Cold Weather Dangers – How Cold Is Too Cold?

In some parts of the U.S., “spring has sprung” but in the Northeast, like Vermont where I live with two thin-coated Weimaraners, we have another two months of winter to bear, including a current windy cold snap in the single digits. Therefore, vigilance about keeping your dog protected from extreme and prolonged cold conditions should still be top of mind for some of us. (You folks who live in warm climates can read this with gratitude it doesn’t apply to you!)

Even Labradors Can Suffer from The Cold

Just because your dog has a fur coat doesn’t mean that is all he needs to stay warm when the temperature drops. If your dog has a thin coat, especially if he is a delicate breed intended for warm weather such as the Italian Greyhound, provide him with outerwear for protection and limit him to short forays outside when it is really cold. A sweater vest is probably the best protection, since it holds in the dog’s natural body heat, layered with a jacket on top. A strong energetic Labrador can still suffer from prolonged exposure to extremely cold temperatures. The longer a dog stays outside when it’s freezing, the more risk he runs of developing hypothermia, which is a dangerous drop in the dog’s core body temperature.

Hypothermia: Signs of Danger

A dog whose core temperature has gone down will shiver violently in a rapid attempt to speed up his metabolism to generate warmth — it’s a sign of a serious drop in body temperature. If your dog displays any of these symptoms, bring him inside to a warm environment immediately.

  • Intense and prolonged shivering.
  • Weakness or lethargy—especially if the dog is normally active.
  • Disorientation or confusion—not responding to commands, walking in circles.
  • Loss of interest in playing or even walking, lifting paws one at a time.

What to Do in Case of Severe Chilling

Heat Him Up: Throw some towels and other blankets in the dryer on high, where they will heat up quickly. Get your dog to the warmest room you have, crank up the thermostat and wrap him in the warm towels.

Stay With Him: Don’t leave your dog’s side until he stops shivering. Once he is rewarmed, encourage him to eat and drink, which will generate more warmth and replenish the energy he expended while shivering.

Get to the Vet or ER Hospital: If he does not improve, or the shivering gets worse, wrap up your dog in layers of towels and blankets, preheat the car, and get him to the vet on an emergency basis. Call ahead to let the doctors know you are on your way and why — so they can be prepared with what they need to do to stabilize him.

—Tracie Hotchner
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