Hypothermia in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Updated: 3/19/20242-4 minutes
 A person sits on a patio chair wrapped in a cozy fleece blanket, while snow falls. Their dog licks their face.

Some dogs are unaffected by the cold winter months. Double-layered coat breeds like the Siberian Husky may even enjoy a romp in the snow. Even if your pet can tolerate chilly weather, however, it’s important to mind the risks involved, such as hypothermia.

Hypothermia in dogs occurs due to prolonged exposure to cold temperatures. While the condition is treatable, it can also be fatal, as it may cause problems with blood flow and affect breathing and the immune system as well. In more extreme cases, dogs may develop impaired consciousness that can lead to a coma.

If you’re concerned about hypothermia, read on to learn how to identify symptoms and find out which treatment options are available.

What is Dog Hypothermia?

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

What is Considered a Low Dog Temperature?

A dog’s normal temperature ranges from 100.9 to 102.6 degrees Fahrenheit, whereas a human’s recommended body temperature is between 97.7 to 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Note this means your dog’s body temperature should exceed that of a human’s.

Types of Dog Hypothermia

There are three types of hypothermia in dogs: mild, moderate and severe.  

  • Mild hypothermia occurs when your dog’s temperature falls between 89.6 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit.  
  • Moderate is a temperature between 82.4 to 89.6 degrees.  
  • Severe hypothermia is categorized as a temperature below 82.4 degrees.

All instances of hypothermia require medical attention. If your dog has a severe case, though, it’s crucial to contact your veterinarian immediately, as the complications could be fatal.

What Are the Symptoms of Hypothermia in Dogs?

If your dog has hypothermia, their symptoms can include: 

  • Fatigue 
  • Shivering 
  • Paleness of the skin 
  • Muscle stiffness 
  • Low blood pressure 
  • Shallow breathing 
  • Fixed, dilated pupils (severe cases)

What Causes Hypothermia in Dogs?

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.

Dogs under anesthesia also face some risk. If your dog is going to be anesthetized, make sure to talk to your veterinary anesthesiologist about all of the potential dangers involved.

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.

How is Dog Hypothermia Diagnosed?

It’s relatively simple to diagnose hypothermia in dogs by measuring their body temperature. Your veterinarian may also monitor their breathing, and sometimes they will use an electrocardiogram to record the electrical activity of their heart to ensure that it’s functioning properly.

Additionally, it’s likely that urine and blood tests will be taken to eliminate other possible causes of hypothermia, such as low blood sugar, metabolic disorders or cardiac disease.

If hypothermia results from exposure to the cold, your pet can also develop frostbite, specifically on the paws, ears and tail. The skin will appear pale, grey or blue in color. It may feel cold and brittle and be painful to the touch.

Your veterinarian might check your dog’s gums as well; when hypothermia occurs due to shock, their gums can turn pale or white in color.

Hypothermia Treatment for Dogs

As soon as your dog starts displaying symptoms of hypothermia, wrap them in warm blankets and place a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel against their abdomen. You can warm blankets up in a dryer on a low-heat setting, on a radiator or with a hairdryer.

Be sure to monitor your dog’s temperature every 10 minutes. If it falls below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, seek veterinary attention immediately. In cases of low dog temperature, speedy treatment is key to preventing harmful outcomes.

Your veterinarian will probably use thermal insulation, blankets and heating pads to restore your dog’s temperature to normal levels.

However, in severe cases, they may need to heat them internally using intravenous (IV) fluids and warm water enemas. If your dog is displaying difficulty breathing, they might also require breathing aids, such as oxygen from a face mask.

How to Prevent Hypothermia in Dogs

The best way to prevent hypothermia in dogs is to avoid extended exposure to cold temperatures. This is especially important if your dog is young or elderly, is a shorthaired breed, or has a medical condition that makes regulating their body temperature difficult.

If you have an at-risk canine, consider purchasing dog-sized coats and protective boots to keep them warm and dry in the colder months.

For dogs who are particularly sensitive to the cold, stay safe and avoid long walks during winter and cold days. It’s important to remember that when the weather’s too cold for you, even when you’re bundled up in several layers, it’s probably too cold for your dog.

To ensure your pet still gets enough exercise, focus on indoor activities and enrichment games. Putting their food and treats in a puzzle feeder can also keep them physically and mentally engaged.

Remember, hypothermia in dogs is often a treatable—but serious—condition. If you suspect that your pet has hypothermia, time is an important factor. Don’t hesitate to seek veterinary attention. With speedy treatment and proper care, you improve your dog’s chances of a safe and full recovery.

Want more expert tips for your canine companion’s health? Explore our helpful dog symptoms articles.

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