How to Take Care of Small Pets in the Summer
You’re probably aware of the necessary precautions to protect dogs and cats during the summer months, but you might not be as familiar with the best ways to protect small pets such as rabbits, guinea pigs, mice, hamsters, gerbils, rats, ferrets or chinchillas when hot weather strikes.
The increased temperatures and higher humidity levels during the summer can be problematic, and small pets can easily become overheated.
This is especially true for small animals—such as rabbits—that may live outdoors, says Dr. Sara Ochoa, who works with a variety of companion animals, including small mammals, in Texas.
“If any of these pets live outside, we worry about overheating and them getting dehydrated,” she says. “If your small mammal lives inside, and you keep your house in the 70s, they should be perfectly fine.”
The right temperatures for small animals
Hamsters, gerbils, chinchillas, mice, rats, rabbits, ferrets and guinea pigs acclimate well to average household temperatures that do not exceed 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Pet parents should not place animal habitats or pens in direct sunlight, even indoors, as this can cause temperature spikes.
When traveling with small animals during the summer, it’s also important to never leave them unattended in the car and to monitor the temperature in the vehicle to make sure it remains below 80 degrees. Always cool your car down before placing your small animal into it when traveling.
Tips for caring for small animals in the summer
Keeping small animals indoors during the summer and maintaining a proper temperature in your home is the easiest ways to prevent heatstroke or other summer dangers.
However, pet parents can also follow these tips to make sure their small pets stay comfortable during the warmer months.
Provide access to fresh water. “No matter what time of year it is, your pet should have fresh, clean water,” says Ochoa, who recommends cleaning and refreshing the water bowl or bottle more regularly during the summer because of the warmer temperatures. Bottles should also be regularly disinfected to remove any algae growth or potential bacterial contamination.
Use fans to help keep pets cool. Ochoa says that you can place a small fan near your pet’s habitat to help cool them down during the summer. Just make sure the fan isn’t too close or blowing air directly on your pet at all times. Having it circulate the air in the room around your pet’s habitat is enough to help your pet stay cool.
Add frozen items on hot days. To give small animals some relief from the heat, pet parents can use frozen accessories in habitats or water bottles. “Adding ice to their water bottle or placing a frozen bottle of water in their habitat will help keep them cool,” says Ochoa. Just take care to ensure pets have space in their habitat away from frozen items and remove any bedding that may become too dampened by the melting ice so as not to let it sit in your pet’s home. Frozen items should also be avoided for neonatal animals.
Clean habitats more frequently. Small animals can be susceptible to parasites and other nasty bugs, so it’s important to keep their habitats and living areas clean. Bot flies, says Ochoa, can transfer cuterebra larvae to small animals through cuts and small wounds. These larvae need to be removed by veterinarians.
“I recommend that habitats be cleaned a little more frequently to decrease the chance of flies in the habitat,” says Ochoa.
Keep living areas in the shade. Don’t place small animal habitats in direct sunlight, even if your pet is living indoors. This may mean moving your pet’s habitat to a different location in your home throughout the day. Summer sun can cause habitats to heat up quickly, so make sure your pet’s living quarters are always in the shade.
Keep exercise to a minimum. Help your pet beat the heat by restricting strenuous exercise that could cause them to become overheated. For example, if you regularly take your rabbit outdoors to stretch their legs, you may want to avoid this during periods of hot weather, or schedule your outdoor activities for earlier or later in the day when temperatures are lower.
Some animals, such as chinchillas, are more susceptible to heat related illness and death, so be sure to take precautionary measures to keep their habitat and homes cool before a heat wave strikes. For additional recommendations and guidance, always contact your veterinarian.
Watch for signs of heatstroke
Monitor your small animal for signs of heat stroke—especially if they are outdoors or in a room without air conditioning.
Signs of heatstroke in small animals include:
- Increased respiration
- Red gums
- Red ears
Ochoa says that, especially with rabbits, pet parents can wipe down their feet with cool water and use a fan to try to cool them down, but it’s important to see a veterinarian as soon as possible if you suspect heatstroke.
If you have any questions about how to keep your pet cool during the summer, consult your veterinarian or discuss products and ideas with educated store partners at your local Petco.