During the recent cold snap covering much of the United States, a woman from suburban Chicago allegedly left her dog in his doghouse for 12 hours in temperatures that fell as low as minus 15. Sadly, the dog died from hypothermia. The woman was arrested and charged with animal cruelty after the police received a tip about the dog’s body being found.
A horrific story, no doubt, and one that shouldn’t have happened. Here’s what you need to know about hypothermia (low body temperature) and how to prevent it from ever happening to your beloved furry friends.
What is it?
Hypothermia is an extreme lowering of the body temperature and happens when pets are exposed to frigid temperatures for too long, or if their fur gets wet in a cold, windy environment. When the body temperature drops, heart rate and breathing slow down, which can lead to several problems. The consequences of sustained, severe hypothermia may include neurological problems (including coma), heart problems, kidney failure, slow or no breathing, frostbite, and eventually death.
Symptoms to look for:
- Strong shivering and trembling followed by no shivering
- Acting sleepy or lethargic and weak
- Fur and skin are cold to the touch
- Body temperature is below 95 degrees (Fahrenheit)
- Decreased heart rate
- Pupils may be dilated (the black inner circle of the eye appears larger)
- Gums and inner eyelids are pale or blue
- Trouble walking
- Trouble breathing
- Stupor, unconsciousness or coma
Although hypothermia is not commonly seen in her practice, Jenna Armstrong, DVM, at Ark Animal Hospital in Chalfont, Pa., says when it does happen, it tends to be because pet owners fail to recognize the early signs. It also happens when pets are mistakenly left outside overnight.
What you can do:
If you suspect your pet has hypothermia:
- Remove your pet from the cold and put him in a warm room.
- Dry off your pet thoroughly either with towels or a hair dryer set on low and held about 12 inches away.
- Wrap your pet in a blanket (warm it in the clothes dryer first)
- Wrap warm hot-water bottles in towels (to prevent burning your pet) and place on pet’s abdomen.
- Check the pet’s temperature with a rectal thermometer. If it’s below 95 degrees, the pet could be at risk for hypothermia. Take your pet to a veterinarian immediately.
If his temperature is above 95 degrees, retake his temperature every 10 to 15 minutes to see how severe the hypothermia is while doing the warming techniques. Once his temperature is 100 degrees or higher, you can remove the hot-water bottle but be sure to keep him warm. Be sure to get him checked by a veterinarian the same day even when his temperature is reaches 99 or higher because one incidence of hypothermia can be harmful and make him prone to it again.
If your pet doesn’t respond to warming up his body within 30 to 45 minutes, go to straight to emergency vet clinic.
Hypothermia can be prevented by not allowing your cat or dog outside for too long in very cold weather or near frigid water. Be aware of how well your pet tolerates the cold as very young, very old pets, small dogs as well as those with short hair can be most susceptible to hypothermia. If that’s the case, consider equipping your pup with dog sweater or jacket with booties to protect his feet for outings.
“Cooking spray can also be applied to their paws to prevent snowball accumulation and cold feet,” Dr. Armstrong says.
Above all, use common sense. If it’s too cold for you to venture outside (even while bundled up), chances are the same goes for your dog or cat.
Christine McLaughlin is DogTime.com’s Pet First Aid expert and a freelance writer, editor, and author.