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Holiday Care For Exotic Pets

December 15, 2023

Season’s Greetings from all of us at Sandwich Animal Hospital. We often get lots of cute photos of our patients at this time of year. And while it’s not hard to find information on how to care for Fido and Fluffy around the holidays, reptiles and exotics have unique needs. This time of year can be stressful and even a bit dangerous for many of our animal companions. A local Sandwich, MA vet offers helpful tips on seasonal care for exotics and reptiles in this article. 

Decorate Carefully

Those seasonal decorations can make your house look super warm and inviting, but many are dangerous to our animal friends. Be very careful when letting your pet out. Anything small or sharp is a potential choking risk. That includes things like small figurines, ornaments, the plastic berries on fake plants, ribbons, ornament hooks … the list goes on and on. Items with strings or cords, such as ribbons, light strands, and garlands, are also unsafe.

Many popular holiday plants, such as mistletoe, yew, holly, and ivy, are toxic to pets. Keep these in spots your pet can’t get to. Remember, even nontoxic plants can become toxic if they are treated with chemicals, such as pesticides, or are decorated with small items. 

The Christmas tree can also be dangerous. Pine needles are quite sharp, and can cause injuries. This is something to be aware of if you have a pet that may want to perch in the tree, like a bird or sugar glider. Of course, quite a few lizards will also climb trees if given the chance. With a real tree, the water bowl is another concern, as the water may contain traces of chemicals, such as fire retardants. Unfortunately, pets may try to drink it. Finally, be extra cautious with small decorations, such as string lights, ornament hooks, and fragile ornaments.

There’s no reason you can’t decorate your pet’s habitat, as long as you’re safe about it. One option is to add a festive seasonal backing to your pet’s tank or habitat. Just put it on the outside, where your pet can’t reach. This applies to lights as well. You can also get a holiday-themed hide, like a little igloo, or perhaps make a pet tent out of a cute seasonal material. If you have a pocket pet, such as a Guinea pig or hamster, you can make snowmen or snowflake chains out of plain paper. These can make great projects for kids! 

Protect Pets From Holiday Stress

Most pets are creatures of habit, that do best on a steady routine. Any changes to your little buddy’s environment or schedule can distress them. That includes things like commotion, flashing decorations, and loud noises … even the inflatable Santa in the yard. If your aunt is bringing her Mastiff over, your bunny may be terrified of your canine guest. A lizard, on the other hand, may be more scared of that animatronic Santa. 

Watch for signs of stress or anxiety. These differ a bit from pet to pet. However, there are a few universal ones to look for, such as reduced appetite, hiding, trembling, unusual posture or behavior, and uncharacteristic vocalizations.

Are you hosting a party over the next few weeks? Consider temporarily moving your pet to a quiet back room. If their normal enclosure is too big to easily relocate, just set up a small travel enclosure. This is fine for a few hours, or even overnight, assuming you can provide proper conditions. The biggest thing is to ensure that your pet is comfortable and safe.


Many exotic pets—particularly reptiles–can get really sick really fast if their environment is too cold. That’s always a particular concern around the holidays, as weather conditions can fluctuate so much at this time of year. Make sure that all of your heating and lighting equipment is functioning properly. You may want to check temps and conditions a bit more often than usual. You may also want to add extra bedding. Last but not least, it’s not a bad idea to have a backup heat source, such as a small generator, in case there is a power outage. Ask your Sandwich, MA vet for more information. 

Boarding Or Petsitting

This is a peak travel season for many. Headed out of town? We’d usually recommend having someone care for your pet in your home: this is going to be a lot easier for your pet than bringing them somewhere. Your animal companion will be cared for by an experienced professional, and will be able to stay on their regular schedule. You can also look into professional reptile sitter services. The type of animal you have is also a factor. Many reptiles are quite low maintenance: some snakes don’t even eat every day. Other animals need quite a bit of daily care and attention, and really should only be looked after by experienced carers. 

You may be able to bring your animal companion to the pet sitter’s house. This can be a great option, especially if you know someone who is experienced with your type of pet. You’ll have to transport your pet’s habitat or backup habitat and get everything set up properly, of course, but it may be well worth it.

Here are a few tips for hiring a petsitter: 

  • Set your heating and lighting equipment and thermostats up on a timer. With some of the newer types of equipment, you may be able to manage and/or monitor these through an app.
  • Have a smoke detector set up. Many of these can also be hooked up to apps. This is a good idea even if you aren’t traveling. 
  • Provide updated contact information. You’ll also want to make sure the sitter has the numbers for your veterinarian and an emergency clinic. 
  • Fill a water bottle for misting, and put the misting schedule on or near it. 
  • Offer any specific instructions in writing. 
  • Provide basic information. It’s probably unreasonable to expect a petsitter to do a lot of heavy reading, but a small beginners’ care book or a first-aid care sheet isn’t bad to have on hand. 
  • Install a webcam to provide a live feed of your pet. 
  • Leave extra bulbs for heating/lighting gear.
  • Prepare pre-made meals, and divide them into sealed plastic bags, labeled with the dates and mealtimes. 
  • If your pet eats live bugs, such as Dubai roaches, you may want to prepare a separate enclosure for the critters. Don’t add extra live bugs to your pet’s tank: insects can bite and injure reptiles. 

Traveling With An Exotic Pet: Do or Don’t?

If you’re only going over the river and through the woods to Grandma’s–you may be able to bring your pet with you.

Here are a few tips for traveling with reptiles or exotics:

  • Get a secure travel case. Small dog or cat carriers can be used for many pets. A plastic storage container with air holes will also work. You can also get a small tank or aquarium.
  • Pack properly Your pet will need food, dishes, bedding, a first-aid kit, treats, and any supplements or medicine they take. Pack a little extra, just in case of delays. Reptiles will need heating or lighting equipment, while pocket pets and birds require toys and chew toys.
  • When preparing the travel carrier, make sure nothing can fall over onto your pet. You’ll also need to travel with the carrier in a secure spot, so it won’t fall over or move if you take a sharp corner. (the floor behind the passenger seat is a good spot.)
  • You’ll need to keep your pet warm on the ride. Put something warm along the outside of your pet’s tank. You can use heat packs, microwaved rice socks, hot water bottles, or even regular water bottles with hot water. Finally, have the vehicle nice and warm before bringing your pet out.

All of us here at Sandwich Animal Hospital, your Sandwich, MA animal hospital, wish you a wonderful holiday season. We genuinely appreciate your continued trust in us and our commitment to the welfare of all pets. Should you have any questions or require further assistance, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

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492 Route 6A
East Sandwich, MA 02537
(508) 888-2774
Also serving Bourne, MA and surrounding areas.

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