Monday, January 3, 2011

Hypothermia in Pets

Winter finally hit in Colorado.  With temperatures in the teens and 20s and overnight lows dropping below zero it is important to take some extra precautions to keep you pets warm.  Some dogs are more sensitive to the cold than others. Small breeds, short haired dogs, puppies and geriatric dogs, dogs that are normally "indoor" pets, and those with heart or other medical conditions are all more sensitive to colder temperatures. A dog's normal body temperature is between 99.5 and 102.5. When a dog fitting one of the above descriptions is exposed to colder temperatures he or she often has a difficult time keeping his/her core body temperature within the normal range. When the temperature dips below the normal range hypothermia sets in. Hypothermia means that your dog is loosing body heat faster than it can be replaced.

Signs of hypothermia:
- shivering
- lethargy
- stiff muscles
- pale or gray gums
- stumbling or lack of coordination
- fixed and dilated pupils
- low heart and breathing rates
- collapse
- or even coma

With mild hypothermia your dog is likely to be shivering and appear lethargic. As the hypothermia increases in severity the other symptoms become evident.  Your dog becomes increasingly unresponsive as his body goes into heat conservation mode. At this time your dog's focus will be on keeping his vital organs working by restricting the blood flow from all other parts of the body. If it's not treated, hypothermia can be fatal.

Prevention is Key
Dogs sensitive to cold should be kept inside with quick potty breaks outside. The small dogs and short haired breeds benefit from a doggy jacket that helps to keep their core warm. Booties may also be a good idea as lots of heat escapes through a dogs foot pads.

Mild hypothermia can be reversed by getting back in a warm environment and wrapping your dog with a blanket until the shivering stops. Hypothermia that has dropped the dogs temperature to the 90-94 degree range will require rewarming methods. Water bottles filled with warm water placed around your dog deliver a safe warm heat source. Stay away from heating pads as it is easy to burn your dog's skin. It is recommended that you take your animal to your family veterinarian or veterinary emergency service for observation and/or treatment if you need to treat for hypothermia. Severe hypothermia requires immediate veterinary intervention. Unfortunately, it may be difficult to reverse the damage at this level of hypothermia, but we can hope for the best.

Cuddle up with your four-legged friends and stay warm!

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