The seasons are changing and temperatures are dropping, so it might be time to bring your furry friends inside, into the warm. Leaving them out in the cold, during the cold winter months could be fatal – as is sometimes the case with frostbite in dogs.
The good news is, being a good and responsible dog owner will massively reduce the chances of your pet developing frostbite.
What is frostbite?
Frostbite is, quite literally, the bite of freezing cold temperatures on the skin. It is skin that has been exposed to freezing temperatures, that has become so damaged that it dies. Left untreated – and even when successfully treated in some cases – amputation of partial or entire limbs may be necessary to save the life of your furry friend.
According to veterinary research, when frostbite in dog happens, the canine’s body has redirected blood from the paws, limbs, face and nose (also known as the extremities) to the heart, lungs, and other vital organs. Circulation is basically restricted to the extremities, because the body has been forced to make a choice: save the limbs, or save the dog.
As is sensible, the body tries hard to save the dog. It will sacrifice its own extremities to ensure the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs are kept warm and safe.
This same process happens with humans and other animals when frostbite occurs.
Decreased blood circulation to those areas will mean that the cells slowly start to die. The cells need oxygenated blood in order to survive.
Can dogs get frostbite?
Yes, dogs can get frostbite – and it is, sadly, becoming rather common.
As a dog owner, it is your responsibility to learn when the temperatures are too cold or hot to take your furry friend out for a walk. Your playful, cherished companion may want to play out in the snow, but that doesn’t mean you should let them.
Read more: Walking Your Dog: Your Ultimate Guide
Experts believe that you should not let your dog go outside when the temperature gets down to 32 degrees Fahrenheit or 0 degrees Celsius.
Certain dog breeds are more at risk than others when it comes to frostbite. These include breeds with short hair, breeds with short legs, elderly dogs, puppies, and dogs with certain pre-existing health conditions.
How to tell if your dog has frostbite
To start with, frostbite in dogs will show as damaged tissue. It will be a different color to the rest of the skin, usually very pale pink, almost gray.
Not only will the damaged skin look a different color, it will also feel different. It will not be warm and soft like the rest of your dog’s skin. Instead, it will feel really cold. It might also feel hard, almost like leather.
Other early symptoms of frostbite in dogs include:
- Dog reacting in pain when touched in certain spots;
- Skin redness;
- Skin blistering or bubbling;
If the skin starts to die, it is referred to as necrotic. At this point, frostbite gets a lot more serious.
Read more: Dog Wounds: How To Heal A Dog Wound Fast
Frostbite that has lead to necrotic skin can cause the following symptoms:
- Skin color changes – purple/blue/green;
- Blackening of the skin or limbs;
- Skin that sloughs off;
- Weeping or solid pus;
- A very bad smell coming from the wounds or frostbitten areas.
If blackening of the skin occurs, the tissue is dead and is at risk of becoming infected, known as a secondary bacterial infection.
Infected skin will need to be fully treated and/or removed to ensure the well-being and safety of your pet. If diagnosed early, treatment could be as simple as anti-inflammatory drugs, antibiotics, or a combination of the two.
In some cases, particularly with ignored or undiagnosed frostbite and infections, the entire limb or limbs may need to be amputated, either partially or completely. This is sometimes advised when sepsis has occurred, which means the infection has spread to the blood.
Can dogs get frostbite on paws?
It is actually quite rare for dogs to get frostbite on their paws, although the experts don’t really seem to know why that is. It is thought that blood circulation through the pads might have a big part to play in it, as well as other factors – the location of epithelial cells, how blood vessels are arranged, and more.
Where do dogs get frostbite?
Your dog can get frostbite anywhere that is exposed to freezing cold temperatures, especially for longer periods of time. Certain areas are known to be more vulnerable than others, however.
Male dogs, for example, can experience frostbite on their genitals, especially if they are fully intact.
Female dogs that have been bred can experience frostbite on their nipples, especially if they are low and close to the ground.
