As much as Britain is known for its cool and wet weather, it is also common to experience sudden increases in temperature and yearly heatwaves, as recently experienced, on occasion, in April and May. So it’s imperative to prepare for the unexpected, and sometimes drastic, change.
As smaller pets – such as rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, rats, ferrets and mice – are generally kept in enclosed habitats such as cages and hutches it is important to ensure they are kept in suitable conditions, as the animals are relatively restricted in their movement.
There are some simple changes that can be made to a small animal’s environment to make sure they remain comfortable and out of harm’s way as the temperature rises.
Keep water topped up
Keep a closer eye on the water levels in the small animal’s habitat, as it runs the risk of evaporating in warmer weather. Make sure that enough water is in their pets cage or hutch at all times. A good supply of water will help the small animal to regulate its fluid balance and keep it refreshed as the day goes on. The bowl or bottle the water is in should be easily accessible, but not possible to overturn. A few ice cubes can also be kept in the water to keep it sufficiently cool and prevent evaporation.
Feed them water-filled foods
One way to easily hydrate a small animal is to feed them foods with a high water content. Fruits and vegetables like cucumber, lettuce, radish, apples, berries, cherries, melon, grapes, strawberries, watercress, celery leaves, tomatoes and fresh spinach are good food-related sources of water and hydration. Be careful not to feed too much fruit to certain small animals though as the sugar can cause health problems.
Keep them in the shade
Be mindful of where you keep small animals. As mentioned earlier, the cages and hutches a small animal is kept in will render it stationary, leaving the animal no option but to remain in a spot which may be too hot or harmful. Try to keep pets out of direct sunlight, away from windows and in an area which doesn’t get too hot throughout the day. Be aware of the changes that one location may go through – what might seem like a cool, shaded spot in the late afternoon could be very warm and in direct sunlight at midday. Preferably, small pets shouldn’t be kept in metal hutches or cages during summer, as they attract heat. Also, refrain from keeping small animal unattended in a hot car.
…But keep them away from fans
To make sure a small animal is kept sufficiently cool, it might be tempting for pet owners to sit them in the line of a fan or in an air-conditioned room as a quick fix to possible overheating. While small animals are particularly sensitive to heat, keeping them in the direct line of cold air for prolonged periods may leave them vulnerable to ill health, especially when left unattended. Also, if a hamster gets too cold for too long, they may go into hibernation while gerbils and ferrets may go into a lethargic, hibernation-like state – something which is discouraged among captivated pets. A fan might also be ineffective as it works by cooling down human sweat thus regulating our temperature, however, small animals do not perspire.
Be wary of heatstroke
Pet owners should look out for signs of overheating and heatstroke or hyperthermia in their small pets. Smaller animals are sensitive to heat while older and sedentary animals are more prone to heatstroke. Other factors such as a lack of water, lack of shade and stress can also increase the risk of overheating. Signs of heatstroke include panting, a bright red tongue slobbering, or thick, sticky saliva, depression, weakness, reluctance to move and convulsions. Any pet owners who notice these symptoms in their small animals should move their pet into shade, lower its temperature by wetting its ears and and be advised to contact a vet.
Pet owners should be advised to regularly groom and trim the hair of their small pets, namely long-haired rabbits and guinea pigs. This will help the small animals to keep cool in warmer temperatures as their hair and fur helps them to retain heat. Small animals don’t sweat so when they have more fur or hair they are unable to stop themselves from getting overheated