Hypothermia In Dogs

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(Note: I get a lot of questions about dog medical issues, but I’m not a veterinarian. Here are just some thoughts on a potentially dangerous issue for our canine friends.)

Our last article was about hypothermia, a medical condition where the body can’t maintain a normal body core temperature. Cold temperatures aren’t just a hazard for people; man’s best friend is also at risk for developing medical issues due to exposure. Although some breeds have a nice thick coat of fur, It’s important to know the signs of hypothermia in dogs and how to prevent and treat the condition.


Signs of hypothermia in canines may include:

• Tachycardia (Increased heart rate)
• Tachypnea (fast breathing)
• Lethargy (lack of energy and alertness)
• Excessive shivering
• Loss of coordination
• Muscle stiffness
• Dilated pupils
• Rectal temperature below 99 degrees Fahrenheit (normal for dogs is 101-102.5 degrees)
• Pale gums
• Shock (commonly seen after an immersion in cold water)

Although fast heart rates and breathing are seen early in hypothermia, both slow down dangerously as the issue worsens.


Another condition that can affect both humans and canines is frostbite. Frostbite appears mostly on the paws, tail, and ears. Look for discoloration of the skin: it may appear, gray, or even blue. Frostbitten areas will be painful and can swell or develop blisters and skin breakdown. In extreme situations, the skin turns black and dies, a condition known as “gangrene”. In cases of extreme frostbite, the skin will turn black and die. Warm water compresses are helpful, but veterinary evaluation is required.


Once you’ve recognized the signs of hypothermia, get the dog out of the cold if possible and do whatever you can to make the dog warm and dry. If you can’t get the dog inside, it’s especially important to provide a barrier between the animal and the cold ground.

Warm, dry towels (not hot) are useful; if desired, you can use a warm water bottle or heating pad set on low, but only if covered with a blanket. Placing it on the belly of the dog seems to work best. Monitor the dog’s rectal temperature; you should see an improvement in signs and symptoms once it’s above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The heating pad or hot water bottle may be removed at this point, but keep the warm blankets until fully recovered.

Of course, whenever veterinary professionals are available, seek them out. A veterinarian can administer oxygen and place an intravenous line that can instill warm fluids to speed recovery.


For prevention, it’s important to know that puppies and elderly dogs are most at risk. Dogs with kidney disease, malnutrition, heart disease, low thyroid levels, and other chronic issues are also prone to hypothermia.

Keeping an eye on the weather and avoiding prolonged exposure to severe cold is the simplest way to keep your dog healthy. Dogs with short coats need, well, a coat, so get a dog jacket or other protective clothing and limit the amount of time out in extreme cold.

You may envy your dog’s fur when outside in cold weather, but it doesn’t mean that he’s a polar bear. Always keep a lookout for signs of hypothermia and act before your best friend gets in real trouble.

Joe Alton MD

Joe Alton MD

(Note: Ol’ Dr. Bones is a human doctor, that is, he’s both a human being and treats humans, not animals. Seek standard care and advice from an experienced veterinary professional whenever possible)

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