Your vet may refer to your dog’s unusually low body temperature as “hypothermia.” At a temperature below normal, your dog’s physiologic and metabolic systems will function much slower. He may experience an irregular heartbeat, trouble breathing, and impaired consciousness, even to the point of a coma. Because hypothermia is a progressive condition, your dog’s body will have less ability to bring itself back to normal temperatures the longer it persists.
Symptoms of Low Body Temperature in Dogs
Hypothermia will become worse the longer it lasts. At first, you may notice the following during mild hypothermia:
– Heat-seeking/burrowing in blankets
– Mental depression
As it progresses into moderate hypothermia, your dog may also experience:
– Shallow breathing
– Stiff movement
– Hypotension (low blood pressure)
A dog suffering from severe hypothermia will show the following symptoms:
– Labored breathing
– Slow, weak heartbeat
– Fixed and dilated pupils
– Unconsciousness or coma
Hypothermia is classified by the cause of the condition.
– In primary hypothermia the body exhibits normal heat production but has a low temperature due to environmental factors. An otherwise healthy dog left outside in extremely cold temperatures may suffer primary hypothermia.
– In the case of secondary hypothermia the body will have abnormal heat production due to causes like injury, illness or drugs.
Severity is determined by body temperature.
- Mild: Body temperature of 90 – 99°F (32 – 35°C)
- Moderate: Body temperature of 82 – 90°F (28 – 32°C)
- Severe: Body temperature less than 82°F (28°C)
Causes of Low Body Temperature in Dogs
– Exposure to external cold, wet and/or extreme drafts
– Smaller dogs (Chihuahuas, for example) have high surface-area-to-body-mass ratios and are more susceptible.
– Injury can prevent seeking heat and the dog’s ability to regulate his own body temperature.
– Certain drugs such as those used for anesthesia in surgery can inhibit the body’s ability to regulate temperature.
– Newborn pups are more susceptible to hypothermia even at normal room temperatures.
– Geriatric pets can be more susceptible to hypothermia.
– Hypothalamic disease affects the brain’s regulation of body temperature and can contribute to heat loss.
– Hypothyroidism, low thyroid hormone production, can contribute to heat loss.
Diagnosis of Low Body Temperature in Dogs
Early diagnosis and treatment will give your dog the best outcome. The moment you notice even mild symptoms, wrap your pup up in a blanket and get them to a vet.
Your vet will take your dog’s temperature and discuss possible causes with you. A physical exam may also be done to check for heartbeat irregularities or abnormal breathing. Your vet may perform blood tests or a urinalysis to determine if your dog’s hypothermia might be caused by drugs, hypothyroidism, or other physical disorders. An EKG may be used to monitor your dog’s heart.
Treatment of Low Body Temperature in Dogs
Your vet will focus on rewarming your dog and making sure he doesn’t lose any more body heat. The body can be safely rewarmed at 0.5-1.5 degrees Celsius per hour. They may use any of the following three rewarming techniques depending on how severe your dog’s hypothermia is:
Passive External Rewarming – your dog will already be producing heat, so your vet may use a blanket or other insulating cover to keep him from losing it. Natural body functions such as shivering will also contribute to rewarming.
Active External Rewarming – external heat sources such as hot water bottles, heating pads and radiant heaters will need to be used, as your dog’s metabolic systems are slowed and will not be producing heat as well as he ought to.
Active Internal Rewarming – warm IV fluids can aid in bringing body temperatures back to normal levels. Oxygen administration may also be used to promote recovery.
– Rewarming must be conducted carefully and body temperature monitored constantly to avoid complications.
– “After drop” is a phenomenon where the body temperature continues to decrease during rewarming. Rewarmed blood moves to the extremities, pushing cold blood from the extremities inward to core organs.
– “Rewarming shock” may occur if your dog’s temperature is brought up too quickly, causing high blood pressure. This can potentially further compromise the circulatory system.
Rewarming therapy could take 2 – 10 hours depending on the severity, until a normal body temperature is reached. The patient may then continue to be monitored for 24-72 hours.
Recovery of Low Body Temperature in Dogs
Follow up appointments may be requested to make sure your dog doesn’t suffer from any long-term complications. Organs may be damaged if they were not receiving sufficient circulation while the body temperature was moderately to severely low. It may not be detectable for even weeks after treatment. Your vet may recommend follow ups to monitor your dog’s physiologic processes after treatment as well.
Patients who are at high risk for hypothermia (elderly, small, etc.) might require long-term care to keep their body temperature stable.