Can Dogs Get Frostbite?

Frostbite is a problem that can occur in any animal due to exposure to freezing or subfreezing temperatures. It most commonly affects the tips of the ears, the tail, the scrotum and the legs (especially the toes). Dogs with diabetes mellitus or other conditions that causes reduction in blood flow are at greater risk of frostbite.

What are the clinical signs of frostbite?

The clinical symptoms of frostbite include:

  • Blister or skin ulcers
  • Patches of darkened or dead skin
  • Brittleness or coldness of the area
  • Discomfort while touching the body part(s)
  • Inflammation of the infected area(s)
  • Discoloration of the affected region of the skin-this discoloration is mostly pale, grey or blue.

As frostbitten tissues thaw, they can turn red and very sore due to inflammation.

Medical signs of frostbite can take several days to appear, particularly if the affected area is small or light (such as ears or the tip of the tail). Severely frostbitten areas will become necrotic or will die. When the tissue begins to die, it shifts to dark blue to black; then, over a period of several days to weeks, it falls off. During this time, pus may develop or the tissue may develop a foul smell due to secondary bacterial infection.

What treatment is available for frostbite?

  • Heat a towel on a radiator or a hand-held dryer. Do not warm the dog directly with a heat source.
  • Apply a warm towel to the affected areas. Do not press or rub hard, as this can cause further harm.
  • Use hot water to warm up the affected areas at a temperature of 100 ° F (32 ° C), but not higher than 108 ° F, as this can cause more harm.
  • When the areas thaw, they will be reddened. If they turn dark instead, seek urgent veterinary treatment.

Your dog might need pain medication, antibiotics, fluids, and a warm atmosphere. In certain severe situations, an amputation may be required if the affected area is large enough. Most cases of frostbite are mild and can be resolved with only cosmetic damage.

Preventing Frostbite

You can avoid frostbite by minimizing the time spent outdoors in the winter or in the cold and wet days of spring and fall. Even stray dogs should have access to a warm, dry shelter to stay safe. You can also help keep your dog cozy with sweaters, or cover their paws with boots if you know they’re going to be out for a long walk in the cold.