How does the cold affect dogs? As the person responsible for your furry friend, you always want to protect him from any danger. Low temperatures can seriously harm the health of dogs. Although some dogs are better protected from the cold than others, such as the Siberian husky or Saint Bernard, the cold affects any breed. We must be very careful with some breeds, dogs with short fur and vulnerable animals.

Exposure to cold, snow, wind, or heavy rain can increase your chances of catching a common cold. However, when the exposure is long enough and the temperature low enough, hypothermia can develop. This presents a life-threatening situation for your dog, so read on to learn more about the symptoms and how to act.

What is hypothermia in dogs?

Hypothermia is a complex clinical picture, but it can be characterized as a significant decrease in body temperature. It can happen to many different animals, not just mammals. Each animal will have a different body temperature, but once it falls below a certain point, the dog will become hypothermic. Basically, more heat leaves the body than can be absorbed, something that happens at very low temperatures.

The core body temperature of a dog is usually between 38ºC and 39.2ºC. When it falls below this temperature, hypothermia begins. There may be a small margin of error, especially depending on the method of taking the dog’s temperature. However, when the body temperature of a dog drops to 36ºC, we must be attentive to the appearance of any other symptoms, since this would mean that our dog needs to go to the vet immediately.

Symptoms of hypothermia in dogs

In general, the first symptoms of hypothermia in dogs begin similar to a dog experiencing cold temperatures. In mild to moderate cases of hypothermia in dogs, symptoms can include:

  • Tremors
  • Muscular stiffness.
  • Difficult breathing
  • Dry Skin.
  • Slow movements
  • Clumsiness and lethargy.
  • Drowsiness.

If hypothermia is not treated quickly and properly, the dog’s clinical picture may worsen. This will likely lead to the following symptoms:

  • Low blood pressure.
  • Decreased heart rate.
  • Dilated pupils.
  • Disorientation.
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sudden death.

How to treat hypothermia in dogs?

If you suspect that your dog has been exposed to the cold and you observe any of the symptoms mentioned above, it is essential that you go to the vet urgently. Severe hypothermia can cause irreversible damage to the body, even leading to death in acute cases.

As a dog’s body temperature drops, there is a drop in both blood pressure and heart rate. This can lead to arrhythmias. In people, ventricular arrhythmias are recognized as the leading cause of a high mortality rate in accidentally hypothermic patients. Similarly, exposure to cold can cause the heart to stop beating in dogs. The dog may also experience a decrease in oxygen in the blood, a stoppage of its metabolism and, occasionally, hypothermia can lead to complete multiple organ failure.

To treat hypothermia, a specialist will need to provide the right environment for the dog to return to a stable temperature. However, this will have to be done gradually, as putting too much temperature on the dog can also cause his body to go into shock.

The dog should not move too much to avoid further loss of heat and to prevent it from becoming weak. Warming the animal can be done with hot air, heating pillows, infrared lamps, or just some blankets.

If the case is acute hypothermia, you may need additional treatment. This could include intravenous fluid therapy to help your blood volume, as well as to be used as a means of raising your body temperature.

For the latter purpose, enemas can also be administered. The dog can also receive oxygen to help it breathe and ensure that enough oxygen reaches its blood.

First aid for hypothermia in dogs

If you observe several of the symptoms of hypothermia in a dog, we insist, you must go immediately to the veterinary clinic or hospital. However, everything you do on the way to the vet can help improve his condition. That is why you should know some first aid tips for hypothermic dogs:

  1. Dry the dog immediately: in case the dog has fallen into very cold water or is wet from rain, snow, etc., we should try to clean it immediately with a dry towel. Humidity favors the development of hypothermia in dogs when combined with very low temperatures.
  2. Provision of shelter and heat: when the dog has already dried properly, we must provide it with heat to try to regain its balance from its loss of temperature. This can be done by wrapping them in another dry towel, a blanket, a coat, or some special dog clothing. We can also hug him to transfer some of our body temperature. This provides constant heat, but not rapid.
  3. Balance blood glucose levels: To avoid a decrease in body temperature, the body needs to burn its energy reserves. That is, speed up the metabolism of glucose in the bloodstream to try to stay stable. As a result, the dog can suffer a sudden case of hypoglycemia, which means a drastic reduction in blood glucose levels. This can lead to fainting, lethargy, and even lead to a coma. If we identify the symptoms of hypoglycemic shock, we can offer them a teaspoon of honey to quickly replenish their blood sugar levels. However, honey should be avoided in puppies.
  4. Check your body: Exposure to extreme cold and hypothermia can cause injuries or burns associated with freezing temperatures. It is recommended to gently check the dog’s body for signs of injury. In particular, attention should be paid to areas with low concentration of hair such as the feet, ears, legs, muzzle, anus, tail and genitals. If you identify an injury, it is essential to go quickly to the vet.

We must emphasize the importance of recognizing that these measures are first aid to help give the dog the best chance of recovery. They will help keep the dog safe and combat the appearance of any associated health problems. However, we still have to take him to the vet for a proper examination.

How to prevent hypothermia in dogs

To prevent hypothermia in dogs, it is essential that we provide adequate care during the winter. We need to make sure that they are not left outside when temperatures are too low, offer them shelter in humid conditions, and always with additional protection if they need it (in the form of dog clothes, blankets, etc.). We can also provide a proper diet, preventive medications and maintain exercise, as it will help give them a chance to fight, with their fitness, if they develop hypothermia.