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Can You Hold An Axolotl? [What Owners Just Have To Know]

Any pet as fascinating and intriguing as an Axolotl comes with a fair share of questions. But perhaps one that is common to new owners is whether or not you can, or should hold one. Here is all you simply must know.

So, can you hold an Axolotl? You can hold an Axolotl, but should only do so briefly (no more than 1-2 minutes), in a specific way, and if it is deemed necessary; such as when you need to move them to clean their tank or change their water. The safest holding technique is to part their legs and place your thumb and index finger in front of them firmly yet gently.

Owning an Axolotl certainly comes with its own unique care, but the reward is there for anyone looking to take one of them on.

They are truly fascinating to look after and care for, but you do need to educate yourself accordingly to ensure you meet their own unique needs and requirements.

Perhaps the biggest factor to consider is that contrary to most other salamanders, they do not go through what is known as metamorphosis.

This is a developmental transition from larval to adult.

What this essentially means that they do not develop in a typical way

They retain their gills and never transition over to lungs like other amphibians. They essentially remain aquatic for the duration of their lives.

This, of course, has an impact on how we manage and even can handle them.

But nevertheless, while we will be spending a lot of time observing them, they are very entertaining to watch.

Equally, they are pretty low maintenance and easy to take care of; their dietary needs are not too much of a challenge.

Let us now take a closer look at the possibilities when it comes to holding an Axolotl.

We will be looking at important questions such as how long they can stay out of the water, what happens if they were to stay too long out of the water and how to properly hold one if you ever need to do so.

So, be sure to keep on reading if you are serious about owning and taking care of this captivating and interesting pet.

Can You Hold An Axolotl Out Of Water? 

Axolotls should never be taken out of the water to be held just because you feel like doing so. Their characteristics and anatomy make it dangerous to have them out of the water.

Originating from Mexico, there is now only one place in the world where Axolotls are found in their natural habitat – Lake Xochimilco in Mexico City.

It is also worth noting that these adorable creatures have never been seen on land, nor is there a record anywhere confirming that an Axolotl was out of the water and survived.

The only exception to removing an Axolotl from their tank is when you are cleaning it out and changing their water.

At this point, they have to be touched when you move them to the container you should already have waiting.

Being out of water really stresses out an Axolotl, and that is something you never want to see!

However, you may be able to hold your Axolotl while they are in the tank.

This way, they are still able to breathe, and they feel more secure because they are in familiar surroundings.

Some Axolotls will come up to investigate a hand that is in their tank, while others will not.

You may even find that your pet likes to come and use your hand for a resting area!

Even if you are only holding them while they are in the tank, this should be something that you do very occasionally.

How Long Can Axolotls Stay Out Of Water? 

Experts recommended that an Axolotl stays out of water for no longer than 1-2 minutes at most. Even then, this can result in stress, so it should not be done frequently nor often.

It is not a natural state for an Axolotl to be out of water.

Besides being stressful for them, Axolotls need to be underwater to breathe properly.

There are stories of Axolotls who have been found out of their tank, and they were perfectly okay when they were put back in, but this is a chance you should never take.

Some would probably not die if they were out of their tank for more than a minute, but this would be the exception to the rule.

Play it safe and only have your Axolotl out of the water for several seconds.

What Happens To Axolotls When They Are Kept Out Of Water? 

When kept out of the water, an Axolotl will ultimately run out of breath, and they will eventually die. This can happen quite quickly.

Since Axolotls are classed as amphibians because they have both gills and lungs, they should theoretically be able to live outside of their tank.

However, its genetics take more after their fish side, and you know the results when a fish is left out of the water.

As an owner, you need to consider that they will never be able to ever physically grow up; Axolotls remain in their neotenic state for their entire lives.

There is an easy way to explain this.

Any other type of salamander goes through growth stages that will eventually see it be able to exist on land.

For example, their limbs grow stronger and bigger to support their weight on land, their skin toughens up to give them more protection, and as they use their lungs more, their gills will actually fall off eventually.

This never happens with an Axolotl. Instead, they remain as neotenic salamanders who will never morph into true salamanders.

This quick science lesson will allow you to understand just how important their gills are.

