Hypothermia and Frostbite: Winter Weather Dangers for Your Dog

Just like people, animals can get hypothermia and frostbite in the cold. Veterinary specialist Vanessa Yeager explains how to recognize the signs and prevent your dog from a deadly situation this winter. 

QDT Editor
5-minute read

The coming of this winter has been a rather rude awakening. A cold snap has gripped the midwest and I thought it fitting to write about 2 winter-related conditions that affect us humans as well as our furry friends.

Winter can be one of Mother Nature’s most deadly seasons. Temperatures can become dangerously cold, putting individuals at risk of developing hypothermia and frostbite. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 1,300 people die each year from exposure to the cold.

Similarly, a large number of animals are also seen in the ER each winter experiencing the detrimental effects of the cold. That's why it's crucial to keep our canine companions safe and warm this winter.

Can Dogs Get Hypothermia?

To begin, let’s talk about hypothermia - what it is and how it becomes deadly.

Hypothermia is defined as 2o Celsius below normal body temperature. For humans this would mean having a temperature of about 96o F or 36o C. For dogs, a temperature of about 98o F or 38o C would indicate hypothermia since dogs have slightly higher normal body temperatures than we do. And their temperature can drop well below 98o F depending on the circumstances.

How cold it is outside, how they are exposed, and how long they have been exposed all contribute to the severity of hypothermia. Spending an hour outside on a sunny 320 F day may make them a little chilly - nothing a warm sleep by the fire wont fix. But that scenario is not as life threatening as spending just 10 minutes in a freezing cold lake after falling through the ice in a failed attempt to catch a squirrel.

See also: Chilly Dogs: Caring for Your Dog in Cold Weather


Immersion in water or having damp fur from sleet or wet snow can cause rapid hypothermia as water draws out body heat quicker than air alone. Those of you who have taken the "polar plunge" at some point in your life can surely relate. Being cold is one thing - being cold and wet is quite another. So in essence, the colder the temperature, the shorter amount of time it takes to become hypothermic, especially if you're wet.

And just because dogs have a fur coat does not make them any more immune to the cold. Their fur coats work in the same way the winter jackets we begrudgingly sport each winter do - they help insulate heat generated from the body, keeping us toasty for some period of time. But after a while outside in freezing temperatures, we start to get cold and our dogs do, too.

So how can you spot hypothermia symptoms in your dog?...