Frostbite in Dogs

Frostbite in dogs

Frostbite in Dogs - An Overview for Pet Parents

Frostbite in dogs requires immediate medical attention as it can lead to permanent damage to the affected area. Frostbite is a condition that can be treated, prevented, or cured when addressed at earlier stages. In America, stray dogs have a high chance of frostbite than home-kept dogs. Dogs with diabetes mellitus, heart disease, or other conditions that cause reduced blood flow to the body parts are at greater risk for frostbite. Frostbite can cause skin color change and swollen paws and tips of the ears in dogs. Understanding the precautions, treatment, and appropriate measures of keeping a dog can assist in reducing cases of frostbite in dogs.

Can Dogs get frostbite?

Frostbite is a condition that causes tissue damage in freezing weather. Dogs are vulnerable to frostbite when the temperature falls below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Like humans, frostbite in dogs is a natural process where blood is redirected from the body’s extremities to vital organs due to decreasing body temperature. 


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Parts far from the heart, such as the tail, ears, paws, and nose, have a high chance of experiencing a drop in blood flow which can cause tissue damage. The combination of cold temperature and reduced blood flow can allow the tissues to freeze, causing severe tissue injury.


Dogs with frostbite typically exhibit skin discoloration, usually pale, blue, or gray. The tissue may swell, get reddish, and blister as it starts to warm. The discharge could be moist. If the condition is severe, the tissue may turn black, signifying necrosis (dead).


Cause of Frostbite in Dogs

In dogs, frostbite is caused by reduced blood flow and cold temperature that leads to tissue freezing causing severe tissue injury. It is only caused by prolonged exposure to freezing temperatures below 32 degrees F, also known as cold exposure. Some risk factors associated with frostbite include small size, old age or illness, short hair exposing the skin to cold temperatures, wet fur, and any other medical condition that can affect blood flow, such as diabetes. The conditions do not cause frostbite, but it increases the dog’s risk of getting infected.


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Symptoms of Frostbite in Dogs

The symptoms of frostbite in dogs vary based on the severity of the condition. However, in most dogs, the following signs are observed. The first symptom is a change in skin color, where a dog overexposed to cold temperatures will have skin becoming pale, gray, or bluish-white pallor due to blood loss. Severe frostbite is characterized by areas of blackened or dead skin tissue.


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The affected may feel brittle, cold to the touch, or painful. It is a result of skin sensitivity. Additionally, there can be the presence of blisters and open wounds, both of which can occur when a dog has frostbite.

The other symptom is pain and swelling; when the dog is exposed to extreme cold for long periods, the dog’s skin can swell. The swelling varies; however, even mild swelling can indicate a chance of frostbite in dogs.

The other symptom is ice forming, where the affected areas can have ice forming around them. The other sign of frostbite is that once the dog is out of the cold, it beings to warm, making the blood flow return to its area, which can cause skin ulcers and is a painful process.


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The skin may become swollen and red, forming blisters, ulcers, or peeling. In addition, frostbite can lead to severe tissue damage causing necrotic, with the following symptoms; dead skin that falls off after a period of several days to weeks, pus forming, black or blue skin, foul smell, and secondary bacterial infection. Therefore, upon noticing the symptoms, the owner should address the condition before it gets severe.


What Breeds Are Susceptible To Frostbite

The breed does not contribute to the prevalence of frostbite; however, all dog breeds are susceptible to frostbite. Cold weather breeds such as Siberian Husky or Alaskan Malamute are less prone to frostbite due to their thick fur.

However, too much exposure to the cold can affect any dog, regardless of breed, after a certain length of time. Small dogs, shorthaired dogs, puppies, and senior dogs are at the most significant risk of frostbite.


How to treat frostbite in dogs?

No dog should be left unattended in extreme weather at any time. If one notices a dog exhibiting signs of frostbite, it is essential to move the dog to a warm place as fast as possible, call the veterinary if it is safe or take the dog to be treated. At home, frostbite can be treated in the following ways.

Firstly, if the dog has hypothermia, it should be treated by slowly wrapping it with warm, dry towels or blankets.

Secondly, gently warm the affected areas with a moist towel or slightly warm water.

However, it is critical not to rub the skin or attempt to keep it warm with direct heat, such as a heating pad or hairdryer, as it can worsen the damaged tissue and harm the dog's body.


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Some things should not be done when treating frostbite in dogs. These include: not massaging or rubbing the affected areas, not using hot water for warming frostbitten regions as it can cause more damage, not using direct heat on affected areas, not warming frostbitten parts if they cannot be kept warm, and not giving the dog pain medication not prescribed by the veterinarian.

The veterinarian examines the dog to assess the extent of the damage for treatment to follow accordingly. Mild cases of frostbite often heal, leaving a little permanent damage. More severe cases lead to a disfigurement of affected tissues, and instances of extreme frostbite require surgical amputation of dead tissues. In addition, the veterinarian might prescribe pain antibiotics and medication.


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How to prevent frostbite in dogs?

Prevention of frostbite starts with keeping dogs indoors during cold weather. Dogs should not be outside for extended periods when the weather is freezing. Similar to humans, dogs may benefit temporarily from wearing clothing like boots and sweaters, but these items shouldn’t be used as a substitute for keeping them inside during cold weather.

Boots help protect the dogs’ feet from cold and prevent the buildup of ice and snow between the sensitive toe pads. In addition, the boots keep the dog’s feet dry and protected against icy conditions.

Therefore, frostbite is a condition that can be treated and prevented by keeping the dog healthy.