What is hypothermia?
Hypothermia is a serious medical condition caused by the cat's body temperature becoming too low. The normal internal temperature in cats is 100 - 102.5F.
In response to cold, the cat will shiver, this increases the body's metabolism and generates heat. Fur acts as a great insulator against cold too, as a result, cats are less likely to suffer from hypothermia than humans are.
Hypothermia is most likely to occur when a cat is wet, exposed to cold temperatures or winds although it also occurs with shock, after a long anaesthetic, and in newborn kittens.
What are the symptoms of hypothermia?
Symptoms of hypothermia vary on the severity, some symptoms include:
- Skin feels cold (feel around the groin area where there is less fur).
- Decreased rectal temperature.
- Slow and shallow breathing.
- Slow heart beat.
How is hypothermia diagnosed?
Diagnosis is based on a reading of your cat's rectal temperature.
How is hypothermia treated?
If your cat is outdoors brings him inside immediately. The goal is to warm your cat up slowly.
Mild: Treatment of mild hypothermia is known as 'passive external'. If the cat is alert, raise the body temperature using blankets and insulation in a warmed room. Make sure the cat is insulated from the cold floor. Warming blankets in the tumble dryer for a few minutes may also be helpful. Apply heat packs or soda bottles filled with warm water to the head, neck, armpits and groin areas. When applying a heat source (heat packs, warm bottles etc., always cover in towels or blankets to prevent burns). If the cat's fur is wet, gently dry it with a hairdryer set to low and held 12 inches away from the cat.
Monitor your cat's body temperature every 10 minutes with a rectal thermometer. Once the body temperature has reached 99F offer your cat a some warmed food and drink. While you are warming the cat, have somebody phone your veterinarian for further help, what may appear as a mild case of hypothermia may, in fact, be moderate or severe, so it is always best to seek your veterinarian's help.
Moderate and severe cases of hypothermia will require IMMEDIATE veterinary attention. On the way to the veterinarian cover your cat with a warm blanket and keep the heater on in the car.
Your veterinarian will most likely warm the cat from the inside out (as opposed to the outside in which is generally used in mild cases of hypothermia). This is known as 'active internal'. Warming a cat from the inside out is done via circulating warm fluids to the body cavities, warmed intravenous fluids, ventilation with heated air or oxygen, intravenous fluids and oxygen.
If there is no heartbeat, pulse or respiration your veterinarian will need to administer CPR.
Your veterinarian will closely monitor your cat's vital signs.
How to avoid hypothermia in cats:
Avoid letting your cat outdoors in the colder months.
If your cat does go outside, provide shelters and insulated beds. Keep these off the ground.
Older cats and young kittens are more susceptible to hypothermia, so if you have an older cat who has been living outside, encourage him to spend more time indoors, especially during the colder months.