Hypothermia in dogs is a serious medical emergency that requires immediate veterinary treatment if the symptoms are severe. The best way to prevent this problem is to monitor your dog when you are outdoors in cold weather and refrain from prolonged exposure to the cold.
Some dogs tolerate the cold better than others, so knowing the signs of hypothermia in dogs will help you prevent a potentially serious condition from happening in the first place.
If you hit the trails with your dog during the winter, it’s important to educate yourself on the signs that your dog is too cold.
What is Hypothermia in Dogs?
Hypothermia occurs when the body’s temperature falls below normal levels due to prolonged exposure to the cold.
A dog’s regular temperature ranges between 100.5°-102.5°F. Once their temperature drops below 98°, it means that they are starting to feel the effects of hypothermia.
When the body temperature drops below normal levels, their breathing and heart rate slow down, and fall into a hypothermic state.
There are three levels of hypothermia: mild, moderate, and severe. If measures are not taken at the beginning stages, then the conditions can worsen and can lead to more serious issues, including death.
Causes of Hypothermia in Dogs
Long term exposure to extreme cold and/or wet conditions at lower temperatures can result in hypothermia. Owners of dogs who love to swim should limit or deter exposure to water in cold conditions.
Puppies, senior dogs, small breeds, and dogs with some medical conditions are more susceptible to hypothermia because they tend to lose body heat faster than healthy adult dogs.
Weather Considerations that Can Lead to Hypothermia
Most recommendations will suggest that owners should take cold into consideration when the temperature drops below 45°, however, different weather conditions can make it feel colder than what the number on the thermometer reads.
Here are some weather variables to take into consideration before heading out into cold weather with your dog:
Wind chill – The wind is not only unpleasant if it’s strong enough, but it can make the temperatures feel much colder than they actually are. If it’s windy or you’re heading to an exposed mountain top, pack a jacket for your dog to cut the wind.
Cloud Cover – A cloudy day can tend to feel colder than a sunny day, so it’s a good idea to bring an extra layer for your dog.
Damp Conditions – Rain, snow, fog or other wet conditions can make a dog feel cold. Being wet is what can lead to more severe health problems like hypothermia. If the weather is wet, then bring a waterproof jacket for your dog and keep a towel and dry blanket in the car.
Symptoms of Hypothermia in Dogs
The signs of hypothermia in dogs will vary depending on the severity of the condition. Knowing the first signs will allow you to take action right away.
- Intense shivering
- Slow breathing
- Tachycardia (extremely low heart rate)
- Fur and skin are cold to the touch
- Body temperature below 95°F
- Sunken eyes
- Pale gums
As symptoms worsen the dog will:
- Stop shivering
- Inability to walk or stay upright
- Have fixed and dilated pupils
- Fall into a coma
- Organs will shut down
- Potentially die
Treatment for Hypothermia
If you suspect that your dog may be experiencing hypothermia then it’s important to get them out of the cold and warm them up as soon as possible.
Take the following steps if your dog is displaying signs of hypothermia:
- Remove your dog from the cold and get them into a warm setting. If you’re out hiking, this means getting them back to the car.
- Dry them off by patting, not rubbing, their fur to absorb the moisture
- Once you’re back at the car, cover them with a blanket, towel, or other dry clothes and turn on the heat. You can warm them by placing them over the heating vent.
- If the symptoms don’t stop after 30 minutes, get to the nearest veterinary clinic immediately.
When treating hypothermia, it’s important to warm your dog slowly and not apply direct heat to your dog. If you have a heated blanket or thermos, place a layer between the hot object and the dog’s skin to avoid burning. It can worsen hypothermia by causing shock due to excess blood flow to the affected area.
At the vet, they can give dogs warm IV fluid and more closely monitor your dog’s symptoms and body temperature.
Can a Dog Recover from Hypothermia?
The severity of the hypothermia will determine your dog’s recovery. Mild cases generally display little to no residual effects, whereas severe cases can result in removal of damage appendages from frostbite or nerve damage.
Long term effects of hypothermia
- Heart problems
- Kidney failure
Preventing Hypothermia in Dogs
As you now know, refraining from exposing your dog to prolonged cold will prevent hypothermia, but there are other steps you can take to avoid the condition while still enjoying outdoor adventures in cold weather.
Gradually building tolerance to cold over time with acclimation walks and hikes can help them become used to the colder temperatures. If your dog does run cold, you can bring a thermos with warm water or broth to warm them up during the hike.
Knowing your dog’s typical behavior and tolerance to cold will also help you stay aware when they begin to act differently. If something seems off, pay close attention and monitor their symptoms so that you can head back to the car if necessary.
Gear to Prevent Hypothermia
The right winter gear can help keep your dog more comfortable and warm in cold weather.
Consider investing in a waterproof jacket for wet conditions, like the Ruffwear Vert Jacket, a fleece layer for dry days like the Tummy Warmer from Voyagers K9 or the Climate Changer Fleece Pullover from Ruffwear.
Booties are a great option to minimize direct paw contact with the ground. The Grip Trex Dog Boots from Ruffwear are a solid choice for year-round adventures.