If you’re a dog owner and live in a cold environment where outdoor winter temperatures dip to 10 degrees or lower, then dog frostbite is a real concern. Even in slightly warmer temperatures certain dog breeds, like Chihuahuas, can develop frostbite. Prevention, recognizing the symptoms and knowing how to treat dog frostbite can save your dog’s limbs and perhaps even his life.
Cause of Dog Frostbite
A dog’s body responds much the same way as our does when exposed to intensely cold temperatures; by reducing the blood flow to the body extremities so the vital organs will still have a warm blood supply. This involuntary body function decreases the oxygen supply and warmth to the extremities and allows ice crystals to form in the tissue and frostbite occurs.
The canine ear tips, tail, scrotum, paws and toes are most often affected by exposure to freezing or sub-freezing temperatures. Our dogs have no way of telling us their pains and frostbite may only be detected by a change in the dog’s gait.
Symptoms of Dog Frostbite
The skin will be red and tender immediately after defrosting, then turn varying unnatural colors ranging from pale white to gray to black in extreme cases when the tissue dies. Other symptoms include hard skin and the heart rate is often accelerated and the dog may be panting. If your dog does have frostbite, the pain will be intense as the skin defrosts and many dogs will self-amputate a tail or paws due to the intense pain.
Treatment for Dog Frostbite
If you suspect your dog has frostbite, do not rub the area and do not attempt to warm the skin too rapidly. Toss thick towel in the dryer to warm them up and gently wrap your dog in the warm towels, changing them frequently. If a dryer is not available, warm the area you suspect has been frostbitten with wash cloths dipped in warm water.
If frostbite is present, your veterinarian will prescribe pain medication and antibiotics to prevent infection in the damaged tissue. In severe cases amputation or surgical removal of damaged tissue may be required to save the dog’s life.
Outdoor dogs that live in colder climates need to have well insulated houses and dry bedding at all times. Daily calories should be increased by 25 percent to help the dog generate more body heat and so it can stay warm on those cold days and nights outdoors.
When walking dogs (indoor or outdoor breeds) on frigid and/or snowy days, dress dog in warm sweater and periodically warm ear flaps between your hands and check paws for snow ice ball build up.
Doctors Foster and Smith