What is Hypothermia?
Although most cases of hypothermia can be easily treated, this condition can turn fatal if you wait too long to bring your cat to a veterinarian. As soon as you see signs of hypothermia, call a vet immediately.
Cats normally maintain a body temperature between 100.5 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. If your cat’s temperature falls well below this range, it may experience hypothermia. This dangerous condition is mainly caused by exposure to cold weather, winds, or water, and can affect any cat, although newborns and cats with short hair are at greater risk. Cat owners may notice a hypothermic cat having trouble breathing, shivering, or have skin that is cold to the touch.
Symptoms of Hypothermia in Cats
The more severe the case of hypothermia, the more observable the symptoms will become. If the cat’s temperature drops too low, the cat may fall into a coma, which is why it’s important to take action the moment you notice signs of hypothermia. Some of the symptoms you should watch out for include:
- Difficulty breathing
- General weakness
- Cold skin
- Loss of consciousness
- Rigid, stiff muscles
- Low heart rate
- Low respiratory rate
- Dilated pupils
Causes of Hypothermia in Cats
Hypothermia occurs when a cat is exposed to low air or water temperatures for prolonged periods of time. It is possible for other health conditions such as hyperthyroidism to cause hypothermia, however this is not as common.
Although it can affect any cat, hypothermia is more common in cats with short or wet hair, or in cats that do not take shelter when temperatures drop outside. Newborns are also more likely to develop hypothermia than adult cats.
Diagnosis of Hypothermia in Cats
As soon as you spot signs of hypothermia, bring your cat into a veterinarian’s office immediately. Tell the vet all of the symptoms you have observed, and when you first began to notice them. If your cat has been left outdoors or exposed to cold temperatures in any other way, make sure you mention this to the vet as well.
The vet will begin by checking your cat’s vital signs, which include temperature, heart rate, and respiratory rate. Once the vet notices the cat’s temperature is well below normal, he will most likely make a diagnosis of hypothermia without performing any further tests.
If you are not aware of a time when your cat would have been exposed to cold temperatures, the vet will need to perform a thyroid function test to determine if the cat has hyperthyroidism. However, because hypothermia is such a serious condition, these tests will usually not be performed until the cat has been stabilized.
Treatment of Hypothermia in Cats
The treatment will depend on the severity of your cat’s hypothermia. If the hypothermia is considered mild, the vet will cover your cat with insulating blankets to raise his body temperature slowly. It’s important to make sure the cat is not on a cold surface during this procedure, and if he is, cover the surface with blankets to protect him. Cats with wet fur will need to be dried gently, either by hand using blankets or towels, or with a handheld blow dryer turned on a low setting.
If the cat’s condition is labeled as moderate, the vet will most likely use heating pads to warm him up, as this is more effective than covering him with blankets. Towels or other cloths will be wrapped around the heating pad to prevent burns.
Cats with severe hypothermia will need a more aggressive treatment. This approach focuses on warming cats from the inside out to prevent the low temperatures from damaging internal organs. To do this, the vet may administer warm water enemas and stomach lavages. He may also use a ventilator to provide heated air to the cat’s lungs or an IV to circulate warmed fluids.
During each of these treatments, the vet will be closely monitoring your cat’s temperature. In more severe cases, the vet will also need to monitor your cat’s heart rate and blood pressure.
Recovery of Hypothermia in Cats
If you bring your cat to the vet as soon as you spot signs of hypothermia, your cat will most likely make a full recovery. However, the longer you wait to get treatment, the riskier the situation becomes. Watch your cat carefully in the first few days after treatment. If you spot any of the same signs you noticed before, bring your cat back for a reevaluation.
Prevention is key once you have your cat back at home. Keep your cat inside during cold or rainy weather conditions since these could cause hypothermia. If your cat is outside, make sure you take the time to create an area where he can go when he needs warmth. The space should be completely covered and insulated with blankets.