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Chinese Water Dragons

Common Diseases or Problems

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Is my Water Dragon sick?

Internal Parasites
Parasites are a very common problem among the wild caught water dragon population.  In the wild, it is normal for them to have some types of parasites, but they usually live in harmony with the dragon and they don't necessarily effect the dragon in any way.  But when they are caught and brought over to other regions to sell as pets, the dragons can become stressed and those parasites will become opportunistic.  They will then begin to multiple to a number that the dragon can not handle. 
 
There are many different kinds of parasites that can effect your dragon.  The only way to tell which one your dragon has, is to take a fresh fecal to the vet.  A vet can prescribe the right medication for whichever parasite your dragon has. 
 
Signs and symptoms of parasites include:
     -Lethargy
     -Loose, incredibly smelly stools
     -dull look to their eyes
     -decreased appetite or no appetite
     -eating but not growing or gaining any weight
     - not going to the bathroom in their water like normal.  It will 
       usually be loose, smelly and all over the place. 
     -you may actually see worms in their poo.
My dragon Rogue, had many of these signs, and we came very close to losing her even with treatment.  She did not eat for well over a month after she had medication.  She stopped eating before she was treated also.  Parasites can and will kill your dragon if not treated.  Any stressful situation for your dragon will give parasites the upper hand and they will take over.  I recommend every person to take a fecal to your vet to check for parasites.  Wild caught and Captive bred, as both can have parasites, although wild caught are more likely.  If you don't have a reptile vet handy, you can always to a fecal to a dog/cat vet as they still would know what most parasites look like.  You can then suggest the vet to call a reptile specialist for the dosages of medications.  The vet should have deworming/parasite medications as dragons do use some of the same meds, although scaled down a lot because they are so much smaller.  You will just need to get the weight of your dragon to get the correct dosage.  You can do that by weighing your dragon on a food scale or baby scale.  This is only a last resort.  Your best bet is to take your dragon to a qualified reptile vet. 
 
After you treat for parasites, your dragon's enclosure needs to be cleaned thoroughly as you don't want your dragon to become re-infected. 
 
Metabolic Bone Disease
Metabolic Bone Disease is also another common problem among the reptile population.  People, unfortunately, aren't often times informed enough about what reptiles in captivity need.  The is a disease which will cripple your dragon and will also cause death if not caught early in the process. 
What causes MBD?  Well several things can come into play when talking about the causes of MBD.  Water dragons, along with many other reptiles, need calcium to keep their bones and body strong and healthy.  In captivity, they need to have calcium supplemented in their diets.  The best stuff to use, in my opinion, is just plain old calcium carbonate.  No D3, or added stuff to it.  I also use a liquid calcium which is calcium glubanate.  You will need to dust your food items with calcium about every other feeding.  For the gravid female, you will need to increase her calcium supplement slightly to help her shell her eggs.  That is where the liquid calcium comes in.  I give my females 2-3 drops every week.  You can give too much calcium so please don't over do it.  This can also harm your dragon.  Next, a water dragon needs UVB to help metabolize the calcium.  If you don't have UVB, you can give as much calcium as you want, but it will worthless, because calcium and UVB light go together.  They won't work without each other.  So get a UVB light, or let it get some real sun.  Just make sure they are getting UVB daily. 
Signs and symptoms your dragon may have MBD include:
     -Tremors when walking
     -Twitching of limbs
     -hard bumps on the legs, arms, and along back.
     -easy fracture of bones
     -lethargy
If you think your dragon has this, do something about it.  Take it to a vet ASAP.
 
Respiratory Infection
Respiratory infections are caused by lack of proper heat and humidity.  Your temps need to be 84-88F with a basking spot of 90F and shouldn't go any cooler than 70F at night. 
Signs and symptoms of a R.I. include:
     -Mouth gaping-your dragon will open its mouth constantly
     -Wheezing, clicking noise
     -Breathing heavily-especially in conjunction with mouth
      gaping.
     -Lethargy
     -Decreased appetite
If you think your water dragon has the beginning stages of this, (minimal mouth gaping) try raising his temps to 88F around the clock. (you can keep a cooler side at 82-84F) If you don't see any improvement, a vet appointment is necessary.  Do not let it go too long.  Your dragon will probably need to be put on antibiotics to recover.  This also can be deadly if not treated. 
 
Stomatitis or Mouthrot
This is also another serious problem of the captive water dragon.  It is a secondary infection.  It is obviously found inside the mouth effecting the gums and palate.  If not treated it can go into your dragons blood stream, make your dragon septic, and kill it.   It looks like cheese curds and at times you will see pus.  
To treat it, you will need to clean the affected area daily.  You can use watered down Nolvasan or Betadine for this and you will need to pick at the spot with a swab to try to remove the disease.  The best bet, is to get your dragon to a vet to have it checked out.  Your dragon will probably need antibiotics to help treat the mouth rot overall.  Your vet can also show you how to clean your dragons mouth out properly.  If you are unsure, do not do it.  Talk to a reptile specialist first. 
 
