The winter season can offer a beautiful and exciting landscape for you and your furry companion to explore, but it also comes with potential dangers. One of the most important things to be aware of is the signs of hypothermia and frostbite in dogs. Recognizing these signs and knowing how to respond can help keep your dog safe and prevent serious injury.
Hypothermia occurs when a dog's body temperature drops below their normal range of 100.2–103.8°F. This can happen due to prolonged exposure to cold weather or wet conditions. There are three stages of hypothermia: mild, moderate, and severe.
If your dog seems reluctant to walk or doesn't want to put their feet down on the cold ground, it may be too cold to venture out.
Mild hypothermia is characterized by a body temperature between 99.0-89.5°F and symptoms such as shivering, curling up for warmth, and cold ears, legs, paws, and/or tail.
Moderate hypothermia occurs at a body temperature between 82.4-89.5°F and symptoms include whining/crying, hunched body posture, reduced activity levels, stumbling, slowed heart rate, and confusion.
Severe hypothermia occurs when the body temperature drops below 82.4°F and can lead to symptoms such as dilated pupils, an erratic heartbeat, and loss of consciousness.
If you suspect your dog has hypothermia, it's important to act quickly. Bring them to a warm place and contact your veterinarian immediately. For moderate or severe cases, seek emergency veterinary care right away. To help raise your dog's body temperature, wrap them in layers of fleece or thermal blankets and increase the room temperature. Avoid using electric or other warming procedures that may cause burns and worsen their condition.
Steps to prevent dog hypothermia:
- Dress your dog in a warm jacket or sweater and booties before taking them out for a walk, especially in cold weather. Browse our dog coats & jackets to find the right coat for your dog & activities.
- Be mindful of the weather and temperature, and adjust your dog's gear accordingly.
- Select gear that is appropriate for your dog's breed, size, and coat type. Make sure to purchase gear that is specifically designed for dogs, such as dog coats, boots and balms.
- Dry your dog thoroughly before taking them out in cold weather to prevent frostbite.
- Limit the length of winter walks and time spent outside in extreme cold. Be sure to provide good protection against wind and rain. If the weather is unpredictable, choose a route with plenty of options for shelter if conditions deteriorate.
- Keep hair between the dog's paw pads short to prevent ice balls from forming in and around the paws.
- Keep your dog indoors in extreme weather conditions, in areas where temperatures can be controlled.
- Provide your dog with ample food and water to help them maintain their body heat.
- Consult with a veterinarian if you have any concerns about your dog's ability to tolerate cold weather.
- Keep a close eye on your dog's behavior and look out for any signs of hypothermia or frostbite.
Despite their furry covering, dogs are susceptible to frostbite once the temperature drops below 32°F.
Frostbite is a natural process where blood is redirected from the body’s extremities to vital organs when there is a drop in body temperature. Areas that are furthest away from the heart such as the tail, ears, nose, and paws will experience a drop in blood flow, and this can cause tissue damage.
Small dogs, shorthaired dogs, puppies, and senior dogs are at the biggest risk of frostbite, but all breeds run the risk of frostbite and hypothermia when exposed to cold temperatures for a length of time. Signs of frostbite include pain/tenderness when touched, swelling in the affected area, pale, blue, or gray skin or other discoloration in the affected area, skin cold to the touch, stiffness or clumsiness, blisters or skin ulcers, and areas of blackened or dead skin.
To prevent frostbite, make sure your dog is dry before taking them out for a walk. Keep winter walks short when possible, and if it is too cold for people, it is probably too cold for your dog. A warm dog jacket or sweater and dog booties will help minimize the risk of frostbite, especially for short-coated breeds or older, more fragile dogs.
ADDITIONAL WINTER CARE TIPS
De-icing treatments on roads and sidewalks are particularly tough on paws, and may cause cracking and irritation. Avoid treated paths if possible. Use dog boots to provide your dog with a barrier between paws and potentially toxic de-icing chemicals. If you don't have boots or your dog refuses to wear them, a good paw wax or balm should be applied before heading out to act as a barrier. When back inside, clean paws with a warm washcloth to remove all residue, dry thoroughly with a towel, and apply more wax/balm for soothing treatment.
Try one of our paw balms for excellent winter paw protection & care.
*This article is intended to provide an overview and is not a substitute for the advice and care of your veterinarian. Always consult your vet regarding your pet's health, ability to tolerate cold, activity level, treatment, and safety precautions.
Normal Rectal Temperature Ranges. (2004). Merck Manual. https://www.merckvetmanual.com/multimedia/table/normal-rectal-temperature-ranges
Keeping your furry friends safe during winter weather. (2021). https://www.vet.cornell.edu/news/20210129/keeping-your-furry-friends-safe-during-winter-weather
Hypothermia in Dogs: How Cold is Too Cold?. (2021). https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/hypothermia-in-dogs-how-cold-is-too-cold/
Can Dogs Get Frostbite? (2021). https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/can-dogs-get-frostbite/
Frostbite in Dogs. (https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/frostbite-in-dogs#:~:text=The%20clinical%20signs%20associated%20with,the%20body%20part(s).