What happens to my dog if he/she has frostbite?

April 13, 2012

Sledding, tobogganing, skiing, snowball fights, snowman building contests, hiking in the freezing cold, enjoying the sensation of melting snow on warm skin – these are only some of the activities people enjoy during the winter months. Because dogs are virtually the shadow of the owners, the pet will be seen doing the same activities with the master. Dogs are playful animals. Dogs certainly know how to have a good time. Many dog owners are not aware that their pets can suffer from frostbite thus the dog will be allowed to play for long hours outdoors even in freezing temperatures. Dogs after all are protected by their thick coats.

Frostbite is a medical condition where localized damage to the tissues is caused when exposure to cold temperature is prolonged. Not all dogs are easily affected by freezing temperature. Puppies, senior dogs and dogs whose bodies are not in top condition are most susceptible. When the body is exposed to cold temperature, it will respond by making the blood vessels adjacent to the exposed skin to constrict. This attempt at keeping the core warm is the body’s defense against the cold. The flow of blood to the outer parts of the body is reduced so that the normal blood flow to the vital organs is preserved. The tip of the ears, the tail and the feet will be most affected as without proper blood flow, oxygen and the most needed warmth will not be delivered. When ice crystals are formed in the tissues, the constricted blood vessels would have blood clots that would further hamper the flow of oxygen-rich blood. Because the ears, feet and tail would have the least blood supply, these body parts would be as cold as the temperature in the environment. The tissues of these body parts will freeze and eventually die.

How will a dog owner know that the pet already has frostbitten tissues? Hypothermia is the first sign. The dog would shiver. The already weak dog would have trouble breathing. Blue gums are signs that the cold condition of the pet has progressed. The dog will be comatose. Suffering from hypothermia can be a blessing in a way as the dog will receive emergency treatment and the dog will be examined for frostbite. Signs of frostbite will not be apparent at once so that the necessary management that will save the affected extremities of the pet may not be given. A pet that has stayed too long in freezing temperatures should be thoroughly examined for signs of frostbite. The frostbitten body parts will be very cold to the touch and take on a pale or grey color. There will be swelling and blisters as well. The dog will be in severe pain as the frostbitten part begins to warm. After several days the frostbitten body part will start to blacken and eventually slough. No pain will be felt if the body part had sloughed and take on a black color. The tissues have died and in severe cases of frostbite, affected area may have to be amputated. A dog suffering from frostbite would need appropriate medical treatment. As mentioned, the extent of the injury would only be determined after a few days. A vet though can give pain medications and start a course of antibiotic for infection prevention. First aid treatment would be focused on slowly re-warming the affected area. Important: Never use hot water. Recommended temperature of water to be used in warm compress or to soak the affected area should be 104 to 108°F. Gently and thoroughly dry the warmed affected area. Affected area must not be rubbed or massage so as not to cause further damage.

Dogs love to frolic in the snow unmindful of the dangers. It would be the owner’s responsibility to keep the dog safe from these kinds of concerns.

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