What to Know About Caring for Your Small Pet in Cold Weather

hamsteres cozy in cage

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Even as spring approaches in a month, many parts of the world are still experiencing a winter chill. For certain small pets such as rabbits, hamsters, birds, lizards, and other animals that can reside in a cage, this might end up becoming a problem if they stay home for too long while their owners are out.

What are the best practices for ensuring your pet can stay safe and cozy in your home even in the coldest temperatures? Read on to find out important things to remember when keeping such pets in cold climates.

Treat Your Pet With Care

veterinarian holding gecko

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“Otherwise-healthy animals like rabbits and guinea pigs can get stressed and suffer from (digestive disorder) GI stasis if the weather gets too cold,” said Dr. Crystal Matt, an avian medicine resident at the Avian and Exotic Animal Clinic of Indianapolis.

If your pets have GI stasis, having their critical care feeding formula on-hand is important. 

Unlike cats and dogs, which have been domesticated for thousands of years, most other pets (especially reptiles) are not made to live in the conditions we do. They need specialized environmental conditions, and some are very intolerant of change. Matt emphasized to make sure your pet is healthy before cold weather comes.

Routine wellness exams can help prevent worsening of hidden diseases. Pets are just as able to catch illness as humans, as many of our small friends are much more sensitive to heat.

Keep Heat Accessible

bearded dragon under a heater

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Matt advises small-pet owners to make sure you have a backup heat source available for your pet. Check with your veterinarian regarding what kinds of heat are safe for your pets (birds are very sensitive to air contaminants!). 

She advises to be sure to have heating options that are battery-powered in case the power goes out, and save water bottles in case pipes freeze. 

“Air-activated hand warmers make great heat support for small animals too,” Matt said. She added to be sure to place a layer of fabric between the pet and the heat source for safety. Some people will even use a hot water bottle, or a warmed-up potato in a travel cage when taking their animals to the vet for heat!

Prepare in Advance 

woman caring for a bird

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Snow storms are still common this time of year, and Matt advises owners to make sure you have adequate carriers and heating options for all of your pets.

Plenty of accidents (including failing heaters) can occur while you’re gone, and catching problems early or thinking ahead is the best way to keep your pets safe, she said.

Ask a friend, neighbor, or boarding facility if you would be able to bring your pets to their space in times of dangerous weather or power outages. A backup plan is important to keep an eye on their health and care.

Overall, it is a good practice to make sure your pets have someone to monitor them if you are gone for long periods of time.

“Even if your pet (such as a large reptile) only needs to eat occasionally, you should ask a friend or neighbor to check in on them regularly,” Matt said.

Be Cautious of Overheating

hamster in cool space

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While supplemental heat is very important, we can also overheat our animals, which can be just as dangerous.

Ensure that your pet has the opportunity to get away from supplemental heat sources if they’re feeling too hot. Some small pets, such as Chinchillas, are especially prone to the risks of overheating, and are actually much more cold-tolerant.

On top of that, humidity can often be a problem for pets at home. Just like our human skin gets dry and cracked in cold weather, our exotic small pets can suffer from low ambient humidity as well, per Matt. 

Most reptile species need much higher humidity levels than average room air provides and become severely ill when spending long periods in low humidity. 

Talk to Your Vet

rabbit at the vet

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It may seem like an obvious answer, but Matt advises all small pet owners to talk to their vet about the best humidity ranges for your pet. 

Veterinarians are always happy to help advise owners on how to properly care for their pets, and when in doubt, they’re the best person to help you understand the health risks of your specific type of pet.