What is Low Body Temperature?

Hypothermia is the term for an abnormally low body temperature. At below normal temperature levels, the body’s physiologic and metabolic functions are depressed. An irregular heartbeat, trouble breathing, and impaired consciousness to the point of coma may result.

Hypothermia is a progressive condition. As low body temperature continues, the body's ability to bring itself back to normal temperatures diminishes. Depression of the circulatory, central nervous, respiratory and the immune systems are seen with hypothermia. Untreated, low body temperature can lead to difficulty breathing, an irregular heartbeat, and unconsciousness.

Symptoms of Low Body Temperature in Dogs

Initial symptoms, seen in cases of mild hypothermia include:
  • Heat-seeking/burrowing in blankets
  • Shivering
  • Weakness
  • Mental depression
As hypothermia progresses to a moderate level, symptoms include:
  • Shallow breathing
  • Stiff movement
  • Hypotension (low blood pressure)
  • Lethargy
Severe hypothermia is exhibited by the following symptoms:
  • Labored breathing
  • Slow, weak heartbeat
  • Fixed and dilated pupils
  • Unconsciousness or coma
Types
Hypothermia may be classified by cause:
  • Primary hypothermia: The body exhibits normal heat production. Low body temperature results from exposure to low environmental temperatures.
  • Secondary hypothermia: The body exhibits abnormal heat production as a result of injury, illness, or drugs.
Hypothermia severity may be classified by body temperature:
  • Mild: Body temperature of 90 - 99°F (32 - 35°C)
  • Moderate: Body temperature of 82 - 90°F (28 - 32°C)
  • Severe: Body temperature less than 82°F (28°C)

Causes of Low Body Temperature in Dogs

  • Exposure to external cold, wet and/or extreme drafts can result in heat loss.
  • Smaller animals have high surface-area-to-body-mass ratios and are more susceptible.
  • Injury can prevent seeking heat and/or thermoregulation
  • Certain drugs such as those used for anesthesia in surgery can inhibit the body’s ability to regulate temperature.
  • Newborn pups are more susceptible to hypothermia even at normal room temperatures.
  • Geriatric pets can be more susceptible to hypothermia.
  • Hypothalamic disease affects the brain’s regulation of body temperature and can contribute to heat loss.
  • Hypothyroidism, low thyroid hormone production, can contribute to heat loss.

Diagnosis of Low Body Temperature in Dogs

The best chance of recovery from hypothermia comes with early diagnosis and treatment. If your pet is exhibiting symptoms of hypothermia such as heat-seeking, weakness, lethargy, or others mentioned above, carefully and gently wrap the pet in blankets and transport them to the veterinarian.

At the veterinarian, a mercury or digital rectal or auricular thermometer will be used to measure the pet’s body temperature. A thorough history will often be obtained to aid in determining the possible causes of the observed symptoms. A physical examination for heartbeat irregularities or abnormal breathing can establish whether the hypothermia is mild, moderate or severe.

Blood tests may be performed to determine possible alternative contributors to the hypothermia such as the presence of drugs, hypoglycemia, hypothyroidism, or other physical disorders. Analysis of the urine can also reveal possible reasons for abnormal thermoregulation. The veterinarian may choose to monitor the pet’s heart rhythms with an electrocardiogram (EKG).

Treatment of Low Body Temperature in Dogs

Therapeutic goals are directed toward rewarming the patient and preventing additional body heat loss. The body can be safely rewarmed at 0.5-1.5 degrees Celsius per hour. Three rewarming techniques are available and used according to the degree of hypothermia severity.

  • Passive External Rewarming
    • In mild hypothermia, the animal’s own metabolism continues to produce heat. Blankets or other insulating covers will aid in preventing further heat loss. Natural body functions such as shivering will also contribute to rewarming.
  • Active External Rewarming
    • Moderate cases of hypothermia require the use of external heat sources such as hot water bottles, heating pads and radiant heaters.
  • Active Internal Rewarming
    • Severe cases of hypothermia require the use of invasive warming. Administration of warm intravenous (IV) fluids can aid in bringing body temperatures back to normal levels. Oxygen administration may also be used to promote recovery.
  • Treatment risks:
    • Rewarming must be conducted carefully and body temperature monitored constantly to avoid complications.
    • After drop is a phenomenon seen as the body temperature continues to decrease during rewarming. Rewarmed blood moves to the extremities, pushing cold blood from the extremities inward to core organs.
    • Rewarming shock can result from rapid rewarming causing a sudden drop in blood pressure. Combined with low cardiac output, this can potentially further compromise the circulatory system.
Treatment duration:
Rewarming therapy should continue until normal body temperature is reached (usually 2-10 hours, depending on severity). The patient may then continue to be monitored for 24-72 hours, depending on severity.

