Hypothermia in Dogs: What to Do

When temperatures dip, it’s important to recognize when your dog is suffering from being too cold. Symptoms include shaking, stiff muscles, and non-responsiveness.

Feb 25, 2024By Thalia Oosthuizen
hypothermia in dogs what to do

Hypothermia is when your dog’s body temperature plummets to a potentially dangerous level, risking their health. Keep in mind that hypothermia is the result of your dog's body losing heat more quickly than it is generating. It is not the same as simply being cold.

Unfortunately, if a dog's body temperature falls too low, the heart and nervous system may start to shut down, risking death. Don’t be afraid, though. By recognizing certain signs, you can ensure your four-legged friend’s well-being.

Symptoms of Hypothermia in Canines

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Temperature drops are uncomfortable but usually not cause for great concern. Yet, if temperatures drop below 50°F, you should exercise caution. Some symptoms of hypothermia in dogs include:

  • Sudden fatigue
  • Pale skin
  • Shivering
  • Stiff muscles
  • Low blood pressure
  • Dilated and fixed pupils
  • Shallow breathing
  • Feeling cold to the touch

Regardless of the weather, it is best to take your dog to the vet if you notice any of these symptoms, as they may also be signs of other health problems, such as bloat.

Breeds That Are Ill-Equipped for Cold Weather

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Due to their breeding history, some breeds—like Huskies—are adapted to withstand the cold, thereby at a lower risk of developing hypothermia. However, certain dog breeds simply can't stand the winter months––and they rely on their owners to be warm and cozy.

Here’s a list of the top breeds that are very susceptible to hypothermia:

Some senior dogs are also at risk of developing hypothermia, regardless of their breed. Thin skin and atrophied muscle can affect how well a dog remains insulated when it gets cold.

Treatment for Hypothermia

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If you suspect that your dog has hypothermia, you should take them to the vet immediately. A medical professional can assess your dog’s health and render treatment that doesn’t shock their system. Yet, if you can’t get to the vet, you could stabilize your dog’s condition by:

  • Wrapping them in warm blankets. The best form of at-home treatment is wrapping them in warm blankets and popping a hot water bottle (wrapped in a towel) on your dog’s tummy.
  • Drying them off. If they’re wet (perhaps from being in the snow), use a towel to dry them off.
  • Offering water. Try giving them some lukewarm water to increase their body temperature. This also helps prevent dehydration.
  • Pump up the heat. Increase the heating in your house or car to warm up the environment. You generally want to reach 70 degrees. You don’t need your home to feel like an oven!

Do Not Dunk Your Dog in Hot Water

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It’s a mistake that many well-intentioned dog owners make. Upon suspecting hypothermia in their pet, they turn on the bathtub and dunk their dog into the hot water. Seems like a good idea, right? The dog is cold; they need warming up. However, this is a common misconception that could quickly have a fatal outcome.

Your dog is already in a delicate state while combating hypothermia. By quickly changing the temperature, you could send them into shock, resulting in vomiting, pale gums, and rapid breathing. Slow and steady wins the race when it comes to overcoming hypothermia. Keep your dog snug in warm blankets and offer soothing words as their body returns to the right temperature.

Normal vs. Low Body Temperatures: What to Know

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To prevent hypothermia in your dog, it’s important to know what the right body temperature is. Between breeds, average temperatures tend to vary depending on size, but a generally healthy body temperature will be anywhere between 101°F to 102.5°F. A fever for a human is usually fine for a dog.

Anything lower than 99°F is considered too low for a dog. If this occurs, you'll need to begin a treatment plan or, if they don't warm up, take them immediately for a check-up with the vet.

Taking your dog's temperature can be tricky and perhaps a two-man job. The most accurate way is through a rectal thermometer. Have one person there to keep the dog calm and the other person take the temperature. You’ll need to lubricate the end of the thermometer with petroleum jelly and gently insert it from one to two inches for two minutes.

Tips to Prevent Hypothermia in Your Dog

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You can prevent your dog from hypothermia in the winter by taking a few steps. The most important bit of advice is to provide your dog—whether they are an elderly dog, a puppy, or a breed mentioned above that could be susceptible to hypothermia—a warm coat to wear.

To make it extra warm, place it on the radiator for a while before you head out for a walk. This will keep them extra snug in the cold. You can actually get little boots for your dog, too. Both of these will not only keep them warm but also protect their paws from getting wet and further encouraging hypothermia.

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In the winter, you should try to avoid taking your dog for long walks outside if they are sensitive to the cold. Alternatively, simply go for a little stroll around the block with them and make sure they get plenty of exercise at home.

Keep in mind that your dog will most likely find the outside too chilly if it's too cold for you. Use your own response to temperature as a guide for how your dog feels.

Mindfulness Keeps Your Dog Safe

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All in all, it can be scary if your dog develops hypothermia. Naturally, the wisest course of action is to take every precaution to avoid it. However, if it does occur, stay calm. Treatment is rather simple if you identify the symptoms quickly. Until it's time to enjoy the sunshine again, let's keep our dogs safe during the winter months!

Thalia Oosthuizen
By Thalia Oosthuizen

Thalia has been a freelance writer for over a decade and a dog (and animal) lover for over 30 years. She grew up on a farm where, at one stage, she had 15 dogs. She currently has one dog, Avery - an adorable pavement special with an extra toe on each foot, and two rescue cats - Boris and Mango. In her spare time, Thalia enjoys running, cycling, swimming, and reading