What to Do if Your Dog Gets Frostbite This Winter

Did you know that your dog can get frostbite? 

As a kid growing up in the midwest, I experienced some harsh winters.

I’ll never forget my childhood dog Malachi running around in the snow for hours at a time. It was almost impossible to get him to come inside!

Back in the 90’s we didn’t have access to as much information as we do now. So when we went outside to find Malachi’s legs were frozen in 3 feet of snow, we immediately panicked.

I remember my dad picking him up and carrying him into the house and my mom wrapping towels around him and running a warm bath.

As a child, I was terrified that he was going to be stuck frozen forever!

After we rushed to the vet, we found out that frostbite is a real danger for dogs and should not be taken lightly!

After an overnight stay at the vet and lots of pain medicine, Malachi was able to come home.

It took a few weeks for him to fully recover and walk normally again, but it could’ve been a lot worse. We were very lucky!

Today we will be discussing what to do if your dog gets frostbite along with how to prevent it from happening for the future. 

what is frostbite? dog gets frostbite

What is Frostbite? 

Frostbite is a condition where the skin and the tissue just below the skin freeze.

Ice crystals form within the cells, expanding them and causing them to rupture. When this happens, the cells die.

The biological reasoning behind this is that when the body is in extreme cold, it reroutes heat to the torso and goes into survival mode.

Because of this, severe cases of frostbite can lead to the loss of toes, paws, ears, tail, and limbs, which is why it is important to know what to do right away in case your dog gets frostbite. 

Stages of Frostbite

There are 3 stages of frostbite in dogs: frostnip, superficial frostbite, and severe frostbite. 

Frostnip– This is the most mild form of frostbite, and usually does not do permanent damage.

When there is continuous exposure to freezing temperatures, the skin numbs and your dog can no longer feel that part of their body. Much like when you play in the snow without gloves.

When you come inside and begin to warm up, your skin likely burns and is slightly painful as blood rushes to your hands again. This is exactly what happens when your dog’s paws.

Superficial Frostbite– At this stage of frostbite, the reddened skin on your dog begins to turn white or pale. After 12-26 hours, a fluid filled blister may appear over the affected area. 

Severe Frostbite– This is the most damaging case of frostbite. At this stage, the skin turns white or a blueish grey as the cells below the skin freeze and die off.

Your dog may experience numbness, losing all sensation of cold, or pain or discomfort in the affected area.

In addition, their joints and muscles may stop working. After 24-48 hours, large blisters will form and turn black, eventually falling off as the tissue dies over the course of several weeks.

At this point it is common for dogs to get secondary bacterial infections, causing puss and a foul smell in the infected area.

dog gets frostbite what to do

What to Do

The first thing you should do when you suspect your dog has frostbite is to call your vet.

It is important to get them examined as soon as possible in order to prevent further cellular damage. In the meantime, there are several things you can do to help your dog’s frostbite. These include: 

  • Moving your dog to a warm, dry area ASAP
  • Carefully warming the affected area with warm (not hot) water (104 to 108°F) by using a compress or sticking the area into a bowl of warm water 
  • Keeping your dog warm by wrapping them in towels/blankets warmed in the dryer until you get to the vet

What NOT to DO

Though some actions may seem like the right thing to do, they may cause further damage to your dog’s frostbite. With that said, DO NOT:

  • Rub or massage the affected area
  • Use direct dry heat like a hair dryer or heating pad
  • Give any pain medication to your dog (unless the vet tells you to)
  • Rub the area down with towels (pat down instead)

dog gets frostbite what happens at the vet

What Happens at the Vet

If your dog has signs of superficial or severe frostbite, you should call your vet ASAP.

Your vet will do a physical examination as well as blood and urine tests to make sure there is no organ damage in your dog.

Keep in mind that clinical signs of frostbite in dogs may take a few days to appear, so once they do it is critical to get to your vet as soon as possible to prevent any further damage.

Your dog will likely be put on pain medication as well as antibiotics to treat any secondary infections.

In very severe cases, your vet may amputate the affected body part in order to save your dog.

How to Prevent Frostbite 

If you live in a cold climate, it’s important to know how to prevent your dog from getting frostbite altogether.

When temperatures are below freezing levels (32°F), your dog can get frostbite in less than 30 minutes.

Make sure to limit your dog’s time outside when it is this cold outside.

Wearing doggy shoes (affiliate link) not only prevents your dog from stepping in rock salts, but also puts a layer between your dog’s feet and the frozen ground.

In addition, putting a coat or sweater on your dog will help keep them warm. When there are snow storms or ice on the ground, try to minimize the time your dog spends outside to under 20 mins.

Playing in the snow with your dog is fine as long as it’s in short intervals! 

dog gets frostbite conclusion

Conclusion

I hope this post helped you gain the knowledge of what to do if your dog ever gets frostbite.

By knowing the preventive steps as well as actions to take in the event of frostbite, we are on our way to becoming more prepared, responsible dog moms! 🙂

Click here for a list of fun wintertime activities to do with your dog. 

Click here for more great articles on dog behavior, training, and all things dog mom!

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