How to Get Your Exotic Pets Ready for Summer

By Dr. Laurie Hess, DVM, Diplomate ABVP (Avian Practice)

Summer is here, and it’s time to enjoy the sunshine and fresh air, barbeque with friends, and take pets outside to enjoy the weather, too. But taking pets outside – especially if they have thick fur coats or if they fly – can be dangerous for them. How can pet owners prevent summertime pet catastrophes from happening? Here are some tips to help keep pets safe:

  • Beat the heat:  If you have a rabbit, guinea pig, ferret, or other furry pet that is not used to being out in the heat, be sure to provide him or her with shade and ample fresh water so that he or she doesn’t overheat in hot weather. Many of these animals originate from cold climates where they were bred to have thick fur coats to keep warm, and they don’t have sweat glands like other mammals do to release heat. Thus, it’s critical that these pets not be left in direct sunlight or inside an unventilated car in summer, as they will overheat and die.
  • Ensure safety: If you bring your exotic pet outside, be sure to keep him or her in a secure carrier or enclosure so that he or she doesn’t escape or isn’t attacked by wild animals. Ferrets and birds can slip out of harnesses easily, so if you use these devices on your pets, ensure that they are on snugly and securely. Cages used to house pets outdoors should have tight fitting lids that can’t open when animals push against them. In addition, exotic pets must always be supervised and never left unattended outside, even in a carrier or cage, as wild predators hunting for prey can easily break into enclosures and get to pets.
  • Prevent flight: Never bring a flighted bird outside without containing it within a well-ventilated carrier or clipping its wings. In the blink of an eye, a flighted bird could sail away. Every summer, bird patients of mine taken outside fly away unexpectedly, and they are lost forever. Wing trimming is one way to prevent a pet bird from flying if it’s taken outside. Wing trimming is a controversial topic; some people think there is a place for it, while others oppose it. I support wing trimming (specifically, trimming the outermost 5 primary feathers) in specific circumstances, as I see birds all the time not only fly away, but also fly into walls, windows, mirrors, ceiling fans, and open containers of hot liquids like pots of boiling water or cups of hot coffee. Some of these birds become severely injured and even die. Wing trimming is like hair cutting; it’s painless, and feathers grow back in a few months. So, if you plan to take your bird outside in summer, to prevent flight temporarily, you might trim its primary feathers only during warm months.
  • Keep clean: If your bird or other exotic pet normally lives outside in an aviary, hutch, or other enclosure, be sure to keep this living area clean and dry. Flies lay eggs that develop into larvae (maggots) in damp, dirty environments, and larvae love to live in warm folds of skin and tiny skin wounds on pets living outside. As larvae develop into flies, they release toxins that can be absorbed into pets’ skin, muscles, and other body organs, ultimately leading to potentially life-threatening systemic infections. Thus, leaving soiled litter or bedding or old food in your pet’s enclosure for long periods in warm weather can lead to serious infections and death. Cages should be spot-cleaned daily and thoroughly cleaned weekly to prevent fly-strike from happening.
  • Consider a chip: Especially if you’re planning to travel with your pet, you may want to consider having your pet microchipped. Microchipping is a simple, safe, one-time procedure performed in both birds and mammals with tiny microchips specially designed to match the small sizes of these creatures. Microchipping is often the only way to reunite a lost pet with its owner, especially if the pet disappears far from home. A microchip is a tiny implant about the size of a rice grain that is safely inserted surgically in a sedated pet by a veterinarian either under the pet’s skin over its back (in a small mammal) or in the breast muscle (in a bird). The microchip is labeled with a unique number that identifies a particular pet and that can be read by a handheld, radiofrequency-controlled scanner most veterinarians and animal shelters have. If you’re not sure whether microchipping is right for your pet, be sure to discuss it with your veterinarian.

Summertime should be fun for both people and pets. By following these simple warm weather tips, you and your exotic pets will all enjoy this summer without a catch!

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