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Many small mammals and so-called pocket pets are comfortable living at environmental temperatures at which we feel comfortable. Rabbits and chinchillas are a different story. Those animals are sensitive to warm temperatures and overheat easily, as their thick fur makes it difficult for them to release heat. Guinea pigs, too, prefer cooler temperatures but tend not to overheat like rabbits and chinchillas do.
Once the thermometer rises to over 80 degrees, those pets are at risk and should be moved to cooler areas quickly. Such animals should never be housed outside during warm, humid summer months and should always have access to shade and water when they are outside. Rabbits housed in outdoor hutches should be brought inside during hot days. If you are planning to own a rabbit, chinchilla or guinea pig, it’s best to house them in cool, dry indoor spaces.
Although you’d think their dense quills would insulate them well, hedgehogs need to live within a very specific temperature range to stay healthy. Below about 72 degrees, they tend to go into a state of torpor or hibernation in which their bodies cannot adjust and they can die. Hedgehogs housed in environments in which the temperature drops lower generally need supplemental heat provided by a heat bulb placed over the cage or a heating pad placed beneath it. On the other hand, temperatures above about 85 degrees can lead hedgehogs to enter into a state of estivation, an alarming condition in which they pant, gasp and lie on their sides or seem delirious and frantically run around vocalizing, vomiting, emitting bubbles and foaming from their mouths and/or noses. Overheating can be prevented in hedgehogs by placing ice packs on top of and around their cages during periods of extreme heat.
Potbellied pigs need plenty of outdoor time to run around and dig in the dirt. Pigs, however, are sparsely haired and consequently are susceptible to getting sunburned. Pigs playing outside on a sunny day should have the hairless areas of their bodies covered with a sunscreen safe for children. Conversely, pigs playing outside during winter in cold climates can easily develop frostbite on their ears, tail and feet, so they should not be left outside for long periods when it’s freezing.
If you own an exotic pet who is sensitive to temperature extremes, be sure to include it in your family’s emergency plans. Be prepared for power outages by perhaps having temporary housing/boarding arrangements available (with a veterinarian or breeder) or by arranging for alternate power sources (such as generators) to keep your pet comfortable and safe.
Whatever type of pet you own or are considering adding to your family, be sure to learn about his environmental and housing needs in order to keep him healthy. The best pet owners with the healthiest pets are educated ones. Depending on what type of animal you choose, by educating yourself, you can be armed with either an ice pack or a heat lamp as the seasons change and as your pet’s species dictates. And, of course, basic common sense regarding temperature is the same for exotics as for more traditional pets. Never leave any pet locked in a hot or freezing car or even in an interior environment subject to temperature extremes.
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