As winter’s coldest months approach, Kansas pets are at risk for life-threatening hypothermia. Don’t let your pet fall victim to this preventable condition—know how to recognize hypothermia signs, how to respond if you think your pet is affected, and how to prevent your pet from becoming dangerously cold.

What is hypothermia in pets?

Your pet’s body temperature should be between 100 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit, and she has hypothermia if her body temperature is lower than 100 degrees. Your pet can suffer severe consequences if she is not immediately rewarmed, she has a low body temperature for a prolonged period, or hypothermia progresses.  

How does hypothermia develop in pets?

Hypothermia can occur if your pet experiences prolonged exposure to cold temperatures, such as being left outside in winter weather. Pets also can quickly become hypothermic in normally safe temperatures if their fur and skin is wet. In addition, young, old, or debilitated pets, or those who have systemic disease, cannot regulate their body temperature as well as other animals, and are at increased risk of hypothermia development.

If your pet falls into one of these categories, particular care should be taken to avoid situations that would increase the likelihood of hypothermia.

What are hypothermia signs in pets?

As your pet’s body temperature falls, she may develop hypothermia signs, which include:

  • Lethargy
  • Depression 
  • Weakness
  • Shivering
  • Decreased heart rate
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Coma
  • Death 

As hypothermia progresses, mild clinical signs can worsen to more serious symptoms, such as coma and death, so recognizing hypothermia signs promptly is critical.

What should I do if my pet develops hypothermia?

If your pet demonstrates clinical signs consistent with hypothermia, and her body temperature is lower than 100 degrees, you should take quick action to warm her, using methods such as:

  • Covering her with blankets and towels heated in the dryer
  • Placing a heating pad wrapped in a towel around her—never put the heating pad directly on your pet, as she could be severely burnt.
  • Putting a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel next to your pet

Take your pet’s temperature every 10 minutes while you rewarm her. If her temperature has not improved in 30 minutes, continues to decrease, or drops below 98 degrees, she should be treated by our veterinary team immediately. She may need more advanced warming methods, such as warm-water enemas or warmed intravenous fluids, to reach normal body temperature.

How can I protect my pet from hypothermia?

To prevent hypothermia, practice cold-weather pet safety, including:

  • Monitoring outdoor temperatures so you know when to keep your pet indoors
  • Limiting your pet’s outdoor time in cold temperatures
  • Bringing your pet in from the cold after potty breaks, which may mean setting a timer to remind yourself
  • Bundling up pets who are young, older, debilitated, or affected by disease
  • Bringing your pet in out of the rain so she does not become wet and chilled
  • Never housing your pet outdoors during winter months
  • Never leaving your pet in a car during cold weather

What other measures should I take to protect my pet from winter hazards?

Winter presents hazards other than cold temperatures your pet needs protection from, including:

  • Paw injuries — Ice, snow, and salt exposure can dry out your pet’s paws, leading to painful skin cracks that may bleed. Check your pet’s paws daily and wipe them off after trips outside. Also, keep her foot hair trimmed to prevent ice from accumulating between her toes. 
  • Slips and falls — Clear a path through snow and ice so your pet can get to her favorite bathroom spots without slipping and falling. Take extra caution with older, arthritic pets to prevent fall-related injuries.
  • Antifreeze toxicity — Most antifreeze products contain ethylene glycol, a toxic chemical that can cause deadly kidney failure after ingestion of only a small amount. Store all antifreeze products out of your pet’s reach and clean up spills immediately.
  • Ice-melt toxicity — Ice-melt products contain salt compounds that can cause toxicity if your pet grooms them from her fur. Wipe your pet’s paws, legs, and belly after a walk to prevent ingestion of these dangerous chemicals. 
  • Frozen ponds — You may think the ice on a lake can support your weight, but never walk on ice-covered ponds or lakes. You or your pet could fall into freezing water and develop hypothermia, or drown. Always keep your pet on a leash to prevent her from wandering away or chasing other animals into an unsafe area.  

If you have questions about keeping your pet safe this winter, or if you think your pet may have developed hypothermia, contact us.