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Hypothermia in dogs and the effects of winter on your pet

Pet Care Tips 3 min read
A Chihuahua dog wearing a yellow winter jacket as he looks at the camera, to illustrate hypothermia in dogs.

The weather outside is frightful, and you’re worried about hypothermia in dogs or even cats? You probably should if you notice your little one shivering, teeth chattering, and feel their paws cold. Keeping your little one warm when it’s cold outside goes beyond comfort, seeing as an excessively low body temperature can lead to shock or even organ failure.

The good news is there are easy ways to help avoid or overcome hypothermia in your little one. A vet treatment plan, pet-friendly clothing, and natural supplements can be a robust approach to have your little one feeling more themselves in no time. No matter the temperature outside!

When can hypothermia in pets happen?

Temperatures below 20 Fahrenheit (about -6.67 Celcius) can result in frostbite, hypothermia, and shock in most pets.

Hypothermia in dogs and cats occurs when their body temperature falls below 98℉, or around 36.6℃. This change can be caused by extreme environmental weather, but how cold is too cold for pets? The answer really depends on various factors – the species, breed, size, coat type of your little one, and more.

For example, smaller pups with thinner coats, like Chihuahuas or Pomeranians, are more sensitive to lower temperatures. Pets that are either quite young, a senior, or have a particular health condition may also be too cold if the temperature outside is 32℉ (0℃) or lower. In any case, it is important to note that temperatures of 20℉ (about -6.67℃) and lower could result in frostbite, hypothermia, and shock in most dogs and cats.

Addressing Hypothermia in Dogs & Cats

You can’t do a precise temperature reading of your little one from home. If you are concerned about hypothermia, you must take your furkiddo to a vet for a rectal temperature. It’s also important to note that a few underlying health conditions can cause hypothermia in dogs and other pets. So we highly recommend consulting your vet should you suspect your little one has a low body temperature.

If your dog shows clear signs of hypothermia from being outside too long in the cold, seek immediate vet treatment to help regulate their body temperature. After urgent care, we recommend adding our NHV Natures Immuno, NHV Felimm, and NHV Multi Essentials to their regimen for extra support. These three supplements may help the body balance immune functions, fight against infections, and address possible nutrient voids.

How long can I leave my pet outside on a cold day?

A photo of a caramel bull-type dog running in the snow without any clothes to help raise awareness about hypothermia in dogs.

In the cold weather months, unless your furkiddo is genetically predisposed to uphold lower temperatures, it is not advised to leave them outside for too long. If the temperature is 32℉ (0℃) or lower, a maximum of a few minutes is recommended at most. They can certainly go out for potty breaks and do their business, but they should not be left outside unattended or without the aid of a sweater or coat. 

These are some of the breeds known for being more resistant to cold weather:

It’s important to remember that these pups are not entirely immune to external temperatures either. If you have a furkiddo who is very young, a senior, has a health condition, or a lower functioning immune system, they may still experience a hard time outside in the cold. Seeing as their body may not have the energy to expend for the built-in temperature regulations they have when at optimal health.

Can clothes help avoid hypothermia in dogs? 

You can certainly have your little ones wear a warm and cozy winter sweater or coat during the colder winter months. But please keep in mind that this is case-to-case dependent, as each furkiddo is uniquely different.

For example, my own senior boy, Kiwi, never liked clothing in his youth and has always relied on his long-haired coat for thermoregulation. Now that he is older, we see he needs more help staying warm and no longer minds sweaters and coats.

For the little one that needs extra help with outerwear, look for materials that are thick, waterproof, or resistant and made for colder weather. Also, if your furkiddo has allergies to cotton or wool, please stay away from these materials.

We also need to be careful not to overdo it with the outer layers. For example, if one of the self-regulating breeds is put into a sweater or winter coat, this could cause them to be uncomfortable and too warm. For the other breeds that need the aid of outerwear, putting too many layers on can cause them to overheat and experience the opposite of hypothermia – hyperthermia.

Understanding your little one’s unique needs according to their breed and health history goes a long way! If you have any concerns about your little one’s health during the winter and colder months, please know that we are here to help guide you.

Vet Assistant Setti

Vet Assistant Setti

Setti completed her Bachelor’s degree in General Sciences with a double major in biology and anthropology from Simon Fraser University in 2017. After struggling with her own dog’s misdiagnosis, Setti found her passion for helping animals and pet parents. She completed the pre-veterinary medicine program at Dalhousie University in Truro, Nova Scotia, in 2018. Setti worked as a Vet Assistant in veterinary clinics for three and a half years before joining the NHV Pet Expert team.

Published: December 19, 2022

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