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Health & Wellness

Tips for treating frostbite on dogs' paws

Here’s how to quickly warm them up.

You may think that because our pups have fur, they’re better protected from frigid temperatures. Unfortunately, the truth is that no one (not even dogs!) is entirely safe from frostbite, so it’s essential to know how to avoid it. Fetch by The Dodo’s on-staff veterinarian, Dr. Aliya McCullough, explains the basics of frostbite.‍

What is frostbite in dogs? 

Frostbite is skin damage or injury caused by freezing weather. In freezing temperatures, blood from a dog’s ears, tail, belly, genitals, chest and paws travels to their core to keep their vital organs warm — making those areas without the normal flow of blood more susceptible to frostbite. 

If a dog's paws are frostbitten, Dr. McCullough says they may be discolored (look for blue or black coloring), swollen or have blisters. Their feet (outside of their paws) will also likely be cold and painful to the touch, so be cautious if you’re handling a dog with frostbitten paws.

You can keep your dog safe from frostbite by limiting their time outdoors while temperatures are low. It’s especially important to deter them away from outside water at this time, too. 

“Pet parents should pay close attention to their pets while outside if the temperature is below 45 degrees Fahrenheit and consider the wind chill, wetness, cloud cover and activity before venturing outdoors,” Dr. McCullough explains. 

What are the signs of frostbite in dogs?

According to Dr. McCullough, dogs with chronic conditions, like diabetes or heart conditions, have a greater chance of getting frostbite, so monitor these pups closely in cold temperatures. There are some telltale signs that a dog has frostbite, including:  

  • Skin discoloration (the affected areas will turn from pink to very pale, blue or even black)
  • Cold-feeling skin
  • Icicles surrounding the affected area
  • Blisters or skin ulcers
  • Difficulty walking or breathing (sometimes both)
  • Pale gums
  • Shivering
  • Weakness

RELATED: Can dogs get colds?

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How can I help a frostbitten dog? 

The first step is to contact your vet or emergency pet hospital as soon as possible, Dr. McCullough recommends. You should also do the following:

  • Move your dog to a warm and dry area. 
  • Warm a towel (until it’s comfortable, not scorching hot) in the dryer and wrap it around the affected area. Do not warm a frostbitten area if you cannot keep it warm. More exposure to the cold could cause more damage.
  • Don’t rub or squeeze the area, as this can cause more damage.

Treatment options for frostbite in dogs

Mild cases of frostbite can heal without any permanent damage, Dr. McCullough says. If the area warms up, it’ll be red, swollen and look irritated. However, it’s a painful process and dogs are at risk of infection. Veterinarians will likely recommend antibiotics or pain medication during this time. 

Unfortunately, if the frostbite is severe, the affected area can’t be saved, and surgery or amputation may be necessary. Talk to your vet about your dog’s treatment options. ‍

How to prevent dogs from getting frostbite

The best way to protect your dog is through prevention. If it’s too cold for humans outside, it’s likely too cold for your pup. For bathroom breaks, wrap your pet up in jackets and boots. If your pup is frostbitten, these tips will help you help them quickly and safely.

‍The Dig, Fetch by The Dodo’s expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too. Fetch provides the most comprehensive pet insurance and is the only provider recommended by the #1 animal brand in the world, The Dodo.

Photo by Josh Frenette on Unsplash

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