The gills on an Axolotl can be seen on each side of the back of their heads – basically three large branches on each side. There are large several large vessels that run through each one, and the venous plexus (a pinkish tube) overlays the gills.

Any blood that is being absorbed and then distributed gets spread out to other vessels thanks to the three branches on each side of the head that it flows through first.

Oxygen exchange occurs through fine filaments inside tiny capillaries.

The exchanged carbon dioxide gets pumped back out through the arteries and the venous plexus to flow back into the water.

Where fish need to be swimming around for this process to occur, an Axolotl remains perfectly still.

Then they flap their external gills to start the breathing process.

Occasionally flapping the external gills both helps and facilitates the oxygen exchange process.

When you are watching your Axolotl breathe, the gill flapping should be done very slowly, and your pet should look relaxed.

If this is not the case, it could be a sign that there is something wrong with your Axolotl.

The two most common problems are an infection in the gills or your Axolotl being in some type of discomfort.

Axolotls have highly susceptible skin, so they excrete a slime coat that provides protection from various infections, bacteria, and viruses.

It also helps them preserve and sustain the essential electrolytes and fluids their body requires to keep their cells and organs operating efficiently.

This slime coat will dry out when they are out of water.

They will then use up whatever air they have remaining in their lungs. If they do not get back into the water at this point, they will suffocate.

Do Axolotls Like Being Held? 

Axolotls do not like to be held and doing so is very stressful for them.

Axolotls are not like kittens or puppies in their need for touch and attention. They are solitary creatures who like to spend their time exploring their environment or finding places in their tank to hide.

There are some signs to look for so that you can tell if your Axolotl is stressed out.

You want to keep an eye out for gills that are curled, tails that are curled, slime coats that are damaged, and limbs that are curled. These are all signs and symptoms of severe stress in an Axolotl.

Additionally, Axolotls spook very easily, and they can quickly jump out of your hands if you are unprepared.

How Do You Handle Your Axolotl Properly? 

Axolotls are very delicate creatures, so you are going to need an equally delicate touch to pick up your Axolotl.

One of the most important things that you can do before you pick up your Axolotl is to wash your hands.

Their skin is extremely sensitive and even though the purpose of the slime coat is to protect their skins from bacteria and diseases, it may not always be capable of blocking 100% of bacteria or viruses.

You also need to make sure that your hands are very well rinsed after washing because even the smallest trace of soap can be dangerous to your Axolotl, potentially even causing death.

An Axolotl will become distressed if they are not handled properly. You need to use a firm, but very gentle touch.

It’s always advised using both of your hands. This helps to keep them from slipping forwards or backward.

It takes practice to hold them successfully and this is best done while they are still underwater. They are not that big either, so it may take some time and practice.

Just be sure to be slow and gentle; never forcing it.

Equally, the first time that you attempt to hold them, it will feel somewhat strange when they begin to move in your hands.

The best thing that you can do is remain calm and relaxed.

If they manage to slip out of your grasp while they are still in the tank, don’t try to pick them up again immediately. Give them some time to calm down and then try again.

To pick them up, it is advised that you separate the legs gently and then get your thumb and index finger in front of the legs.

By doing this, you are making it difficult for them to use their legs to push themselves out of your hand.

Keep your grip firm enough that they will not just slide out.

If you are moving them to another container for a water change, pull your hands from the water and place the Axolotl in the other container right away.

When you have finished cleaning their tank and the water is at the proper temperature, gently grab your Axolotl again and move them quickly back to their own tank.


Even though you will be unable to play with your Axolotl the way you would with most other types of pets, you will still get many hours of enjoyment from them.

They are interesting to watch as they move around their tank, especially when it is feeding time.

Plus, they are just so darn cute that you will find yourself spending hours of your time focused on what your Axolotl is up to!

Beyond this, they are relatively easy to care for, which makes them a great choice for beginners new to pets too.

However, because they will live their entire life in water, you must be willing and able to provide an appropriately sized tank.

You’ll also need to ensure that this is kept at the right temperature for them to live comfortably.

Related Questions

Do Axolotls Bite? 

Axolotls do and can bite. The most likely time that an Axolotl is likely to bite is when they are being fed by hand, as they attempt to eat the food. Some owners have reported that an Axolotl bite does not hurt, whereas others have reported that it can be sharp and somewhat painful.