When cold weather comes, especially in areas that experience significant climate changes with the seasons, there are some steps reptile owners should take to help ensure their pets stay happy and healthy. With a few minor differences, the concerns for snakes, lizards, turtles and tortoises are the same.
The golden rule: Keep them warm!
First, all of these coldblooded animals, whose body temperatures adjust to the environment around them, require supplemental heat for proper digestion, immune function and metabolism. This is especially true when temperatures drop.
A reptile who may not need additional heat from an over-the-tank heat bulb or an under-the-tank heating pad during the summer may need these added heat sources during winter. This is especially true for certain reptiles, such as tortoises, which require high temperatures to remain healthy. The best way to determine whether your reptile’s cage temperature is adequate is to use an infrared laser temperature gun to test areas in the tank where your pet hangs out. Different species require different optimal temperatures;with a temperature gun, you can get an accurate idea of what your pet’s tank temperature is and compare it to the recommended temperature range for the species. The best source for recommended temperature ranges for specific species is your veterinarian. If you do not have a temperature gun, at a minimum you should have thermometers that stick on the inside of the tank so that you can monitor the tank for temperature changes.
Any heat source should be plugged into a thermostat that is set to turn the source on and off in order to maintain temperatures within the prescribed range. This helps limit the risk of burning the pet as well as reduces the risk of setting an electrical fire. So-called hot rocks — fake rocks that contain a heating element — should not be used with reptiles. These items cannot adequately heat a tank, and many reptiles lack the necessary sensation in their abdomens to prevent a burn if they sit on them for too long. Reptiles who live in water, such as turtles, must also have their tank water temperatures reassessed when the air temperature drops in winter. If the water temperature drops too low for your pet’s particular species, you need to add additional water heaters.