Reptile heat mats (or heat pads as they are sometimes known) are one of the cheapest and most reliable ways of providing gentle background heat to exotic pets such as tarantulas, hatchling snakes and scorpions.
The heat mat is essentially a wafer-thin heating element stuck between two pieces of plastic. This means that the heat mat is paper thin and so can be placed easily under an existing cage or vivarium. Thanks to the plastic covering, and the way they are often used on the outside of a cage, rather than the inside, these heaters also tend to be very hardy and long-lived so can be an excellent investment.
Heat mats typically provide gentle background heat which is important for two reasons. Firstly, the low power means that they are very cost efficient to run and I worked out that many of the smaller mats cost a matter of a penny or two to run each day.
Secondly, these heaters are not really suitable for exotic pets that like things really hot like bearded dragons or collared lizards. However as mentioned they are typically ideal for invertebrates and young snakes.
When using a heat mat it is typically not necessary to use a thermostat as they don’t get very warm but some authorities still recommend this “just in case”.
When using a heat mat one can either place the vivarium ontop of the heat mat (a piece of polystyrene underneath helps to push as much heat up as possible) or on the side of a cage.
Be aware that as these heaters are so low in energy the heat will often not travel far so if used underneath a tank you should aim to use as little substrate as possible on the floor to allow the heat in.
Lastly all exotic pets should be offered a “heat gradient”. That is to say that one area of the cage should be warmer than another to allow your exotic pet to self regulate by moving to warmer or cooler areas as it suits them.
The way to do this is to ensure that however you use the heat mat – either under the cage or on the side – only half the cage area is covered, while the other is left without heating to create the heat gradient.
Follow these basic steps and your pet will remain fit and healthy for a long time to come.