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What causes low body temperature in elderly dogs?

Customer Question

What are the cause of low body temperature in elderly dogs?

Submitted: 9 years ago.
Category: Dog Veterinary
Expert:  miacarter replied 9 years ago.

Hello there.

A dog's normal rectal temperature is 100.5 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Ear temperature is slightly different: between 100.0 degrees and 103.0 degrees.

Illness is the top cause of abnormal body temperature in dogs. You usually see a rise in temperature, but there are some cases where you can see a lower than normal body temperature too.

Could she be pregnant? Pregnant dogs, just before delivery, experience a drop in body temperature. In fact, this is how breeders can tell when a litter is imminent.

If she feels cool to the touch, especially on her extremities, it could be a case of poor circulation, which can result from heart problems, disorders with the blood, and blood clots, among others.

There's also certain illnesses that cause low body temperature. Viruses, some not too serious and others more serious, like Parvo, can cause this. So that's an avenue to explore further with your vet.

Problems in the brain, like a tumor or trauma, can also cause abnormal body temperature. So that's something that your vet may want to investigate further, especially if there's no obvious cause.

Is she shivering? Is this why you think she's cold? If so, it may not be due to cold. It could be due to something else, like low blood sugar, which can result from not eating or from various metabolic disorders. Pain and nervousness can also cause shivering.

To better determine what's going on here, I would check a few other markers that can better inform you on how urgent of a situation this is:

Checking the gums is an indicator of your dog's circulation. If there's internal bleeding, anemia, a disruption of normal blood flow, or serious illness, the gums will turn very pale, almost white in appearance. This means that the blood is not properly receiving oxygen or there's a loss of blood or red blood cells.

Normal gums will be bright pink to a pale pink. Abnormal gums are white with greyish, blue, or yellow.

Here is a link to a photo of normal gums:

Here is a link to a couple of photos of pale gums:

I should note that I've seen perfectly healthy dogs with gums that are slightly paler than those pictured in the "normal gums" picture, but there's always a distinct pink tone.

For more information on checking your dog's gums, visit:

The normal heart rate varies depending on the size and age of the dog. A puppy has a heart rate of about 180 beats per minute. And adult dog will have a rate between 60-160 beats per minute. Small toy breeds can have normal heart rates of 180 beats per minute. The rule is the younger the dog, the faster the heart rate (for puppies). And the smaller the dog, the faster the heart rate.

Normal pulse is between 60 and 120.

Also, you can check capillary refill time. If you apply firm pressure to the gums, the area should turn pale and then quickly return back to normal (you can try this on your own skin to see what I mean). If there's no difference, or if your dog's gums take a long time to return back to normal, there could be a problem. The gums should return to normal in no less than one second and no more than two 1/2 seconds.

You can also try her on some bland "people food" such as plain white rice and boiled hamburger if she gets hesitant to eat before you get to the vet. She may find this more appealing than her normal food, as an ill dog can be finicky.

If she stops eating due to illness, you can give a couple of spoonfuls of pancake syrup every six hours to prevent hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), which will just make her feel worse.

Here's a good site on temperature and how to take it:

I hope your dog is well! Don't hesitate to let me know if you have any additional questions!

miacarter and other Dog Veterinary Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 9 years ago.

The bitch in question will be seventeen on the fifth of this month so she certainly isn't due to whelp she has mild cardiac problems and no other health issues which in itself is quite remarkable in a bitch of that great age. But she is still having trouble maintaining her body temperature today and has developed a mild case of the run's also. She is prone over the last 12 months or so to losing up to a pound in weight in a relatively short time but I have had no problems putting that back on her fairly quickly. My main concern is I am beginning to feel her body is beginning to shut down and as I live a five hour drive from my regular vet ( and over 100 miles from the nearest town) I was interested in your opinion. If like me you may feel the end is near and perhaps I should make the trip to have her put down or give her a little time to see if she pulls out of this. There have been many times over the last 5 or 6 years we have believed her to be on her last legs only to have her bounce back as if she has had a bit of a hiccup and look at us as if we are all mad. The thought of losing her is absolutely devastating but having had animals my entire life and losing some very old ones including my favourite mare at the ripe old age of 38 years, I realise she can't stay forever.I would appreciate your thoughts on this.

Expert:  miacarter replied 9 years ago.

Hello Helen.

I'm sorry to hear that you are going through this. I myself have over 20 pets and I've had animals my entire life, so I know how difficult it is when you approach the end with an animal.

I think this is a case where I would wait it out a bit. Certainly, at her age, she is nearing the end of her life, but I think this is one of those situations where you could say, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Since she's faring well, for the most part, I think I would just do what you can to make her more comfortable, whether it be putting a sweater on her because she's chilly or feeding her extra for weight gain, etc. If you find that she's suffering from an untreatable condition and there is no chance of improving her quality of life, then I think it may be time to let her go. But that doesn't sound like the case at this point in time. She's still eating and seems to be okay for the most part, so why put her down if she's still got living left to do?

I think of it as a scale with pro's on one side and con's on the other side. If the cons dramatically outweigh the pro's, then it's probably time to consider euthanasia. A dog who is faced with constant pain and who no longer can enjoy the activities and interactions that she's always enjoyed does not have a good quality of life. But a dog who is in some pain, but can still enjoy activities and people in his life has a better quality of life and may not be such a good candidate for euthanasia. Make a list of pro's and con's - sometimes that can help. Write down your thoughts. It's often a lot clearer on paper.

I urge you to trust your gut instinct. Euthanasia is a decision that cannot be reversed, so I feel that it's important that you exhaust all other avenues first. I think that right now, you're questioning as to whether this is the right time, and the very act of questioning is an indicator (in my mind) that it's not time just yet. You don't want to put her down and then wonder if she may have bounced back. When it's time, you'll just know in your heart that she's not going to recover. Regret is what you need to avoid. If you put her down and then wonder if it was the right decision, you're probably going to experience regret. And then, when you think of your girl, these feelings of regret and questioning will all come flooding back. You don't want your memory of your girl to be like that - you want to think of happy times and love - not regret and sadness.

Determining when it's time will depend on your dog's exact condition, your financial resources, these sorts of things. This is the reason I recommend visiting your vet for an evaluation of her overall condition if and when you get to a point where you're really questioning whether it's time to say goodbye. Are there any medicines that can help her? Also, find out if she's in pain. If she's acting normal, eating normally, it's possible that she's not in all that much pain. Some conditions that look terrible can be relatively easy to live with. And if she is in pain, can it be treated? Be sure to note down the vet's answers. And don't hesitate to ask questions.

Also, don't be afraid to get a second opinion when the time does come. This is your dog's life and death you're dealing with here and since death ultimately comes, I think all owners would wish a "good" and peaceful death for their pet, if there is such a thing.

Consider this as well: Could you live with yourself knowing that you put her down when she may have been helped by medications or treatments? I urge you to at least investigate these other avenues and give them a shot if you think they may help. But in the end, just trustyour instinct and listen to her. If there's a glimmer of doubt, then you should re-evaluate her life and your decision - whatever it may be.

Another thing to carefully decide on is whether you will be with your pet when she is put to sleep. It's a very personal decision for a pet owner and it is something you'll need to consider.

I'm going to provide you with a few website links about euthanasia and the grieving process, which I think you'll find helpful when the time does come.

If you require any additional information about anything that I've mentioned, don't hesitate to let me know. I wish you luck with your girl - it sounds like she's got a very loving mom.