Reptile Heating - what is the best way to heat my cage?

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Heat mats, heat cords, heat rocks, heat emitters, and heat lights all provide heat but which is the best choice for your pet?


Heat Rocks and Heat Caves

Heat rocks and heat caves are essentially a heating element that has been encased in solid resin. Some of them look very realistic and although they sound like a good idea a lot of specialist reptile suppliers choose not to stock these products as they can actually be quite dangerous to use. In fact sellers that do offer these products for sale can often be a good indication that they are not familiar with reptile husbandry but just sell reptile products.

The problem with heat rocks and caves is that the heating element can sometimes be placed unevenly inside the resin. The factories that make these products do not lay the element with a mould and it is done by hand so the elements in each rock are laid differently. This can create hot spots in the rock if the element is more concentrated in certain areas of the rock. This heating inconsistency can be dangerous for your pets if the heat in certain areas is more intense than in others.

Reptiles with low body temperatures also have low sensory ability. This can mean that a cool reptile may in effect cook or burn itself on a heat source without actually feeling any pain. If a heat rock has an inconsistent heating surface reptiles can be burned by the rock. The fact that heat rocks are placed inside enclosures just compacts the problems with heating and burns.

We do not recommend nor sell heat rocks or heat caves for the above reasons.

Ceramic Heat Emitters

Ceramic heat emitters look similar to light bulbs but do not give off any visible light. The energy they consume is all transferred into heat which makes them a much more effective heat source than glass light bulbs. Ceramic heat emitters have standard lamp connectors so will fit inside standard lamp fittings. They are essentially a heat element that has been encased inside a ceramic material. When turned on the element heats the ceramic that encases it and the ceramic in turn gives off the heat. The heating element is a lot heavier duty than the element in a glass bulb and for this reason ceramic heat emitters generally last much longer than glass bulbs with a usage life of six to twelve months in most cases. They come in a range of wattages including 25W, 40W, 50W, 60W, 75W, 100W, 150W, 200W, and 250W.

Heat emitters give off intense heat in a very short period of time. After only 10 seconds or so a ceramic heat emitter will be too hot to touch and will burn you or your reptiles as any hot element would. They are a quick and intense source of radiant heat and are popular for use with basking species as they will encourage a basking response. They can generate basking temperatures in the high 30's or even low 40's.

The downsides to ceramic heat emitters is that they are heating the air in the enclosure so they can dry the atmosphere in the enclosure somewhat which can be a concern for jungle species and other species that require good humidity levels. Another disadvantage can be that as they are heating the air any heat generated is quickly lost when the heat source is turned off. This can make them somewhat unsuitable for use with thermostats as it would result in the thermostat turning the heat source on and off almost constantly in order to try to maintain the desired enclosure temperature.

We recommend ceramic heat emitters for use with basking species or as secondary heat source where additional heat is required.

Heat Lights

There are a range of heat light bulbs on the market, all of which provide an amount of heat and light that will vary according to the type and wattage chosen. Heat lamps are a convenient and cheap source of heat but they do have their limitations.

The main upside to heat lights is the fact that they give off visible light as well as heat, but this can also be their main downfall. Bright basking lights will stimulate a basking response in sun-loving species and also provide a source of light that mimicks the natural daylight cycle and enables you to observe your pets. This is great during daylight hours. However once night falls bright basking lights must be turned off and if they are the sole heating source then that in turn means that all heat is turned off at night time too which can be less than ideal. There are a range of light bulbs such as infra-red and moonlight bulbs which can help counteract this. These bulbs provide lesser amounts of heat and less intense light so can be used to heat and light enclosures at night time without overly disturbing your pets.

Heat lights will heat the air inside an enclosure, heat that is lost very quickly when the heat source is turned off. This radiant heat can also dry the air inside enclosures which is not suitable for all species.

The main problem with heat lights though is that they can be unreliable. The heating element inside a light bulb is very lightweight and easily damaged or broken. This can cause the bulb to fail and it is not uncommon for bulbs to last only a few months under daily usage. If the heat light is the sole source of heat then a failing lightbulb can be a particular problem. The above also makes these bulbs unsuitable for use with switching thermostats as the action of the thermostat continually turning the bulb on and off can damage the bulb.

We recommend heat lights be used only as a secondary source of heat.

Heat Mats

Heat mats are a heating element that has been encased in a flat plastic sheet with a plug on one end. They come in various sizes that relates to wattage. Some heat mats have inbuilt thermostats but most will continue heating as long as they are turned on. They are one of the most convenient and effective sources of heat for reptiles.

