Can Dogs Die in Cold Weather?

snowDogs love going out on a walk – and play in the snow! Whilst as a pet owner you always try and make up for lost time and take them out on a walk whenever you can – but it might be a bit difficult to adhere to the same routine in your busy schedules and especially during winters. While most dogs are resilient to common weather conditions such as a heavy downpour, it is a drop in the Celsius that is the most challenging – it can lead to making your dog quite unwell and even cause death.

For some breeds such as Huskies, a bit of snow or frost is tolerable. But even then, prolonged exposure to cold weather, could lead a dog to suffer from hypothermia and frostbite, which if not treated, could ultimately lead to death. In dogs, hypothermia occurs when their temperature falls from the normal ranges of 38.05 – 39.16 degree Celsius and stays below the said range. Various factors can cause hypothermia; prolonged exposure to cold, being left in the cold water for too long and wet fur and skin. You need to be very careful to see if your dog has signs for hyperthermia. They may need special attention and care – and may need to be taken to a vet as soon as possible. Indications for hypothermia include a drop in the dog’s body temperature, slow heart rate, shivering, paleness and lethargy, should it go untreated it could result in frostbite.

Hypothermia can be treated by drying the dog and bringing it inside a warm space immediately. The dog should be kept warm using blankets and wrapped up hot water bottles so as to not to burn skin. Warm fluids can also be given if the dog is conscious and alert. Also it is best to check the dog’s temperature and call the veterinarian for advice if need be.

Hypothermia if not treated can easily turn into a frostbite. Frostbite is the occurrence of tissue damage that happens in the prolonged exposure to cold temperatures. As in case of any body, a dog’s body tries to conserve the heat and diverts the blood flow from body peripherals, towards the internal organs so as to protect them. The peripherals for a dog are ears, tip of the tail and feet, which due to lack of blood, become pale and hard to touch, as ice crystals form between the tissues resulting in tissue death.

Symptoms of frostbite in dogs can range from shivering, ice on the body and limping. Initially the frostbitten areas will redden and swell or in case where the tissue is completely dead, the area will blacken. Frostbitten areas need to be warmed up quickly and while it may be tempting to rub/ massage the dog for warmth, it is best to not do so, since it might release toxins causing further tissue damage. Treatment for a frostbite is similar to the treatment of hypothermia.

Hypothermia and frostbite, both the conditions are easily preventable for the dogs, simply by limiting their outdoor time. Once the dog is inside a warm, covered space, dry it up completely. Smaller dogs can be covered up in coats and booties. When bringing the dog inside the house is not an option, ensure that it has a dry, insulated shelter outside that will help in keeping the dog warm in frigid temperatures. However, it is best if one seeks an immediate veterinary treatment else you might at risk of losing your dog.