Heating and Temperature Control for Reptiles

Reptiles are often referred to being “cold-blooded”, which can be misleading.  More appropriately they should be considered poikilothermic or ectothermic. This means that, unlike mammals and birds, reptiles are unable to regulate their body temperatures internally and change their body temperature in adaptation to their environmental temperature. Because reptiles do not need to expend as much energy heating their bodies, they have a much lower metabolic rate than that of mammals. Each reptile species has what is referred to as its preferred optimal temperature zone which is a narrow temperature range at which they are active and undergo typical functions such as feeding, digestion, fighting off infections, and reproduction. Outside of this range these functions may be hindered or cease altogether. Some species will hibernate during colder months and during this time their metabolic rate will decrease.  

Temperature is very important, but requirements will vary based on species. The cage temperature  should be kept within the reptile’s preferred optimal temperature zone at all times.  A temperature gradient should be established with a warm end and a cooler end, so the pet can regulate their temperature within this zone.  A digital thermometer should be placed at both warm and cool ends of the enclosure.

There are many choices when it comes to heating a reptile cage.  The best options are those that do not allow the reptile to come into direct contact with the heat source.  Heat lamps, infrared heat emitters, or under-tank heat pads are preferred. Heat rocks should be avoided due to the very real danger of severe, life-threatening burns.  Whatever source used should be appropriate for the species being kept.  For example, leopard geckos do better with under-tank heaters as they are nocturnal and absorb heat better from their undersides. In contrast tortoises absorb heat very poorly from below but are very effective at absorbing heat from above through the top of their shells making using a heat lamp or heat emitter a superior choice for them. 

A programable thermostat or rheostat should be used on heating elements to allow the owner more exact control over cage temperatures. Thermostats also add an extra level of safety to your pet's cage making it less likely to get too hot and cause them harm. For many species it is recommend that cage temperatures be dropped down at night 10-20 degrees lower than their daytime temperatures. Many programmable thermostats can be programed to do this automatically or can the heat source can be hooked up to a timer to automatically turn off heat sources at night. 

Whatever methods you choose to heat your reptile, always keep safety of both your pet and other members of your household in mind. As with all electrical devices, especially those that give off heat, there can be a risk of burns and fires. Always make sure that heat elements cannot come in contact with your pet or anything flammable and mamaintain them in good, working order. 

Please feel free to ask us if you need further assistance choosing the correct heating options for your pet