Although heat mats can be placed inside enclosures we generally recommend that they be placed under or on the side of an enclosure. If the mat is outside it is far easier to maintain and you do not need to worry about water spillages or pet mess. The heat given off my heat mats is quite intense over a period of time and you will have no trouble heating an enclosure to a reasonable temperature even through a solid wood or melamine box and substrate. It is always best to leave ventilation space around the heat mat to prevent overheating of the mat which can lead to scalding and damage to the mat.

Green PVC Heat Mats - often green in colour the PVC heat mats are generally marketed as being water proof, fully flexible, and with a tough outer coating of protective PVC material. Despite the higher price tag that these heat mats attract they have a design fault that should make buyers think twice before choosing these heat mats. The problem with these heat mats is that connection between the electrical cord and the heating element is not well protected. It is not difficult to damage this connection by bending the mat in the wrong spot or banging the cord in the wrong way, and a damaged connection can result in the whole mat shorting out and failing. If one of these shorted mats is cut open you can see burn damage inside the mat which could lead to severe consequences.

We do not recommend these green PVC heat mats as we consider them to be unreliable and a potential electrical hazard.

Black PE Heat Mats - unlike the green PVC heat mats listed above these black heat mats have good protection of the cable heating element connection which makes them more reliable and likely safer to use. The heating element is protected by the water resistant, splash proof PE plastic cover, but they are by no means water proof and no water should be allowed to get near the cable connector area on the mat as it could enter that connection and short the mat. There are a range of style of heat mat in this category including solid black, black checked, golden stripe, and stick on. Different brands may have slightly different styles of mat but the basic solid black seems to be the most common and reliable style.

We recommend the solid black colour heat mats as they have a proven track record of being very reliable, safe, and easy to use.

Heat Cords

Heat cords are becoming the most popular heat source due to their reliability and ease of use. Heat cords are quite safe to use inside an enclosure as they are completely encased in flexible silicone. They give off a good amount of heat that is not intense at all so does not present any danger to your pets. The flexibility of the long heating element means that the heat cord can be run under the substrate, coiled under a heat rock, or even wrapped around a branch for basking species. Heat cords are also great for creating heated racks for cages simply by routing out a groove in the desired pattern in which the heat cord can then be placed making for a nice clean and tidy and effective heat source. Probably the only rule for heat cord safety is to avoid the heat cord coming into contact with itself in order to prevent scalding or damage to the heat cord itself.

We recommend heat cords as being the most versatile, safe, and easy to use heat source available to reptile pets. They may not suit every situation but when used they will rarely let you down.

Safe Use of Reptile Heating

Correct housing and heating is going to help ensure the health of your reptile and amphibian pets. As these animals are ectothermic they rely on an outside heat source to raise their body temperature to their specific preferred operating body termperature. These preferred body temperatures are going to vary between species and even among different age groups within a species. Generally speaking the quicker an animal can attain its preferred body temperature the quicker it will be able to carry out feeding and other activities which maintain its health.

Under-heating your pets can be a problem if it regularly takes a long time for the animal to achieve its preferred body tempertaure or if the heat supplied is inadequate for your pets to achieve these temps at all. Reptiles and amphibians will physiologically be unable to function correctly unless they can acheive their preffered body temperatures. This may result in a steady decline in the health of your pets and be fatal over time.

Over-heating your pets however is the greater concern as it can result in the very quick and unexpected death of otherwise healthy pets. Remember that reptiles and amphibian are unable to internally control their body temperatures which also means that they cannot get rid of excess heat easily. When enclosed inside a cage with too much heating the animals will not survive very long in those oven like conditions if the enclosure is too hot.

Thermostats can be an easy and reliable way to control your enclosure temperatures and we sell a range of thermostats in our online store ranging from around $60 through to $140.

Essentially though when setting up your enclosure you want to create a environment that has a temperature gradient such that one end of the enclosure is cooler than the other. This way your pets can move around the enclosure in order to meet their heating and cooling needs. To acheive this heat gradient you need to start with an appropriately sized and well ventilated enclosure. Then ensure that all heating is placed down one end of the enclosure with no heating nor heat producing lighting down the other end. In most cases you should not be heating more than a third or at the most a half of your pets enclosure for this reason.

What temps does my pet require?

Although there are a wealth of books available that can answer this question for you we recommend that you ask the breeder that your animals are coming from. You really want to keep yours pets in a similar way to how the breeder of the animal kept the animals if at all possible as this will help to minimise stress on your new pets.

If you have any questions about reptile heating problems feel free to contact us via our ebay store.

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