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7 Signs Of Frostbite In Dogs + 9 Tips To Prevent & Treat It

Can Dogs Get Frostbite

Sometimes, a dog’s fur can be envious.

It’s not only majestic, but it also provides them extra warmth during icy conditions.

However, it doesn’t completely protect them.

Despite their fur, thick or thin, dogs can feel cold, too.

And with that, they can experience frostbites as well.

Let’s talk about that condition, shall we?

You’re about to discover:

  • 7 signs of frostbite in dogs (#5 can be critical).
  • Why a dog’s paws can immediately get frostbitten.
  • 9 tips to prevent and treat your dog’s frostbite (#1 is crucial, so take note).
  • And many more…

Can dogs get frostbite?

Dogs can get frostbite. The risk for this condition starts when they’re exposed to a temperature under 32°F (0°C). This causes freezing of the skin and tissue damage to the area. Body parts that are far from the heart are the most affected. Those are the tail, ears, nose, and paws.

Can dog paws get frostbite?

Dog paws can get frostbite. It’s among the most common areas that this condition affects. A dog’s paws are in direct or close contact with the cold ground. Moreover, cold weather redirects blood flow to vital organs, such as the heart. Since paws are far from the heart, they suffer frostbite easily.

7 signs of frostbite in dogs

#1: Paleness of the area

First of all, signs of frostbite might not appear immediately.

VCA Hospitals say that it might take several days to show. 

Moreover, symptoms will be delayed if the affected area is small or non-weight bearing. The latter are regions like the ears or nose.

But when the signs finally show, paleness is the most telltale one.

With this, the frostbitten area will look gray or bluish.

This sign is most observable in your canine’s nose. It’ll lose its black, brown, or pink color. Replacing it is a gray or white hue.  

Now, why will the area look like that?

The cause of frostbite

Frostbite is due to the body’s natural response to cold weather.

When the temperature drops, your dog’s body automatically constricts its blood vessels.

This results in vital organs receiving more blood flow. 

On the other hand, extremities receive less blood flow. Those are:

  • Tail.
  • Ears.
  • Nose.
  • Paws.

Now, such a decrease is required to keep essential organs running.

And during that, other body areas become more prone to frostbite.

The combination of the cold weather and reduced blood flow increases the risk.

In summary, this blood flow reduction explains the paleness of the frostbitten area.

#2: Pain when touched

Pain In The Affected Area Is A Sign Of Frostbite In Dogs

Another sign of frostbite is pain in the affected area.

However, your pooch can’t exactly walk up to you and tell you…

“Hooman, my paws feel ouchy…”

So, how would you know?

Dogs make it obvious that they’re in a lot of pain through whining. They can cry when they see you or make you restless as they whine at night.

Another way to find out is to touch the area gently.

And note that doing so might cause discomfort on your pooch.

Now, you’ll know that they feel pain when your dog whines from your touch.

And if they let you press the area, you’ll notice that it’s tender.

To further check, PetMD gives other signs of pain in dogs:

Reading tip: 9 Surprising Reasons Why Your Dog Whines When You Pet Him

#3: Swelling

Aside from pain and paleness, frostbite is accompanied by swelling.

The area affected might sometimes appear red. And like I said, if you feel it, you’ll notice that it’s tender.

This is noticeable when the area begins to warm up again.

That’s because blood flow might be slowly returning to the affected area.

Such a surge of blood causes the area to swell and become red.

Moreover, it’s sometimes followed by peeling of the region.

Note: Both swelling and peeling are painful for your pooch.

But, it doesn’t stop there.

That’s because it can progress into…

#4: Blisters and ulcers

After swelling and peeling, there’s more…

Frostbite can develop into blisters or skin ulcers.

Note: The other doesn’t always follow another. Swelling might cause blisters, or the latter can manifest on its own.

That aside, how can you tell the difference between skin blisters and ulcers?

Let me discuss them individually…

Skin blisters

These take the appearance similar to a pimple.

It has 2 types:

The first one is called pustular blisters. This kind is filled with sores.

The second type is vesicular blisters. These are blisters that are loaded with clear liquid.

Skin ulcers

These only affect the upper layer of your dog’s skin.

Although shallow, it still hurts your canine.

Moreover, having this can be complicated.

Sure, it can heal quickly. But only when you tend to the skin ulcers properly.

When you don’t, it can lead to further infection in the skin.

#5: Blackened or dead skin

There’s still a progression after skin blisters and ulcers…

Frostbite can cause your dog’s skin to become blackened.

The area becomes black due to the death of the local tissue.

Experts tell us that this is called necrosis. It’s caused by the extreme decrease of blood flow in the tissue.

