Hypothermia in Dogs

Hypothermia in dogs can occur during the winter months and is usually due to prolonged exposure to cold temperatures. Read our guide to find out about the possible symptoms and what you should do if you suspect your dog has hypothermia.
Beagle dog in the snow

Hypothermia is a medical condition that results in an abnormally low body temperature. The cases can range from mild, to severe and it could lead to many serious complications as normal body temperature can no longer be sustained.

Hypothermia in dogs can be fatal as it may cause problems with the heart and blood flow, breathing and the immune system and in more extreme cases, dogs may develop impaired consciousness that could result in a coma. We’ve created this useful guide to tell you everything you need to know about hypothermia in dogs – keep reading to find out more.

Hypothermia in dogs

A dog’s normal temperature ranges between 38.3 and 39.2 degrees Celsius, whereas a human’s recommended body temperature is between 36.5 and 37.5 degrees Celsius. It’s important to bear in mind that this means your dog needs to keep their body temperature higher than humans do.

There are three types of hypothermia in dogs: mild, moderate and sever. Mild hypothermia is when their temperature falls between 32 and 35 degrees Celsius and moderate is a temperature between 28 and 32 degrees. Anything below 28 degrees is categorised as severe. If your dog has a severe case, veterinary attention should be sought straight away as the complications could be fatal.

Symptoms

The symptoms a dog with hypothermia might display are as follows:

  • Tiredness
  • Shivering
  • Paleness of the skin
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Low blood pressure
  • Shallow breathing
  • Fixed, dilated pupils – if severe
German Shepherd in the snow

Causes of hypothermia

The main causes of hypothermia in dogs are prolonged exposure to cold temperature, prolonged submersion in cold water and shock due to a traumatic incident or fright. New-born puppies, elderly dogs and smaller breeds are also more prone to hypothermia as they lose their body heat faster through their skin as opposed to other dogs.

It can also be common in dogs under anaesthetic, but your veterinary anaesthesiologist will be highly trained to watch out for this, so it’s nothing you need to concern yourself with. Diseases of the hypothalamus such as hypothyroidism can also cause hypothermia as this is the part of the brain that’s responsible for regulating and maintaining the temperature of the rest of the body.

Diagnosis

It’s relatively simple to diagnose hypothermia in dogs by measuring their body temperature. Your vet may also monitor their breathing and sometimes will use an electrocardiogram to record the electrical activity of their heart to ensure that it’s functioning properly. It’s likely that urine and blood tests will be taken in order to rule out any other possible causes such as low blood sugar, metabolic disorders or cardiac disease.

If the hypothermia is due to cold exposure there might also be frostbite present, specifically on the paws, ears and tail. The skin will appear pale, grey or blue in colour and may also feel cold and brittle and be painful to touch. Your vet may also check the dog’s gums as when the hypothermia is due to shock, they’ll turn pale or white in colour.  

Hypothermia Treatment

As soon as your dog starts displaying symptoms you should wrap them in warmed blankets, - you can heat these blankets up in either a tumble dryer, on a radiator or with a hairdryer - and place a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel against your dog’s abdomen. Be sure to monitor their temperature every 10 minutes and if it falls below 36.7 degrees Celsius, seek veterinary attention immediately.

Speedy treatment is key to returning your dog to normal as soon as possible, which is why your vet will work quickly to try and return their body temperature to normal. They’ll usually use thermal insulation, blankets and heating pads, however if it’s severe they may need to heat them internally using intravenous (IV) fluids and warm water enemas. If your dog is displaying difficulty breathing, they may also require breathing aids such as oxygen from a face mask.

Prevention

The best way to prevent hypothermia in dogs is to avoid prolonged exposure to cold temperatures. This is incredibly important if your dog is young or elderly, or is a breed that’s especially sensitive to the colder weather. If you have an at-risk dog, consider purchasing warm coats and protective boots to keep them warm and dry in the colder months, which will help to reduce their risk of hypothermia and keep them happy and healthy.

dog walking in the snow

If your dog is particularly sensitive to the cold, avoid long walks during the winter months. It’s important to remember that when the weather’s too cold for you, even when you’re bundled up in several layers, the chances are it’s much too cold for your dog.

If you suspect that your dog has hypothermia, seek veterinary attention straight away – with speedy treatment and the right care they’ll make a fast recovery.

Find out more about symptoms you should watch out for in dogs with our handy guides.

Related: it’s not just the colder weather that poses a threat to your pet, heat stroke in dogs is incredibly dangerous during the summer months. Take a look at our guide to find out what to do.