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January 2022

Hypothermia In Dogs & Cats: Causes, Symptoms, And Care


It’s cold outside, the weather is far from summer bliss, and you’re starting to think about your pet’s level of comfort - could your dog or cat develop hypothermia?

In Australia, hypothermia in dogs and cats is uncommon, rarely diagnosed in vet clinics. However, your dog or cat can get hypothermia, but it’s just not something you should be too concerned about in Australia’s climate.

With the help of PETstock VET, Dr Kathy Macmillan, we tackle some of the key conversations and questions about hypothermia in dogs and cats.

Can Dogs And Cats Get Hypothermia?

Yes, your dog and cat can develop hypothermia, similarly to humans. The condition occurs when the animal’s core body temperature drops too low and is classified by severity. Mild hypothermia in dogs and cats occurs with body temperatures between 32-37 degrees Celsius, moderate is between 28-32 degrees, severe classified as below 28 degrees.

“In Australia, as hypothermia is generally secondary to serious illness rather than exposure to cold temperatures, hypothermia is seen throughout the year and is not associated with winter weather,” says Dr Kathy Macmillan.

Causes Of Dogs And Cats Getting Hypothermia

For dogs and cats, hypothermia can be caused by a few different illnesses and circumstances – including prolonged exposure to freezing outside temperatures. Due to the warmer climate in Australia, hypothermia is rarely seen in vet clinics. However, you should always consult your vet before making any assumptions about the cause – there’s not always a clear-cut connection.

Causes of Hypothermia In Cats

  • Serious illness
  • Anaesthesia (your vet is highly trained to monitor and detect this)
  • Neonatal abandonment
  • Prolonged exposure to freezing temperatures

Causes of Hypothermia In Dogs

  • Serious illness
  • Anaesthesia (your vet is highly trained to monitor and detect this)
  • Prolonged submersion in cold water or too cold temperatures
  • Neonatal abandonment
  • Prolonged exposure to freezing temperatures
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Symptoms Of Hypothermia In Dogs And Cats

If you think your dog or cat might be suffering from hypothermia, these are some of the noticeable signs and symptoms. As with many medical conditions or issues in pets, some of the signs can be linked to other illnesses – so ensure you don’t jump to any conclusions. Speak to your local vet for an accurate diagnosis.

Signs of Hypothermia:

  • Sluggish or low-energy behaviour
  • Cold to touch, especially the extremities like their feet
  • Paleness of their skin
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Fast or rapid breathing, followed by shallow breath
  • Frostbite can also occur with hypothermia (due to freezing temperatures)

Does Your Pet Have Hypothermia? Find Out How To Treat It

If you suspect your pet has hypothermia or you’re just generally concerned about whether they have been affected by colder temperatures, you should immediately seek a vet.

“Fortunately, in Australia, the ambient temperature does not get low enough for exposure to cause hypothermia in an otherwise healthy animal. Hypothermic animals are usually seriously ill with an underlying condition, and treatment for that underlying condition is often urgently required,” says Dr Kathy.
Usually, hypothermia treatment is dependent on the severity. In mild hypothermia, dogs and cats are typically provided insulation and blankets. Moderate hypothermia will need further external heat, and severe hypothermia will require more invasive warming techniques.

As Dr Kathy suggests, an underlying medical issue will require unique treatment related to that issue or illness.

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Long Term Effects Of Hypothermia In Dogs And Cats

If your dog or cat does develop mild hypothermia, there will be no long-term side effects and can be treated straightforwardly. If, however, there is an issue with your dog or cat being able to regulate their core body temperature due to another primary medical problem, this will require a separate investigation as this can leave them seriously ill.

In the case of frostbite, which can occur with hypothermia, it can cause permanent skin damage but would only happen in exceptional circumstances in Australia.

Although hypothermia in dogs and cats is uncommon on this side of the equator, it’s helpful to understand this information if you notice any of the symptoms or visit an icy climate.

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