managing reptiles during a heatwave

Updated Oct. 12, 2021

Many of us live in small apartments, trailers, or homes that are easily affected by heatwaves. Even if your reptile’s enclosure has been perfectly set up with their heat source’s thermostat dialled in perfectly - your houses’ ambient heat can greatly throw it all off.

Extreme heat spikes or prolonged exposure to high temperatures can cause our reptiles stress, refusal of food, regurgitation issues, nerve damage, and even death. Reptiles like Western Hognoses can handle a cold drop much better than a spike in heat or overheating in general.

It is good to keep in mind that temperatures that may only be uncomfortable for us, can be unbearable for our pets, especially with caged pets as they cannot choose to leave their enclosure. Please keep in mind which species of animal you are keeping, as some will thrive in hot temperatures.

Much like how it is easy for us to get a bad sunburn but not realize it until later, reptiles often can’t tell if they are sustaining burns. Please do not rely on signs of stress to determine if your animal is overheating. It is up to us to know what is too hot for each species we care for and to balance our homes’ temperatures and adjust the settings and heat sources of our reptiles accordingly.

temperature Gun/Heat Gun
We cannot recommend enough for pet owners to invest in a heat gun. Too many reptile keepers solely
rely on the kind of thermostats that can be purchased cheaply at pet stores and often come in pet kits.
For the most part, we only recommend those as an iffy backup as they are often not sensitive enough,
glitchy, not accurate, etc. Infrared temperature guns are quite accurate, affordable, and can be
purchased online, or at most hardware stores. (We currently have some available.
PM or email us for details.)

We live in a small home, every year we have to battle the seemingly neverending heatwaves. Over the years we have experimented with ways to make it more manageable for both us, and our animals. Below are some methods we recommend in helping to manage the heat.

air conditioner/s
Be sure to have your air conditioners plugged into their own power sources as sometimes homes can’t handle the electrical load - which can cause the breaker to flip or worse. You don’t want to come home on a hot day to flipped breakers, and an overheated pet. If you are not going to be home for several hours on a hot day, have a friend stop by to check up on your pets, and cooling sources. And do not point your air conditioner towards your reptiles enclosure! This could both create too cold of space, as well as make the thermostat spike the heat. Cool the room off, not the cage directly.

Place an ice pack/iced water bottle in front of your fan/s, this makes quite a difference! Have back-ups waiting to swap out in the freezer. In the evening when it starts to cool off, aim your fan/s facing out of the windows moving the hot, stale air outside. If you have multiple fans, face some facing inside, and others facing out open windows and doors. This will circulate the fresh cool air faster.

Close all windows and blinds until it cools off outside, otherwise, it just brings the hot air inside. Reflective blinds put them up, in a pinch, tinfoil works.

iced water bottles
We always keep several water bottles of various sizes frozen. These can be placed on top of enclosures, in front/behind fans. Never put an ice pack/iced water bottle as-is against your pet, or in their enclosure. You can, however, secure a tea towel around the cold object so that it is only slightly cool to the touch, you can then place it in your animal’s enclosure. Use common sense with this method, as it will depend on the species of animal that you are keeping, and will need to be checked on to ensure the animal has not gotten through the safety barrier.

Fill your bathtub with as cold as water possible, soak your shower curtain (fabric ones) and hang it so the bottom is wicking the cold bathwater upwards. Place the shower curtain so it is open half the length of the bathtub. Having the cool wet air near the ceiling will help drop the room’s temperature. Place a fan facing away from the bathtub, with the door open, face the fan into the next room. This helps cool down the adjoining room and sometimes beyond. *Note You will need to periodically re-soak the shower curtain.) The cold bathtub water is a great extra source of water if an emergency happens, and the large source of cool water will take longer to warm, and can be used in the next suggestion.

wet bedsheets
100% Cotton flannel bedsheets work well for this technique. This is a method that JJ and I swear by, and are currently using as I type this. Soak the sheet/s in cold as possible water. Ring out. Hang the sheet from two hooks in the ceiling. Flip the low hanging parts of the sheet over the top of itself until it forms either a cut in half rectangle or a slice of watermelon shape. Place a bowl or two under it to catch drips. This method works extra well if you aim an air conditioner or fan in its direction. Re-wet as needed.

Damp towels
You can drape a damp towel over your reptiles’ enclosure to gradually cool it down.

Shed Bin / Damp substrateIf your reptile is on coco husk, or another soilbased substrate, you can dampen it with cool (not cold) water. This helps fight dehydration and allows them to have somewhere a bit cooler to hideout. Likewise adding a shed box with damp sphagnum moss (or in a pinch damp, shredded paper towel) will offer some relief.

move the enclosure If your reptile’s enclosure is up high, it can help to move it down lower. Even if it is only a few feet, this can mean a difference of several degrees. Or you could move it to a cooler room in your home if that is an option.

what to look forEarly signs of overheating can be regurgitation, and or loose stool. If the temperature is bad enough “stargazing” may occur, which can be a sign of neurological damage. “Stargazing” can be caused by a couple of different things such as genetics, a bad fall, toxins, a reaction to cleaning products, or mite/flea sprays, IBD, and or spikes in temperature.

“Stargazing” can look like your snake is tilting its head back trying to look at the sky, this is often accompanied by aimlessly corkscrewing, wobbling, and or moving erratically. Stargazing can end up being permanent, but in some cases, if caught early enough it can be remedied. *Note Some snake morphs have “Stargazing” as an unwanted side effect caused by certain genetics, these animals seem to be extra sensitive to temperature shifts.

Lizards may display overheating by scrambling back and forth against the enclosure’s walls, aggression, gaping, staggering, and more.

This is not meant to be a full list, rather some things to be aware of. If you suspect your animal is reacting to too high of temperatures, get them to a vet as soon as possible. In the meantime, to help you can try to gradually cool the animal down by soaking them in lukewarm water. NOT COLD. Coldwater can cause them to go into shock.

If you have extra info regarding overheating reptiles, we would love to add it to our website.

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