Hi, this month we wanted to give you some general information about the importance of temperature control for our reptile pets and patients.
When it comes to cats and dogs, besides temperature extremes, we don’t think much about the temperature of their environment. Basically, if we are comfortable, so are they. This rule does not apply with our scaly patients. Reptiles (turtles, snakes, and lizards) are cold blooded and therefore rely entirely on environmental temperature control. Mammals sweat, pant, loose some layers if too hot and shiver or put on a coat if cold, but reptiles need to correct their body temperatures by relocating along environmental temperature gradients. What’s a temperature gradient you ask? Well, in the outside world it is the difference in temperatures from 1 area to another. Any given area has several temperature gradients. Take your yard for example: Under the tree, in the sun, under the ground, in a puddle. Although these areas can all be within feet of each other, they all have different temperatures. Things are a little less complicated when it comes to our pets’ cages but we still try our best to provide a variety of temperature gradients by having warmer and cooler ends of a cage as well as hiding and basking spots for them to choose from.
So what is the ideal temperature for your pet? Short answer…it depends. Every species has their preferred optimal temperature zone (POTZ). This is the temperature range that allows them to function at their best and is based on their natural habitat, ie where they live in the wild. There are many resources available to determine your reptile species POTZ, including www.anapsid.org which contains a lot of general reptile information.
Using the POTZ, you can determine how to set up your pet’s environment. The low end of the range should be the temperature of the “cooler” end of the tank and the high end should be the temperature in the “hot” end or basking area. Often the POTZ, may change at night or seasonally which also should be taken into account to best care for your reptile.
Besides maintaining the reptile’s comfort, proper temperature control is important for many other reasons. If reptiles are too cold, they will become sluggish. It also causes their immune systems, digestive system, and other important body functions to not function correctly. Reptiles often will not eat is too cold and even if they do, their bodies cannot process the nutrients. Reptiles kept outside of their POTZ are often smaller and get sick more easily.
One last word of caution. Not all heat is created equally. There are many ways to control the temperature of your pet’s enclosure but there are those out there that can be dangerous. Avoid heat rocks and other direct heat sources as these can cause thermal burns. You also want to make sure any lights or other heat sources are out of reach of your reptile. Lamps on top of the enclosures lid are often the safest, as well as heating pads placed under the tank on medium or low if lights alone do not maintain a correct temperature.
AHDC recommends annual wellness exam and husbandry checks for our reptile patients. Call to schedule yours with Dr. Balmer so we can make sure you are “bringing the heat.”