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Hypothermia in dogs

It's certainly a condition to be aware of, particularly after a hard day out in the field

dogs in snow

Very young and older dogs tend to be less tolerant of extremes in temperature

I’m often asked whether dogs suffer hypothermia. The answer is yes and there are some particular signs that owners of working dogs – in fact owners of all dogs – need to look out for.

In fact, under the right conditions any warm-blooded mammal, including dogs, can suffer hypothermia. Responsible dog owners need to know the signs to look out for, how to avoid the condition and how to treat it should it occur. Dog coats can be useful, read our list of best dog coats here.

What is hypothermia?

Hypothermia occurs when the body loses heat faster than it can produce it, causing a dangerously low body temperature.

  • Hypothermia in dogs occurs when an animal’s core body temperature falls and stays below the normal range.
  • The normal body temperature range for a dog is 38°C to 39.5°C (100.5°F to 102.5°F).
  • Dogs with low body temperature will aim to conserve heat by shivering, raising the “guard” hairs in their coat to create an insulating layer of air covering their body, and by constricting the blood vessels in their feet, ears and tail, so that more is available to  flow through vital organs such as the brain, kidneys, liver and lungs.
  • In cold climates, the reduced blood  flow warming the extremities will make these parts more susceptible to frostbite.

Recognising hypothermia in dogs

The onset of hypothermia will be recognised as intense shivering, leathery (slowing down and a greater reluctance to keep moving), muscular stiffness and an increasing lack of co-ordination. Unless rectified, the dog’s condition will deteriorate, its heart and breathing rates will slow, the pupils will dilate and it will collapse and go into a coma.

Though it is unusual to see dogs suffer overt hypothermia in the milder winters we have experienced in recent years, it is as well to understand that some dogs are much more susceptible to the cold than others. These include small, shorthaired dogs, wet dogs and dogs that are kept outside for prolonged periods of time with insufficient shelter and space to exercise.

Avoiding hypothermia in dogs

Coats like Equafleece are good for warming up cold, damp dogs

Read our advice on caring for your dog after a shoot day.

choosing a puppy

Puppies are not good at regulating their temperature

Puppies inefficient at regulating temperature

Puppies under six months old and dogs that suffer diabetes, heart disease, hormone imbalance or kidney disease are not able to regulate their body temperature as effectively, while elderly and arthritic dogs, with painful joints, aren’t able to move around as much to keep themselves warm.

Look after your dog after a day in the field

It’s important to care for your dog correctly after it has been working hard in the field all day, ensure that it has a warm place to sleep. You may also consider a coat for your dog, as they are useful for some breeds.