The record breaking frigid air this week is a cool reminder that hypothermia can affect us all, man and animal alike. As humans, we can sense the cold weather and adjust ourselves by wearing warm clothing, turning the heat on and finding shelter. Dogs and cats cannot do all of these things without their owners assistance. Thus it is crucial, as pet owners, that we care for our pets as we would ourselves. Hypothermia can cause frost bite, loss of digits and in cases of prolonged exposure to cold, even death.
Dogs and cats primarily conserve heat by physiologic and behavioral responses such as constricting blood vessels that are closest to the surface of their bodies as well as piloerection which is when animals hair becomes erect thereby trapping air next to the skin providing a thermal layer of insulation. Also, shivering will increase muscle activity and increase body temperature. Although, puppies, geriatric pets, hypothyroid dogs and animals with low levels of body fat are not as well equipped to regulate their body temperature. In fact, it is important to note that neonates can become markedly hypothermic in normal environments.
Hypothermia cause depression of the central nervous system (dull behavior, coma's), lowers blood pressure and heart function and can reduce respiratory rate. This all leads to a decrease in oxygen which directly negatively impacts all of the vital organs.
Treatment involves very gradually warming the pet with minimal movement to prevent lethal heart arrythmias. Apply heat to your pet's trunk first to warm the body's core. Some animals may require additional treatment such as oxygen therapy, warm intravenous fluids and airway rewarming.
Many short haired dogs will do extremely well with sweaters and coats to keep them warm. However, their time outdoors should be restricted to 15 minutes during weather below 20 F. Most thick haired dogs will be fine outside for an hour or two or longer if they are active. Please check your outdoor pets frequently for signs of hypothermia and keep them indoors as much as possible during these cold days. Outdoor cats should have a safe house with a pet igloo or heating pad available to them.
Please call our office at Eagle Animal Hospital with any questions or concerns you may have. We serve Chester Springs, Downingtown, Exton, Glenmoore, and surrounding areas.
Written by Jennifer Granite, VMD