Hypothermia occurs when an extremity had been exposed to a cold temperature for a long time and becomes damages or dies as a result. For dogs, fur provides insulation from cold weather. In these conditions, the top coat of hair stands up and traps air in the layer between. This layer helps provide more warmth. If the coat can no longer provide warmth, your dog’s temperature will drop and it will shiver in an attempt to keep warm. When your dog is freezing, the body must decide which portion of the body needs blood. These areas are places such as the heart and vital organs. It cuts blood off to other areas, such as extremities, to keep the body alive.
Symptoms may be hard to see at first because the dog’s coat of fur covers its skin. One big symptom is pale skin that is cold to the touch. Areas in which visible frostbite is likely to occur are the toes, ear tips, tails and the scrotum area. Other things to look for are skin discoloration on ears, nails and toes, pain, swelling, blistering, shivering, ice on the body and limbs, skin ulcers and sloughing (or shedding and falling off) of the skin. Frostbite symptoms are not immediately noticeable, and it may take you a few days to notice your dog has frostbite.
When the skin warms, it will become red, swollen, and extremely painful for your dog. As days pass, the skin will become scaly. If the frostbite is severe, necrosis (or dying of the tissue) may occur. The skin will first turn black and eventually fall off. In severe cases of frostbite, the dog may have to have a limb, tail or part of the ear amputated. Amputation is necessary because the dying tissue attracts bacteria, which is harmful to your dog.
Some breeds of dogs are more susceptible to frostbite than others. These include short-haired dogs, small dogs, wet dogs, dogs sensitive to cold weather and dogs that are outside for long periods of time without access to warmth. Because of environmental, genetic or health reasons, these dogs have trouble regulating their temperature and are more at risk for frostbite. For example, a dog breed with a thin coat would have virtually no protection against frostbite, while dogs with thick coats–such as huskies–are well-equipped to face the cold elements.
How to prevent frostbite in dogs
Provide warm, dry housing for outdoor dogs.
- Ask your dog’s veterinarian if any of her medication or medical condition may make her more susceptible to frostbite.
- Shovel an outside area free of snow for bathroom breaks.
Spray paws with small amount of cooking spray before cold weather walks.
Buy warm pet coats, sweaters and boots to protect your dog from frostbite. Find coats or sweaters with a high collar and extends from the base of the dog’s tail on top to underneath the belly.
Clip fur between toe pads to prevent snow and ice from building up.
Wipe snow and ice off of dog’s feet, legs and stomach with a towel after she returns inside from outside.
Tips & Warnings
- Outdoor dogs and small, indoor short-haired dogs are more susceptible to frostbite. Sick and older dogs are also more likely to get frostbite.
- Treat frostbite by warming the affected area rapidly with warm water and contacting the veterinarian immediately.
How to Treat Frostbite on a Dog
Check your dog’s temperature. Use a rectal thermometer to take her temperature. If her temperature is under 99 degrees, you should begin to treat the dog for hypothermia.
If you can identify the frostbitten area on your dog, put it into a bowl of lukewarm water for 20 to 30 minutes. This will make the frostbitten part more soft.
If your pet has serious frostbite, you should bring the dog in for evaluation.
Talk to your vet about applying a healing ointment to your pet’s frostbitten areas. This could promote faster healing.
Tips & Warnings
- If your dog’s ears or scrotum are frostbitten, apply a wet, warm towel and hold it to the area for 20 to 30 minutes. Keep switching your towels so that they do not get too chilly.