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Spending The Holidays With Exotic Pets

December 15, 2023

Seasonal greetings from all of us at Clyde’s Animal Clinic! While Fido and Fluffy tend to steal the spotlight during the holidays, we can’t overlook the importance of providing appropriate care for reptiles and exotics. Read on as a local Mattoon, IL veterinarian shares insight on how to ensure that your unique pets have a joyful and safe holiday season.

Choosing Safe Holiday Decorations For Exotic Pets

Many popular holiday decorations are dangerous to pets. While this may not be a big concern for pets that stay in their habitats, it is definitely something to worry about if your little buddy is allowed out. Many smaller animals need daily free time. That can lead them right into mischief at this time of year. 

You’ll need to be careful when letting your little buddy out. Any small or sharp items are unsafe. That would include things like manger pieces, small figurines, the plastic berries on many decorative items, ribbons, ornaments, ornament hooks … the list goes on and on. Glitter, tinsel strands, and pine needles are also unsafe: pets may try to eat them. 

Seasonal plants are another thing to be concerned about. Many popular plants, such as holly, ivy, and mistletoe, are toxic to pets. The list of safe and unsafe plants varies widely from pet to pet. Do some research, and find out what is and isn’t safe for your little (or not very little) buddy. Keep in mind that even non-toxic plants can become toxic if they are treated with chemicals, such as pesticides or fungicides, or are decorated with small items. That tiny elf figurine may look like a snack to your pet lizard! 

Christmas trees can be another hazard. Pine needles are quite sharp, and can cause injuries. Some pets, such as birds and sugar gliders, may want to perch in the trees. That sticky sap can also be an irritant. If you have a real tree, the water bowl is another concern. It may contain leached traces of chemicals such as pesticides or fire retardants. That’s not even including decorations, such as string lights and fragile ornaments, which can be dangerous in and of themselves. 

Of course, there’s no reason that you can’t have a bit of fun with your pet’s habitat. A seasonal backing to your pet’s tank can add some holiday cheer. Another option is to put smaller decorative items on the outside of your pet’s habitat. Just make sure they are well out of reach of tiny fingers or paws. Or, you can add a holiday-themed hide, such as a cute igloo. If you have an animal companion that likes to chew, such as a bunny or Guinea pig, make them some paper snowmen or snowflake chains. These are great kids’ projects! 

Helping Exotic Pets Avoid Holiday Stress

Stress is another thing to be concerned about. Most pets are creatures of habit. Any disruptions in their schedules, care routines, and environments can upset them. Loud noises and commotion can also frighten our animal companions, particularly the smaller ones. If your aunt is bringing her Great Dane over, your Chinchilla may also be quite frightened of your canine guests. 

If you’re hosting a holiday party, consider putting your animal companion in a quiet back room during the event. If your pet’s normal enclosure is too big for you to easily move, set them up with a travel enclosure. The main thing is to ensure proper conditions.

Watch for signs of stress or anxiety. The exact warning to watch for will vary from pet to pet. Do some research and find out what to look for in your animal companion. That said, there are a few universal things to look for. These include anorexia, unusual posture or vocalizations, trembling, and hiding. Ask your Mattoon, IL vet for more information. 

Keeping Exotics Comfortable During The Holidays 

Keeping your pet at a comfortable temperature is always important, but it’s particularly critical in winter. Reptiles are at the biggest risk here: cold-blooded animals can get sick very fast if their environment gets too chilly. However, many other exotics, such as hamsters and chinchillas, are quite sensitive to weather extremes. Pay extra close attention to your pet’s habitat and environment at this time of year. Make sure all heating and lighting equipment is functioning properly. 

You may want to add some extra bedding, especially for aging animals. It’s also not a bad idea to get a backup heat source, such as a small generator, in case of a power outage. 

Traveling With Exotic Pets

This is the busiest time of year for travel. Our canine friends are always open to adventure, but that can get tricky with exotics. If you’re only going over the river and through the woods to Grandma’s house, you might be able to bring your pet with you. This will require some planning, as you’ll need to bring food, bedding, equipment, water, supplements if needed, medicine, and a first aid kit.

Always confirm your pet’s accommodations in advance. You don’t want to find out at the last minute that the Airbnb you booked won’t allow pets!

If you are traveling with your pet, you’ll need a good case or carrier. A dog or cat carrier will work for some animals. For some exotic pets, you can use a plastic storage container with air holes popped into it. You can also get a small aquarium and use that. Just make sure nothing can fall over onto your pet. 

You’ll also need to keep your pet warm and toasty on the ride. Heat packs, microwaved rice socks, hot water bottles, or even regular water bottles with hot water in them can all be helpful here. Arrange these around the outside of the tank, so they can’t fall over on your pet. Also, have the car warmed up before bringing your pet out. Ask your animal clinic for more information.

Arranging Holiday Boarding/Pet Sitting For Exotic Pets

For many exotics or reptiles, having someone care for your pet is much easier than bringing them somewhere. You’ll know that your beloved pet is being cared for by an experienced professional. 

Pet Sitters are also a good choice. This is also the least disruptive option for the pet, as they’ll only experience a minimal change—or perhaps none at all—to their usual routines. If you can’t find someone to stop over, you can consider looking into professional reptile sitter services. Of course, you might even be able to bring your animal companion to your pet sitter’s house.

The type of animal you have will also factor in here. Many reptiles are quite low maintenance, which can make things easy for the pet sitter. Others, however, require quite a bit of daily care. 

Here are a  few tips for helping things go smoothly with a petsitter: 

  • Provide a water bottle for misting, along with the misting schedule. 
  • Get extra bulbs for heating/lighting gear.
  • Make sure that the pet sitter has updated contact information for you, as well as info for your veterinarian and an emergency clinic. 
  • Give clear, written instructions. A small beginners’ care book isn’t a bad thing to have, particularly if it is clear about things like do’s and don’ts and offers information on signs of illness. 
  • Have your pet’s food prepared in advance. For an iguana, you can have pre-chopped veggies divided into sealed plastic bags. You won’t have to worry about whether your pet sitter got the portions right. 
  • If your pet eats live bugs, you may want to prepare a separate enclosure for the creepy crawlies. It can be hard to find someone willing to handle live insects. This is one reason it’s sometimes best to find someone experienced with reptiles. 
  • It may sound like a good idea to just add more live bugs to your pet’s tank. Just keep in mind that sometimes insects can bite and injure reptiles. 
  • Modern technology may make things a bit easier. 
  • Have heat and lighting equipment set to a timer. You might even be able to manage and/or monitor these through a smartphone app, which will also make things easier on your sitter.
  • A smoke detector and smart app can also save you a lot of stress.
  • Install a webcam so that it provides a live feed of your pet. 

Choosing Presents For Exotics 

Don’t forget to put something in your pet’s stocking! A snake or turtle probably won’t get super excited over a new plushie dolphin toy, but they might appreciate some new décorative items, such as a new hide or some new climbing branches. Many smaller pets, such as Guinea pigs, ferrets, and hedgehogs, like cozy beds, tents, or hammocks. Those with open-rooted teeth, such as bunnies and hamsters, will always appreciate chews. Snacks are another option: just stick with safe choices. Ask your Mattoon, IL veterinarians for more information.

Take Some Pictures

Exotic pets can take some really cute seasonal photos! Have fun with this. Try putting reindeer antlers on your hedgehog, or pose your rabbit on a little sleigh. You can also experiment with editing software. Just put safety first. Never leave pets alone with props!

We wish you and your pet a wonderful holiday season. If you have any veterinary care needs, please don’t hesitate to contact us. As your Mattoon, IL animal clinic, we’re here to help!

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