Hypothermia is a condition where the body temperature of
homoethermic (warm blooded) animals falls bellow normal. The center
of thermoregulation, which is situated in the brain (Hypothalamus),
controls the body temperature, keeping it within the normal range
utilizing several mechanisms. Animals conserve heat by behavioral
responses as well as physiologic responses, such as peripheral
vasoconstriction to reduce heat loss and erecting the hair to trap
air and create a layer of insulation, shivering and increased
Thermoregulation is more likely to fail in neonates,
geriatric animals, sick/debilitated animals, Hypothyroidism or
anesthetized animals and after prolonged exposure to cold.
Animals with mild hypothermia (90-99° F) exhibit mental
depression, lethargy, weakness and shivering. Moderate hypothermia
(82-90° F) is characterized by muscle stiffness, slow heart and
respiration rate, low blood pressure and unconsciousness. In severe
hypothermia (< 82° F) Heart sounds cannot be heard and breathing is
difficult where the animal is comatose with dilated, unresponsive
Treatment is done in a hospital setting and includes
immediate life support measures ensuring breathing, oxygenation and
circulation and limiting movement of the patient. Gradual body
warming may be done using blankets, warm pads as well as warm water
gastric and peritoneal lavage, warm water enemas, warm IV fluid
administration, and airway warming (using warmed air).
On cold days in wintertime, outdoor activities should be
minimized and pets should be closely supervised as hypothermia can
occur quickly. In case of moderate to severe hypothermia, pets
should be wrapped with a blanket, placed on a stable surfaced and
rushed to the closest veterinary hospital.
Despite the progressive nature of the disease, affected
dogs appear to have a full and comfortable life and the long-term
prognosis for a pain-free, acceptable pet is good.