Recovery of Low Body Temperature in Dogs

Recovery from hypothermia can be complete if the condition is diagnosed early and treated. Follow up appointments at and/or two weeks following treatment may be suggested to monitor the patient for any long-term complications.

In moderate to severe cases, long-term damage can occur to organs that were not supplied with sufficient circulation while at low body temperature. The extent of long-term damage may not be detectable for days or weeks post-treatment. The veterinarian may suggest various follow up appointments to monitor physiologic processes post-treatment for hypothermia.

Patients who are at high risk for hypothermia may require long-term care, such as incubation, to keep the body temperature stable.

Cost of Low Body Temperature in Dogs

Low Body Temperature can be an expensive treatment in dogs and can range from $500.00 to $3000.00 depending on the cost of living and severity of your Dog's low body temperature. On average, the national cost of treating low body temperature in dogs is $750.00.

Low Body Temperature in Dogs Treatment Advice

Low Body Temperature Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Angelique
Chihuahua
15 Years
Critical condition
0 found this not helpful
Critical condition

Has Symptoms

Breathing Difficulty
Breathing Problems
Weakness
Shallow Rapid Breathing
Cold tongue
Cold mouth
Cold body

Medication Used

Enalapril
Furosemide
Vetmedin 2.5

My dog is 16 years old with congestive heart failure. And she's breathing very shallow with cold body temperature and cold mouth/tongue. Shes being syringe fed and also being given her meds through a syringe. She also is very weak to the point of not being able to get back in her bed after she gets out. What's going on and what should i do? The vet near me said It's best to put her down, is this a good idea?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
539 Recommendations

It is difficult to give advice without examining a patient, but if Angelique has reached the age of 16 years old and has congestive heart failure along with hypothermia, breathing difficulties and is weak; I would probably advise to put her to sleep as she wouldn’t have any quality of life and prolonging her life wouldn’t be in her interest. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Phoebe
Dachshund
8 Weeks
Mild condition
0 found this not helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Low Temperature
Vomiting

my dog is 8 years old and she has been vomiting up water, but she is drinking water and her temperature is 99.3, i am not sure what is going on with her so i was asking and i dont think she has been eating very much

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
539 Recommendations

Phoebe’s temperature is just below physiological range, this may be attributable to a condition or if you used any other thermometer except a rectal thermometer, it may be due to the difference between rectal and surface temperature. There are numerous different conditions which may be the cause including infection (not all infections result in fever), foreign bodies, hormonal conditions, tumours etc… Try to keep her hydrated and if you don’t see an improvement in symptoms visit your Veterinarian. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

My dog is a princess shitszu 7months old and he has a pale gums but he's not acting up sick like he eats normally and he is still playful, but someone told me that if my dogs gums are pale he is ill, i dont know what that means can you please help me

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Koto
Chihuahua/ Pekinese
18 mos
Serious condition
0 found this not helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Lethargy

My 18 month old Chihuahua mix had his first seizure, a status seizure and stayed in the hospital 4 days. Two weeks since, he's on Pexion and was recently put on prednisone last Friday (4 days ago) for fear on encephalitis. He began to perk up a bit, but has inability to control his body temperature and was cold when we held him last night.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
539 Recommendations

Dogs can feel cold to the touch due to environmental temperature, their hair insulating them (making them feel cooler), thyroid disorders, conditions of the hypothalamus and smaller dogs more prone to heat loss than larger dogs (surface to volume ratio). Checking Koto’s internal temperature with a rectal thermometer would give you a better indication as the surface temperature may vary due to numerous causes. If you find the temperature is below 100°F or you have any other concerns, visit your Veterinarian. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Abbie
Boxer
7 Years
Mild condition
0 found this not helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

feels cold
Restlessness
Vision Problems
Panting
Shaking
Lethargic

Our boxer is approximately 7 years old and has been having incidents where she becomes very lethargic..just stand with her head down as though in a daze. Also pants and feels cold to the touch. Will not eat but drinks a lot of water. Seems like at these times her vision is affected as she is afraid to step down as though she can't judge the distance. Very uncomfortable and can't rest easily. These spells last nearly a whole day and then she seems fine again. Any idea what this is?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
539 Recommendations

