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Frostbites in Dogs — Symptoms, Causes, Treatment & Prevention

↯ Key takeaway points

  • Frostbites in dogs occur when tissue and skin are damaged due to subfreezing temperatures
  • Frostbites are most likely to appear in the paws, tail, and ears of dogs
  • Preventative measures include keeping dogs out of extreme cold, providing warm clothing, and avoiding certain medications
  • Symptoms of frostbite in dogs include icy extremities, tissue discoloration, shaking or shivering, blisters, swelling, pain, and brittle areas
  • Treatment involves removing the dog from the cold, warming the affected area with warm water (not hot), and seeking veterinary attention if necessary
Breeding Business is passionate about all sorts of domesticated pets. They have written dozens of articles across the web.
Zoo and wildlife doctor in veterinary medicine passionate about animal welfare and preventive medicine.
Published on
Thursday 1 November 2018
Last updated on
Monday 3 July 2023
dog frostbites
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Frostbite is a severe condition that can harm dogs, and it requires immediate treatment. When a dog suffers from frostbite, the blood vessels near the skin constrict and narrow down. This happens to preserve the dog’s core temperature by directing blood to vital organs over colder areas. It is the dog’s innate survival mechanism to keep its essential organs healthy and prevent death.
In this version, I have simplified the technical language and jargon to make it more accessible to a general audience. Additionally, I’ve rephrased some sentences to make the statement clearer and more grammatically correct

What Are Frostbites on Dogs?

Frostbite on dogs, also known as congelatio, is a condition that happens when a dog’s skin and tissue get damaged because of extreme cold. Normally, a dog’s fur keeps them warm in the winter. However, if the temperature drops below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, the cold can stop blood flow to parts of their body, leading to frozen tissue that may be permanently damaged.

Where Are Dog Frostbites Most Likely to Appear?

Dog frostbites are more likely to appear in areas such as the paws, tail, ears, scrotum, nose, and nipples. These areas are more sensitive to subzero temperatures than other parts of the body.
When a dog is wet or damp, these parts become more vulnerable to extremely low temperatures. They are usually thinner and contain less fat than other parts of the body, which makes them more susceptible to frostbite. In contrast, other areas of the body are larger and have more cushioning to protect them from harsh weather conditions.
The blood flow through the vessels not only provides oxygen to keep the dog alive, but it also generates heat that helps to regulate body temperature.
dog frostbites and hypothermia
Dog owners must be careful during winter as frostbites are often a sign of canine hypothermia.

How To Prevent Frostbites on Dogs?

The best preventative measures one can take for dog frostbites is to keep the dog out of extremely cold temperatures where he will be more vulnerable to suffering a case of frostbite and buy him warm clothing. If you happen to be in the snow or in an extremely cold place, frostbite in dogs can be preventable by lessening the exposure to the temperature by allowing the dog to go indoors every now and then.

Winter Clothing

Various dog apparel is sold on the market that can certainly decrease the chances of dog frostbite.

You can purchase warm coats, dog snoods and neck warmers, hats, boots, and socks in order to sustain their blow flow in order to keep them warm, especially for those types of breeds who tend to have thinner coats or are more sensitive to cold conditions such as the smaller breeds.

Avoid Some Drugs

Some medications, such as beta-blockers for example, and certain health conditions such as diabetes, increase the risk of frostbite on dogs. Heart diseases and other medical issues that impair the blood flow also increase the chances. If your dog suffers from any such diseases, then they should not be exposed to the cold for long periods of time. Senior dogs of an older age should also be taken into consideration as they are more susceptible to the cold as well.

Diet Considerations

In addition, you can help your dog prevent frostbite by helping to maintain a great caloric consumption to fuel their bodies acting as a furnace to circulate heat in their bodies. Keep your dogs well hydrated at all times and always check their water source is not freezing. If your dog is an outside dog, provide outdoor housing shelter that keeps them well insulated and protected from cold, wind, and rain with adequate ventilation.

What Are the Symptoms of Frostbites in Dogs?

There are several signs in which one can detect frostbites in dogs including:

  • icy extremities,
  • tissue discoloration,
  • shaking or shivering,
  • blisters,
  • swelling,
  • pain, and
  • brittle areas.

A dog’s extremities contain warm blood that systematically flows. However, when the warm blood leaves those areas or is drastically reduced due to the cold, the tissue begins to freeze and eventually dies out. This ultimately leads to loss of tissue and limbs such as feet, ears and even tails.

