This time of the year, the more populous areas of the world are experiencing good amounts of snow and just plain old cold weather! Although some dogs love the cold temperature and playing in the snow, there is a risk of your dog getting too cold and getting hypothermia and/or frostbite.
Hypothermia is caused when your dog’s body temperature drops too low. Wet fur and skin is also a cause. A study recently conducted by a research team in Spain discovered that 80 percent of dogs that undergo anesthesia for surgery experience hypothermia.(1)
Symptoms of hypothermia include paleness and shivering. This may be followed by listlessness and lethargy. If untreated, coma and heart failure may occur.
If your dog is experiencing these signs, take immediate action. Warm some blankets in your clothes dryer and wrap your dog. Place a hot water bottle in a towel and hold it against your dog’s abdomen. (It is important to wrap in a towel, as otherwise it can burn the skin.) If your dog is conscious, you can give him warmed fluids to drink. Lastly, monitor your dog’s rectal temperature. If it stays below 98 degrees F (36.6 C), call your veterinarian immediately.
Remember, even though your dog has fur, it does not mean that they are not at risk. Be cautious when exercising your pup and avoid prolonged exposure to cold weather. Puppies and senior dogs are more susceptible to hypothermia. You can purchase specially-made dog blankets and boots to help your dog combat the cold weather.
Outdoor dogs are extremely susceptible to frostbite. If your dog lives outside, make sure they always have warm, dry housing. Indoor dogs are at risk as well, particularly small and/or short haired dogs. The tips of the ears, the tail, and the toes are most at-risk.
If you must venture outdoors during freezing weather, a trick to help prevent frostbite is to spread a thin film of petroleum jelly onto the skin on the tip of the tail or ears. Keep in mind that dogs can also become hypothermic or frostbitten if left in a parked car during cold weather.
The symptoms of frostbite are indicated by the skin becoming very pale and a bluish/grayish color, due to lack of blood flow. As the area thaws, the skin may turn red, swell, and become painful. In severe cases, your dog may develop skin blisters and the skin may turn dark or black over time. In some cases, amputation is necessary.
If you notice this symptom, you must proceed with treatment immediately. Warm the frostbitten areas by applying wet, warm (not hot!) compresses. Do not rub or massage the area. Prevent your dog from licking or scratching while can result in more damage to the tissue. After you have carefully warmed the frostbitten areas, take your dog to the veterinarian. Frostbite is a very painful condition and some dogs need painkillers and/or antibiotics to combat infections.
(1) Redondo, J. I., et al. "Retrospective study of the prevalence of postanaesthetic hypothermia in cats." Veterinary Record 170.8 (2012): 206-206.
ABOUT DR. DEBORAH SHORES
Deborah Shores, DVM is a graduate of Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine. She has many years of experience working in animal hospitals and clinics from Virginia to South Carolina, treating mainly dogs and cats. She has a special interest in nutrition and holistic veterinary medicine and plans to pursue an acupuncture certificate at the Chi Institute in Florida.
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