Mites
Mites are a common annoyance to many reptiles.  If your dragon has mites, you most likely will see them moving around on your dragon.  They tend to congregate around the dragons eyes and ears.  They can be black or red.  You can kill them by soaking your dragon in watered down betadine.  There are also some products out there on the market that are for killing mites.  You will also need to clean your whole enclosure to ensure your dragon won't be re-infected.  You will need to clean every piece of furniture and every corner of your enclosure.   You can use bleach water for cleaning.  You can also bake branches and such in the oven.  Just make sure you clean or replace everything.
 
Skin infections
Water dragons can also get skin infections that are bacterial or fungal in nature.  These infections can be caused by improper husbandry or keeping your vivarium to 'wet.'  They need high humidity but you want your enclosure to dry out between mistings.  Wet, moist areas without ventilation is a great place for bacteria and fungus to grow.  These areas may look like blackish raised, fluid filled areas.  You may need to visit a vet, to tell which kind it might be so you can use the right medication on the spots.  You can also use Nolvasan or watered down betadine for your dragons to soak in.  You can also use bacterial creams like bacitracin or fungal creams that are used on humans to treat these areas.  If this doesn't work, your vet will need to prescribe, prescription strengh medication.  You want to treat this, because if you leave it untreated, it is possible for this infection to creep into your dragon's blood stream, which would be deadly. 
 
Egg Binding or Dystocia
Egg binding happens when a female dragon is unable to lay her eggs.  All females will lay eggs, even if they haven't been with a male dragon.  Egg binding can happen for many reasons.  Improper husbandry (i.e.temps, calcium supplement/UVB lighting) and unsuitable places for her to lay her eggs are the main reasons.  Other times, it may not have anything to do with her care, but sometimes it just happens, due to things such as she is unable to pass the eggs through the cloaca.
Signs of an egg-bound dragon would be:
     -Frenzied digging in many spots
     -lethargy and very weak
This is life threatening, and if you think your dragon is egg-bound, you need to get to a vet ASAP.  Even then, it is possible that your dragon will not make it.  Please make sure you have a sufficient lay box set up for any female dragon that is 18 inches or longer.  It is better to be early in setting it up, than to be too late and lose your dragon. 
 
Snout Damage
Snout damage is common in captive reptiles.   It is usually caused by a dragon banging their snout against their enclosure.  It will become sore, bloody, and cause scale damage if nothing is done about it.  Worse cases, the dragon has a very malformed snout and it can become infected.  They do not understand the concept of glass and tend to run into it often or they see their reflection and try to attack it.  Many times a bigger enclosure will stop this but this might not always help.  You can always cover the bottom of your enclosure with black electrical tape or construction paper.  This usually helps. 
To keep the dragons nose from becoming infected.  You can use good old neosporin to put on the snout.  You can also use once again Betadine or Nolvasan solution.  Luckily my dragons have not done this.  Some dragons will rub and rub and rub trying to get out of their enclosure.   
 
Toe and Spike damage
Things like this, usually happen from improper shedding.  Like mentioned before, they use their water to help them shed.  While they are growing they shed constantly.  As they age, the stop shedding as much because they are not growing as fast.  As they start a shed, they will begin to look very dull and they start to turn gray.  You may notice your dragon spending more time in the water.  They do this to loosen the skin so it will begin to peel off.  Do not peel the skin off for them.  This can cause damage to the scales underneath.  You may even see them scratching at their face with their back legs while they are in their water.  It is quite funny to watch, but that is how they get the skin off of their face.  Sometimes when they do not shed properly they will lose spikes and toes.  This happens when the shed does not come off and actually strangles the spike or toe so that blood flow is decreased to that area.  Once blood flow to that spot has stopped, then the toe or spike will die and then fall off. Most of the time this will not hurt your dragon, but you want your dragon to have all its toes.  They need them to climb.  So if you notice your dragon having problems shedding, you can do several things.
     -Soak the dragon in your bathtub for 20-30mins daily
     -Use the product Shed-Ease
     -Increase your humidity
     -Use small amount of baby oil and gently rub the skin
      between your fingers to help soften and loosen the skin. 
The water dragons tail can also sometimes be effected by this.  They may also loose parts of their tail due to improper shedding. 
Another cause for lose of a toe, or tail is getting caught in something.  You want to be careful with the things you put in your enclosure, as you want to make a safe area for your dragon  Unfortunatly, sometimes some things are beyond your control.  If you come home and notice your little one is missing part of a tail or toe, try to find where he might have lost it, so you can fix the problem.  Now the toe will never grow back, but the tail might grow back slightly. It will never look normal and or regain the length it had once before.  If you notice an open area on the dragon after this happens, you will probably want to keep it clean as possible.  That means frequent water changes (to keep the dirty poo water away from the open area.)  You may also want to put neosporin on it to help it heal. 
 
 
 
Well that is all I have to offer on the common diseases.  I hope this is helpful.  If you have any doubt or concerns about your Water dragon, please get it to a vet ASAP.  One thing I have learned in my job being as a nurse, is that your gut instinct is usually correct. Listen to it.  If you think your dragon is sick, take it to get treatment.  Water dragons, like most reptiles, will hide illness and disease until it is sometimes to late.  Don't wait until it is too late.

Please refer to the contact page if you have any comments or questions.