When a dog is cold there a few ways that it tries to maintain its body temperature that are similar to humans. One technique that a canine’s body will use is called vasoconstriction and this is when the blood vessels tighten to reduce the volume of blood flow passing through. The purpose of this is to ensure that blood continues to flow to parts of the body that are imperative for a dog’s survival, such as the brain, lungs and liver. This focus of blood flow means that the peripheral parts of the body (ears, tail and paws) will become cold easily and increase the risk of hypothermia or frostbite. Another way a dog’s body will try to keep warm is by making its hair stand on end, this traps a layer of warm air and creates insulation between the dog’s body and the cold weather. In addition, shivering is normally the first way a dog will try to maintain its body heat.
Frostbite and its Symptoms
Frostbite is the damage of tissue on parts of a dog’s body that are exposed to the extreme cold. When a canine is cold it will conserve its heat by reducing the blood flow to outer parts of its body such as its tail, ears and paws. This in turn starves these body parts of oxygen and heat and so ice crystals can form in the tissue causing the tissue to die. The symptoms of frostbite can often be hard to spot as the most common problem areas are covered by hair and fur. The main sign to look for is a cold patch that feels hard. When a dog suffering with frostbite starts to warm-up, the patch will swell and redden; it will be painful to touch and after a few days the affected skin will turn scaly.
Hypothermia and its Symptoms
Hypothermia is when a dog’s temperature falls below its normal range (100.5 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit) and stays below this range. It is very dangerous because it means that the canine is losing body heat faster than it can replace it. As mentioned before, when a dog’s system is cold it will reduce the blood flow to parts of its body such as its tail, ears and paws. It is through its paws that a dog can lose a drastic amount of heat; this is because the body heat cannot be replaced before the dog treads its paws on the freezing cold ground again and this, in turn, makes a dog at risk every time it goes outside in cold to freezing temperatures. There are quite a few symptoms of hypothermia that include muscles stiffness, lethargy, dilated pupils, low breathing rates, low heart rates, a lack of coordination, shivering and if severe enough, collapsing or falling into a coma. With the initial onset of hypothermia a dog will shiver and display lethargy; as the severity of the condition sets in the symptoms will become more serious.
To treat both frostbite and hypothermia the main thing to focus on is raising the dog’s body temperature back to normal. If a dog is suffering from mild hypothermia then get him/her into a warm room with an insulated floor and wrap them in a warm blanket. Keep the dog like this until their temperature has returned to normal; if you do not have a thermometer then keep the dog wrapped up warm until he/she stops shivering and normal movement is regained. For a dog suffering from moderate hypothermia (a temperature of 90 to 94 degrees Fahrenheit) and frostbite, a variety of resources can be used to warm-up the dog. These include warm towels, heat lamps, hot water bottles and hairdryers. When trying to warm your dog be aware that the skin affected by the cold will be very sensitive and so do not expose them to short blasts of extremely hot air or water, also keep an eye on them as you are warming them to see how they are feeling. If a dog is displaying symptoms of severe hypothermia then they should be taken to a vet straight away.
When focusing on these conditions it is important to note that preventing them is much easier than treating them. It is essential that dog owners are vigilant when letting their animals outside; be sure to take a dry towel when out walking with your dog as if he/she gets wet then they will catch a cold much quicker. Owners should try not to let their dog outside for prolonged periods of time and any exercise/walking should be for as short as possible to reduce the chance of the dog’s temperature lowering considerably; it may also be a good idea to invest in boots and a coat for a dog if they are to be outside in freezing conditions as these can help to reduce the onset of hypothermia and frostbite.
When your pet is injured or unwell it can be a huge source of worry. Having a pet insurance policy in place can give you some peace of mind. Why not have a look at our dog insurance page for more information?