This guide should help you successfully receive shipment that arrives cold and will help you avoid costly mistakes.
Reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates, unlike birds and mammals, are very limited in controlling their own body temperature. They are, what we call, cold blooded animals.
For the duration of the trip in winter time, we ship using insulated boxes with chemical heat packs to maintain room temperature inside of the shipping box as long as possible.
Length of the trip and severity of conditions during shipping will have significant influence on the safety of animals, as there is a limit of how many heat packs we can put into box with animals.
Heat packs produce heat in a chemical reaction that involves oxidation. That means they need to deplete available oxygen inside of the box with the travelling animals. Putting too many heating units can easily suffocate those, that heat packs are suppose to protect.
Other danger comes from creating too high of the temperature from too many heat sources, if they all peak at the same time. For both reasons, we err on the side of sending less heat packs rather than more. Animals can recover from cold shipment, especially cold blooded animals, but no animal will survive overheating and suffocation due to too many heat pack units used.
As you can imagine, we are walking a very thin line when sending animals across the country during severe weather.
During winter, challenge to ship far and safe often results in us erring on a colder side of the equation. This, and delays in travel, that sometimes can be beyond anyone's control, can lead to your shipment arriving cold or near frozen in extreme cases.
While such a situation is not desirable, there are few things you can do to give a better odds of animals surviving the ordeal.
When you open your shipment and find content very cold, you MUST NOT accelerate a warming of the content of the box. This is crucial for cold blooded animals.
It is also an opposite action you would have done for shipment containing warm blooded animals where delivering heat fast is very important in the case of mammals and birds. Please do not apply warm blooded animal treatment protocol to cold blooded animals. Reptiles, invertebrates, and amphibians need to warm up gradually with as little handling as it is possible.
What to do:
- Take boxes out of cold container and leave them in a dark place in room temperature for at least 1 hour.
- When you notice animal movement, usually sluggish, you can transfer your pet to terrarium with heat lamp off. Avoid bringing cold animal to environment that has significantly higher thermal gradient.
- Avoid checking on animal frequently. Do not hold animal in your hands (your hands are warm and they can hurt animal more than you think). Let them recover in darkness, gradually. This will reduce stress and help your pet recover.
In severe cases, when animals appear dead, the gradual warming may take several hours, thus, leaving animals in room temperature overnight may be best course of action.
I have managed to recover snakes, that upon close examination appeared to be dead, only to start moving after few hours and fully recovering next day.
If animals are not moving after several hours or if after warming up they show rigor mortis (stiffening of tissues after death), you may consider them dead.
Being exposed to cold temperature for a short period, while stressful, does not necessarily lead to long term complications. Keeping an eye for respiratory infections in reptiles is a good thing to do following cold arrival. Amphibians and inverts do not seem to have any issues once they recover.
What not to do:
- Do not warm up your reptile, amphibian or invert shipment rapidly
- Do not hold animals in your hands in order to warm them up.
- Do not transfer to terrarium under heat light to rapidly warm animal from cold
- Do not submerge in warm water to accelerate warming.
- Do not check frequently for a progress of recovery, as this is adding enormous stress and can kill your animal.
- In case of crickets or other feeder items, do not open box and empty it into feeding bin. - -- Do not disturb cold animals in whatever way until they have a chance to gradually increase their body temperature.
- Do not dispose of animals appearing dead, until you have established beyond doubt, they are dead. Wait 12 hours or until rigor mortis appears.
Once you put recovery plan in motion do not forget about next steps:
- Call and inform shipper of the conditions animals arrived in. Note the time of arrival and take temperature reading from inside box if possible.
- Take pictures, they will serve as proof of loss and can help in investigating reasons behind the conditions animals arrived at. They will be crucial in filing claim if negligence on shipping agent part turns to be a reason.
- Time is of essence. Claim windows can be very narrow, so do not delay information flow.
- Do your part to reduce chances of cold arrival.
Retrieve animals from airport as soon as possible. Transport box back home without any additional shopping stops and in climate controlled vehicle.