Tip of the Month

2/18/2013 Frostbite and Dogs - What You Should Know

Frostbite on Dogs

Different dog breeds have paws that are better protected against cold weather

As snow covers the ground, we should pay special attention to our four-legged friends. That wonderful white scenery holds a cold truth: Dogs get frostbite.

Frostbite is tissue damage caused by exposure to freezing temperatures and it may take a couple of days to see the full damage of frostbite. Short hair, wet fur, diabetes and a small size are just a few contributing factors for dogs. The body parts on dogs which are most commonly affected are the ears, tail, scrotum and nipples. Interestingly, foot pads are rarely frostbitten. Explanations for this include the arrangement of blood vessels and specialized epithelial cells.

The Three Stages of Frostbite

The first stage is characterized by pale to gray skin that might be cold or hard to the touch. When the skin warms up, it will have a reddish appearance. The second stage is marked by an appearance of blisters. The third stage is the most serious. The skin turns dark or black during the next couple of days, and it might start sloughing. The tissue is dead and it must be treated to prevent serious infections. In extreme cases, amputation of a limb may be required.

Keep in mind that when your dog is frostbitten, her body temperature might also be affected. Hypothermia (low body temperature) requires immediate attention.

What to Do if you Notice a Problem

Get your dog inside immediately. If you are transporting your dog, make sure you do not turn up the heater to high. Cold to gradual warm temperature is much more appropriate. DO NOT RUB! Even though you need to warm up your pet, rubbing can cause further damage to the tissue and it might release accumulated toxins. Instead, submerge the affected area in lukewarm water (about 100 degrees F) for about 20 minutes. Pat the area dry and prevent your dog from licking or scratching. As frostbite is very painful, you need to contact your veterinarian for pain medication and, if required, antibiotics. Keep a close eye on the frostbite as the true damage might not appear for days to follow.

How to Prevent Frostbite

Certain breeds, such as huskies and malamutes, are very well adapted to cold weather and thrive in it. They have a double coat and “snowshoes,” which is hair between their toes and can withstand temperatures as low as -60 degrees F. How about the rest of the breeds? We took our companions inside, where they adapted to a leisurely lifestyle in which household heat is common. If you are going for a walk, you might consider booties to protect your furry friend’s paws from cold and blisters. The veterinary assistant at your hospital can show you how to fit your dog for booties. A coat or a jacket may not be a bad idea either—and your pet will look fashionable while warm. With the proper precautions and preparation, you and your dog can enjoy a wonderful winter.

By Vesna Ban-Smedberg, RVT

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