Baby it’s cold outside…Winter is quickly approaching and with it comes the lower temperatures which cause many exotic pet owners to worry about how to transport their beloved pets to us safely. Pet owners should not assume that it is too dangerous to bring their exotic pets to the vet in cold weather, particularly if they suspect that their pet is sick. Ignoring or putting off a vet visit in these delicate species is never a good idea. For many of our patients, these lower temperatures are not a concern; such as rabbits, guinea pigs and chinchillas. These species can be transported as you would any time of the year. But for reptiles and most tropical birds, these concerns are valid especially when these pets are unwell. This article explores some recommendations on how to safely transport them during cold weather.
Reptiles and Amphibians
Reptiles are ectothermic, which means that they have to regulate their body temperature by moving to warmer or colder areas based on their needs. Their body temperature is the temperature of the environment they are in. If you live in New York City on a day that is 50 degrees F and you are walking to the subway with your reptile in a box with no means of additional heat support, his/her body temperature is going to be 50 degrees F. This is clearly not ideal! However, there are many ways of creating a travel set up that is safe.
You can transport your pet reptile in an insulated environment such as a Styrofoam or other insulated coolers to maintain heat. If your reptile is small enough and hand tamed (such as many bearded dragons) you can wrap them up in a towel and tuck them inside your warm jacket. You can also try increasing the temperature of an enclosure by placing something warm in with the reptile and then enclosing the box/carrier. Examples include:
- Hot water bottle
- Hot water filled latex gloves
- Hand warmers (available at most sporting goods stores, drugs stores, and online)
- Hot water filled packs
Aquatic turtles should not be transported in water for short distances (under 2 hours). You can transport them dry as described above. They do not need water constantly and it is much more difficult to regulate water temperature outside the home.
Most amphibians do not need to be kept at temperatures over 70 degrees F (please research your specific species to determine what is safe). But remember that if you are outside in freezing temperatures, amphibians will need some supplemental heat sources such as described above together with a sponge saturated with tank water.
Many bird owners are aware that sudden changes in temperatures can be dangerous for tropical birds. But did you know birds have built in down coats? Their downy feathers are used to cool them down in extreme heat, and warm them up in colder weather. In general, birds are capable of tolerating lower temperatures when they are exposed to them incrementally, however moving a bird from a warm apartment into a freezing snowy day can be a shock to them. Here are some ideas for transporting your birds safely. It is our recommendation if possible to use heated vehicles rather than subways and buses.
- For smaller birds (cockatiels, budgies, canaries) similar methods to that of the reptile can be used. Place the bird in a small box (shoeboxes are a good option) with small holes and place a warming device inside with the bird. Be aware that birds can and do chew, so any warm object should have a towel or some sort of protective barrier between it and the bird. Also be aware that any substances used for self-heating hand warmers may be toxic to birds and should likewise be kept out of reach of the bird. And be sure that the warming device is not overheated, as these enclosures can get very warm.
- Place your bird in a small bird-safe carrier and swaddle the carrier in towels. Fleece works particularly well to protect carriers from wind while not blocking air supply.
- For larger birds, warm up an electric heating pad and secure it underneath your carrying cage. Then swaddle the cage with a blanket, warm coat, or towels to keep the heat in.
- Place a cage that has been already swaddled with towels inside a duffle bag. This will provide an extra layer for heat, as well as give an easy way to carry your bird.
- Some birds enjoy being snuggled into a warm coat or jacket and can benefit from the body heat. This technique should only be used for birds who are accustomed to traveling this way and who do not attempt to escape. Do not try this method for the first time in the winter with a flighted bird.
We hope that this article reduces your worries about how to transport your exotic pets to the vet this winter. Please call us if you have more concerns and our friendly staff will be more than happy to answer any questions. Our doctors are also well-equipped to perform house calls based on your particular needs.