How do I know if my pet is hypothermic?

April 13, 2012

Not all dogs are born equal. While some dogs practically live in the snow, others would be affected by temperature that is below the dog’s normal 100.5 to 102.5 ° Fahrenheit. Northern dogs would live, sleep and work in the snow. Alaskan Husky, Samoyed, Klee Kai are some of the dog breeds blessed to have thick double coats and bushy tails that serve as protection against extremely cold temperatures. These breeds would be ideal companions for people interested in winter sports. Walking, tobogganing and sledding are favorite winter activities. Dogs are wonderful companions and dog owners would naturally want the pet to be around. Being alone in a silent but amazing winter wonderland with only the dog for company can be a one of a kind experience for nature lovers. But if your pet dog is rather small and short haired, you better take precautionary measures if you need to take the dog outdoors for quite a while especially if it is snowing and the temperature is very cold. You may need to equip the dog with booties and doggie coats as precaution against hypothermia.

Along with frostbite, a dog owner has to watch out for signs of hypothermia as these are potential life threatening situations that a dog can suffer from during the winter months. Hypothermia occurs when the dog is exposed to extremely cold temperatures so that the body is losing heat much faster than it can be replaced. Dogs normally regulate their body temperature either by generating more body heat or by conserving the heat of the body. To produce heat, a dog, just like humans would shiver. Shivering is an involuntary action or a reflex bodily function. The shaking of the muscles is the body’s effort to create warmth. Did you know that your dog can have goose bumps too? In a process called piloerection, warmed air will be trapped beneath hair that stands on end. Vasoconstriction is another process that allows dogs to conserve heat. Vasoconstriction is the narrowing of blood vessels so that the amount of blood and heat will be restricted in some body parts so that the flow of blood will be concentrated to the vital organs. This is why a dog would have cold tail, ears and toes when the temperature is cold. Some dogs are prevented from regulating body temperature by their genetics, by the environment and in some cases by health concerns. When this happens, hypothermia will occur. Many dogs have died from hypothermia. Treatment is essentially warming the dog up so that body temperature is normalized. How would you know that your pet is already hypothermic?

Shivering, raised hair and cold extremities are the fist telltale signs. Because of the shivering, muscle stiffening and lack of coordination will be noticed. The dog’s body will manifest the heat conservation mode. Cold extremities are a sign that the body is trying to conserve the warmth and directing blood flow to the vital organs of the body. Because blood flow to the extremities is restricted, the dog will also suffer from frost bite. Due to the concentration of blood flow to the vital organs of the dog, the brain, the heart and the lungs will continue to function while other tissues deprived of blood supply will start to die. The dog that is already very weak will lose consciousness and be comatose. If normal body temperature is not promptly restored the dog will die.

Hot water bottles, warm towels, heat pads, hair dryers, heat lamps will help restore the normal body temperature of a hypothermic dog. A word of caution: don’t use very hot water in an attempt to restore the body temperature of the dog quickly as you can burn the skin of the dog.

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