Hypothermia occurs when your dog’s temperature falls, and stays, below its normal range of 100.5 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit and he is losing body heat faster than he can replace it so in cold weather your dog will constantly be trying to maintain his body temperature in its normal range.
Dogs regulate their temperature either by conserving their body heat or by producing more body heat. The main ways they do this are similar to how we react to cold weather:
- Shivering is the primary way dogs use to produce heat.
- Piloerection is the dog equivalent to our goose bumps – with piloerection your dog’s hairs stand on end thereby trapping a layer of warmed air beneath them.
- Vasoconstriction is another way your dog can conserve heat, and it’s the process whereby his blood vessels narrow to restrict the amount of blood (heat) that flows through them.
What are the symptoms of hypothermia?
- muscle stiffness
- lack of co-ordination
- low heart and breathing rates
- fixed and dilated pupils
The treatment for hypothermia focuses on warming your dog up so that his core temperature returns to normal. If you are out walking with your dog and you notice he is suffering from the cold, you need to prevent him losing further body heat.
This is easily done when you have a small dog as you can pick him up and carry him home.
With larger dogs, unless you are willing to give up your coat, the best you can do is make your way home as quickly as you can. Once home here are the suggested ways to treat hypothermia:
- If your dog has mild hypothermia – he’s shivering and his muscles seem stiff – move him to a warm room where the floor is well insulated and wrap your dog in a warm dry blanket. Ideally keep him like this until his temperature returns to normal.
- Severe hypothermia requires immediate treatment from your vet as Hypothermia can leave leave lasting damage because the lack of oxygenated blood flowing to body tissue can cause that tissue to breakdown.
Preventing hypothermia is much easier than treating it:
- Don’t leave your dog outside in the cold for long periods of time.
- Be particularly wary if your dog gets wet whilst you are out walking as the wind chill factor can cool him down much more quickly than you think.
- Do not let you dog swim in cold water for long periods and not at all in winter.
To find out more about Rachel and her lovely labrador, Wisp, give their Dog of the Month interview a read.