Hypothermia in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Lisa Selvaggio
by Lisa Selvaggio

When a dog gets too cold, they’re at risk of hypothermia. But what is hypothermia, what are its symptoms, and what can be done to treat it? Below is a brief guide to dog hypothermia so you can have a better understanding of this condition and why it’s so important to prevent it.

What Is Hypothermia in Dogs?

Hypothermia develops when a dog’s body temperature drops to 99°F (37.2°C) or lower. A dog’s normal body temperature range is 99.5-102.5°F (37.5-39.2°C).

There are three levels of hypothermia: mild, moderate, and severe.

  • Mild hypothermia occurs when a dog’s body temperature is between 90-99°F (32.2-37.2°C).
  • Moderate hypothermia develops when the dog’s body temperature falls even more, to 82-90°F (27.8-32.2°C).
  • Severe hypothermia develops when the dog’s body temperature falls below 82°F (27.8°C).

Giving a dog the right treatment to bring their temperature back up is critical, as hypothermia can cause damage to organs, and it could be fatal.  

Some dogs may be at greater risk of hypothermia. Puppies, seniors, and dogs who are thin or small are a few examples. Dogs who are ill, including those with chronic conditions, can also be more susceptible. Also, hairless dogs and those with short coats are other examples.

What Causes Hypothermia in Dogs?

Dogs who are in the cold for too long are at risk of hypothermia. And if they get wet, their body temperature can drop more rapidly. Never leave a dog outside when it’s too cold or windy, or when it’s raining or snowing.

It doesn’t have to be extremely cold for dogs to feel the effects either, as a temperature less than 45°F (7.2°C) could put some dogs at risk. Before going outside with your dog, check the wind chill, too, as this will give you a better idea of what it actually feels like out there, and what the risk of frostbite and hypothermia really is.    

Also, certain medical conditions, such as hypothyroidism and shock, could increase a dog’s risk of hypothermia.

Symptoms of Hypothermia in Dogs

As a dog starts to feel cold, they’ll exhibit changes in behavior. Warming them up right away can prevent them from getting even colder. If hypothermia continues to set in, the situation will become more dire as the symptoms progress.

Here are some of the symptoms to watch out for:

Mild hypothermia may cause a dog to shiver and experience weakness. They may also be less alert, and may try to find ways to stay warm, such as curling in a ball. If you were to feel the dog’s skin, ears, paws, legs, and tail, they may be cold to the touch.

Moderate hypothermia may cause the breathing to become shallow and slow, and the muscles may become stiff, resulting in difficulty moving. The blood pressure may drop, and the dog may be even more lethargic and confused. If you were to check the gums, they may be pale.  

Severe hypothermia may cause the pupils to become fixed and dilated, and a dog may have trouble breathing. They may not be as responsive, or they may become unresponsive. Also, they may not be shivering anymore. Collapse and coma may occur.

How to Help a Hypothermic Dog

The symptoms of hypothermia must be taken seriously. Contact your veterinarian even if you think your dog might only have mild hypothermia, as they can provide guidance on what to do, and they might advise bringing your dog in to be examined and treated.

In cases of severe hypothermia, a veterinarian will need to treat your dog, so don’t try to fix this problem yourself.

Here are a few steps you can take if your dog has mild hypothermia (again, talk to your vet first to be sure you’re taking the right steps and you can treat this at home):

Dry your dog if they’re wet. Bring them to a warm area of your home, such as near a heat source. Wrap them in a blanket—you could even warm it up in the dryer first. Use products like the PetFusion Microplush Quilted Pet Blanket, which is super soft and has a light fill that provides more warmth.

You can use a heated pet bed, heating pad, or warm water bottle to provide extra warmth. Make sure these don’t burn your dog (don’t put them directly against your pet’s body), and ensure your dog is able to get off the heat source if they want to. The K&H Deluxe Lectro-Kennel Adjustable Heated Pad comes with a soft fleece cover that’s removable and machine washable, and you can set the temperature from 80-100°F with a handy digital display.   

If you have a pet thermometer, check your dog’s temperature every 10 minutes to monitor progress until their temperature reaches 100°F (37.8°C).

Important note: Warm your dog up slowly, as you can do more harm by warming them up too quickly.

Take Steps to Prevent Hypothermia

The best way to prevent hypothermia is by keeping your dog indoors during inclement weather. Don’t leave your pet outside on their own, even if the temperature doesn’t feel that cold to you.

Also, ensure your dog stays dry while outside. If your dog likes to go swimming, make sure they don’t spend too much time in the water, and dry them off when they’re done.  

When heading outside in the cold, snow, or rain, use products like dog boots, jackets, and sweaters to keep your pet warm. A good example is the Ruffwear Furness Dog Jacket, which is available in multiple sizes and is designed to fit snugly to help retain as much heat as possible. This water-repellent, lightweight jacket has sleeves that stretch, along with high-loft insulation. It’s perfect for dogs who like to play in the snow.   

Finally, know the signs that a dog feels cold. After all, the sooner you can recognize these cues, the sooner you’ll be able to warm your dog up, and the better the odds that you’ll prevent hypothermia.

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Lisa Selvaggio
Lisa Selvaggio

Lisa Selvaggio is a freelance writer and editor, and our resident cats-pert, with certifications in pet nutrition and pet first aid. She enjoys producing content that helps people understand animals better so they can give their pets a safe and happy home.

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