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Coping with the Cold

17 / Jun / 2019

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:

Mild 32-35°C
Moderate 28-32°C
Severe <28°C

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:

  • Shivering
  • Depression
  • Weakness
  • Slowed breathing
  • Dilated pupils
  • Coma


Causes of hypothermia:

  • Left out in the cold
  • Wet fur
  • Swimming in cold water
  • Shock
  • Elderly pets
  • Illness
  • Newborn pets
  • General anaesthesia


Management of mild hypothermia:

  • Blankets
  • 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

Coping with the Cold