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208 Breeds, 422 Health Conditions  |  Find a Vet

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Hypothermia View In Cats

First Aid Condition

First aid health condition




Condition Overview

Dogs and cats don't get dangerously cold very often because they have a strong shiver reflex. Shivering increases the body's metabolism and generates heat. Fur is also a great insulator. It traps warm air next to the skin, keeping the pet's internal temperature in the normal range of 99F - 102F.


Signs of hypothermia are violent shivering followed by listlessness, a rectal temperature below 95F (35C), weak pulse, lethargy, and coma. Note that hypothermic dogs can withstand prolonged periods of cardiac arrest, because the low body temperature also lowers the metabolic rate. CPR may be successful in such individuals.


Prolonged exposure to cold will result in a drop in body temperature. Toy breeds, breeds with short coats, puppies, and very old dogs are most susceptible to hypothermia. Since a wet coat loses its insulating properties, hypothermia is a potential complication for all dogs who have been submerged in cold water. Hypothermia also occurs along with shock, after a long course of anesthesia, and in newborn puppies who get chilled because of inadequately heated whelping quarters. Prolonged cold exposure burns up stored energy and results in a low blood sugar.


Diagnosis is made by measuring a body temperature under 99 degrees Fahrenheit.


Wrap the dog in a blanket or jacket and carry him into a warm building. If the dog is wet (he fell into icy water), dry him vigorously with towels. Wrap the dog in a warm blanket and take his rectal temperature. If the temperature is above 95F, continue the warm blankets and encourage the dog to swallow a sugar solution such as honey, 4 teaspoons (32g) of sugar dissolved in a pint of water, or rub some Karo syrup on the pet's gums.

If the dog's rectal temperature is below 95F, notify your veterinarian immediately. While awaiting instructions, begin rapidly warming by applying warm water bottles wrapped in towels to the dog's armpits and chest, then wrap the dog in a blanket. The temperature of the packs should be about the same as a baby bottle - warm to the wrist. Take the rectal temperature every 10 minutes. Change the warming packs until the rectal temperature reaches 100F (38C). Do not apply heat directly to the dog, as this may cause burns. Also, do not use a hair dryer to warm the dog (for the same reasons).

For Severe Hypothermia (body temperature of 90F or less)

  1. Get to the vet as soon as possible - Pets with severe hypothermia must see a veterinarian as soon as possible. Rectal thermometers only register to 93F, so keep watch for the shiver reflex - dogs and cats will stop shivering when the body temperature drops to around 90F. These pets need emergency veterinary care.

    A pet whose core body temperature has been below 90F for longer than 30 minutes needs to be rewarmed form the inside out, using special techniques that your vet is trained to perform. Trying to rewarm him yourself in this situation can be dangerous. If your pet's temperature has probably been lower 90F for more than 30 minutes, do NOT apply external heat sources. Dry him off if he is wet, wrap him in a blanket, put him in a heated car, and go to the vet quickly.

    If your vet is more than 30 minutes away or if your pet's temperature has dropped below 90F within the past 30 minutes, you should apply an external heat source such as a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel. Leave immediately, do not wait for his temperature to increase to 99F. Take hot water bottles and towels to wrap them in, along with some hot water in an insulated container to refill the bottles, if possible, and continue the rewarming process in the car while someone else drives you to the vet.
  2. Rub Karo syrup on your pet's gums - Pets with severe hypothermia are at risk for shock. They may also have very low blood sugar levels. It may be helpful to try to raise them while you are on the way to the vet. The easiest way to do this is to rub 1 - 2 drops of Karo syrup or honey on the gums. The honey or Karo will be absorbed through the tissues and may raise blood sugar almost instantly. However, your pet may be too cold to have enough circulation for it to be well absorbed.
Additional informaton
  • If you suspect a stopped heart - Be prepared to perform artificial respiration if your pet stops breathing and CPR if his heart stops beating. First, determine if your pet's heart has stopped by taking his pulse and checking his reflexes. Press your fingertips into the crease where the inside of the thigh meets the body and feel for the pulse in the femoral artery, which is very big and near the surface. If you can't feel a pulse, try listening or feeling for the heartbeat. Put your ear or hand flat against your pet's left side directly behind the elbow. If you can't detect a heartbeat, check his reflexes for responsiveness.
  • If his heart is beating but he is not breathing - In this case, you need to give artificial respiration. Close your pet's mouth with your hands and seal his lips, then put your mouth completely over his nose, give two quick breaths, and watch for his chest to expand. Give 15 - 20 breaths a minute until he starts breathing again or until you reach the animal hospital. As he warms up, he is more likely to begin breathing on his own.
  • If your pet's heart has stopped and he's not breathing - You will need to perform chest compressions along with artificial respiration. If you are alone, give 5 chest compressions for every 1 breath, compressions the chest by 25 - 50%. The goal is 80 - 100 compressions and 15 - 20 breaths per minute until your pet revives or until you reach medical help. If you have a helper, one person gives the 5 compressions, and the other gives the breath.

    To give chest compressions to cats or small dogs, cup your hand over the point of the chest just behind the elbows. Squeeze firmly in a cough-like manner, pressing in about 1/2 inch, with your thumb on one side and your fingers on the other. Lay a larger dog on his side, then place one hand on top of the other on his chest. Use both hands to press firmly.


Keep dogs away from large bodies of water in the cold weather months. Provide warm shelter to any dog living outdoors in the winter months. Bring all pets inside a heated building on particularly cold days (below freezing). Use winter apparel for medium to short coated breeds, such as the Weimaraner.


Pets who have had hypothermia once have an increased risk to getting it again because damage to the body caused by extreme cold reduces its ability to stay warm. They may need assistance keeping their temperatures in a safe range.

Dogs and cats who lived outside comfortably when they were young should be indoors during cold weather as they get older. Older pets tend to have less fat ans muscle - tissues essential for insulating and producing internal heat.

If your pet normally lives indoors, but will be spending a lot of time outside, veterinarians recommend giving him small experiences in the colder weather before winter descends. He should start by spending 2 - 3 hours a day outside.

Dogs and cats need places where they can escape from wind and rain. Shelters should be insulated and raised off the ground, with the door facing away from the direction of prevailing winds. There should be a flexible cover over the door to block drafts. Small shelters are better than large ones because pets prefer cozy dens and because small places stay warmer since they hold body heat. Cover the flood with blankets or cedar chips. These allow your pet to burrow into the bedding and make a spot to lay that can be more easily warmed by their bodies. Check the shelters temperature periodically, it should not fall below 40F.

Pets always need fresh water to generate internal body heat.Eating snow isn't a good substitute since it chills the body. Some pet supply stores sell heated water bowls with automatic thermostats, which ensure that the water will not freeze.

Dogs and cats need more calories in winter because their metabolisms run a lot faster to keep them warm. They need about 7.5% more food for each 10 degree drop in temperature (outdoor). That means pets who spend alot of time outside need about 30% more calories during the coldest months. Once way to increase calories is to add a tablespoon of fat or vegetable oil to each cup of dry food. Or give your pet puppy or kitten foods that are very high in calories.

Show Sources & Contributors +


Dog Owners Home Veterinary Handbook

Publisher: Wiley Publishing, 2007

Website: http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/

Authors: Debra M. Eldredge, Liisa D. Carlson, Delbert G. Carlson, James M. Giffen MD

The First Aid Companion for Dogs And Cats

Publisher: Rodale Inc, 2001

Website: http://www.rodalebooks.com/

Authors: Amy D. Shojai, Shane Bateman DVM

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