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How to Treat Frostbite in Dogs

Frostbite is a scary and dangerous winter hazard for your dog! Frostbite occurs after a dog has been outside in cold temperatures for too long. It causes damage to the skin tissue, and can result in your beloved pet losing part of their body. Frostbite can be minor or major, depending on how long the dog was exposed to the cold. To treat frostbite, look for the symptoms, warm the dog with warm towels and warm water compresses, and take them to the vet as soon as possible.


Treating the Frostbite Immediately

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    Move your dog inside. The first thing you should do for your dog is to get them out of the cold weather. You should move them into a warm environment, like your house. Make sure to be gentle with your dog, especially around the frostbitten skin.[1]
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    Treat any hypothermia first. If your dog has hypothermia or low core temperature, this needs to be treated before the frostbite. Wrap your dog in warm blankets or towels. You can also place water bottles filled with hot water around the body.[2]

    • Make sure to wrap the bottles in cloth to keep it from burning the dog’s skin, and make sure the blankets or towels you wrap around the dog are dry.
    • Symptoms of hypothermia include violent shivering followed by listlessness and a rectal temperature that is below 95°F (35°C). Other signs include a weak pulse, lethargy, and coma.
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    Cover the area with warm water. Gently warm the frostbitten skin with warm water compresses. You can also soak the affected area in warm water. Never place hot water onto frostbitten skin. This can cause additional damage.[3]

    • The best water temperature is between 104°F to 108°F (40 to 42°C).
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    Pat the skin dry. After your dog has warmed up, dry the skin and fur. Wet skin and fur can cause your dog to be chilled. Take a towel and gently pat the area dry.[4]
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    Avoid hurting the tissue further. Though you definitely want to get the dog warm again, you want to make sure not to hurt them further. Don’t rub or massage the frostbitten skin. This may cause additional damage.[5]

    • You should also not use any direct heat from heating pads, heaters, or hair dryers.
    • If for some reason you have to remain outdoors, don’t try to warm up the frostbitten skin unless you can keep it warm. More cold against the skin or refreezing will make the tissue damage worse.


Seeking Medical Attention

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    Take your dog to the vet as soon as possible. If your dog has frostbite, you should get them treated by a vet immediately. The veterinarian will examine your dog, evaluate the degree of damage, and take measures for treating the frostbite, as well as any other condition such as systemic shock or hypothermia.[6]

    • Wrap your dog in warm towels on your way to the vet. Don’t turn the heat up too high as you drive. Instead, keep the car at a mild, warm temperature.
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    Get pain medication. The vet may decide that the thawing skin will cause your dog too much pain. They may give your dog a prescription pain medication to help relieve their symptoms.[7]

    • Don’t give your dog any over-the-counter pain medications. Many of these medications can be toxic to dogs. This may also mean that the vet is not able to prescribe anything stronger to your dog for pain.
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    Have your dog undergo extra measures to warm up. If your dog is still not warmed up enough, the vet will do additional procedures to raise their temperature and unthaw the skin. They may be given warm IV fluids or a warm water enema to help raise their internal temperature.[8]
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    Treat secondary infections with antibiotics. If your dog has severe frostbite that resulted in dead tissue, the vet may prescribe antibiotics. These medications will help prevent a secondary bacterial infection. If your dog already has an infection around the tissue, they will be given antibiotics.[9]
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    Remove dead tissue surgically. If your pet has dead tissue or dead body parts, they will need to be removed. The vet may amputate affected body parts or surgically remove the necrotic tissues. This is rare and only for severe cases.[10]

    • While your dog is anesthetized, the vet will debride the dead tissue to reach the healthy tissue. Several surgeries may be required to accomplish this since it may take time to see the full extent of the damage.


Identifying the Symptoms

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    Check for pale, gray skin. Dogs that have frostbite will has discolored skin. This discoloration makes the skin appear pale, gray, or bluish instead of their skin normal color.[11]

    • This can be very hard to see, so you may need to look under their fur at different patches of skin.
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    Monitor the most common areas affected. Frostbite is not easy to see on your pet. You may not notice they have frostbite unless you really check out their body. If you want to monitor your dog for frostbite, keep an eye on the extremities of the body.[12]

    • This includes the ears, lips, tail, face, feet, and scrotum.
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    Feel for cold skin. Another way you can tell if your beloved pet has frostbite is by touching it. Dog’s skin should be warm. Skin that is frostbitten will feel brittle or cold when touched, and the dog may also lack sensation in the affected areas.
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    Search for red skin. When the frostbitten skin starts to warm up, it can become red and swollen. This area may be painful for your dog.[13]

    • The skin may develop skin blisters or ulcers if it’s second degree frostbite.
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    Notice peeling skin. If the skin that was frostbitten died, the dead tissue may start peeling off over a few weeks. This may be accompanied by cracking and extremely dry patches of skin.[14]
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    Look for darkened or dead skin. If your dog gets really bad frostbite, the skin will start turning dark. It may turn black after a few days. This is evidence of third degree frostbite.[15]

    • There may be a clear line between damaged and healthy tissue on the skin.
    • These areas may have pus from a bacterial infection and the affected area may have a foul smell.
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    Monitor your dog for days after being in extreme cold. The signs of frostbite may not appear immediately. Your pet may be suffering from frostbite for a few days before they even begin to show symptoms. After being outside with your dog in extreme cold conditions, or if they came into contact with ice or snow, watch them carefully for any symptoms of frostbite.[16]
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    Determine if your dog is at risk. Some dogs are more susceptible to frostbite than others. Knowing whether or not your dog is at a high risk can help you take extra precautions to protect them from frostbite. Small, short-haired dogs have a higher risk than other dogs.[17]

    • Dogs that are wet in cold weather can easily get frostbite.
    • Dogs that are sensitive to cold weather due to age or an illness may be more likely to get frostbite.
    • Dogs who spend long periods of time outside without adequate warm, dry shelter can easily develop frostbite.


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