Your dog can show signs of canine hypothermia with just exposure to cold water and some wind. It can be deadly, so know the symptoms and be prepared to administer treatment.
What is hypothermia? It’s when a dog’s core body temperature drops due to exposure to cold. A dog’s normal body temperature is 101-102 degrees Fahrenheit (38.3 to 38.8 degrees Celsius). Hypothermia occurs when his temperature drops below 97 degrees F (36 degrees C).
Common Causes of Hypothermia
The main cause of canine hypothermia is prolonged exposure to cold temperatures.
But the temperature outside doesn’t even have to be below freezing.
In fact, studies have shown that 55-degree water, with 40-degree air temperature and 10 mph winds are prime conditions for hypothermia in dogs.
An accidental fall into cold water is also likely to lead to hypothermia.
But the water doesn’t even have to be icy cold, because the body loses heat more quickly in water than in air.
You usually have no problem recognizing when you’re too cold, but hypothermia symptoms are subtler, and unvoiced, in dogs. Canine hypothermia can be divided into three categories or stages:
1. Mild: Your dog begins to shiver uncontrollably. He’ll begin to act lethargic or tired. Typically at this stage his temperature is between 96 and 99 degrees F (35.5 to 37.2 C).
2. Moderate: Once your dog’s temperature falls into the 90-95 degree F range (32.2 to 35 C), he loses his ability to shiver. He’ll lose coordination and appear clumsy. His pulse and breathing rates slow, and he may lose consciousness. Your dog’s life is in serious danger.
3. Severe: At this point your dog has collapsed, he’s having trouble breathing, his pupils are dilated, and he’s probably unresponsive. His temperature is 82-90 degrees F (27.8 to 32.2 C). It’s critical that you warm your dog quickly and get him to an emergency vet center immediately.
How to Treat Hypothermia
If you’re home when your dog begins showing signs of hypothermia, rub him vigorously with towels to dry his fur. (You can give him a warm bath first, if you have time.)
Slowly warm him using a hair dryer on the lowest setting. Offer him a warm drink and warm him gradually by wrapping him in a blanket that’s been warmed in the dryer.
Place plastic milk or soda bottles filled with hot water outside the blankets, not touching the dog.
You can also place a plastic tarp over the blanket to help keep the heat in, making sure your dog’s head isn’t covered.
Monitor his temperature, and stop warming him when his temperature reaches 101 F (38.3 C).
Monitor for shock even after his temperature has returned to normal, and take him to the veterinarian as soon as possible.
Canine Hypothermia on a Hunting Trip
Knowing how to treat canine hypothermia when you’re out hunting with your Golden Retriever is even more crucial, as you probably won’t be close to a vet or the conveniences of home.
Your main concern is to remove your dog from further exposure to cold, and prevent any more heat loss.
First, dry him with towels, your coat, or anything that will absorb the water.
The next step is getting your dog out of the wind.
If you’re in a duck blind, that won’t be too difficult, but if you’re hunting from a boat or in flooded timber you can use your coat to make a wind block.
Get cozy–open your coat and huddle with your dog to help him warm up.
If you can get your dog to your truck, put him on the floorboard, crank up the truck and use the heater. In lieu of a warm truck, build a fire to produce some heat.
Vigorously rub your dog, preferably with a dry towel. Besides drying him off, the rubbing creates friction that produces heat.
If you have a mylar emergency blanket with your hunting stuff, you can use it either as a thermal shield to reflect the heat of a fire or to create a small warming chamber in the truck.
Of course, if no heat source is available or you need to carry your dog a long distance to a vehicle, wrapping him in anything will help trap body heat.
You’ll know you’re making progress by watching symptoms reverse themselves until eventually your dog begins to shiver.
This means his temperature has risen to the point that his brain once again recognizes that he’s cold and needs to warm up. But it’s still crucial that you get him to a vet as soon as possible.
How to Prevent Hypothermia
Perhaps the easiest way to deal with canine hypothermia is to simply avoid it. That doesn’t mean you have to cancel those cold weather duck hunts, but you need to take a few extra precautions when the mercury drops.
• When transporting your dog to the field, put cedar shavings in the dog box to help insulate it.
• If you use a plastic or wire crate, use an insulated kennel cover to provide shelter from the cold wind as you drive to your hunting location.
• Once you arrive, put a neoprene vest on your dog to help him retain body heat. There are several manufacturers and models to choose from.
• Sitting in the cold water will zap the warmth right out of a dog. So use a dog stand or find a dry spot in the boat or blind for your dog to sit.
• Keep your wet dog out of the wind. Hang a piece of burlap or put him behind a brush pile–anything that will help keep some of the cold wind off.
• Dry your dog often, using towels or a chamois cloth.
• If it’s bitter cold and the shooting is slow, throw a stick (on land) a few times to get your dog moving, keep his blood pumping, and help him stay warm.
Damage and Recovery
Dogs who experience mild or moderate hypothermia usually enjoy a complete recovery.
Most long-term hypothermic damage occurs to organs (such as the brain) that have not received adequate blood flow during severe hypothermia. In that case, it may be several days or weeks before you or your veterinarian know the entire extent of the damage.
Canine hypothermia kills dogs every year. Knowing basic hypothermia information and treatment procedures may one day help you save your dog’s life.