Can Your Dog Get Frostbite?

The months of frigid cold are well under way. We bundle up in hats, scarves, boots and more to keep us warm while we’re out bracing the winter. I practically own stock in hand warmers for when I’m out walking dogs!  However, what about our canine family members? It is also the time of year that we often wonder how the cold affects our pets. Do they get frostbite? And is there a way to tell if any parts of them are frozen? We did a little research for you and have some handy answers to help you navigate the cold temps this winter.

What is frostbite?

Frostbite is when skin and the underlying tissues are damaged due to extreme cold. It occurs when the temperature falls below 32℉ (0℃) and the bloods vessels close to the skin start to narrow and constrict. This is your body’s way to preserve core body temperature by diverting blood to the core where your organs are. But when it happens over long periods of time it can reduce blood flow in some areas so much that it causes damage. That’s why you often see frostbite in your fingers and toes before anywhere else.

Can my dog get frostbite?

Yes, your dog can get frostbite. Just like us, their defense mechanisms divert blood to keep them warm when exposed to extremely cold temperatures. They are most likely to get frostbite on their extremities–their paws, tails and ears.

How can I tell if my dog has it and what do I do to treat him?

You will need to check your dog’s skin for any change that could mean the tissue is damaged.

Signs to look for include:

  • Pale, gray, or bluish discoloration of the skin
  • Swelling of the affected area(s)
  • Coldness and/or brittleness of the area when touched
  • Pain when you touch the body part(s)
  • Blisters or skin ulcers
  • Areas of blackened or dead skin

What to Do:  First, you want to contact your vet and start to warm your dog. Use blankets and put warm water in plastic bottles (or hot water bottles if you have them) then wrap in towels to prevent burns. You can also use plastic zip lock bags filled with uncooked rice that you warm in the microwave for 1-2 minutes then wrap in a towel. Once your dog is no longer in danger of continuous cold, check his temperature regularly until stabilized (normally 101-102.5℉) and call the vet. As frostbitten tissues thaw, they may become red and very painful due to inflammation, so make sure to take extra care around affected areas.  *Do NOT rub the area(s) as it can cause more damage.*

Is the damage permanent?

Mild cases of frostbite usually resolve with little permanent damage while more severe frostbite could result in permanent disfigurement of the affected tissues. And in severe cases, amputation or surgical removal of damage might be necessary.

Frostbite and hypothermia are real dangers!  However, if it does happen, it’s good to know what to do, that way you can get your dog the proper treatment as soon as possible. The faster they are getting warmed up the less permanent damage they will have.