Hypothermia in Dogs and Cats – Symptoms and Treatment
5 January, 2018
Winter is here in full force and as the temperatures fall to unthinkable temperatures so does the danger of pets developing hypothermia. It actually doesn’t have to be freezing for our cats and dogs to become too cold. If you have an outside cat or a dog that enjoys winter sports or just playing outside in the snow, you should know what the signs of hypothermia are and how to treat it.
Symptoms and types of Hypothermia
Hypothermia is a medical condition that is characterized by an abnormally low body temperature. The core temperature of the body falls below its normal temperature. Pets that get too cold can experience a mild (90 – 99 degrees F), moderate (82 – 90 degrees F) or severe (less than 82 degrees F) drop in temperature. A dog’s normal body temperature is 101 to 102.5, and a cat’s normal temperature is 100.4 to 102.5.
Hypothermia symptoms vary with the level of severity. Mild hypothermia is accompanied by weakness, shivering, and lack of mental alertness. Moderate hypothermia symptoms are muscle stiffness, low blood pressure, a stupor-like state, and shallow, slow breathing. Characteristics of severe hypothermia are fixed and dilated pupils, inaudible heartbeat, difficulty breathing, and coma.
Causes of hypothermia
Hypothermia usually occurs in cold temperatures, although kittens and puppies may suffer hypothermia in normal environmental temperatures. Smaller breeds and very young animals, more prone to rapid surface loss of body heat, are at higher risk, as are older (geriatric) pets.
Other factors that may increase risk are disease of the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that regulates appetite and body temperature, and hypothyroidism, a condition characterized by low levels of thyroid hormone in the body.
How hypothermia is diagnosed
If you think your dog or cat has hypothermia, your vet will take their temperature with a thermometer or, in severe cases, with a rectal or esophageal probe. Irregularities in breathing and heartbeat will also be checked. An electrocardiogram (ECG), which records the electrical activity of the heart will determine your dog or cats’ cardiovascular status.
A urinalysis and blood tests are also used to diagnose other causes for below normal body temperature and unresponsiveness. These tests may reveal low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), metabolic disorders, primary heart (cardiac) disease, or anesthetics or sedatives in your dog’s system
Treatment for hypothermia
Usually, mild to moderate cases can be treated at home. Get your dog or cat inside and wrap him up in a warm blanket. You can use a heating pad or fill plastic bottles with warm water and place them next to your pet for warmth. Wrap any heat source in a towel before putting it next to your pet to prevent burns and stop the warming process once your pet’s temperature returns to normal.
Severe cases of hypothermia need to be dealt with immediately by a vet because it requires warm water enemas and IV fluids. But it’s always a good idea to have your pet checked out by your vet even for mild cases.
Prevention of Hypothermia
Make sure not to keep your cat or dog outside and exposure to cold temperatures for a long time. This is especially important for dogs that are considered to be at-risk. Factors that increase an animal’s risk for hypothermia include very young or old age, low body fat, hypothalamic disease or hypothyroidism, and previous anesthesia and surgery.
If you let your dog or cat outside for any period of time, always keep an eye on them. Even if they want to play in the snow for a while, you should make sure that they keep warm and don’t stay out for too long. Even indoor cats and dogs can get hypothermia if kept in a cold place for too long.
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