Pets Animals

Dogs and Frostbite

Posted on: January 29, 2011

By Kelly Marshall

Pet owners don’t always realize that dogs can get frostbite. However, they can suffer both hypothermia and frostbite if outside temperatures drop below freezing. Although not every breed of dog will be affected as quickly by the cold, most breeds will suffer from frostbite if there is not adequate protection from the cold. Even Alaskan Malamutes curl up together to help prevent frostbite during bitterly cold weather.

Hypothermia can be the first sign of frostbite

Before frostbite strikes, hypothermia may set in. This is a vital warning sign. Signs of hypothermia include shivering, trouble breathing, weakness, blue gums and progression to a comatose state. Alert pet owners can warn off frostbite by wrapping the pet in a blanket or cloth and taking them immediately to a veterinarian’s office for treatment.

How to prevent frostbite

Dog owners should take special care with puppies as well as elderly dogs whose bodies may not be in optimal condition. Listen to weather forecasts because some mild days can quickly turn to dangerously cold temperatures later. Also, don’t assume sunny days prevent frostbite, especially if the temperature is below freezing or the wind chill makes the outside temperatures feel like they are below zero. Always err on the side of caution.

If salt or any chemicals are used to melt ice on driveways, make sure the ingredients are not dangerous to dogs. Consider buying booties designed to protect a dog’s feet as well as a blanket or coat for those breeds with thin fur.

What if a dog accidentally gets outside and gets frostbite?

If the pet owner is not at home but arrives home to find that a pet has gotten outside, what are the warning signs of frostbite? To understand this, it is important to realize that frostbite is caused in a similar way to frostbite in humans – by death of body tissues when ice crystals form in body cells. Dogs are particularly susceptible to frostbite on their ears, feet and tails as well as any body part which stands out from the main trunk of the dog’s body. Remember, a dog which has frostbite is suffering from damaged skin tissue and it is important to get appropriate medical treatment!

Does frostbite show up immediately?

Not necessarily. Damaged tissue may not show signs of interrupted blood flow right away. If your dog has been outside and shows any signs of hypothermia, call a specialist. Be clear about your dog’s symptoms and follow the vet’s advice. If a dog’s legs start to swell or the skin changes color and the animal is clearly in pain, don’t hesitate to get help. Be particularly careful to check the dog’s ears, feet, toes and tail. If not treated immediately, it is possible that a dog may have to have a limb amputated. Proper care and immediate treatment can prevent this.

Does this mean that dogs can’t live outside in the winter?

For the best advice concerning particular breeds, it is best to consult a veterinarian or specialist. Some dogs may be able to live outside, perhaps in a sheltered and heated garage. Others may be able to live in a protected area of the yard, as long as the dog house is designed to maintain safe body temperatures and retain heat. If the temperature drops below freezing, pay attention to weather reports which indicate that dogs should be brought inside. A dog will not get “spoiled” or used to being in the house if taken inside once in awhile – for the dog’s protection.

About the Author: This article was written by Kelly Marshall of Oh My Dog Supplies – the leader in dog supplies, including small dog beds.


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  • Kitty: I have a friend who uses a seatbelt which attaches to their harness. This helps to keep the dog from straying to far in the backseat of the car.
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