Tails, noses and ears are common spots for dogs to suffer from frostbite, too.
Can dogs get frostbite from snow?
Yes, dogs can get frostbite from snow, especially if the temperature is close to or below freezing.
Unfortunately, because the symptoms of frostbite often take a while to reveal themselves, your dog will be quite happily playing in the snow, both of you unaware of what is going on beneath the surface of their skin.
If the temperature reaches close to freezing or below, whether there’s snow on the ground or not, it’s time for your dog to come inside, where it is (hopefully) a lot warmer.
How long does it take for a dog to get frostbite?
You may not notice that anything is different or wrong with your pooch for a day or two after they have been exposed to cold temperatures. The full extent of the damage plus the symptoms can take a couple of days to fully develop, which means that your dog could be in pain without you even realizing.
Certain dogs are built for the cold, including malamutes and husky breeds. Not all dog breeds are built for cold temperatures, however. Different species will have different tolerances for the cold weather, but even cold-weather breeds, such as huskies, shouldn’t be allowed out in freezing cold temperatures.
Frostbite is usually associated with prolonged exposure to freezing cold temperatures, but it is not unusual for dogs to suffer from frostbite after spending just a small period of time in the cold.
Get immediate vet guidance for frostbite in dogs (and don’t worry about the cost!)
Sepsis can be fatal, and a fit and healthy dog can take become incredibly sick over the course of just a few hours. If you’re concerned that your canine companion might be experiencing the symptoms of frostbite, get advice from a licensed and qualified veterinarian – immediately.
No patiently waiting on hold as you wait for someone at the vet to answer the phone.
No ringing around for emergency vet centers when your own vet can’t offer you a same-day appointment.
And – even better than that – no worrying about how you’re going to pay for it all.
Petcube not only offers around-the-clock online vets, available for advice and guidance when you need it the most, we can also offer you access to an emergency vet fund, which can pick up the tab when your bank balance can’t.
For as little as $1 per day, find out how you can get the best protection for up to six of your furry family members.
Dogs and frostbite: treatment options
Early diagnosis means a much better outcome, so the sooner you contact your vet about your dog’s potential frostbite, the more you can expect a full recovery.
You should, of course, first move your pet to a warm place, if you think they have frostbite. It should be a warm place, however. Hypothermia is a condition that comes hand-in-hand with frostbite, and moving your dog from a very cold temperature to a very hot one, could be detrimental to their health.
You should refrain from rubbing your dog to warm them. This can actually cause more damage to already-damaged skin or limbs.
When you visit the vet, they may prescribe your poor pooch some pain relief. Early frostbite treatment also usually includes oral antibiotics and other medications, such as anti-inflammatory drugs, to treat potential infection and reduce swelling.
If hypothermia is present, that will be treated first, before anything else. It is the more pressing concern.
Can you prevent frostbite in dogs?
Yes, you can prevent frostbite in dogs.
First and foremost, do not let your dogs go outside in freezing cold temperatures – close to freezing and below.
No dog has ever been unwell as a result of missing one or two walks, but a dog can end up being very unwell after just a few minutes in freezing cold temperatures.
High-risk dog breeds, such as small breeds, short-haired breeds, and short-legged breeds should be covered up in colder weather, with little booties and coats, if they will allow you to dress them. Waterproof jackets are great for rainy days, and you should also consider investing in a little hat to avoid frostbitten ears.
If the weather is very cold for a long period of time, consider investing in puppy pads, also known as toilet-training pads. Your dog can do their business in the comfort of a warm home rather than having to brave the freezing temperatures, which some find very unpleasant.
If it’s too cold for you, it’s probably too cold for your dog.
If you do take your dog outside, in the cold, especially in near or below-freezing temperatures, keep trips very brief, and keep an eye on your pet when you get back inside. If you notice any changes, particularly to your dog’s skin, seek vet advice, immediately.