When Furry Friends Get Frosty: Managing Frostbite in Pets 

When Furry Friends Get Frosty: Managing Frostbite in Pets 

As the temperatures continue to drop during the winter months, humans and their pets are more at risk for temperature-related illness and problems. Like their owners, animals are susceptible to frostbite with prolonged exposure to frigid temperatures, especially below 32 degrees. Our Animal Emergency Care team wants to ensure that your pet avoids this painful medical condition with the following information about frostbite.

What is frostbite in pets?

Frostbite can occur when pets are exposed to cold temperatures for extended periods of time. As in humans, prolonged exposure will cause an animal’s blood vessels to constrict to redirect blood from the extremities to warm and protect the vital organs including the brain, lungs and heart. Your pet’s nose, tail, ears, and paws are most susceptible to tissue damage because of this protective reaction. Cold weather breeds, including Siberian huskies and Alaskan malamutes, are less prone to frostbite because they have thick fur coats. However, all animals are at risk of developing frostbite with some pets at increased risk. These include: 

  • Senior pets
  • Small-breed dogs
  • Cats
  • Pets with short fur and hairless breeds
  • Puppies and kittens
  • Pets with chronic illness or heart disease

Frostbite signs in pets

Although rarely life-threatening, frostbite is often a precursor to hypothermia which can be fatal in some cases. Frostbite’s effect can be difficult to detect on pets and may take days to appear, so ensure you check your pet’s foot pads and other extremities if they have been outside in the cold. Changes in the appearance of your pet’s skin may indicate that the tissue is frostbitten which could result in tissue damage and potential loss of the affected body part. If your pet has been exposed to frigid temperatures, monitor them closely for the following signs:

  • Skin that first appears pale or bluish-white, and later becomes red and puffy 
  • Red or gray-tinged skin on the ears, tail, or nose
  • Skin that appears brittle or shriveled and stays cold to the touch
  • Pain in the ears, tail, paws, or nose when touched
  • Ice crystals in or around the nose

Frostbite treatment in pets

Immediately cover the affected areas with a warm dry towel or blanket if you notice clinical frostbite signs in your pet. Frostbitten skin will become red and swollen as it begins to thaw and the blood returns to the affected tissues. However, seek treatment with your family veterinarian immediately if the skin becomes dark or bring your pet to Animal Emergency Care if it is after hours. A veterinary exam is important, while not an emergency unless your pet’s skin is dark or black, to ensure your pet does not have any long-term effects that may need treatment. Frostbite is painful to most pets, and medication may be needed to reduce discomfort. Also, depending on the severity of your pet’s frostbite, the following treatments may be recommended: 

  • Antibiotics to prevent damaged tissue from becoming infected
  • Topical creams to soothe and protect damaged skin 
  • Warm intravenous (IV) fluids and a warming environment
  • Surgery or amputation to remove damaged tissue 

Pets with mild frostbite cases will likely not require an extended hospital stay. However, some pets may require surgery to remove the damaged tissue or amputation of an affected body part. These pets may need to stay in the veterinary hospital for a few days so their animal care team can closely monitor their recovery. Also, your veterinarian will likely want follow-up appointments to ensure your pet is healing and recovering well. 

Financial planning for pets undergoing treatment for frostbite

Rushing your pet to the veterinary clinic for treatment, especially for accidental injuries, can be stressful for pet parents, many of whom worry about the costs of treating their four-legged family member. However, multiple options, including pet health insurance, are available to ease the financial burdens associated with your pet’s veterinary care and treatment. So, plan ahead and research pet health insurance options before your pet needs a costly emergency veterinary visit. Most pet insurance providers, including Trupanion, have policies that include reimbursement for accidents or illness requiring emergency veterinary care. Additionally, Trupanion  has an express program that pays your veterinary clinic directly which eliminates the need to submit paperwork and wait for reimbursement. Alternate payment methods include Care Credit and Scratch Pay, and short-term bank loans may also help you make veterinary bill payments on a more manageable schedule.   

Preventing frostbite in your pet

The  best way to prevent frostbite is to limit your pet’s outdoor activities in the colder months to avoid exposure to frigid temperatures. Consider dressing them in a sweater or jacket to keep their main body warm and dog boots to help ensure their paws keep warm and dry before taking your pet out for walks or bathroom breaks. Additionally, ensure your pet’s fur is dry before going outside to prevent their body temperature from quickly dropping and keep them away from any body of water. 

Call your family veterinarian to schedule an exam if your furry friend has unexpectedly decided to explore the great outdoors in freezing temperatures, and you suspect they are frostbitten. Call our Animal Emergency Clinic office if they have severe symptoms. #AECprevents