Hypothermia in dogs

Hypothermia can kill your dog. Although this is especially true of small-breed dogs, and dogs with very short hair, it can also happen to cold-weather dogs, such as Husky’s, Malamutes and Bernese Mountain dogs. The best protection for your dog is prevention. Nevertheless, prevention is not always enough, and treatment must be delivered quickly and effectively in the event that your dog becomes hypothermic. In order to prevent or treat, one should first understand what hypothermia is.

Just as with humans or any other warm-blooded creature, exposure to extremely cold environments can be terminal. Hypothermia, usually occurring in conjunction with frostbite, is when your body clinically cannot regulate its vital functions due to its core temperature being too low. A normal temperature for most dogs is between 100.5 and 102.5.

Signs that a dog is hypothermic will include:


Shivering is an involuntary muscular reaction deployed by the body in an effort to warm its core temperature. It is essentially forced exercise.

Raised hair

If your dog is hypothermic, you may notice that its hairs are raised or standing. In an effort to fight against hypothermia, the dog’s body raises its hairs in an effort to trap a layer of air between the hair and skin. The air is then warmed, and provides the dog with a layer of insulation.

Cold extremities

As hypothermia progresses, the body shuts down most of the blood flow to the extremities. This is done to conserve blood flow to the vital organs. During this stage, your dog is also at the most risk for frostbite, which is the freezing of tissue, and another reason why your dog’s legs, feet, ears, face, and tail may seem cold or hard to the touch.


Late stage hypothermia causes the body to use nearly all of its resources for the brain, heart, and lungs to continue functioning. Because other parts of the body are not getting blood or even nervous signals, your dog may appear weak, or even exhausted. Tissue death has almost certainly occurred.


End-stage hypothermia begins with unconsciousness, and ends a short time later with death. Emergency medical treatment is the only way to save your pet at this point.

Prevention of hypothermia lies in the hands of the dog owner. You must first understand your dog’s tolerances toward cold, and prepare him for it accordingly. Weak or sick dogs should not be forced to endure cold weather. Short haired dogs and very small dogs should be outfitted with boots and other clothing to aid in their retention of warmth, and their time of exposure should be limited. Even for long haired or cold-climate dogs, adequate shelter is imperative. If a dog is allowed to become damp or wet, their chances of hypothermia greatly increase. In fact, a wet dog is much more likely to become hypothermic, even if temperatures are not significantly low.

Even with the best prevention, hypothermia may still occur in your dog. Mild cases can be treated by SLOWLY warming the dog. Start by moving the dog indoors or to a warmer environment. Place warm blankets, warmed towels, and plastic bottles filled with warm water around your dog. Do not let the bottles or heating pads come into direct contact with your dog.

As the tissues in your dog’s body warm, they may tingle with sensation, or feel painful. Your dog may bite at these areas. Discourage them from doing so without getting bitten yourself. Frostbitten skin will die and peel away over a period of time.

Even if it appears that your dog recovers from hypothermia, you should still call your vet and advise them of the situation. Always bear in mind that more extreme cases can only be treated by a veterinarian.