Identifying and Treating Frostbite on Your Pet

Frostbite is not the term used when your dog runs around in the yard biting at the falling snow. Though that is a treasured sight, you will not be the least delighted if your precious pup were to get the real deal. Frostbite is the damage of tissue due to exposure to freezing temperatures (32 degrees F and below) The length of time that your dog is exposed will determine the severity of tissue damage which can range from superficial to major ; wet dogs, dogs with health conditions such as diabetes, and dogs that are exposed to sub-zero wind chills are especially susceptible.You might be tempted to think that because your dog is covered in a fur coat from head to foot that it will be protected against frostbite. However, this is not so. Some breeds of dogs such as, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Huskies and, Malamutes are able to withstand the winter’s harsh conditions, but most other dogs are just as susceptible as humans to the deadly cold. If your dog is left out in the cold for too long, frostbite is almost guaranteed.

how to identify frostbite

Frostbite is described by the Britannica Concise Encyclopedia as, “Cell damage, tissue dehydration, and oxygen depletion caused by freezing and thawing can lead to blood-cell disruption, clotting in capillaries, and gangrene.” It is the act of freezing inwardly from the extremities and is extremely painful. It occurs in three stages of differing severity.

First degree frostbite can easily be missed so you should pay close attention for pale skin at the extremities of your dog such as, the ears, lips, tail, face, feet, and scrotum; as well as skin that is hard or cold to the touch. If it is indeed frostbite, then once the dog warms, its skin will look red,  begin to swell, and will become painful before turning scaly. The circulation can also be affected and the tips of the extremities may even rub off. Second degree frostbite will result in your dog developing skin blisters. Third degree frostbite is the most serious and can be identified through your dog’s skin turning dark or black over a period of several days. Where the flesh is badly injured, there may be a visible line between damaged and healthy tissue. Sometimes third degree frostbite will result in gangrene and it is necessary to amputate the affected area.

how to Treat frostbite

If you suspect that your dog is at risk for frostbite, bring him inside and gently warm the frostbitten areas with warm, not hot, water. Be careful never to rub or massage the affected areas which could release toxins into your dog’s bloodstream. Once your dog is warmed, dry him gently, while taking care not to rub the affected parts. Keep your dog from licking or scratching the frostbitten areas. It will take several days for the extent of the damage to be manifested. Frostbite is painful and your dog may need painkillers as well as antibiotics to combat infection. If you have identified frostbite, take your dog to the vet immediately.

In order to prevent this serious threat to your beloved pet’s health, avoid leaving him outside in freezing temperatures or when snow and ice are on the ground. A dog should never be left for long periods in the harsh elements. Make sure adaquet shelter is provided and that your dog is let back in the house as soon as he’s done doing his business outdoors.  Invest in heated bowls to avoid water from freezing and keep him hydrated. Be sure to pay particular attention to your dog’s ears, tail, and feet; you should also be aware that frostbite is often accompanied by life threatening hypothermia, which should be treated first.

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