Sometimes, your dog’s body can deal with this itself.

If the dead tissue is small, the body will make the white blood cells act. These cells are tasked to clean around the area. 

But in severe cases, called gangrene, it’s irreversible. 

That means once it happens, there’ll be no way to revive the area.

With that, the only way to treat it will be through surgical amputation.

#6: Coldness and brittleness

Coldness And Brittleness

As I’ve mentioned, the skin is freezing when it’s frostbitten.

So, you shouldn’t be shocked when you touch the affected area and it’s cold.

In some cases, the frostbitten part appears to be icy. There might be tiny specks of ice crystals forming around it.

You can observe this case specifically if the nose is affected.

That’s because a dog’s nose is usually moist.

Moreover, other than coldness, the area would also appear to be brittle. As if making your dog’s skin very fragile.

#7: Hypothermia

This is both a sign of frostbite and a separate condition that your dog can get.

Moreover, all dogs can experience both. Regardless of whether they’re a cold-weather breed like a Siberian Husky or a Basenji with thin fur.

Every dog is susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia.

Let me discuss the latter…

Hypothermia in dogs

If exposed to the cold for too long, dogs can experience hypothermia.

It’s a condition where their body temperature severely drops.

According to AKC, there are 3 different levels of this condition:

Type of hypothermiaBody temperature
Mild90°F to 99°F (32°C to 37°C)
Moderate82°F to 90°F (27°C to 32°C)
SevereBelow 82°F (27°C)

Moreover, hypothermia can manifest before frostbite. The latter might show in conditions under the severe type.

Furthermore, these are the signs of hypothermia in dogs:

  • Paleness.
  • Depression.
  • Dilated pupils.
  • Delayed reflexes.
  • Loss of consciousness.
  • Conflicting heart rate. It increases and slows randomly.
  • Inconsistent breathing, one moment it’s rapid, then it slows.

Warning: This is a much more severe condition than frostbite. 

If overlooked, it can cause the following:

  • Coma.
  • Brain damage.
  • Cardiac and respiratory failure.

And worst of all, this can lead to a dog’s death.

Did you know? Extremely cold weather isn’t the only cause of hypothermia in dogs.

Research shows that hypothermia can be a result of a complication during surgery.

An issue in the anesthesia causes it. 

The data shows that 83.6% of the 1,525 dogs experienced this complication.

How to prevent dog frostbite? 5 tips

#1: Avoid prolonged exposure

This is the best way to prevent your dog from getting frostbite.

You must not prolong their exposure to the cold weather.

In giving this advice, let me clarify something.

I’ll be referring to this research as proof.

So, dogs in the wild are reported to withstand high temperatures. That includes every dogs’ ancestors, the wolves.

Now, the explanation is anatomical. But, in this article, I’ll explain it simply…

Ancient dogs and wolves have high-fat content in their paws. At the same time, that area loses heat easily.

Now, to the dogs that humans have domesticated…

They didn’t entirely retain this ability. 

It shows that domesticated dogs can’t withstand cold conditions to the same extent.

Note: Especially those dogs that are accustomed to living indoors.

So, despite their history, our four-legged friends are still highly prone to frostbite.

With that, experts tell us that frostbite can develop within 30 minutes.

Moreover, don’t leave your pooch outside, in the cold, unattended. That might make matters worse for them in many ways.

Most of all, always remember this rule:

If it’s too cold for you, then it’s too cold for your dog as well.

#2: Dress ’em warm

Warm Clothing For Dogs

Of course, you don’t want to deprive your pooch of the fun.

You’d be happy if they don’t get left out and let them play in the snow…

So, dress ’em warm if you must take your dog out when it’s cold.

This is highly necessary, especially if your dog has thin fur…

And it’s still needed even if your dog’s made for icy conditions.

With that, let’s go and style your dog for the cold climate…

First things first is a good dog jacket for winter.

Not fit for your dog’s type? Then a cozy wool sweater might look cute on them, too.

Plus, it’s something that your dog can even wear indoors.

If it’s still not up to your pup’s fashion statement, how about a dog vest? Not only will they feel warm, but they’ll also look classy.

Oh, and don’t forget to top it off with dog boots to protect their paws.

Continue reading: 13 Vital Tips To Protect Your Dog’s Paws In Winter (Snow)

#3: Dry them before going out

Give your dog’s body a careful assessment before going out in the cold.

Make sure that their fur is dry.

That’s because going out wet, or even slightly damp, can increase the risk of frostbite.

Any moisture can make your dog’s skin vulnerable to the condition.

That’s also why a dog’s nose is particularly prone to getting frostbite. Its moisture and distance from the dog’s heart contribute to its susceptibility.

