Have an Exotic Pet? Watch That Thermostat

Lizard in Cage
A reptile's immune system only functions properly when the animal is in his ideal temperature range.

When it comes to exotic pets — feathered, furry or scaly — the temperature of the world they live in can be critical. Many exotic pets have specific needs when it comes to the temperature in which they are housed, so before you rush out and get one of those pets (or even if you have one already), be sure that you can provide the proper climate to help keep him healthy. Different species have different requirements, but some broad generalizations can be made.

Reptiles Need the Heat

Perhaps more than any other type of pet, “cold-blooded” reptiles have specific temperature needs. Their body temperatures are determined completely by the warmth of their surroundings. Depending on what their native habitats are like (desert versus rainforest versus temperate), most captive snakes, lizards, turtles and tortoises require enclosures with a warm basking zone (often in the 90-100 degree range) where they can also have access to direct ultraviolet light (as if from the sun, unfiltered by glass). Reptiles also need a cooler zone, usually not lower than the low 70s, into which they can move to escape the heat.

Specific temperature needs depend on the species, but all reptiles need to be housed in their ideal temperature range or their immune systems won’t function properly. Digestion and metabolism will slow down, and they often go into a state of hibernation in which they won’t eat or move. Hibernation makes them more susceptible to developing an infection, so owners should strive to keep their pets’ environmental temperatures as constant as possible regardless of the season. That means adding supplemental heating elements (heat bulbs, under-the-tank heating pads, etc.) to enclosures when seasonal temperatures fall and removing them when they climb again. Reliable thermometers in the areas of the tank where pets tend to sit, or a digital temperature gun that can be aimed anywhere in the tank, can help monitor warmth. Owners can then make temperature adjustments as needed.

Birds: Tougher Than You Think

Bird owners often think their birds will get sick if they are exposed to drafts. This concern is overblown, as birds can actually tolerate changes in temperature well as long as their bodies have a chance to adjust and the temperature changes aren’t too rapid. Most pet parrots are comfortable at room temperatures in which their owners are comfortable, and birds, unless they are sick or young and not fully feathered, do not need supplemental heat. However, cages should not be placed directly in front of air conditioners or heating vents, as birds can’t adapt rapidly to temperature extremes. In general, however, if you are comfortable with the temperature of a room, your bird will be, too. What to look for? Birds who are cold or sick fluff up their feathers to try to trap warm air next to their bodies. If your bird is doing that, it’s time to turn up the thermostat and take him to the vet if his feathers don’t smooth out once it’s warmer.


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