Keeping Reptiles Cool During a Heat Wave

We buy an array of equipment to warm our reptiles and amphibians in order to replicate the environmental temperatures of their natural habitats. When our houses become cold in the winter, our thermostatically controlled housing can simply amp up the power in our heat sources, maintaining the desired toasty temperatures that keep our animals happy. But what happens when things get too hot?

Reptiles can only stick a certain amount of heat, just like us. This of course varies from species to species but can be life-threatening as reptiles are very much at the mercy of their environment manipulating their body temperatures (being ectothermic). They cannot sweat to cool down and are contained in a finite space. Amphibians also need to stay at an optimum temperature and moisture level.

Recent hot weather in the UK has had some pondering how to keep their reptile and amphibian enclosures at a comfortable temperature range when external temperatures soar. Here are some of our tips for cooling down enclosures on the hottest summer days.

If your enclosure is in the path of direct sunlight via a window, make sure to either move it away or close the curtains/blinds. Sunlight directed at an enclosure on a hot day can quickly cause dangerous overheating inside.
  1. First and foremost, check up on your thermostat (and thermometers). All your heating equipment should be monitored by these. Turning the heating apparatus off altogether could offset a small temperature increase but likely won’t make much difference in a full heatwave where heat will accumulate in your home, and subsequently in your enclosures. The UV can be turned off at the hottest peak of the day. Consider LED lighting which runs cooler than halogens if your animals are quite dependent on a light source.
  2. Try increasing the ventilation of both the room and the enclosure. Open windows and doors, and use fans where possible. Fans directed at the vents of your enclosure can help move warm air. Wet towels or frozen objects in front of fans will help to cool the air. Another method with sliding glass door vivaria is to open the glass a few inches on each side and cover the gaps with a mesh. Be aware that fans will dry out an enclosure quickly, which can be problematic for amphibians.

3. Try ice. Ice blocks and packs from the freezer can help lower the ambient temperature. It’s important to prevent any direct contact between the pack and your animal, so cover it with a towel if it is going inside the enclosure. Enclosures with a mesh top can have ice packs placed on top, allowing cool air to drop down into the enclosure and also create some condensation. If the weather is really hot, you may need to invest in multiple packs and swap them out continually as they thaw. Alternatively, you can freeze water bottles to achieve the same effect, or use tile or slate slabs that have been in the fridge.

4. Use water. A cool (not freezing cold) misting down will help to remove heat as it evaporates. Some reptiles don’t naturally get regular humidity spikes, but very hot days will help to remove the water before it becomes problematic so long as the entire enclosure isn’t soaked through. Keep the water in any water bowls topped up and cold (ice cubes can be added). You may want to switch to a larger water bowl, and some reptiles and certainly amphibians will appreciate the respite from the heat in a water bowl.

5. Substrates. Deep soil-based substrates will be cooler towards the bottom, especially if they are kept suitably damp. Many reptiles dig into soil as a natural way to seek cooler temperatures. Additionally, keeping the substrate in a moist hide cool and wet will help maintain a cool area for your pet to use.


You could of course also use air conditioning, but this isn’t financially viable for everyone and is not common in the UK. Small mobile units are available which could be used to help control the temperature in a designated reptile room.

Signs of heatstroke

  • Heavy/rapid breathing
  • Refusal to eat
  • Lethargy
  • ‘Star gazing’ and corkscrewing in snakes
  • Disorientation/loss of balance
  • Seizures

Keeping Reptiles Cool During a Heat Wave

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  • Move enclosures, where possible, to the coolest room
  • Move away from/block direct sunlight
  • Turn off heating (and UV at the peak of the day) and double-check thermostat, hygrometer and thermometer operation
  • Use fans but avoid dehydration of amphibians
  • Increase airflow via mesh or additional vents
  • Use ice blocks/packs or bottles/tiles put in the freezer to cool enclosures from within, or from above via mesh screen tops (avoid direct contact with frozen items)
  • Use misting, large water bowls, and damp substrates to create cool areas and remove heat via evaporation
  • If available use cool air conditioning in reptile rooms
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