for bacteria and/or parasites. If this is detected early, there is a good prognosis for recovery. Otherwise, it usually becomes fatal.
Gastrointestinal Impactions (blockages)
Insufficient gut moisture may cause food items to dry and lead to impactions. Preventative measures include keeping your Water Dragon well hydrated and well fed. Be careful of the substrate you choose. Your Water Dragon may ingest stones, dirt or gravel. Treatment is assessed on an individual basis and may require mechanical softening or surgery. Please see a veterinarian as soon as possible.
Symptoms include listlessness, reduced appetite and a swollen body appearance. As the disease progresses, your Water Dragon will exhibit gaping and forced exhalations. Treatment: see a veterinarian as soon as possible. Raise the temperature in the enclosure to 85oF to 88oF until all symptoms have vanished. Your veterinarian may also administer antibiotics.
Swollen or Infected Limbs
This is usually a result of injury to the limbs or digits as a result of getting caught in an improper tank setup. However, swollen and infected limbs could be a sign of MBD. Please take your Water Dragon to a vet as soon as possible.
Fungal or Bacterial Infections
Fungal or bacterial infections can be caused if a Water Dragon is kept in an enclosure that is not properly cleaned. A poorly cleaned enclosure, together with the high humidity levels and temperatures provide an optimum environment for fungi and bacteria to thrive. Proper ventilation, clean water and proper enclosure conditions are extremely important. Please see the enclosure page for more information.
If you believe your Water Dragon may be suffering from a fungal or bacterial infection, please take it to a veterinarian as soon as possible. Treatment will probably include an antibiotic cream for the infected areas. In addition, the Water Dragon can be bathed in chest deep water (80oF to 85oF) with some betadine added for half an hour per day until the infection starts to clear up.