Not all dogs are suitable for staying outdoors for long or even short periods of time in cold weather. There are actually many breeds of dogs that are highly cold intolerant. These tend to be the toy breeds and miniatures, however there are larger breeds that are not at all suited to being outdoors in cold weather. Some of the more cold susceptible breeds include the Chinese Crested, Mexican Hairless, Chihuahua, Boxers, Boston Terriers and Whippets.This doesn't mean that these dogs can't be outside for walks or very short periods of time, but it does mean that they should not be kept outdoors in winter conditions for longer periods of time. Some of the small and toy breeds are highly sensitive to the cold and won't want to go outside at all in cold conditions.
Double coated dog breeds are generally much more adaptable to staying outdoors for longer periods of time in the winter. Even with these breeds that have a significant, heavy coat there are still some additional considerations that owners need to make. These dogs need to have someplace to get out of the wind, ideally a kennel or doghouse with comfortable bedding they can snuggle up in. In addition they need to have a covered area where they can get out of any rain or snow since being damp will only increase the potential for becoming chilled or frostbitten.
In very general terms hypothermia occurs from prolonged exposure to very cold conditions that actually drops the core body temperature below normal. Hypothermia is not just localized in one area of the body; it is throughout the body and the body core. Since the normal body temperature for a dog is somewhere between 100.5 and 102.5 degrees, any temperature two or more degrees below the dog's actual temperature can be described as a very mild form of hypothermia.
There are health related issues that can cause the body temperature to drop below normal. These can include thyroid problems and immune disorders, however these are not associated with cold weather conditions, rather they occur because of internal factors. In general the groups of dogs most likely to develop hypothermia include cold intolerant breeds, senior dogs and puppies. All of these types of dogs have difficulty in regulating their body temperature. Keep in mind that any dog, under really cold conditions or cold and wet conditions can develop hypothermia if they cannot get someplace warm and dry to bring their body temperature back up.
For dogs that have developed hypothermia due to exposure to the cold there are several symptoms that may be present. The first are usually mild in nature and include signs of lethargic behavior, shivering, general weakness, dilated pupils, difficulty in breathing and non-responsive behaviors. As the body core temperature continues to drop the dog will become more non-responsive with heart rate and breathing slowing dramatically. At this point the dog will go into a coma and death will follow shortly as the core body functions simply shut down.
Treatment for hypothermia from cold related conditions will depend on how significant the dog's condition has become. For mild cases where the dog is shivering and somewhat tired or appears disoriented, wrap him or her in blankets and get them into a warm house or vehicle to help bring the body temperature back up to normal in a normal fashion. Typically the body temperature has only dropped a very few degrees at this point and there should be little chance of any long term problems. Call your vet and ask if he or she needs to see the dog to check for any other problems.
For moderate hypothermia where the dog is somewhat non-responsive, shivering excessively, lethargic and simply wanted to sleep, more aggressive heating is needed to quickly increase the core temperature. Use heating pads, electric blankets or place the dog directly in front of some type of heating source, just make sure there is space and protective blankets between the dog's skin and the heat. Focus the heat on the center of the dog's body in the chest and upper abdominal areas first. Your dog should see a vet as soon as possible to check for any medical conditions that may be a result of the hypothermia.
In the case of extreme hypothermia get the dog to a vet immediately. He or she will need to have warm water circulated through their core through the use of lavage techniques to flush water through the stomach and enemas to flush warm water through the lower intestinal area. The dog will also need to be closely monitored and provided with electrolyte IV's in most cases.
Frostbite usually occurs on the outer parts of the body including the ears, tail and feet and is actual tissue that has frozen due to exposure to the cold, particularly in cold and windy conditions. Usually owners will not notice the problem until several days after the actual frostbite has occurred when the now dead tissue starts to blister and come away from the healthy tissue. This sloughing off of dead tissue can be small or large, depending on the area affected.
If you think that your dog has been exposed to cold enough to cause frostbite, immediately get them inside or to a warm area and slowly warm up the affected parts with warm water. Do not use hot water, this will only increase the tissue loss. Since the tissue is already dead where it is frozen, slow, gentle warming is actually protecting further tissue from being affected. Once the dead tissue starts to slough off, keep the area clean and apply antibiotic sprays or creams as directed by the vet. Oral antibiotics may also be prescribed if the area is significant. For many dogs pain killers will also be important during this time, especially if the feet or tail are affected. In cases where there is huge amounts of tissue damage or the bones and muscles under the skin have been affected, amputation of the affected area or even the affected part of the limb or extremity may be required.
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