VETzInsight

Hypothermia: First Aid

December 31, 1994 (published) | July 10, 2018 (revised)

Hypothermia occurs when the body temperature goes below 100.5°F. The normal body temperature of dogs and cats is between 101 and 102.5°F. If the rectal temperature of a dog or cat is below 100.5°F, the pet is suffering from hypothermia. Usually the pet is lethargic and doesn't have much of an appetite. The cause may be environmental, such as being exposed to cold air, or metabolic, such as kidney or heart failure. Regardless of the cause, the low temperature indicates that the pet is in need of urgent veterinary attention.

Hypothermia may be a sign of serious illness (i.e., diabetes, heart failure, shock or serious infection, among others). Do not overlook its significance. Hypothermia is especially a problem in cats and small dogs, and it can contribute to shock and organ failure. It is very important that hypothermic pets receive medical attention right away.

What to Do:

  • Move the pet to a warm environment. 
  • Bundle the pet in warm blankets. You can warm the blankets by putting them in a clothes dryer. 
  • Put a hot water bottle in the blankets to add heat. 
  • Seek veterinary attention.

What NOT to Do:

  • Do not risk causing burns by using blankets, heating pads, water, etc., that are too hot; that may damage the skin. 
  • Do not use excess superficial heat. This may cause superficial blood vessels to dilate, resulting in shock. 
  • Do not allow the pet to lie directly on a heating pad - use several layers of towels and make sure it is set on low.

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