Frostbite is a common condition in dogs.
Frostbite occurs when tissue is damaged by cold temperatures. Frostbite occurs when the blood supply to an area of tissue is reduced, resulting in similar injuries to thermal burns.
When the body responds to low temperatures by rerouting blood away from extremities, it can cause frostbite. When the body becomes too cold, this process helps protect vital organs such as the brain and heart. The blood provides oxygen and heat to the vital organs, but not the extremities.
Frostbite is most common on the dog’s paws.
Most commonly, the areas furthest away from the heart are affected.
- Ear tips
- The Tail
This area is also exposed to more wind and moisture which may contribute and increase the severity of frostbite.
Frostbite: Is it an emergency?
It is important to note that frostbite is rarely fatal, but it can be deadly when combined with Hypothermia. Frostbite tissue can be infected, or become gangrenous. This can cause a systemic infection.
Due to the possibility of complications, it is important that a dog with frostbite be evaluated and treated by an emergency veterinarian.
What is the time it takes for Frostbite to occur?
Frostbite may develop in 15 minutes or take hours, days, or longer.
The symptoms of a dog’s hair loss can be affected by its characteristics, including the size of the animal, the age, and the health of the pet.
The temperature and the simultaneous exposure to moisture and wind are major factors in determining when symptoms appear. The decreased oxygen content in the air at higher elevations can contribute to the faster development of frostbite.
How Does Frostbite Look?
In the early stages, the discoloration is typically pale, gray, or blue. As the tissues begin to heat up, they may become reddened and blistered. There may also be a moist discharge. The tissue can turn black in severe cases. This indicates it is dead.
The following can cause frostbite on dogs:
- When touched, you may experience pain
- Cold, brittle-feeling skin
- Skin discoloration – often pale, blue, or gray.
- Once the tissue has been warmed, swelling and redness will appear
- Skin ulcers or blisters
- The ice around the affected area
- Hypothermia and low body temperature
Frostbite and Dogs
Frostbite is possible at temperatures below freezing.
Frostbite can develop at different temperatures depending on the breed, weather and immediate surroundings.
The symptoms are expected to develop similarly in a shorter-haired, smaller dog. When the temperature falls below zero Fahrenheit, exposed tissues can get frostbite in about 30 minutes. It would only take 15 minutes at 15 degrees below zero. Frostbite at 32 degrees Fahrenheit can occur within 30 minutes in windy conditions or when it is moist.
Frostbite is less common in a breed that has been bred to withstand cold weather, such as the Siberian Husky. Even dogs that are bred for cold temperatures can get frostbite in humid or windy weather.
Wet bedding or moisture in the air can prevent proper heating and allow frostbite to occur. Wind also inhibits your body’s capacity to keep warm.
Frostbite is more common at higher temperatures due to the lower oxygen levels in the air.
Frostbite can be more common in dogs with diseases such as Diabetes mellitus. They are at risk because very young dogs can’t regulate their body temperature. The muscle mass of older dogs is likely to be reduced, making it harder for the body to regulate its temperature. This makes them more susceptible.
Frostbite can be diagnosed by veterinarians in dogs
Physical examination results are usually used to diagnose frostbite. Frostbite is most likely caused by the presence of devitalized and/or discolored tissue, along with a low body temperature.
A veterinarian can also diagnose the condition if they have seen a recent exposure to low temperatures. This is especially true if there are other factors such as a humid environment, exposure to wind, or a concurrent illness.
Laboratory tests are not usually required to diagnose frostbite because it can be diagnosed by a thorough physical examination and a review of the patient’s medical history. A veterinarian can recommend blood tests in order to determine if there is a systemic infection, or if other diseases are present that could affect healing. If there is an infection or tissue damage, a culture and sensitivity test may be suggested. A biopsy is recommended if there is uncertainty in the past or the area affected is unusual.
Frostbite Treatment for Dogs
You should take your dog to the veterinarian immediately if you suspect frostbite. Keep your dog warm by using the heater in your car or a towel. Warm the affected area gently with a damp towel or water that is not too hot.
You should avoid rubbing the skin, or trying to heat it up with direct heat like a heating pad or hairdryer. This can cause more tissue damage.
If hypothermia is present, the veterinarian will begin treating it. The vet will slowly warm the frozen tissue. Pain medication will be given to dogs during this process, as it is painful. The veterinarian will treat secondary infections using antibiotics or topical antiseptics, and also prescribe pain medication.
Affected areas that are severely affected may need surgery to remove the nonviable tissues. Amputations may be required if a large area of tissue is damaged. As it may take a few days or even weeks to determine the extent of the damage, surgery is not usually performed immediately after diagnosis.
Frostbite and Dogs: Treatment, Recovery, and Rehabilitation
Frostbite heals at different rates depending on how severe the damage is to the tissues. Mild cases where blood flow is quickly restored may heal in a matter of days.
As the severity of an injury becomes apparent, it will appear that the case is getting worse. The process can take anywhere from a few days to a full week. In severe cases, it can take several months for the dog to recover.
Surgery is likely to be required if the affected tissue has become necrotic (dead). Amputation may be required in severe cases affecting a lot of tissue or skin.
Frostbite Prevention in Dogs
Keep your dog indoors in cold weather to prevent frostbite. When the temperature is extremely cold, dogs should never be left out for long periods. If you do decide to leave your dog outside in cold weather conditions, make sure they have warm bedding that is dry and protected from the wind. This should only be used as a temporary measure, rather than bringing them inside. Dog clothes, such as boots and sweaters, can keep your dog warm, but only for a short time.
Questions and Answers about Frostbite on Dogs
What temperature does frostbite occur in dogs?
Frostbite can occur in dogs at temperatures below freezing.
How does frostbite on dogs look?
Frostbite appears as discolored, blue, gray, or black skin. The affected skin can be blistered or have an infected weep.
Is it possible for dogs to recover from frostbite?
Minor cases of frostbite can be recovered by dogs within days. Frostbite can cause permanent damage to the skin. In severe cases, medical or surgical treatment may be required. Amputations may be required in extreme cases.