Frostbite in Dogs

Frostbite in dogs is very dangerous and requires immediate dog first aid.

In severe cases, it can even lead to amputation if the frostbite causes the death of the affected tissue.

For those of us who live in cold climates, one of the greatest joys of winter is letting our furry pals romp around in the snow. I even know a Golden Retriever who insists on jumping on the sled with his parents as they go careening down the snowy hillside!

chocolate lab covered with snow

But as much of a good time as dogs can have outdoors in the winter, pet parents must be careful to take the proper precautions to prevent a fun time in the frigid outdoors from turning into tragedy.

Frostbite occurs as a result of the dog’s internal survival mechanisms. When the dog’s body temperature drops due to extreme cold, the body seeks to protect itself by channeling blood from the extremities to the abdomen in an effort to keep the organs warm.

As a result, the extremities receive less blood, making them more vulnerable to frostbite.

Frostbite in dogs most often occurs in the parts of the body that are the least insulated (protected by fur).

Most Vulnerable Body Parts for Frostbite in Dogs:

  • Tail
  • Tips of the ears
  • Pads of the feet
  • Toes
  • Scrotum (on male dogs)

Causes of Frostbite in Dogs:

  • Prolonged exposure to cold
  • Spending excessive time in the snow
  • Cold, wet, windy conditions

Signs of Frostbite in Dogs:

  • The frozen areas appear pale white, gray or blue
  • Dead tissue will turn black (amputation may be required)
  • The skin will be cold and hard
  • If frostbite affects the ears, the tips will droop
  • The dog will limp (if frostbite is on the feet/toes)
  • Once the area warms up, the skin can become red and swollen and the dog will experience pain (it can also peel, blister and possibly become infected)

What to do if your Dog has Frostbite:

  • Immediately bring your dog inside where it’s warm
  • Check for hypothermia (a dangerous drop in body temperature caused by overexposure to cold) by taking your dog’s temperature with a rectal thermometer lubricated with petroleum jelly (If his temperature is below 99 degrees Fahrenheit, immediately begin treatment for hypothermia and transport him to your veterinarian or a veterinary emergency center.)
  • Gently warm the frostbitten area by applying a warm (but not hot) compress for 20 minutes (do not rub or put pressure on the area).

In all cases of frostbite, be certain to seek immediate veterinary attention.

If the tissue is dead, then the affected area may need to be amputated. However, your veterinarian will want to wait until the full extent of the damage is revealed, which can take several days.

dog dressed for cold weather

In addition, your veterinarian may want to prescribe antibiotics or to bandage the frostbitten area. You should follow your veterinarian’s advice closely in an effort to minimize the extent of the damage.

Of course, prevention is the best course of action. Outfitting your dog in a sweater or coat, booties and other cold weather clothing can help protect them -- and make them the most stylish dog on the block!

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Legal Disclaimer
If your pet is showing any signs of distress or you suspect your pet is seriously ill, contact your veterinarian immediately. This information is not meant to be a substitute for veterinary care.

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