And if your dog’s going out with clothes, make sure those are dry as well.

If it’s not, it might contribute to the fast drop of their body temperature. And, of course, the heightened tendency to get frostbite. 

#4: Provide a warm and dry shelter

Oh, the things that dog parents will do for their fur baby’s enjoyment…

Dogs will want to play and play. No matter what the weather is.

Your dog can even go crazy for the snow. Take a look at these dogs who leap around the snow:

So, as a responsible guardian of them, you must provide a few extra things. That way, you’ll ensure they enjoy themselves and stay safe.

In this case, you must prepare a warm and dry place outside for your dog.

Somewhere they can run to when it’s becoming too cold for them. But, they still don’t want to go in on the house…

Make sure that you keep this resting place dry all the time. 

Dampness might cause the shelter to get cold. Then, it won’t help in protecting your dog from the icy weather. 

#5: Note their health issues

This is something that you must highly consider during weather like this.

Some dogs are more susceptible to experiencing a drop in their blood flow in winter.

I’m talking about canines with health issues.

Some examples are diabetes, metabolic conditions, and heart diseases. Such conditions already impair blood flow. 

And with the cold weather, your dog’s body experiences a further drop in their blood circulation.

If your dog has any of those conditions, don’t expose them to cold temperatures for a long time. They pose a greater risk of developing frostbite.

Moreover, there are other dogs that are more vulnerable to frostbite:

  • Puppies.
  • Senior dogs.
  • Dogs with short fur.
  • Small breed canines.

Warning: Don’t expose these dogs to low temperatures for more than 30 minutes. 

When the temperature drops below 32°F (0°C), closely watch your dog and how long they’ve been outside.

How to treat dog frostbite? 4 tips

#1: Warm them up (and keep it that way)

The first response to a frostbitten dog is to warm them up.

There are many things to do and note when doing so.

With that, let’s take it step by step:

Step #1: Immediately move them to a warmer place.

This is the first one, as you shouldn’t proceed to other steps when this isn’t done.

You must find a place with a higher temperature. And make sure that you and your pooch can stay there until they’re taken care of.


That’s because starting the process of warming them up in a cold place isn’t recommended.

It can risk refreezing and only create additional damage to your doggo’s condition.

Step #2: Wrap them in a dry towel or blanket.

For additional heat, you can warm the cloth. 

You can do so by hanging it for a while in the radiator, putting it on the dryer, or blowdrying it.

Carefully wrap your dog in the cloth and settle them.

Step #3: Surround them with warmth.

To further help raise your dog’s body temperature, you can take this extra step.

Fill some bottles with warm water and wrap them with a cloth, too.

Then, you can surround your dog with those bottles.

You can also let your dog hug the bottle. But make sure that the cap is tightly closed to avoid spillage.

#2: Soak or compress the area in warm water

Another way to warm your dog’s frostbitten area is by using warm water.

You can do either:

A) Soak a towel in warm water. Then, use it to apply gentle compression on the affected area.

B) Directly soak the affected area in warm water. This is highly possible if it’s your dog’s paws that are frostbitten.

Note: Remember that the water should be warm and NOT HOT.

The temperature of the water should be between 104°F to 108°F (40°C to 42°C).

Moreover, after doing this, immediately dry the area. And do so carefully.

Continue to warm up your pooch by covering them again in a towel or blanket.

#3: Note and avoid the don’ts

If there are things that you must do, there are also things that you should avoid.

If you don’t note the latter, it can make things worse for your frostbitten canine.

So, here are some don’ts that you must keep in mind:

Reminder #1: Don’t use a hairdryer to warm your dog up. The air from this equipment is dry and can cause more damage to the area.

Reminder #2: Also, skip the heating pad. Not only is it another source of dry heat, but it’ll also directly contact the area as well.

Touching the affected area with anything when it’s fresh and healing might risk an infection. 

Reminder #3: Never try to rub or massage the frostbitten part.

Trust this advice. It won’t do any good to massage the affected area.

#4: Seek veterinarian help

Most of all, you must seek an expert’s advice regarding this condition.

As soon as you notice the frostbite, immediately give your dog’s veterinarian a call.

Assess the situation with them.

They’ll likely give you the same advice for treatment.

However, further evaluation might be needed. Then, the vet can give more important instructions to you. All of those are for the sake of your canine.

In some cases, frostbites don’t pose an emergency.

Other times, it can be severe. If that’s the case, the vet will advise your dog to come to the hospital.

That’s because severe cases cause disfigurement in the tissues.

And as I said, extreme scenarios can lead to dead tissues. This can then lead to surgical amputation of the area.