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Everything Owners Need to Know About Hypothermia In Dogs

A Dog being treated for hypothermia

When it comes to health concerns related to your dog, getting too cold may not be at the top of your mind. However, whilst in winter and colder months, hypothermia can be a real problem for many dogs. Luckily, understanding the cause of this condition, along with the signs and treatments, can prepare nearly any pup owner to hop into action should their dog’s core temperature drop too low.

What is Hypothermia in Dogs?

Hypothermia is a medical condition where a dog’s core body temperature drops below the threshold that their natural temperature regulation system can respond to.

This means that a dog’s internal temperature cannot be raised by the standard bodily mechanisms, resulting in a risk of damage to the dog’s health and life.

What Body Temperature Is Safe & What Is Too Low for Dogs?

Dogs’ core temperatures naturally run higher than ours. The average body temperature for a dog is 38 - 38.2°C. This can lead to some confusion for dog owners because a dog’s bottom temperature threshold does not seem ‘too cold’ by human standards.

A drop in a dog’s body temperature to 37°C or lower indicates the start of hypothermia.

The Most Common Causes for Dog Hypothermia

Understanding what causes dog hypothermia allows dog owners to be vigilant when it comes to dangerous conditions. To prevent your dog from possible hypothermia, be mindful of their temperature should they:

    • Be left outside, exposed to cold temperatures for too long–especially should they get lost in extreme cold conditions
    • Experience a loss of blood
    • Suffer from an illness (kidney disease, heart failure, diabetes, poisoning)
    • Go swimming in cold water
    • Be put under anaesthesia

Signs of Hypothermia in Dogs

The body’s response to a drop in temperature is to constrict the blood vessels near the surface of the skin. This redirects blood away from areas that can cause further cooling (ears, feet, legs) to areas necessary to sustain life (essential organs, like the heart, brain, liver). This process results in clear signs of hypothermia that can progress should the dog not receive intervention.

The first signs of dog hypothermia:
    • Shivering and shaking
    • Pale gums
    • Staggering, loss of balance, instability while walking or standing
    • Skin is cool to the touch
    • Ears, feet, and paws feel cold
    • Lethargy and weakness
    • Confusion
    • Stiff limbs

Signs Hypothermia has progressed:

    • They no longer shiver
    • Collapse with inability to get up
    • Dilated pupils
    • A distant stare
    • Slow heartbeat and breathing rhythm

Once progressed hypothermia has set in, a dog is at risk for organ failure, coma, and even loss of life.

How Can You Verify That Your Dog Has Hypothermia?

Your vet is always the first and most important resource should you worry that your dog may be suffering from hypothermia. They will diagnose the condition using a rectal thermometer (and verify the condition if the dog’s temperature is 37°C or lower.

How to Respond If You Believe Your Dog Is Hypothermic

A cold dog wrapped in a blanket

Treatment of hypothermia requires external warming to bring the dog’s core temperature back up to a safe level. However, you must be careful to not A) burn your dog or  B) send their body into shock with measures that to too hot.

To Safely Warm a Dog with Hypothermia:

Bring them indoors immediately. If in a more remote area, bring them into your car and turn on the heater.

      1. Wrap them in blankets or something similar.
      2. Outside of the blanket, place hot water bottles.
      3. Contact your vet and head their way.

How do Vets Treat Hypothermia?

Your vet has the tools and expertise to better treat a hypothermic dog. They will use warmed IV fluids and possibly internal warm fluid infusions.

They will also closely monitor your dog’s condition to help keep them safe.

It's Not Cool for a Dog to Get Too Cold

Hypothermia in dogs is not very common. However, when it occurs, it can be life-threatening. It's always best to prevent hypothermia, so remember to keep your dog indoors when the weather is its coldest. And should you worry that your dog does have hypothermia, wrap them in a warm blanket and immediately contact your vet.