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Frostbite, Hypothermia and Dogs

Welcome to another “Lucky Dog” series article. In this article, we will look at a seasonal problem that affects dogs – frostbite and hypothermia. Both conditions are as dangerous for dogs as they are for people. In some ways, frostbite can be worse for dogs than for humans; a human can verbalize to indicate a lack of feeling in the affected body part, but dogs are unable to do the same.
All too many dog owners think that because most dogs have fur, the dog can stay outdoors indefinitely in even the worst winter weather. While some dog breeds are better able to withstand cold and freezing weather than others, dogs are not completely immune to extreme cold.

First, dogs can, and do, get frostbite. The areas that typically are most likely to be affected are those areas that tend to have the least dense fur, and/or are most exposed to snow and ice; generally the feet, tail, and ears (especially the tips) are the areas most likely to suffer from frostbite. Look for signs of frostbite in those areas, such as pale skin, skin that is red and scaly, shriveled skin and/or cracked pads on the bottom of the paws.

If you find evidence of frostbite, there are several steps to take.

– Use a warm (not hot) towel to gently massage the affected area. Be careful not to rub or press too hard. To warm a towel, put on in the clothes dryer for a few minutes, and then use the towel to massage the area.

– If the area has been frozen or nearly frozen, use warm water to gently warm the affected area. Be careful not to use overly heated water; anything over 90 degrees is too hot.

– Seek veterinary assistance as soon as possible.

Dogs also can suffer from hypothermia, in which case the dog’s body temperature drops too low. If your dog’s temperature is below 98 degrees, or if your dog seems disoriented, is having convulsions, seems to be in shock, or seems to be unable to stay awake, seek veterinary assistance immediately. If veterinary assistance is impossible to obtain, then watch your dog for shock and follow the guidelines as if your dog’s temperature has only dropped moderately.

Otherwise, if your dog’s temperature is between 98 and 100 degrees, then your dog’s temperature has dropped, but only moderately. Take the following steps:

– Warm several towels in your clothes dryer. Wrap the dog in the towels.

– Warm a hot water bottle, wrap it in a towel to prevent burning the dog’s skin and tuck the wrapped water bottle near the dog’s abdomen.

– If your dog is consciousness, give your dog small amounts of warm water as the dog will tolerate.

– Retake the dog’s temperature approximately every ten minutes.

Once your dog’s temperature has reached 100 degrees, remove any hot water bottles and heated towels. Keep the dog in a comfortably warm room, and continue to monitor for signs of shock. Be careful to not overheat the dog or otherwise to overcompensate for any hypothermia or instance of frostbite.

Remember, the prevention of frostbite and hypothermia is much easier than having to treat it. A good guideline is that if the weather is so cold that you would not want to be out in it yourself for any length of time, then you should not subject your dog to that kind of weather either. In future Lucky Dog articles, we will look at other first aid issues for dogs.

About the author: Sharon McCuddy is the author of the “Lucky Dog” article series, which includes the above article. In part, the author draws on her experiences as a dog owner, rescuer, and dog foster home to provide educational articles in the Lucky Dog series. Readers are strongly encouraged to consult with their veterinarian for any medical-related issues and to use the information provided in the articles as a basis for self-education as a responsible dog owner.