What is Frostbite?
Frostbite is tissue damage cause by exposure to extreme cold. Dogs can be at risk for frostbite when the temperature falls below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Frostbite occurs when your dog’s blood us redirected from the extremities to their vital organs when there is a drop in body temperature. Areas most commonly at risk are:
- Ears (especially the tips of the ears)
- Paws and foot pads
All dog breeds are susceptible to getting frostbite. Cold weather breeds like the Siberian Husky or Alaskan Malamute are less prone to this condition due to their thick fur, however prolonged exposure to the cold can affect any dog. No dog should ever be left unattended in extreme weather for any period. If it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for your dog.
Frostbite Symptoms in Dogs
Changes in Skin Color: Watch for a change in your dog’s skin color. A dog who has been overexposed to cold skin will become very pale and can even have a bluish-white pallor due to loss of blood flow. Severe frostbite can lead to blackened skin and death of the tissue underneath.
Ice Forming: Areas affected by frostbite can have ice form around it.
Skin Sensitivity: The affected area may feel cold to touch, brittle and may be painful when touched. Look for blisters and open wounds, both of which can occur when a dog has frostbite.
Pain and Swelling: When exposed to the extreme cold for extended periods of time a dog’s skin can begin to swell. The severity of the swelling can vary, but even mild swelling can be an indication your dog has frostbite.
Once your dog is out of the cold and begins to warm, blood flow will begin to return to the area. This can be a painful process; the skin may become red and swollen. They area may also begin to peel, form blisters or skin ulcers.
Treating Frostbite in Pets
Frostbite requires immediate treatment. If your pet has experienced prolonged exposure to cold and exhibits signs of frostbite, immediately bring your dog inside to begin warming them.
- Use a warm towel either heated in your dryer or with a hair dryer to slowly bring up your dog’s body temperature. Place the warmed towel on the frostbitten area, avoid applying direct heat to your dog’s skin.
- You can also slowly warm the frostbitten area with tepid water, if the water is too hot it can cause additional damage. Ideally the water should be around 100 degrees (never about 108 degrees)
- Do not apply snow or ice to the frostbitten area.
- Never rub or massage the frozen tissue
Thawed skin will become red, if instead your dog’s skin darkens you need to seek immediate Veterinary help. A dog experiencing any of the frostbite symptoms should always visit their Veterinarian. Your dog may require antibiotics, intravenous fluids, or in severe cases amputation. Most frostbite cases are mild and may leave only minor cosmetic damage.
Preventing Frostbite in Dogs
The first step in frostbite prevention is avoiding prolonged exposure to the cold all together. No dog should ever be left outside in the cold on their own. Even dogs who like to be outside in the cold need to take precautions in freezing temperatures.
Next, keep your dog warm. In wintertime protective dog clothing and jackets should be worn at all times. This is especially true for dogs with thinner fur or hair and with smaller breeds. Pet boots are vital to protect toes and feet from snow and ice. Boots will keep your dogs toes protected from the cold as well as prevent buildup of snow and ice between the sensitive toe pads. Boots will keep your dog’s feet dry and protect them against icy conditions. For added warmth add fleece boot liners to your pet’s boots.
Medical Conditions that Increase Frostbite Risk
Conditions that effect your dog’s blood flow such as diabetes and heart disease are at a higher risk for frostbite. Ant dog with one of these chronic conditions are highly susceptible to frostbite. They should not be exposed to cold temperatures for long periods of time.