DOGS AND COLD WEATHER: Winter Safety Series – FROSTBITE

Frostbite

by Jason Smith

snowflakedog

Frostbite is a condition where body tissue freezes. If left untreated, the affected area can die and will require amputation. In the coming months, the United States of America will transition into winter, with cold temperatures and favorable conditions that could result in frostbite. In this article, I’ll explain how you can recognize signs and symptoms of frostbite in your dogs and what you can do to treat it. I’ll also contrast the opposing viewpoint that dogs are not susceptible to frostbite.

FROSTBITE

“Frostbite is tissue damage resulting from exposure to subfreezing temperatures” (Frostbite, 2012). Just as humans run the risk of frostbite, dogs too, could get frostbite. According to the American Red Cross, “the body parts most susceptible to frostbite [on a dog] includes your dog’s tail, tips of the ears, and pads of the feet” (American Red Cross, 2008, p. 79). The condition results from the same causes of hypothermia such as exposure to cold weather for prolonged periods without shelter and age of the animal may also contribute to your dog’s risk of frostbite.

Ornes (2012) reported that dogs are not susceptible to frostbite. Scientific research conducted by Hiroyoshi Ninomiya proposes the hypothesis that the arrangement of blood vessels in a dog’s feet is designed in a way that keeps them from freezing. Ninomiya refers to this phenomenon as “counter-current heat exchanger” (Ornes, 2012). The concept is similar to the way other arctic animals keep warm.

This is an interesting study and worthy of further research. If the research were correct, my assessment is that under “ordinary” conditions, dogs would not be susceptible to frostbite. What is ordinary? Taking your dog outside to relieve its bladder and bowels and immediately bringing it back inside. However, frostbite is not an ordinary occurrence. It doesn’t just happen under normal conditions, it happens with prolonged exposure to the environment. That means that frostbite is more likely to occur under “unusual” circumstances. For example, Good Morning America’s Ron Claiborne (2011) reported a story about a dog “found in an icy cellar of an abandoned home.” The dog was alive, but he was “frozen into a puddle” (Claiborne, 2011). The animal “lost his paws and the tip of his tail to frostbite” (Claiborne, 2011).

Christine Pace, a veterinary assistant, rescued him. “She raised the money to pay for prosthetics for Naki’o’s two rear legs, then the maker of the artificial legs offered to make two more for free,” (Claiborne, 2011).

This is an example of the seriousness of frostbite. According to Spadafori (2011-12), “Prosthetics can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 per prosthetic.”

RECOGNIZING FROST BITE

Often times, it is difficult to know what’s going on with our pets because they can’t verbally tell us where they hurt or what symptoms they are experiencing. While they can communicate to us in their own way, they cannot verbalize numbness in their limbs as a human could. Therefore, you’ll have to pay close attention to your companion animals to rule out frostbite.

Physically look for these signs and symptoms:

  1. Discoloration of the frozen area; skin that is pale or even blue in color initially, looking black and dead in later stages.

  2. Lack of pain or sensation at the affected area or a lot of pain, especially when the area starts to warm up.

The American Red Cross (2008, p. 79)

FIRST AID: WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP

Here are the first aid steps The American Red Cross (2008, p. 80) recommends for the treatment of frostbite:

  1. Move the dog to a warm environment.

  2. Spray the affected area with warm (not hot) water.

  3. Lightly apply a warm compress to the area (don’t apply a hot compress as it could cause burns). Do not rub or apply pressure to the affected area (this could cause further damage).

  4. Seek veterinary care to assess the damage.

Like Naki’o, it is possible for animals to lose limbs or their tails from frostbite damage. This is why it is important to seek veterinary care. They can assess the damage and determine whether surgery is necessary to amputate a defective limb.

PREVENTION

Preventing frostbite follows the same procedures as preventing hypothermia.

Use common sense: if you wouldn’t spend a long time outside, don’t leave your dogs outside. Bring them in, even if they are normally outdoor animals. Give them shelter to keep warm so they can have a safe and comfortable winter.

Do you have any tips to share concerning cold weather and dogs? Please comment below to share.

References

American Red Cross. (2008). Frostbite. In A. R. Cross, Dog First Aid (pp. 79-80). Yardley: StayWell.

Claiborne, R. (2011). New paws for injured pup. Good Morning America (ABC) .

Frostbite. (2012). Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia . Retrieved from Grolier Online http://gme.grolier.com.proxy.kyvl.org/article?assetid=0113610-0

Ornes, S. (2012, February 8). No frostbite for dogs. Science News for Kids , p. 3.

Spadafori, G. (2011-12). Pill Popping. Retrieved December 14, 2012, from VeterinaryPartner.com: http://www.veterinarypartner.com/Content.plx?P=A&A=3268

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