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Reptiles/12 year old Water Dragon


42x36x16 glass enclosure, wide metal mesh top, 2 infrared heat lamps on dimmers (cage is near a window and I adjust the heat depending on the hour of the day because of the sun's heat)I try to keep her at around 80-85 degrees and 70-75 during the night.  She usually sleeps half her body in the water, the upper half resting on her rock. The heat lamp maintains the rock and water warm.
1 exo terra Repti Glo 5.0 compact uvb, she spends most of her day resting under this lamp.
Bio earth substrate, changed yearly, bark and branches for climbing.
1/3 of bottom occupied by a large 16 x 22 x 10 water tank (plastic) with rocks to climb on and a filter (water changed as soon as dirty, on average every 2 days)
This environment has been like this for at least 5 years now and all seems ok.

In winter, I feed her crickets (home grown and fed with oatmeal, carrots, broccoli, recently cabbage leaves and nuts and calcium) which she likes to catch herself and green grapes which she adores but will not eat anything else fruit or vegetable.  In the summer, she gets earthworms and grapes.  All our neighbourhood has been organic, pesticide and herbicide free for 30 years! Earth worms are her favorite by far, followed by green grapes

I got my water dragon in a pet shop, by accident.  I went to buy crickets for my son's water dragon and the owner was about to give a little baby WD to a snake because it was ''unsellable'' due to a tail accident.  I threw a fit and the guy decided to let me have it.  I have had her ever since.My water dragon is 12 years old, she never had a problem in her life and was never in contact with other reptiles.  Right now, she seems to be grasping for air, is holding her head up with her mouth open.  The inside of her mouth is pale with a very bright pink tongue. The surrounding of her mouth is brownish but not in the way mouth rot looks like.  Her colouring is normal, with a bit of molting left to shed.  Cant get to a vet before week end, please tell me what to do in the meantime.

Sorry for my English, I am French.
Thank you for all you do,

You are going to have to see a vet. There is nothing I can tell you to do to correct this yourself, and nothing you are going to find over the counter, so dismiss such thoughts that you will accomplish this without a vet. The labored breathing and color in her mouth you indicated is all I need to know, to know that this will likely be fatal without veterinary intervention. If she survives beyond the next few days, then there will be things you can do to help her recover and improve, but that is for later. For now, she needs a vet. All I can do is attempt to diagnose based on the information and tell you what a veterinarian will have to do.

I will address that which I see which may be causative or contributory and what you will need to correct if she survives. You state the setup has been this way for 5 years and "all seems OK", this does not mean that it is. Reptiles have low metabolism and the negative effects of many chronic issues may take years to manifest, and they may also more easily manifest the more the animal ages and becomes more susceptible.   

You have not given your humidity readings.
You have not stated your supplement usage.
You have not stated when she last eliminated wastes.

From the top:

1. It is not safe to place terrariums in sunlight, in front of a window or not. This leads to heat stress of reptiles and can prove deadly. This magnifies sunlight to unsafe levels in most latitudes. She is of advanced age so this is further ill advised and more likely to lead to heat stress. Terrarium temps should be properly maintained using the ceramic heat elements and basking lighting which are appropriate and meant for the task. Heat stress can lead to cerebral edema and respiratory difficulties, and is often deadly without immediate veterinary treatment.

2. Compact and coil UVB lamps are ineffective and potentially dangerous. They are a waste of money by their very design and if not ineffective in producing sufficient D3 production, they may cause UV conjunctivitis. This should be replaced with an appropriate wattage mercury vapor UVB heat lamp, or with linear tube lamps. This is something that needs correction, but is not the most pressing matter in this case.

3. I am not familiar with the specific substrate product you mention, however, a year between substrate changes would be what I would regard as not frequent enough. Substrate in a confined terrarium, especially one containing a semi-aquatic lizard who has a lot of water to splash around in, is much more likely to be a breeding ground for an infectious opportunistic microorganism.  

4. Grapes are always a cause for concern. They contain sulfites, which many animals may have sensitivities too and cause adverse reactions, including excessive salivation and respiratory symptoms. Sulfite concentration is variable among grapes. Some grapes may also undergo spoilage and produce mycotoxins, and this is known to cause renal failure in dogs and many other pets. The respiratory symptoms you describe could also be related to a sulfite sensitivity or myotoxin from the grapes. When did she last eat grapes?

The color inside her mouth may indicate anemia or hypoxemia, which could have numerous possible causes such as dietary deficiencies of iron and B vitamins (the diet you are giving her is not diverse enough), blood loss, organ dysfunction, etc - but is more likely to be the result of acute toxin exposure, severe septicemia, or chronically low B vitamin and iron deficiency anemia in this case. That kind of breathing is usually indicative of serious acidosis and is an end stage symptom in reptiles, so you don't really have til next week in my opinion to get her to a vet.   

Follow up with photos of her and her terrarium, and provide the additional husbandry information.

The likely causes here are numerous without further details, but her terrarium should be removed from direct sunlight and temperatures and humidity verified as correct. Heat stress, excessive humidity in conjunction with waste organic matter or low temperatures, or insufficient humidity could be cause or contributing to respiratory symptoms, and you shouldn't ask for a consult on a water dragon without knowing the typical terrarium humidity, because this is a critical piece of information for such a species.

