Warm Weather Care for Reptiles and Small Pets

No matter what type of pet you have, the warmer temperatures during the summer months can pose a threat to their health and be quite a challenge for pet owners. This is especially true for reptiles and other amphibians and small rodents.

REGULATING TEMPERATURES

  1. Whether your pet lives in a cage, tank or other type of enclosure, it’s important to maintain a steady temperature for them to help ensure their comfort and health, and also to help reduce stress that may come with constantly fluctuating temperatures that are either too warm or too cool. Keeping temperatures at the optimum level is not difficult, and basically requires simply monitoring the area where the pet housing is located, on a daily basis; perhaps more frequently when outdoor temperatures increase. Here are some useful tips:
  2. If your pet’s cage, aquarium or enclosure is getting too warm, try moving it to a different place in the room. For instance, if it normally sits near a window during the cooler winter months to get warmth from the sun, you may need to move it when the season changes. When the outside temperature becomes much hotter, the excess heat of the outside begins to radiate in through the glass, as well as the sunshine, raising temperatures too much.
  3. If your pet's room is on a sunny side of the house, receiving sun for a greater portion of the day, the room’s temperature will normally stay higher than other areas of the house. If necessary, install a window mounted air-conditioner, or use a floor fan that will not blow directly on the enclosure, to help keep the room at the desired temperature. If you have central air-conditioning, make sure it is not set too high, keeping the room too cold, as this can be just as stressful on your pet, as temperatures that are too warm.
  4. For small animals, like gerbils, hamsters, rabbits or chinchillas, you can take used water bottles, fill them with water and freeze them. Then wrap in towels and place in your pet’s cage, when the temperatures get extremely high. When you wrap these frozen bottles in towels or tight woven cloth, the condensation is absorbed which helps to keep the pets from getting too cold if they should huddle around them. Keep an eye on these bottles to make sure the pets are not chewing on the towels or plastic of the bottles.
  5. For tropical species, keeping the temperature at an optimal level may simply be a case of turning off tank heaters and special warming lamps during the warmer periods. When keeping cages cool for reptiles, monitoring the humidity is also very important, and can be done using a “hygrometer”. Living in a humid climate may require that you lower the humidity, which can be done by increasing the ventilation or flow of air in the room. If you live in a very dry climate, the humidity will need to be increased. To increase humidity, cover areas of the screened tops of cages, aquariums or enclosures with tape or plastic to hold in some of the moisture within the cage. Putting in an extra dish of water will help increase the humidity inside the tank as well.

DEHYDRATION
With hotter temperatures, the risk of dehydration becomes higher too, which is dangerous for any creature, especially the smaller ones. Always make sure your pet has access to a water source, preferably one that is clean and fresh. Check equipment such as water bottles (used by birds, and some smaller pets such as gerbils and hamsters) regularly to make sure the ball mechanism is functioning properly, so that they can get ample water daily. If your pet utilizes a small water bowl, check it often to make sure there is plenty of water. Warmer temperatures will cause it to evaporate faster and your pet may be drinking more due to higher temperatures, even if the temperature is in a safe range.

OUTDOOR TEMPERATURE SAFETY
Some reptiles kept in cages outdoors, do well with exposure to natural sunlight, when the temperatures are pleasant and the weather calm; but still struggle in hotter temperatures and face the risk of overheating. For pets that have outdoor enclosures, whether they are temporary places for daily periods, or live in them permanently, it’s important to provide a shaded place for them. This does not have to be the entire housing, but can simply be a box or area made shady by placing a cover over one end of the habitat top to create a cool, spot out of the direct sunlight. However, make sure you place the cage or enclosure where it will always have a shaded area, as the sun will move higher in the sky during the day, causing the shading to move and or disappear completely at times.
For pets that dwell outdoors, be sure to check their water source (which is both for consumption and cooling themselves) more frequently as it will evaporate more rapidly outdoors than indoors where temperatures are less extreme.

CREATING COOLING AREAS FOR REPTILES
1. Humidity Cubby

Poor shedding of their skin will occur when their environment is too dry. Increasing the humidity should help with this condition. Beware that increasing the humidity in the entire enclosure, or aquarium may result in a higher risk of blister disease or a more rapid growth of fungus or bacteria, which could be unhealthy for your reptile too. Optimally, it’s best to create pockets of increased humidity for your pet so that they can move in and out of easily. For example, a large shallow bowl allows water to evaporate quicker, while the shallowness of the bowl helps to reduce the risk of accidental drowning. Snakes and larger lizards prefer deeper containers filled with less water.
To create a humidity area for your reptile, take a large plastic container with a fitted lid and put a hole big enough for your pet to move through easily without injuring itself near the top of the container on one side. Put a layer of damp moss at the bottom of the container, filling it about 2/3 full. Place your pet inside and replace the lid. He will find his way out. Once they have left this localized humidity spot, they will return when they feel a need to. Leave this in the habitat at all times, periodically taking out the damp moss, allowing it to dry, then re-wetting it during shedding periods.

2. Rain Coolers

Many lizards and reptiles will need and enjoy a spot that simulates their natural habitat, where gentle rains help keep them cool and comfortable. You can create this by using a clean, empty milk jug, putting tiny holes in the bottom and suspending it in the corner of their habitat. Make the holes small enough to cause the water to drip very slowly, and not trickle constantly, or else you will have a puddle too big to evaporate at a quick enough pace. Place something under the drip to catch the excess water; such as a branch or plant, even an artificial plant. This will simulate the process of water puddling on leaves, and light filtering down from above, which will lead the reptile to it where he can drink and cool himself.

THINGS TO REMEMBER:
Reptiles kept outside should not be kept in glass enclosures as it will retain the heat too quickly and become too hot.
Wooden containers are okay, but must have ample ventilation to prevent the heat from building up inside too quickly. The boards must be spaced wide enough apart to allow heat to dissipate through the spaces fast enough to keep the temperature from rising too high.
Keep food cool so that it does not spoil too quickly. Placing it in a shaded area will help keep it at a safe temperature. Check food daily and provide fresh food, to help reduce the risk to your pet. This may sound costly, but the expense of a sick pet who has eaten spoiled food, far outweighs this cost.
Water should also be kept where it will not become too hot to drink or bathe in. Keeping water cool also helps slow bacteria growth, and safeguard your pet’s internal health.

What type of pet do you have, and how do you manage to keep it cool and comfy during the hot summer months? Please share some of  your own methods with us in the comments below.

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