Tips for keeping your exotic pet safe during a power outage

Power outages are never fun, but here are a few tips to help keep your bird or other exotic pet safe:
1. Provide heat!
Many birds and reptiles, in particular, need to be kept fairly warm to stay healthy. Most birds (especially the larger parrots) can tolerate temperatures as low as the 50s, but once it drops below that, they may get fluffed up (trying to expend all of their energy trapping warm air between their feathers and their bodies) and stop eating. They burn extra calories trying to stay warm, so it is essential that they keep eating. Reptiles are “cold-blooded, “meaning their body temperatures are determined by their environmental temperatures. So, if their environments get very cold, their body temperatures will drop. Their immune system will not function optimally, and their digestion and metabolism will slow down – what occurs during hibernation or brumation. Reptiles can safely tolerate this for a few days, but over the long term, brumating reptiles may become sick. Even hedgehogs can go into a state of sluggishness or torpor when the temperature plummets. Thus, if you have an exotic pet, and your home is cold because you have lost power, do the best you can to keep your pet warm by wrapping his cage with a blanket or towel, moving the cage near a sunlit window (as long as there are no drafts blowing through it), and placing bottles or rubber gloves filled with warm water (if you have access to warm water) wrapped in towels under the reptile (or under the cage, if you have a bird or small mammal that might chew on the bottles or gloves).

2. Offer water!
Many people without power are also without water, and many exotic pets have very high water requirements due to their small sizes and fast metabolism. Thus, if you are trying to keep your bird or other exotic pet healthy during a black out, be sure to provide fresh water daily, and monitor his water consumption carefully. Stressed exotic pets may be panting and may be more likely to lose moisture as a result, plus they may not eat or drink normally and are at higher risk of dehydration.

3. Prevent trauma!
Many birds and non-nocturnal exotic pets are not used to being in the dark for prolonged periods and may become very nervous and stressed as a result. Birds may flail around in their cages and can potentially injure themselves as a result. Worse, they may escape their cages, and if they are flighted, can smash into objects or escape out a door. Small mammals such as rabbits or guinea pigs may curl up and hide somewhere, making them hard to find in the dark. If you are trying to keep your pet calm in the darkness, keep a small flashlight near your pet’s cage so that he can see you and his familiar surroundings; this may keep him calmer and less likely to injure himself.

4. Avoid fumes!
Many of us are tempted to burn candles or keep a propane stove running when faced with a power outage. While candles and gas stoves may be necessary when dealing with a power failure, if you have an exotic pet, you must take precautions when using these aids. Several exotic pets (birds in particular) are exquisitely sensitive to any kind of fumes, so if you are burning candles that emit smoke (or worse, have lead in the wick, which many do), you must stay far away from these animals, or they are at risk of inhaling these fumes and dying. The same is true of propane and other gases; if you can smell it, your pets could inhale it and collapse. So, don’t take chances; move your birds and exotics far from the source of any fumes (that means a whole separate room).

5. Feed! Feed! Feed!
Nervous birds and exotic pets, like stressed people, may have a decreased appetite or may not want to eat, at all. This is especially hard on them when they are in a cold and potentially stressful situation where they are expending lots of extra calories trying to stay warm and alert, potentially sleeping less than normal. In these situations, small exotic pets with normally high metabolisms actually need additional calories to stay healthy. Thus, it’s especially important to monitor their appetites to ensure that they are eating. Tempt your bird or exotic pet to eat during a blackout by offering his favorite foods frequently in small quantities. Exotic pets that eat less may need to be hand-fed or encouraged to eat, even syringe-fed if necessary.

Living through a power outage, as I am now in New York as I write this, is never fun. But if you follow these tips and monitor your exotic pets closely, we should all come out okay.

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