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December 17, 2012

PET TALK: Dashing through the snow: Signs of hypothermia

The weather in the southwest is extremely unpredictable. One day it’s 60 degrees and raining, the next it’s 80 degrees with sunshine. Winters can be even worse with unexpected cold fronts.  With extremely cold temperatures, hypothermia is a possibility for dogs.

Hypothermia, occurring in both humans and pets, is a condition characterized by abnormally low body temperatures. There are three phases of hypothermia: mild, classified as a body temperature of 90-99 degrees Fahrenheit; moderate, classified as a body temperature of 82-90 degrees Fahrenheit; and severe, classified as a body temperature of less than 82 degrees Fahrenheit.  

With hypothermia, the dog is no longer able to control a normal body temperature resulting in an abnormal heartbeat and difficulties breathing.

Generally, hypothermia results from spending too much time outside in the cold. Although there is not a specific time limit for a given temperature a dog should be left outside, Dr. Stacy Eckman, lecturer at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, said time spent outside in the cold should be restricted.

“The amount of time a pet should spend outside varies based on how acclimated the pet is to cooler temperatures,” Eckman said. “Typically, we do not recommend indoor pets to spend considerable amounts of time outdoors in cold temperatures without supervision.”

Hypothermia should be considered when taking any pet into the cold for long periods of time, but some are more susceptible to the illness than others.  Smaller, younger dogs, for example, are likely to lose their body heat faster resulting in hypothermia, Eckman said.

“Geriatric patients may take medications that alter their ability to regulate their temperature and blood flow making them also more susceptible,” she said.

She added that Arctic breeds such as Huskies or Malamutes can be less prone to hypothermia than other breeds because of their thicker coats.

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