August 11, 2018
Health & Fitness
77° Scattered Clouds

Helping Your Exotic Pet Beat The Heat

Dr. Lacy Gilmer
Dr. Lacy Gilmer's picture
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July 10, 2018

Summer days are in full swing here in Pasadena, bringing their familiar heat, humidity and sunshine. Everyone knows you shouldn’t leave your dog or cat in a car during the summer, even with the windows down for a few minutes. This can cause severe heat stress, heat stroke, and even death in a surprisingly short amount of time. But what about your less common family members?

Reptiles, birds, and especially small mammals can all be susceptible to heat injury. Birds and reptiles can usually tolerate a wide range of temperatures, and outdoor time can help them soak up some much-needed vitamin D. However, they should not be exposed to temperatures above 85 degrees for a prolonged period of time. During outside time, they should always have access to fresh water, and it is a good idea to mist them periodically with cool (not cold) water. Providing species appropriate fruit like watermelon, cantaloupe and strawberries can help keep them hydrated.

If your animal spends a lot of time outdoors, make sure they all have access to shaded areas, and consider bringing them in if the temperature or humidity index gets too high. Pets can get sunburn too, especially mini and potbellied pigs, so use an animal-safe sunscreen on areas such as their nose, ears, and other areas not covered by a lot of fur. The hours between 10:00am and 2:00pm are when the sun is at the most intense, and extra caution to avoid sun exposure should be taken during this time.

Small mammals, particularly chinchillas, are susceptible to heat-related stress. Chinchillas are from the Andes and prefer temperatures in the mid ‘60s and below, and even temperatures in the high ‘70s can be stressful for chinchillas. Other small mammals like rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets and rats can tolerate slightly higher temperatures, but all can become overheated with the high humidity, which is often much higher than their native environments.

Inside our homes, all animals should have a well-ventilated enclosure with access to fresh drinking water. Even so called “desert” species should always have water provided, even if you do not notice them actively drinking from it (they often will in the middle of the night when you aren’t paying attention). If their enclosure is near a window, ensure the sun does not cause the enclosure to overheat. If so, consider moving to a shadier area of the house or closing the blinds or curtains during the hottest parts of the day.

Signs of heat stress include:

  • Open mouth breathing
  • Panting
  • Lethargy
  • Ataxia (wobbliness)
  • Diarrhea
  • Collapse
  • Seizure
  • Death

If you notice any of these symptoms, call Calvert Veterinary Center immediately at 410-360-7297 (PAWS). Never try to cool your pet on your own, as rapid cooling can cause shock and death. Apply cool (not cold) water to the ears and feet (feet only if a bird) and get to your veterinary facility as quickly as possible. Heat stroke can be difficult to treat, so prevention is the key!

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