Ask the Vet: Why Do Dogs Feel Cold After Surgery?
Dr. Ivana Crnec
Dogs feeling cold after surgery may cause dog parents to feel concerned and it comes normal for them to raise questions. Is the surgery to blame? Well, to be more precise, the surgical procedure is not the cold-triggering culprit. Turns out, it is the anesthesia that makes dogs cold after surgery. But what is the exact mechanism behind this phenomenon? Is it normal? Can it be prevented or at least minimized? Read on to find the answers.
Is it Normal for Dogs to Shiver After Surgery?
In case you are wondering whether a dog feeling cold after surgery is normal, the answer is yes, it is normal. However, as a devoted dog parent, it's important that you regularly monitor your dog and keep an eye on possible changes in his/her physical health and behavioral patterns.
Watching your beloved furry ball shiver just after waking up from anesthesia is more than terrifying. Fortunately, it is entirely normal, and there is a scientific, evidence-based explanation of why it happens.
Did you know? Old dogs and particularly skinny dogs are more likely to experience more significant heat losses. This is because both categories lack fat tissue and muscle mass. Young puppies can also get particularly chilled during surgery, but the culprit is their underdeveloped thermoregulation center.
Interference With Thermoregulation
So why do dogs feel cold after surgery? Dogs undergoing surgery and dogs scheduled for performing some specific diagnostic procedures require general anesthesia. Under normal circumstances, the dog's body temperature is regulated by the so-called thermoregulation system. Simply put, the anesthesia interferes with the dog's thermoregulation center's functioning.
To be more accurate, anesthetic drugs and agents affect the thermoregulation system on several levels. First of all, during intubation (the process of placing an endotracheal tube into the dog's windpipe), the dog unintentionally breaths in dry and cold air, that goes directly into the lungs.
Decrease of the Metabolic Rate
Besides the affected thermoregulation center, there is one more reason why dogs feel cold after surgery. Namely, anesthetic drugs and agents decrease the dog's metabolic rate. The intensity of the decrease varies from 15 to 40 percent.
When the metabolic rate is significantly decreased, it affects the dog's hypothalamus (internal thermostat). When the hypothalamus is not functioning correctly, it cannot inform the dog's body that it is time to generate heat.
Consequently, the body temperature drops. It is only after a particularly low temperature is reached that the body can re-start generating heat.
Did you know? On top of a dog feeling cold after surgery, it is possible that your dog develops cold paws. Cold feet in dogs is something that regularly occurs when dogs are recovering from anesthesia. This is because during anesthesia, most anesthetic agents slow down the blood flow and cause lowered tissue perfusion.
The Impact of Cold Solutions
Secondly, the surgical site is thoroughly scrubbed with cold antiseptic solutions. Thirdly, the surgical table is usually made of materials that tend to remain cold even when the room temperature is warm.
Cold Point of Entries
Finally, if a body cavity is being opened during the surgery, the body will start losing its warmth through the opening. All of these factors contribute to decreased body temperature following anesthesia.
Shivering From Pain
Although, in most cases, the shivering is due to decreased body temperature, sometimes, particularly if accompanied by panting, it can be a sign of pain. This is often the case in situations when the patient is being released immediately after the procedure. Usually, the dog starts feeling pain when the anesthetic drugs start wearing off.
Dogs receive pain meds during the surgery but also need them afterward. Therefore, all dogs should have prescribed pain meds, and dog parents are instructed how to administer them upon discharge.
It goes without saying that using over-the-counter pain meds can do more harm than good. This is because some human pain meds are toxic to dogs, and some dog pain meds can interact with the drugs the dog already received at the vet's. Always adhere to the vet's instructions to avoid unnecessary complications.
Now That You Know....
As seen, it's quite normal for dogs to feel cold after surgery. A low body temperature and shivering are completely normal side-effects of all anesthetic agents. Luckily, you can minimize their effects by keeping your canine baby warm and comfortable until the anesthetic agents wear off. The body temperature should start returning to normal as soon as the level of anesthetic agents in the brain decreases enough for the thermoregulatory defenses to kick in and restore normal functioning.
This usually takes between 2 and 5 hours, depending on the dog (age, health status) and the type of anesthetic agents used. However, it should be noted that certain pain meds may prolong this period and cause delays in the typical thermoregulation onset.
The next thing you may be wondering is how can I help warm up my dog after surgery? Here are some general tips:
- Use blankets. The simplest way of keeping your beloved dog warm is by covering him/her with blankets. It is highly advisable to check your dog's rectal temperature frequently so you can determine whether the temperature has risen.
- Careful with heating pads. The use of heating pads is often recommended and quite popular among dog parents. However, it should be noted that there are many reports of dog burns caused by such devices. The burns occur because the dog is often too knocked out to realize the pad is hot and too exhausted to move even if it feels the warmth. Therefore, heating pads can be used with extra attention, and as long as the dog is under continuous supervision.
- Use of hairdryer. Puppies and smaller dogs can be kept warm with a hairdryer. Once again, to avoid burns, precaution measures are advised. The hair dryer should be set on low and held at a safe distance from the dog. Try blowing some heat on your hand, if it is too hot for your skin, it is too hot for the dog too, and the distance between the dog and the dryer should be increased.
- Report to your vet. If additional signs and symptoms occur, do not hesitate to consult with your trusted vet. Worrisome symptoms include rapid panting, trouble breathing, and pale gums. In such cases, call your vet immediately.
About the Author
Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia.