3 Tips for Treating Frostbite




Playing in the snow here in Milwaukee can be a fun activity for your dog or cat, but the colder weather can also cause some problems.  From Kenosha to Mequon, our dog walking clients know that frostbite can cause damage to the skin and tissues that occurs in freezing temperatures.  It often manifests in the peripheries such as the tips of ears, tail, and toes.


1. Identify frostbitten areas


The most common sign of frostbite is a change of colour in the affected tissues.  Skin will turn pale or grey, then will turn red as tissues thaw.  If left untreated the tissue will become black as it becomes necrotic (dead).  Other indicators of frostbite include swelling and blistering of the skin, pain and sensitivity when touched, and cold brittle areas of the skin.  Your dog or cat may also show signs of hypothermia (low body temperature) such as shivering, weakness, and a slow response time.


2. First aid


Initial response involves managing the hypothermia by taking your pet to a warm and dry area.  First aid for frostbite should not be initiated if the areas will continue to be subjected to the cold.  Thawing and refreezing of skin can cause more severe damage to the tissues.


The affected areas should be warmed in a gentle manner using warm (never hot) water.  Depending on the areas affected, you can soak the limbs in water or use a warm wet towel to gently heat the tissue.  Do not rub or even massage the area.  The affected areas should then be patted dry with a towel.  Do not use hair dryers or direct application of heat packs.


3. Veterinary management and aftercare


After initial first aid is implemented on the skin, it is important to seek veterinary attention for your dog or cat.  Veterinarians are trained to administer further treatment as well as determine the extent of tissue damage.


The thawing of tissues after frostbite has occurred is a painful condition so your cat or dog will require medications for pain relief.  In addition, the veterinarian will often prescribe antibiotics to prevent the spread of infection.  If frostbite is severe, surgical removal of the dead tissue may be required.


Once recovered, it is essential to prevent frostbite from reoccurring in your pet.  This is best achieved by limiting exposure to cold weather.  Smaller dogs or cats may benefit from booties or coats, and any pet should not be left outside for extended periods of time in freezing temperatures.