- Take your pet out of the cold and keep it warm indoors.
- Warm a towel on a radiator or in the clothes dryer and apply the warm towel on the affected area but take care not to squeeze or rub it as it can cause more damage. Alternatively, use only very slightly warm (32°C) water to wet a towel and wrap it around the affected area to help warm it up on your way to the vet clinic.
- Frost bitten animals are often hypothermic, so it is recommended to keep your pet wrapped up in a warm blanket. Do not use a hair dryer or heating pad. The tissues should start to thaw and become redder but this is can also be painful. Rapid heating should be avoided. If anybody part appears dark or black coloured, you pet requires veterinary attention as soon as possible.
WHAT IS IT?
Frost bite is the injury or death of tissue due to prolonged exposure to extreme cold (freezing or sub-freezing temperatures).
- The most commonly affected areas are the paws, ear tips and tail.
- Discolouration of affected area of skin – often pale, grey or blue coloured
- Painful, firm and cold when touched
- Swelling of affected areas
- Blisters or skin ulcers
- Areas of blackened or dead skin
Frostbite occurs when an animal is exposed to extreme cold for a period of time, and may occur concurrently with hypothermia. Submersion in freezing waters can also cause frostbite. Animals housed outdoors are more susceptible to frostbite. When a body area becomes extremely cold, blood vessels near the skin will constrict to help conserve core body temperature by diverting blood towards the core of the body. The tissues will have a reduced blood supply causing tissue injury. If cold exposure continues, body parts such as the tail tip may freeze and die, and may even fall off.
Your vet will examine the affected area although the signs of frostbite can take up to several days to fully appear. Your vet will also check your pet’s body temperature. The mainstay of treatment is gentle re-warming using warm towels or slightly warm (up to 32°C) water and as the tissues start to thaw, they should become red but is usually very painful due to inflammation. Because blood supply to affected areas is limited or even absent, infection readily sets in.
Your vet will be able to provide your pet with pain relief and antibiotics.
Severely frost bitten areas may change from a blue to black colour and over a period of several days to weeks will start to slough off. During this time, pus may form and the tissue may become infected. Your vet will assess your pet’s case and severely frostbitten tissues may require surgical removal or amputation.
To prevent frost bite, keep your pet warm and do not leave them outdoors during cold winters without proper insulated housing and warmth. When taking your pet outside for a walk in frost or snow, pet booties and pet clothes can help keep them warm.