First, What is Hypothermia?
Hypothermia, in a nutshell, is an extremely low body temperature. There are different levels of hypothermia that change based on the severity of the condition. Mild hypothermia, for example, sets in when your pet’s temperature is between 90-99 degrees Fahrenheit. Conversely, severe hypothermia happens when your pet’s temperature drops below 82 degrees.
When your pet’s body can no longer maintain its normal temperature, bad things happen. Her central nervous system may become depressed while her heart and/or blood may have difficulty pumping. If left untreated, severe hypothermia can result in difficulty breathing, coma, and even death.
How Do Pets Get Hypothermia?
Easier than you might think! There’s a pervasive myth that wetness leads to hypothermia, and it’s not entirely wrong. Water is great at speeding up the effects of cold temperatures on our bodies; think about a bottle of champagne in an ice bath as a visual. But remember, your pet does not have to be submerged in water or even damp to suffer from hypothermia.
Hypothermia becomes more prevalent as the weather gets colder. Prolonged periods of exposure are usually the culprit behind pet hypothermia, but it’s important to understand that no two animals react the same way to identical temperatures. Puppies, older pets, and animals who are weakened by illness may be particularly at-risk of hypothermia. Individual animals can suffer from hypothermia even in temperatures that seem perfectly “normal!” That’s why it’s so important to know the signs.
Signs of Hypothermia in Pets
The signs of hypothermia can be gradual, and they’re not always obvious. Pets don’t always like to tell us when they’re in distress! Look for weakness, shivering, and a lack of alertness as warning signs of a hypothermia onset. More serious symptoms such as pale gums, shallow breathing, fixed pupils, and a barely-detectable heartbeat are indicators that something is very, very wrong. Immediately do whatever you can to bring up your animal’s body temperature and rush her to an emergency vet’s office right away.
How can you tell if your dog or cat has hypothermia? The most accurate way to tell is by taking her temperature, preferably rectally. Symptoms are usually the primary driver of diagnosis, but your vet may order a urinalysis or even an EKG to look for underlying heart or respiratory issues. If low body temperature is a common concern you have, talk to your vet about your dog’s individual risk factors for hypothermia. An adorable dog sweater or insulative booties might be all your pet needs to keep from becominoo cold on your winter weather potty walks.