Hypothermia in dogs can be a potentially life-threatening condition. It can be defined as an extreme lowering of the animal’s temperature, and it is more common in dogs that live outdoors even in inclement weather, such as during the winter.
In today’s article, we’re looking at most of the things you should know about canine hypothermia, from its causes and symptoms to its treatment, and several ways in which you can prevent it from affecting your friend.
Causes of Hypothermia in Dogs
A cold temperature of the dog’s living environment is the main cause of hypothermia, but this is a somewhat simplistic angle to look at the matter on the whole. Like any other mammals, including people, dogs are equipped with a thermoregulation mechanism.
This mechanism helps a dog’s body to preserve its temperature to somewhat normal levels in some of the most essential parts. This is another reason why dogs can get frostbite in their limbs first — not just because they are the first body components that come in contact with cold surfaces, snow, or ice.
Therefore, the main goal of a dog’s body is to ensure that the most important internal organs, including the brain, don’t end up suffering from hypothermia first. This mechanism is also why some cases can be treated, especially if the dog hasn’t developed severe hypothermia.
Some factors can make an animal become hypothermic faster. For example, if the dog has wet fur or suffers from immobility, the body will have a harder time regulating the temperature.
Various diseases can also complicate matters, which is also why senior dogs are at a higher risk of developing hypothermia compared to healthy adult dogs.
Dogs can also develop hypothermia if they are not warmed up following surgery. When a pet’s body is under anesthesia for a long time, the veterinarians and technicians should use warm towels or place bottles filled with heated water around the dog’s body so that it can preserve its normal temperature.
Some of the clinical signs that can be noticed in a hypothermic dog are the following:
- Shallow breathing
- Pale gums
- Cold body
- Low blood pressure
The normal body temperature of a dog should be in the range of 101 and 102.5 degrees F (38.2 to 39.2 degrees C). Hypothermia can be developed when the pet’s body reaches 99 degrees F (37 degrees C).
Dogs that have severe hypothermia can show additional symptoms, such as stiffness, dilated pupils, staring into space, and even coma.
First of all, you should know that most mild cases of hypothermia in dogs can be successfully treated at home. But this would mean that the dog should not have spent hours upon hours outside in the freezing cold.
Sometimes, even moderate cases can be treated by you, the pet owner. However, if you are feeling unsure about how your dog is progressing and you’ve done your best at warming him up, you should get in touch with your veterinarian right away. Hypothermia is a medical emergency.
Severe cases always call for immediate veterinary assistance. When you end up at the vet clinic, the team will keep your dog probably over night to monitor him and also offer him supportive therapy (blankets, heating pads, and warm intravenous fluids). In some cases, your dog might also receive oxygen.
You might think that this is unconventional, but the vet might suggest giving your dog warm water enemas. They can be very effective in warming your dog’s body up from the inside.
The prognosis and recovery of a hypothermic dog depend on several different factors. For example, a senior or pediatric patient might take longer to recover or might actually have no chances of recovery depending on how long he’s spent outdoors or exposed to the cold. So the dog’s age is one of the first factors.
If the dog is suffering from a certain condition, that increases his recovery time and lowers his chances on the whole.
The outdoor temperature also has an impact on your canine friend’s prognosis in the sense that it’s one thing for him to spend several hours in the cold, and it’s a completely different business for him to spend hours in the freezing cold.
As you might have guessed by now, the amount of time that your dog spends in the cold can also influence the prognosis.
In general, mild and moderate cases have a relatively good prognosis, especially if the hypothermic dog is an otherwise healthy adult. Severe cases have a reserved prognosis.
How to Prevent Hypothermia in Dogs
Keeping your dog indoors when it’s extremely cold outside is the best way to prevent hypothermia in dogs. If you teach your pooch to be patient, you can isolate him in a particular room during the night. If he has a buddy that he can spend time with, that’s even better.
You can also keep your dog in the garage if he’s not allowed in the house. Investing in an electric blanket so that your dog can keep warm in the garage is the best way of going about things.
Senior dogs and puppies should never be left outside in the freezing cold, even for 15 minutes. Long walks are also a no-go. You might think that if you dress your dog up in a dog coat and fit him with booties, the cold is not going to affect him at all.
If a dog spends time in a dog house outdoors, even covered in blankets or dressed up, he still risks suffering from hypothermia and frostbite. And your canine friend just can’t keep running around all day and night to keep warm.
Ask your vet about how you can prevent hypothermia in dogs, which breeds are more exposed to this issue (toy and small dogs have a higher likelihood of developing severe forms), and how you can treat mild hypothermia at home.