Canine frostbite is a serious issue and a dog’s body temperature during extremely cold temperatures should always be monitored.

The snow and frosty seasons may pose a risk to your dog so watch for symptoms of frostbites on dogs such as the skin becoming very pale often displaying a blueish white hue. This is an indication of lack of blood flow. When you touch the affected place in question, such as paws, it will feel cold and brittle and it may cause pain in the dog.

Once you notice the common signs of dog frostbites and it is obvious your dog is suffering, immediate action must be taken as it can lead to eventual cut off of blood flow. After treating this condition by warming up the affected area, it will become red as blood flow continues to make its way back, and you may notice some swelling and peel in the area.

paw and ear frostbites on dogs
Examples of paw and ear frostbites on dogs.

How Are Canine Frostbites Diagnosed?

In a professional diagnosis, a veterinarian will examine the affected area very closely looking to see the current state of the tissue in the surrounding area. The exam will also take into consideration the amount of time the dog was exposed to the extreme temperatures. In order to assess if any internal damage has been done by the frostbite, blood tests and a urinalysis will be conducted.

A personal diagnosis can be made on the spot as soon as the affected dog shows any of the common symptoms of canine frostbite even before any medical attention is sought.

Evolution of Dog Frostbites

In most cases, you will have to be vigilant and look for the warning signs including the discoloration of the affected body part, swelling, skin ulcers or skin that is blackened and dead.

Once the condition has worsened and the tissue has died you will notice a dark blue and black color, a foul smell, pus forming, and a secondary bacterial infection.

After a period of several days, you will notice the skin begin to fall off. Ensure your dog does not go into hypothermia as this can prove to have fatal consequences.

In this case, watch for signs of hypothermia such as extremely low body temperature, lethargy, stiff movements, excessive shivering, and shallow breathing. In any case, always seek medical attention as soon as possible and do not wait when in doubt.

How To Treat Frostbites on Dogs?

To treat frostbite in dogs, the first step is to move your dog out of the cold and into a warm, dry place. You can use heaters in kennels to keep your dog warm. If your dog shows signs of hypothermia, wrap him with dry towels, and use heating pads and water bottles to provide warmth, making sure they are wrapped to avoid burning. In more severe cases, you may want to invest in a kennel infrared lamp to provide constant warmth in your dog’s area.
Once your dog is dry and warm, you can start treating the affected area with warm water. It’s important not to exceed temperatures higher than 108 degrees Fahrenheit. You can lightly pat the area, but never rub or squeeze it.
Make sure to monitor your dog’s temperature every few minutes until it stabilizes. Once the temperature is normal, stop warming your dog and take him to the vet. Never use hot or scalding water, and avoid treating the affected area while still outside in the cold. Refreezing and warming can cause further damage to the tissue.
It’s essential to avoid submerging your dog in water, as this can cause their body temperature to decrease further. Additionally, never give your dog any medications or pain relievers as most are toxic to dogs.

What To Avoid?

Many people mistakenly believe that you should submerge dogs into a bath but do not do this as this can cause the body temperature to actually decrease more. Finally, do not give your dog any medications nor pain relievers in an attempt to soothe him as most are toxic to dogs.

best dog house heaters and dog heating pads
Check out the best dog house heaters and heating pads!

How Do Vets Treat Dog Frostbites?

The veterinarian will immediately attend to your dog and prioritize the most critical issues, such as injuries, shock, or hypothermia. They will perform blood tests and a urinalysis to assess any internal organ damage. The vet will also ensure the patient is warm enough to normalize their body temperature.
After conducting thorough examinations and analyzing the results, the veterinarian will determine the severity of the condition and begin treatment accordingly. In most cases, frostbite in dogs is mild, and the affected area will heal on its own without medical intervention. However, the veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics or ointments for the dog’s recovery. Mild cases generally result in minimal permanent damage, but severe cases can lead to tissue disfigurement.
In extreme cases, surgical amputation may be necessary to remove dead tissue. The extent of amputation depends on the size of the affected area. The prognosis for canine frostbite depends on the severity of the condition, emphasizing the importance of quick and efficient treatment.
In summary, the veterinarian will address your dog’s immediate needs and perform necessary tests to diagnose the condition’s severity. Treatment will vary depending on the severity of the frostbite, ranging from self-healing to surgical intervention. By addressing frostbite quickly, you can ensure your dog has the best chance of recovery with minimal long-term effects.

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