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Dog Hypothermia

What Is Dog Hypothermia?

Dog hypothermia occurs when a dog’s body temperature drops significantly below normal levels, posing a risk to the dog’s health. It’s important to note that being cold is not the same as being hypothermic.

What Is a Normal Body Temperature for a Dog?

The typical body temperature for dogs is higher than that of humans, averaging around 101.5 ˚F, with a range of 100.5-102.5°F or 38-39.2°C.

When Is a Dog’s Temperature Too Low?

When a dog’s body temperature falls to approximately 98˚F or 99˚F (37°C), hypothermia begins to occur.

Symptoms

Initially, when a dog experiences hypothermia, its body reacts by constricting blood vessels near the skin, legs, ears, and feet, redirecting blood flow to vital organs like the brain and heart. Here are the symptoms of hypothermia in dogs, ranging from mild to severe:

Mild to moderate hypothermia symptoms in dogs include:

  • Shivering
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Lethargy
  • Difficulty walking
  • Pale gums
  • Cool body surfaces
  • Confusion

As hypothermia progresses, dogs will:

  • Cease shivering
  • Collapse
  • Exhibit fixed and dilated pupils
  • Experience slow and irregular heart and breathing rates
  • Enter a comatose state
  • Potentially succumb to the condition

Mild Hypothermia

During mild hypothermia, you might observe that a hypothermic dog’s extremities such as ears, legs, feet, and paws seem paler and feel cooler to the touch. While this bodily reaction aids in the dog’s survival, it also heightens the potential for frostbite over time.

Indications include:

  • Cold regions of the body, particularly the extremities (ears, legs, feet, paws)

Moderate Hypothermia

During moderate hypothermia, a dog experiencing mild to moderate hypothermia will shiver to generate additional heat, causing their muscles to tense up. While this muscular activity generates warmth, it can also result in stiff and awkward movements for the dog.

At this stage, a hypothermic dog may exhibit sluggishness and appear confused.

Signs to watch for include:

  • Shivering
  • Stiff or clumsy movements; difficulty walking
  • Sluggishness
  • Appearing confused
  • Pale gums

Severe Hypothermia

As severe hypothermia progresses, a dog will cease shivering due to depletion of energy in their muscle cells. Following the cessation of shivering, the dog’s body temperature may rapidly decline. Chemical reactions necessary for normal bodily functions in a dog will decelerate or halt entirely. Consequently, the dog’s heart rate decreases and becomes irregular, while breathing slows down. With decreasing oxygen levels in the bloodstream, the dog will display heightened lethargy and reduced responsiveness. Ultimately, shock, organ failure, coma, and death may ensue.

Indications to observe:

  • Absence of shivering
  • Rapid decline in body temperature
  • Decreased breathing rate
  • Collapsing
  • Lethargy and/or unresponsiveness
  • Fixed and dilated pupils

Causes

The primary cause of hypothermia in dogs is exposure to cold temperatures, especially when accompanied by wind or dampness. However, there are additional factors that can lead to dog hypothermia.

Hypothermia and Cold Weather

Hypothermia due to exposure to cold weather poses a greater risk to certain dogs than others. This group comprises elderly dogs, puppies, small dogs, and those with short or thin coats, or dogs unaccustomed to cold temperatures. The combination of these factors makes it more challenging for dogs to regulate their body temperature effectively when faced with dropping temperatures.

Hypothermia and Anesthesia/Surgery

Veterinarians often need to take precautions to prevent or manage hypothermia in dogs undergoing anesthesia and surgery. The drugs and methods used to anesthetize dogs can elevate heat loss through the skin and respiratory system, diminishing the body’s ability to regulate temperature effectively.

During surgery, factors contributing to increased heat loss include:

  • Shaving of the dog’s coat.
  • Cleansing of the dog’s skin with cool antiseptic solutions.
  • Placement of the dog on cold surgery tables.
  • Administration of cool intravenous fluids.
  • Exposure of internal organs to the surrounding air.

