Prevent Hypothermia in your Hunting Dog
by Kate Johansson
Hypothermia (or abnormally low body temperature) is as seriously
dangerous a condition in dogs as is overheating. Both overly high and
overly low body temperatures are dangers to be aware of when hunting
with your dog.
Hypothermia is a condition seen too often with waterfowl hunting,
although it can happen during any activity involving wind, water and
temperatures that are low. Extreme cold is not required to have a dog
become hypothermic. Hypothermia can occur even in a light wind, 55
degree water and 40 degree air temperature.
During the first stages of hypothermia, symptoms you will notice in
your dog will be uncontrolled shivering. Your dog will become lethargic
and tired. At this point your dog's temperature will be between 99 and
95' F. (Normal body temperature for a dog is between 101' F and 102.5'
During the second stage of hypothermia your dog will no longer be
able to shiver. Your dog will begin to stagger and seem clumsy and may
even lose consciousness. The dog's body temperature at this point will
most likely be in the 90--95' F range. This is very serious situation.
You need to get your dog warmed up quickly.
During the last stage of hypothermia, your dog will be unconscious
and have trouble breathing. Temperature will be between 90--82' F. You
must act very quickly to warm the dog and get to a veterinarian.
To warm a dog you must remove her from as many of the cold conditions
as possible. Get her out of the water and wind. (Getting her to your
truck so you can use your heater is your goal, but if your dog is in
this kind of danger and your truck is too far away, you can use a blind
or anything you have to block the wind while you begin drying her.) Dry
the dog by rubbing her vigorously with towels, chamois, or any absorbent
material. Getting the dog dry is important but so is the friction of the
rubbing which will provide a warming effect. You can hold the dog
against your body to try and transfer heat to her.
A sailing friend of mine once told me that it is much easier to stay
warm, than it is to get warm once we are cold. With this in mind we
should make sure that our dog stays warm and avoid hypothermia
Here are some tips for keeping your dog warm:
- Keep the dog warm on the trip to your destination. Let her ride
in the cab of your truck, if possible. Or, if riding in the back of
your truck, make sure you keep the wind off her by closing all the
windows of the canopy. If you do not have a canopy, then use a
kennel cover to keep the wind out.
- Keep a wet dog out of the wind. Use a portable blind or place
the dog behind anything that will block the wind.
- Don't let the dog spend any more time than necessary in the
- Put a neoprene vest on the dog. Make sure the vest is sized
correctly (it should be tight, like a wetsuit would be) and it has
both Velcro and a zipper for fastening it on the dog.
- Keep a training bumper with you. If you are sitting in a duck
blind for long periods without shooting, throw bumpers (on land) for
your dog to warm her up.
- Do not let your dog walk out on ice to retrieve a bird. The ice
is thinner away from the shore and it is not worth taking a chance.
Keeping your dog from losing body heat in cold weather should be
fairly easy in most conditions. There is no need to stay indoors with
your dog on a cold morning--as long as you keep track of both dog and
human needs. Go on out and enjoy the outdoors. Your dog will thank you
for taking her out.
Note: Kate Johansson is a professional dog trainer in Tacoma
Washington. She is the owner and manager of Fast Pup Dog Training. You can visit her blog at