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A Guide to Frostbite in Pets

From snowmen to hot chocolate, there are many exciting things about the wintertime, but colder months also mean icy sidewalks and freezing temperatures. Just as for us humans, our furry friends are susceptible to cold weather ailments like frostbite, and knowing the early symptoms and treatment measures for pets experiencing it can help you stay prepared as a pet parent this winter.

What Causes Frostbite?

Similar to what humans experience, frostbite in pets happens when below-freezing temperatures cause pets’ blood vessels to narrow and constrict, reducing blood flow to parts of their body, especially the extremities like paws, ears, and tails. Taken in combination, extreme cold and a lack of blood flow can cause severe damage to exposed tissues and underlying skin on pets.

How to Detect Frostbite

Unfortunately, early signs of frostbite in pets may go undetected until more noticeable changes to the skin are noticed days later. Early effects include injuries to the tips of the toes, ears, and tails. More severe symptoms include pale, gray, or blue areas of skin that are cold to the touch, and some pets may even experience numb or overly sensitive and painful body parts.

After exposure and once your pet begins to warm up, their skin may become red, swollen, and painful. Sometimes, our furry friends with frostbite will even experience skin blisters or ulcers. The final stages of frostbite in pets may include the skin appearing shrunken and discolored days later. In some instances, the damaged tissue may even shed off if it has died from the frostbite, and continued sloughing and hair loss can continue for weeks afterward.

Treating your Frostbitten Pet

After you first detect that your pet may have frostbite, there are a few immediate steps you can take to help mitigate symptoms. First, try to remove any remaining snow between the paw pads, and dry your pet off as best as possible without rubbing, which can make the skin even more irritated and damaged. Keep them wrapped in a dry blanket or towel, and at this time you can also call your primary veterinarian or a nearby emergency pet hospital for additional care.

Preventing Frostbite

Of course, there are ways to help prevent your furry friend from experiencing frostbite even while taking them outside for walks or to go to the bathroom during the winter months. Despite their naturally furry coat, they should not be left outside for extended periods during bouts of extreme cold. For pets who have shorter fur, you may consider dressing them in winter sweaters and coats to add an extra layer of protection, or even dress them with booties to protect their paws as well. Wet clothing can also be a danger to pets, so make sure to rid them of any damp outerwear once you return to the warmth of your home.

A good way to protect your pets during the winter is remembering that if you feel it’s too cold outside for you, it’s probably even colder for them! Aside from potential frostbite, there are numerous other wintertime dangers to our pets to be aware of, such as hypothermia, antifreeze spills, and ice melt irritation on paws. Keeping an eye on your pets’ extremities and behaviors during the wintertime will help ensure their safety and wellbeing while still enjoying the fun winter activities.

Bailey Schramm is a writer from Happy Writers, Co. in partnership with stethoscope distributor

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