Hypothermia and Sick or Injured Dogs

Sick and injured dogs face a heightened risk of developing hypothermia. Conditions such as kidney disease, heart failure, diabetes mellitus, certain poisonings, and trauma-induced bleeding can all contribute to heat loss and/or hinder the body’s ability to maintain a stable temperature.

Hypothermia and Sick or Injured Dogs

Sick and injured dogs face a heightened risk of developing hypothermia. Conditions such as kidney disease, heart failure, diabetes mellitus, certain poisonings, and trauma-induced bleeding can all contribute to heat loss and/or hinder the body’s ability to maintain a stable temperature.

Diagnosis

Veterinarians diagnose hypothermia in dogs based on their body temperature. The most precise measurements are obtained using a rectal thermometer. A dog with a rectal temperature below 98-99˚F (37°C) is considered hypothermic and necessitates treatment. In situations where a thermometer isn’t accessible, vets can assess the dog’s symptoms to make an informed assessment regarding the likelihood of hypothermia.

Treatment

Dogs suffering from hypothermia require gradual rewarming, emphasizing warmth over excessive heat. Avoid the use of heating pads, as they emit intense heat that may cause burns or divert excessive blood flow to the skin, potentially worsening shock.

How to Slowly Warm a Hypothermic Dog

Here’s the procedure for addressing hypothermia in your dog:

  • Move your dog into a warm building or vehicle.
  • Envelop them in blankets, towels, coats, or similar items. If possible, preheat some blankets on a radiator, in a clothes dryer, or with a hairdryer.
  • Position bottles of warm water near your dog, ensuring there are several layers of fabric between the bottle and your dog’s skin.
  • Seek immediate assistance from the nearest veterinary office.

Veterinary Treatment for Hypothermia in Dogs

Upon arrival at the clinic, veterinarians can implement more proactive warming methods for hypothermic dogs. They may administer warmed intravenous fluids, which can be introduced into a dog’s abdomen, stomach, and colon. Dogs may also receive warmed and humidified oxygen for breathing. The veterinary team will meticulously monitor your dog’s body temperature, heart rate and rhythm, oxygen levels, blood glucose, and various other indicators to address any emerging issues promptly. Additional treatments aimed at underlying health conditions will be necessary for dogs experiencing hypothermia due to illness or injury.

Living and Management

Dogs experiencing mild to moderate hypothermia typically have a good chance of survival with prompt and proper treatment. While severe hypothermia presents a graver prognosis, some dogs, even if comatose, can be revived, partly because low temperatures decrease the oxygen and energy requirements of cells in the body. Without attempting, it’s impossible to predict a dog’s response to rewarming, underscoring the importance of promptly transporting a hypothermic dog to a veterinary hospital.

Dog Hypothermia FAQs

How can you tell if your dog has hypothermia?

Signs of mild to moderate hypothermia in dogs include:

  • Shivering
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Lethargy
  • Difficulty walking
  • Pale gums
  • Cool body surfaces
  • Confusion

As hypothermia worsens, dogs may:

  • Stop shivering
  • Collapse
  • Have fixed and dilated pupils
  • Experience slow and irregular heart and breathing rates
  • Become comatose
  • Potentially die

How cold does it have to be for a dog to develop hypothermia?

Different factors, including size, age, health status, coat type, and others, determine the risk of hypothermia in dogs at various temperatures. Generally, temperatures over 45°F are safe for most dogs unless accompanied by strong winds or wet conditions. Extra caution is necessary when temperatures drop below freezing.

How can you raise a dog’s temperature?

  • Move the dog into a warm building or vehicle and wrap them in blankets, towels, coats, or any available materials.
  • If accessible, warm up blankets in a clothes dryer or a similar appliance. Place warm water bottles beside the dog, ensuring there are several layers of fabric between the bottle and the dog’s skin.
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