Sometimes dogs may feel cold to the touch due to their hair making a difference in temperature between the skin and your hand; a rectal thermometer is the only reliable way of judging temperature. It is possible that Abbie has an hormonal condition causing these symptoms which can have effects on appetite, activity and behaviour; a visit to your Veterinarian for an examination during an episode would help determine the cause. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Penzi
Alsatian
8 Years
Serious condition
0 found this not helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Drowsy
Weakness
Lethargic
Shivering

Hi, my pet is 8 years old. From the past 2 weeks, he is not eating anything, meat or dog food, milk or any liquid. He is fainted, lethargic now and shivering. His body temperature has now slightly dropped and is currently 101"F. Be informed that he was blind 6 months before and his veterinarian said it is due to age factor. Need your advice please.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
539 Recommendations

There are various causes for a loss of appetite including infection, gastrointestinal obstruction, tumours, liver disease, autoimmune disease, pain or poisoning; Penzi has a temperature of 101ºF which is within the normal range of 100-104ºF, but if the temperature is falling slowly keep an eye on it. In this case, since Penzi is lethargic and has fainted, an emergency visit to your Veterinarian would be required to determine the underlying cause of the loss of appetite so that treatment can be directed. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Jema
Pit
5 Years
Serious condition
0 found this not helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Lethargic

My dog was in a fight last night her heart beatsv148 in 15 sec.she. her temperature is 98.8 she will not eat drink move gyms are gums are dark but I do get white when touch I think she's in shock she is a rescue who was skittish I brought her a long way from scared to happy home now my female lab beat her

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
539 Recommendations

With the high heart rate, darkness of the gums and general lethargy and reluctance to drink the cause may be due to excessive pain, dehydration, shock, loss of blood (internal bleeding) or all four of these; this should be treated as a medical emergency and you should visit your regular Veterinarian or Emergency Veterinarian as soon as possible to stabilise Jema’s condition. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Low Body Temperature in Dogs Treatment Experiences

Dachshund
8 Years

Has Symptoms

Shaking
Breathing Difficulty

I was freaking out when my dachshund Julez started breathing slowly and shivering when we were out for an early morning hike on a camping trip. We rushed her to the car and covered her with blankets to her core and rubbed her paws (not sure if that did anything). Her breathing returned to normal around 45 minutes later. It was frightening to say the least.

Dog

Has Symptoms

Shaking
Stiffness
Increased Heart Rate

Dog was left outside on accident in cold weather for a few hours (it started snowing). We realized once we got home. We brought him inside, covered in blankets, put a thermal pad on his stomach between the blankets, and started a fire. He was OK in a few hours but we were worried. He was shivering non-stop and couldn't walk very well.

Dog
1 Month

Has Symptoms

Shaking
Scale

A new litter arrived and the mother kept a distance from one of the newborns. We realized this a bit late, and because a newborn has absolutely no control over her own body temperature, we had to move her to a heat lamp. Luckily it had only been around 20 minutes before we realized it. Advice to anyone breeding or with a pregnant dog, watch the litter, they need to be around mama to keep their heat.

Dog

Has Symptoms

Increased Heart Rate
Stiffness
Drowsiness

Not mine, but heard a story about some lady that left her dog outside in the snow (absolute animal cruelty). If you wouldn't stay outside in the weather without protection, don't leave your dog out there. Hypothermia is no joke, especially during the winter time.

Greyhound

Has Symptoms

Shallow Rapid Breathing

dog healed quick when I put her in a blanket.. recovered in less than an hour.. no eason for a vet visit

Pembroke Welsh Corgi
8 Years

Has Symptoms

Shaking
Head Shaking
Increased Urination
Increased Heart Rate
Stiffness

Our Corgi likes to eat snow. We had just received a light dusting outside and he ate too much of the stuff. We were only out for 10 minutes or so. He started shivering as soon as we came inside. His tongue and gums were very cold and pale. We wrapped him in the heated blanket on our bed, and I snuggled and rubbed on his neck for close to an hour until he stopped shaking. After he warmed up he was back to his normal sassy self. We had probably 5 potty breaks over the next two hours.

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The statements expressed are only for informational purposes and should be independently verified by your local veterinarian.