Winter is here! I am sure everyone has noticed the chilly weather making it harder and harder to get out of bed! Our education focus this month is on heating for our scaled, furred and feathered pets! Keeping our little critters warm over winter can help prevent many health issues and our goal is to keep your pet family as happy and healthy as possible.
We will start the month with the creatures that suffer the most without appropriate heating – reptiles! Reptiles are ectothermic or ‘cold blooded’. This means that they source their body heat from their environment – they are unable to create their own like mammals and birds. This makes it extremely important that we provide adequate environmental heating to our reptile friends, especially over winter when the ambient temperature drops! Some reptile owners may have noticed that keeping their pets at the same temperature over winter as they did in summer results in a bit of a spike in the electricity bill! This is because the ambient temperature is lower, so our heating devices have to work harder to get our hot spots up to an appropriate temperature. Sometimes our heating devices aren’t strong enough to get up to an appropriate temperature and we need to add in additional devices (e.g another globe). There are some things we can do to help increase the effectiveness of our heating elements (and hopefully reduce some of that rise in electricity costs).
Here is Kaa the Murray Darling Carpet Python in her enclosure. You can see heat is provided via an infrared globe. This is surrounded by a cage to prevent her from wrapping around the globe and burning herself. You can also appreciate a dual probe thermometer hanging on the back of the enclosure so that her owner can ensure an appropriate temperature gradient is provided with this heating. If it wasn’t getting warm enough a higher wattage globe should be used, or the addition of another globe is sometimes required. We now recommend that ceramic globes be used over coloured globes, as reptiles are able to see red in their colour spectrum.
Kaa having a good ol bask.
Insulating the enclosure can be a good way to keep your pet warm, however you can also provide insulated hides. Here Eve the Carpet Python is nice and toasty in her polystyrene hide. Being insulated it will take longer to heat up but will maintain heat much more successfully.
Often our heating devices that were working well over summer to maintain the temperatures that we need aren’t strong enough to cope with the winter cool, and this can result in our reptiles having suboptimal temperatures. All of the body systems of a reptile rely on heat to work – including their immune system. So if they aren’t warm enough they are much more prone to getting sick – as their body cannot effectively fight off infections. Often these issues don’t become apparent until it starts to get warmer again, when bacteria and other pathogens start to multiply aggressively, and the immune system can’t ‘wake up’ fast enough to stop the infection wreaking havoc! We recommend that the same temperature gradient is maintained in an enclosure year-round, this will allow your reptile to choose if its wants to be warmer or cooler, and it can adjust based on what it needs. Many people cool or ‘brumate’ their reptiles over winter, particularly those wishing to breed. This is a normal behavior that occurs in the wild, but, if not done very carefully with detailed planning, can lead to disaster. Properly done, brumation is a combination of reduction in food intake, reduction in day length and basking time, over a controlled period of time. Pet reptiles, not needed for breeding, tend to be healthier without owner’s attempts to brumate. If you provide your reptile with an appropriate temperature gradient it can choose where it wants to be, and still have the choice to heat up and use its immune system and other body functions if required!
Having trouble keeping that enclosure as warm as you want to over winter? The first thing to consider is – what is the enclosure made of? Often glass terrariums are used, which are great for a visual display, however can be very difficult to get to stay warm, as glass tends to wick the heat away! Wooden enclosures with a glass front are often easier to keep warm, as the wood holds heat in a bit more. Both of these enclosure styles can be improved upon by adding insulation around them to help hold that heat in. Often large pieces of polystyrene or sheets of bubble wrap are the most effective insulators – sticking these to the outside of an enclosure (particularly around the warm end!) can help to maintain the temperature. NOTE: please ensure if sticking polystyrene to the outside of an enclosure that ventilation is still maintained (ensure air vents are left uncovered). It also is ideal to keep your reptile enclosure in one of the warmest rooms in the house (if you have one) as this will mean your heating elements don’t have to work quite as hard to get the enclosure up to temperature. Many people that have multiple reptiles will keep all of the enclosures in one room together – this means that the entire room overall gets quite warm (as each of the individual enclosure heaters works), and can help maintain temperatures (make sure if you do this that you follow appropriate quarantine measures for new reptiles – don’t put brand new reptiles into your ‘reptile room’ immediately as there is a significant risk of introducing infectious disease).
If you have any other questions about your reptile’s temperature requirements over winter please book an appointment with one of our vets today on 07 3217 3533.