- Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
Now that it’s wintertime, we as dog owners have a lot to look forward to: watching our dogs play in the snow, cuddling with them in bed, and dressing them up in cute holiday costumes. But winter brings its own set of dangers, such as dog frostbite, hypothermia, and even dog colds.
In this article, we’ll give an overview of frostbite in dogs: how it’s caused, how to treat it, and how to prevent it, along with what areas are most at risk for frostbite.
Yes, a dog can get frostbite. Just like humans, if left outside in freezing temperatures long enough, any dog can suffer from frostbite.
Those most susceptible to dog frostbite are:
- Smaller breed dogs
- Dogs with short fur
- Senior dogs
- Dogs with metabolic or heart conditions
- Any dog with trouble regulating their temperature
If you have a dog that belongs to these groups, it’s very important to monitor their time outside when the temperature goes below 32°F.
Frostbite can be difficult to spot since fur covers most of our dog’s skin and the symptoms may not present until a few days later.
Extremities like the paws, tail, ear tips, and nose are naturally cooler in relation to other parts of the body like the chest and abdomen, making these areas particularly susceptible to frostbite.
Footpads are an area where lots of heat can be naturally lost, so this is an area to look at first for frostbite signs. If your dog no longer has blood flow to his or her toes, paws, tail, or ear tips, the skin will turn blue.
This is a sign that the tissue is becoming frostbitten which could lead to tissue death and potential loss of the body part.
An impending sign of frostbite is hypothermia, as this is a warning the body is no longer able to keep itself fully warm. When the body needs to conserve heat, like in the case of hypothermia, the blood vessels in the extremities will constrict to restrict blood flow to keep blood circulating to the vital organs such as the brain and heart.
Areas at risk for frostbite in dogs (With warning signs)
- Tail: The tip of the tail will feel cold and may not move in response to your touch
- Paws: toe discoloration, flaky, cold, rough paws
- Ears: the tips of the pinna will be very cold and almost brittle
- Tip of Nose: Gray or white in color, ice crystals forming in the nares, cold to touch
If you suspect your dog is showing signs of frostbite, remove him or her from the cold area immediately and place them in a warm dry area with a lot of external heat, such as wrapped inside warm blankets.
Make sure that your dog is dry before trying to warm them, due to cold wet fur possibly exacerbating the issue. Getting your dog’s core as warm as possible will allow the extremities to get blood circulating to those areas again.
It is best to avoid rubbing or massaging the area that is believed to be frostbitten as this will cause pain when it does thaw and possibly damage the area more.
If you notice blue or white coloring to the areas, this may indicate that the area has not received enough oxygen, and your pet will need to be taken to the veterinary hospital. The veterinarian can assess the extent of tissue damage, provide multiple sources of warmth, and offer medical and surgical support if needed.
You’ll know that your dog has been warmed sufficiently when he or she begins to resume their normal activity and their temperature reaches above 98°F. (Learn how to take your dog’s temperature here.)
The best way to prevent frostbite is to limit winter outdoor activities with your dog to minimize exposure. When your dog does go outside for potty breaks and exercise you can always use cute little dog booties to protect their paws.
Wiping their paws off when they get inside, as well as sweaters and jackets to protect your dog’s core can all help keep your dog warm.
If your dog is kept outside for most of the day during the winter months, it is a good idea to have a water and wind-proof dog house that has plenty of bedding, such as fleece blankets to give your dog the opportunity to stay warm. A heated dog house can also help.
Checking on your dog frequently throughout the day is recommended to make sure he is warm enough and not suffering from any signs of frostbite or hypothermia.
If the temperatures get below 32°F, try moving your pet inside or to the garage where there is protection against windchill.
Staying away from water and keeping your pet dry will prevent their body temperature from dropping at a quicker rate than normal.
Understanding how frostbite can start, how to treat it and how to prevent it will enable you to make the best decisions for your pet this winter.
Accessories like booties, jackets, and sweaters are all fun options to protect your pet when taking strolls through the snow, but making sure they aren’t left out too long in below-freezing temperatures will do even more to prevent this damaging condition.
- Creating a Dog First Aid Kit
- Dog Hypothermia: Symptoms and Treatment
- Running with Your Dog in Winter
- Winter Dog Hats