Hypothermia occurs when the body's temperature falls and the pet cannot maintain a normal temperature. Decreased body temperatures can affect the central nervous, cardiovascular, respiratory and immune system.
Hypothermia is characterised by 3 phases:
Juvenile, geriatric, small breeds, sick pets or those under a general anaesthesia are more prone to hypothermia.
A pets ability to tolerate cold weather depends on their age, health, coat thickness, fat stores and activity level.
As a general rule, when temperatures drop below 4°C, pets should not spend prolonged amounts of time outdoors.
Common signs of hypothermia:
- Slowed breathing
- Dilated pupils
Causes of hypothermia:
- Left out in the cold
- Wet fur
- Swimming in cold water
- Elderly pets
- Newborn pets
- General anaesthesia
Management of mild hypothermia:
- Heat sources such as heaters or heat pads or hair dryer
- Warm water bottles
- Warm fluids to drink
The goal is to check the rectal temperature every 10 minutes until it reaches 37.5°C in which all heat sources can be removed except for room heating.
In severe cases, veterinary attention involves invasive core warming, warm fluid therapy and oxygen.
Tips to help prevent hypothermia:
- Avoiding excessive time outdoors
- Provide indoor heating
- Use of pet clothing (jackets, boots etc)
- Incubation for newborns
- Do not allow pets to swim in cold weather
- Dry the pet's fur and skin if wet
- Decrease walking route length and duration in cold weather
- Consider indoor activities such as hiding treats, food contraptions, puzzles
- Avoid walking geriatric or arthritis pets on snow or ice
- Check the paws daily for cracked or bleeding foot pads