+ Discontinue all grapes at this time.
+ Remove and replace all substrate, and clean and rinse the tank and all non porous accessories completely using scalding hot water.  
+ Replace her water with clean and treated water DAILY, and clean the water receptacle with scalding hot water at the time of water change.
+ Ensure that she is hydrated as much as possible. If this is a sensitivity reaction or toxicity from the grapes, then renal failure could be resulting. You should be observing and taking not1e of her urate wastes for clues to give the vet or myself about her renal function.
+ If she is suffering from a respiratory infection, then I would recommend the vet perform antibiotic nebulization as needed, along with 20% N-AC in .9% NS, and possibly theophylline or another airway dilator before abx administration, and follow the nebulization therapy with injectable antibiotics and possibly corticosteroids such as dexamethasone. If the cause is other than infection, then she may still benefit from the nebulization.
+ She should have blood tests performed for iron deficiency anemia.
+ She may benefit from some oxygen therapy sooner rather than later.

My overall recommendation is that you not attempt to treat her yourself and waste what little time she may have. Simply get her to a vet who understands these issues as soon as possible, even if it's a non-reptile veterinarian.  


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YOU WILL GET A REJECTION OF YOUR QUESTION IF YOU FAIL TO FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS TO QUESTIONER IN FULL!. I am primarily here to assist with health concerns. I am here for the more difficult questions. Not for questions that you could research & easily find the answer yourself. My standards are that you provide DETAILED and RELEVANT background history on your pet before you ask me any question about it other than GENDER or ID. The requested information is in the instructions to questioner. Failure to answer each of those questions to provide that background, will result in your question being rejected. I can answer questions related reptile husbandry, identification (esp. in Texas and the SW), legal aspects, and advanced level medical care. I am the director of Wichita Falls Reptile Rescue (TX), a wildlife rehabilitator specializing in reptiles, a founding member of The Society for Horned Lizard Preservation, a subscriber to the International Veterinary Information Service,, educational content contributor to, and a Dept of State Health Services accredited animal control instructor (CE) for reptile handling. I do most of my own veterinary care in-house, including minor surgery and necropsy. I am most experienced in Chelonia with box turtles and common smaller tortoises; and in Squamata with everything from Anoles, Geckos, Beardies, and Monitors, to venomous snakes. I am most known for my expertise with horned lizards (Phrynosoma). With snakes, my primary expertise is in Crotalids (rattlesnakes), but I can answer a broad range of questions about various species. I am not aware of any reptile related question that I would not be able to provide some reasonable answer for. I have a direct style and may tell you something you did not want to hear; but the welfare of the animal comes FIRST with me, and I will always reflect that position in my answer, despite how it might make you feel.


I am a non-academic herpetologist with 25+ years reptile experience, and I am an accredited Texas Dept of State Health Services Animal Control Instructor for Reptiles (CE). I am a reptile rescuer, reptile wildlife rehabilitator, and subscriber to the International Veterinary Information Service, wikivet, and article/journal content contributor to Lafebervet. I have medical and scientific resources available, and I perform in house reptile veterinary care for my rescues. I am not a vet, but I read from the same materials and have had to correct quite a few in the past. The average vet is not well versed with reptile physiology and medical treatments.

Animals that I am currently caring for, or have significant rehabilitation and husbandry experience with: Horned Lizards (5 species); Eastern and Western Box Turtles; Painted, RES, YBS, Soft-Shell, and Cooter aquatic turtles; Russian Tortoises; Fire Bellied Toads; Fire Bellied Newts; Ornate Horned Frogs; Green Iguanas; Desert Iguanas; Spiny Lizards; Long Nosed Leopard Lizards; Anoles; Racerunners; Collared Lizards; Bullsnakes; Eastern Ratsnakes; Great Plains Ratsnakes; Kingsnakes; Gartersnakes; Cornsnakes; Boas; Pythons; Bearded Dragons; Water Dragons; Massasauga Rattlesnakes; Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes; Leopard, Mediterranean, Golden, Indo-Pacific, African White-Spotted Geckos; Savannah Monitors; Jeweled Curly-Tailed Lizards; Long-Tailed Grass Lizards; Fox Squirrels; Deer Mice; Hispid Cotton Rats; Merriam's Pocket Mice; Eastern Cotton-Tails; Blue Bar racing pigeon; Budgies; Asian Forest Scorpions.


Co-Founder & Director: Wichita Falls Reptile Rescue

Founder: The Society for Horned Lizard Preservation

Publications contributor. The Horned Lizard Husbandry Manual - self published 75 pages of care information on genus Phrynosoma.

Wikipedia entry "Horned Lizards" - contributed to a majority of the content., and various reptile related forums and email lists under the handles "fireside3" and PhrynosomaTexas".

My hands-on field, rehabilitation, and captive husbandry experience beats a PhD any day of the week. I am also a state accredited animal control instructor for reptile handling.

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I was requested to provide my care manual on the Desert Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma platyrhinos), for the Montreal zoo. My manual is also used by several other zoological institutions in N. America. I also teach reptile education to summer camps, and instruct wildlife rehabilitators on live saving and rehab techniques with reptiles.

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