Transporting Reptiles and Amphibians in Cold Weather
Reptiles and amphibians (herps) are cold blooded and cannot produce body heat on their own. They must be protected from cold weather during transport to our veterinary hospital. Failing to do so, and allowing a herp to become chilled, will depress immune system function and either delay healing from an illness or injury, or allow a herp to come down with an infection.
1. First, warm up your car before placing the patient in the car. This is not enough by itself! You’re wearing your winter coat and hat to be comfortable; your reptile needs additional protection.
2. Option 1: Place smallish reptiles in a cloth bag, a crush-proof box with air holes, or a critter keeper and place that under your coat so that your body heat keeps the reptile warm. Be careful not to pinch the animal when you sit down or with the seat belt. Line the container with paper towels or a terrycloth towel for absorbency in case the reptile goes to the bathroom on the trip.
3. Option 2: Place the reptile in a small, crush-proof box with air holes, or a critter keeper. Line the box with paper towels or a terrycloth towel as the vibrations of a car trip often stimulate reptiles to defecate. Fill one or two empty water bottles or latex gloves with warm but not boiling water. If you can’t hold the bottle comfortably in your hand it’s too hot and could burn or kill your herp with heat stroke. Place the warm water bottles next to the box that holds the reptile. Prevent direct contact between bottle and reptile, and make sure the bottle can’t shift and crush the reptile.
Place the box containing the reptile and the warm water bottles inside an insulated box with air holes. You can use an insulated picnic cooler, a Styrofoam box like tropical fish are shipped in, or a cardboard box wrapped in two layers of towels or blankets. Insulation to hold the heat in but allow breathing is the key.
If you choose to use electric or chemical hand warmers or microwavable rice- or bean-filled bags as a heat source, be very, very careful. Some of these get excessively hot and can cause burns or heat stroke in the reptile. Check the temperatures of such devices before using them. Again, you should be able to hold the heated device in your hand comfortably.
4. Aquatic Turtles: transport these the same way. Do NOT transport your turtle in a bucket of water! Turtles breathe air, not water, and their skin is covered in scales so they do not have to stay wet like a frog or salamander does. It’s perfectly fine to transport your turtle in the same dry conditions that you might use for a lizard or snake. It’s impossible to keep a bucket of water sufficiently warm in cold winter weather.
5. Be aware that ectothermic (cold-blooded) animals have no internal heat to hold in with a blanket. Simply wrapping them in a blanket doesn’t keep them warm! If you wrap an ice cube up in a blanket, does that keep the ice cube warm? You need an external heat source like your own body heat or the suggested warm water bottles to keep the herp warm.