Many pet owners know that the summer heat can be very dangerous for dogs and cats. But what about exotic pets? The warm summer weather in Minnesota can present a variety of risks; however, if done safely, there are often opportunities to enjoy some outdoor time.
Back in July of 2020, Dr. Andrew Bean, who is board-certified in companion mammal practice and head of Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota’s Avian & Exotic Medicine Service, discussed outdoor time and heat safety with small mammals, birds, and reptiles. To learn more, you can watch the video replay or review the keynotes below!
On days where the temperature exceeds 80°F, it’s best to keep small mammals inside – especially rabbits, chinchillas, and guinea pigs. If you do choose to provide outdoor time, the cooler morning or evening hours will be safer. Keep in mind that while outside, your small mammals are “in nature,” meaning there could be predators lurking. Even in the city, there are owls and hawks, so it’s always good practice to stay outside and keep a close eye on your pet during outdoor time. In addition, it’s important to provide the security of a shelter in which to hide if they feel scared or exposed. Here are a few more species-specific cautions to consider before bringing your pet outside:
- Chinchillas have dense coats and are more prone to heat stress.
- Chinchillas and guinea pigs are from the mountain ranges of South America. As such, they prefer cool, low-humidity weather.
- Keep guinea pigs in an enclosed area with access to both sunlight and shade.
- An exercise pen, C&C wire cages, or even plastic cubes that are zip-tied together are great options to keep your guinea pig safe. Put the enclosure in the (untreated) grass and let your guinea pig do what they want!
- For even smaller mammals like hamsters and gerbils, keep them inside unless your pet is in a portable cage. In general, these types of species tend to run – especially hamsters! (Of course, every animal is different – you may very well have a tame hamster.) Typically, rats are very social creatures. If you walk around with your rat on your shoulder and have developed that special bond, you probably won’t have to worry about the rat fleeing!
- For sugar gliders, some pet owners do walk around with their pet in their shirt. It’s best to have a special outdoor enclosure for your glider (like a cat owner’s “catio”). Sugar gliders are nocturnal animals and prefer to sleep during the daytime though, so you don’t need to worry about fun in the sun for them!
- Rabbit owners: Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (RHD) is quickly spreading around North America. You can watch the replay of Dr. Bean’s Facebook Live video on RHD here (note: the video is from April of 2020), as well as a more recent update on RHD from VINNews here (May 2021).
- For indoor rabbits that don’t have air conditioning in the home, use fans on humid days or moisten your rabbit’s ears with water. You can also put your rabbit in a secure area of the basement where it will be cooler. Be mindful that if your basement is concrete or not carpeted, the hard floor can wear away the hair on your rabbit’s feet or cause sores.
Most birds prefer heat and humidity, especially parrots and Ascidian species who are typically found a lot closer to the equator than Minnesota! Of course, it depends on the type of bird you have, but even when our hospital sees any ill bird, we put them in an incubator set at 85°F. Bird owners can simulate this at home by leaving the AC off during the summer or cranking up the heat in the winter. If you can do this, your bird will appreciate it!
Some birds are well-bonded to their owner and will ride around on hands or shoulders. Outside though, this can be problematic for obvious safety reasons! If you want to bring your bird outside, here are a few tips:
- Use a bird-specific tether or harnesses.
- Build an aviary so that your bird can enjoy outside time and flight time while still having a barrier to keep them safe and prevent them from flying away.
- We always recommend supervising your bird while outside. If you do plan to keep your bird outside unsupervised, especially overnight, it’s important to have a lot more security than a single-layer cage. Unfortunately, we have seen birds in our ER who were in an aviary overnight and animals like raccoons have grabbed them. It’s understandably very traumatic for both the bird and the owner, and often, the prognosis is not good.
A lot of reptiles enjoy the sunshine and do well in the heat. Many have a basking temperature from 90 to over 100 degrees. Reptiles benefit from outside time and direct sunlight exposure during the summer months. Some species, such as turtles and tortoises, can be kept outside all day and all night during the summertime. Here are a few guidelines to follow for outdoor time with reptiles:
- Know the husbandry requirements for your pet’s particular species so they get what they need while being housed outside.
- For some species, there are additional safety measurements to consider. Some tortoises enjoy burrowing. We know it’s important to express these natural behaviors for the mental and emotional wellness of the pet. But if your tortoise chooses to burrow near the edge of a fence, a barrier will be necessary to prevent the tortoise from getting out.
- Risks of wildlife encounters also applies for reptiles. Therefore, it’s recommended to keep lizards primarily inside and only take them outside for supervised playtime.
- For chameleons, it’s best to keep them inside! Yes, they can be in tropical areas, but this species is very precise about their husbandry and preferred temperature range. Chameleons stress very easily so changing things up on them and taking them outside could throw them off and make them sick. Consistency in their care is more important!
- Snakes are hard to contain. Some snake owners are comfortable going on a walk to the park with their snake on their arm. That’s great! Just remember that some people you may encounter fear snakes and may freak out.
We hope these tips give you a better idea of how to keep your exotic pets safe. In general, for small mammals, proceed with caution. Most birds and reptiles thrive in warm temperatures and sunshine. No matter what type of pet you have though, keep a close watch while they’re outside or have a very safe and secure area for them. Most of all, when it comes to exotic pets, know everything you can about your pet’s species. If you have any questions or concerns about your specific exotic pet, contact your family veterinarian, or consult with Dr. Bean through our Avian & Exotic Medicine Service.