Can Lizards Drown? The Complete Guide


So, can lizards drown? The short answer is yes they can, but it’s not as straightforward or as easy a question to answer as you may expect.

Lizards require air to breathe, and so can occasionally drown. Despite most of them being good swimmers, lizards can sometimes drown if they are in water for prolonged periods, and are either unable to get out, or their body temperatures get too cold.

People know lizards are excellent swimmers, so the idea of them then drowning seems bizarre, but it can, and does, happen. Actually, it can happen more than you think.

But how? How can something that looks as if it could adapt to water so easily find itself in such peril?

Well, a Lizard Needs Air to Breathe

Basically, a lizard does require air to breathe. (Source) Ultimately, anything that needs air in order to survive can drown when in water and it is unable to access that air.

A lizard is no different from anything else in that respect.

Remember your lizard does not have gills. Their body is not actually designed for them to live in water, or to be there for any length of time. Yes, they can swim down under the surface, but they must come back to the top in order to get air.

Of course, we will talk more about pet lizards, so even though there are lizard species that can run on water, as well as holding their breath for over 40 minutes, they won’t be a pet.

The Swimming Lizard

A lizard is a wonderful swimmer. Research suggests a lizard can swim within hours of birth. (Source) Also, it can hold its breath under water for a considerable length of time. Sure, you hear about a scuba-diving lizard that can hold its breath for 16 minutes, but that’s rare. Generally speaking, you are looking at them holding their breath for several minutes. These abilities will mean it makes it harder for the lizard to drown.

Also, when it comes to swimming, a lizard will use its tail and move it from side to side. That’s how it managed to propel itself forward. It’s a basic technique, but it’s one that works for them. In saying that, they do only have a limited amount of energy, and that’s where the risk of drowning starts to increase.

Also, while swimming, they keep their noses out of the water to allow them to breathe. But as we are talking about lizards kept as pets, let’s get a bit more specific.

So, what could lead to your pet lizard drowning in your home?

A Pet Lizard and Drowning

Let’s say your tub is filled with water, and your lizard falls in. There’s every chance they could drown if you do not take them out of there in time. The same goes for a sink filled with water, but that’s not as deep and covers a smaller area, so the odds of them drowning will diminish.

The main reason why they will drown is due to the material of your tub. It’s slippery to them, and they will be unable to effectively pull themselves out as they have nothing to get any sort of grip on. 

Oh, and add in those splashes and drops of water that appear on the side of the tub. Those droplets may not seem like much to us, but they add to the slip factor for your lizard. Basically, it makes it impossible for them to get out of the tub on their own merit.

That is the main difference to the wild. If they fall into a pond or some other water feature in the great outdoors, there will usually be some surface that’s not as slippery. 

What Happens to Their Body

So, your lizard has managed to fall into a tub filled with water, and you haven’t noticed. What happens to them?

First, their body temperature will start to drop, and that’s a problem all on its own for them as you know. A drop in body temperature makes the lizard less active, and this drop is something that happens pretty quickly.

Also, your lizard only has so much energy stored up anyway, and it will get tired of swimming. At that point, it will give up and potentially drown unless you rescue them.

To that extent, they are like us. We can only tread water for so long before we run out of energy, and the same applies to your lizard.

Size Matters for Survival – Well, At Times

But here is something else to consider, size matters. A small lizard stands less chance of drowning, even though it’s still possible, compared to a larger lizard. It’s all to do with their size and body weight.

A heavier body takes more effort to keep it afloat as gravity takes its toll. That’s why something larger, like an iguana, will be able to survive for a shorter period of time in water compared to a smaller lizard, like a gecko.

In saying that, limits still exist as to how long any lizard can survive in water with no realistic chance of it getting out on its own.

Temperature Matters

Another factor that plays a role in how long a lizard can survive in water is the temperature. If it’s too hot, then this will kill them almost instantly. However, cold water is also not going to be too good for survival rates.

Cold water will lead to that body temperature dropping even faster. The chances of your lizard developing hypothermia will increase dramatically. Clearly, that only makes it more likely your lizard will then drown as they lose the energy and ability to fight back.

This all sounds like it’s a disaster, but it needn’t always end in a fatality. Even if your lizard has been in the water for some time before you spot it, help may well be on hand.

Bringing Your Lizard Back to Life – CPR

Let’s just say you have discovered your lizard sitting there in water, and it’s not looking too good. What do you do?

Well, even though there’s no guarantee, it is possible to bring your lizard back to life. You simply need to understand what to do.

Believe it or not, the answer is that you can give your lizard a form of CPR. It could very well save its life, and this isn’t just hearsay. It actually has worked on numerous occasions.

To do this, you need to follow a few simple steps.

You must begin by placing the lizard on their back. Then, the key is to put a finger on either side of its rib cage. Next, squeeze gently with your fingers on either side and keep doing it until you see some water spurting out of your lizard.

One potential difference is that some people prefer to carry out small compressions directly on their chest. You must be careful here, as well as being exceptionally gentle, but these small movements will mean you are giving your lizard the best possible chance of survival.

But one important point.

Some people will suggest you give your lizard the kiss of life if they do not react to the compressions. Don’t do this. It’s not recommended even though some people argue it made a difference. 

There are all kinds of different health implications with giving your lizard the kiss of life. If the compressions don’t work, then sorry to say but it’s bad news.

But how long can all this take?

You shouldn’t only attempt CPR for a minute or so and then stop. That may not be long enough for it to make an impact. There’s even a story from Australia of a firefighter doing CPR on a lizard for 10 minutes before anything happened. In that story, the lizard eventually flipped over onto its stomach and ran away.

As we said, there’s no guarantee that this will help. However, there are lots of reports of individuals managing to get some water out of their lizard using this exact method. It can then help bring them back to life, but there is a time limit to which this method will even stand a remote chance of being successful.

So, there you have it, lizards can drown, and sadly some of them do. However, you can help prevent this by being careful with your pet lizard when it’s near anything containing water as well as remembering you can give it CPR if required.

Barry Gray

Barry is a freelance writer from Scotland. He has written about pets for over a decade, and his work has been turned into a range of ebooks, courses, and material for diplomas. Barry is passionate about all animals, but particularly dogs, fish, rabbits, birds and spiders. You can find out more about Barry at https://mercurypets.com/our-writers/

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