Five frequently asked questions about frostbite in dogs
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Five frequently asked questions about frostbite in dogs

Dogs
Health & Safety

Frostbite in dogs is something all dog owners should learn about, because once you understand it and recognise the risks, it is something you can prevent and mitigate in most cases very easily and so, never have to worry about!

With this in mind, this article will answer five frequently asked questions about frostbite in dogs. Read on to learn more.

How long does it take for a dog to get frostbite?

A wide range of factors dictate how long it takes for a dog to get frostbite, and so there’s not really a fixed answer or even general range or rule for this.

When it comes to dogs themselves, a dog that is finely built with little body fat and that also has a fine, single-layered coat (such as a whippet) will develop frostbite far faster than a dog with reasonable bulk and a coat made for winter, like the Siberian husky; the latter of which can usually spend hours in sub-zero temperatures when working with no supplementary coat and without coming to harm.

Factor in additional issues such as the age of the dog and how used they are to cold (although you can never make a dog cold-hardy if they don’t have the physical traits to enable this) and you have a great many variables to contend with just from that.

You also need to take into account things like the actual temperature the dog is exposed to, if they’re sedentary or moving around, if there’s windchill to contend with, if they’re damp or wet potentially, and a wide range of other things too.

Frostbite in dogs usually develops over the course of hours; but it can actually happen in under 30 minutes.

What part of the dog’s body is most at risk of frostbite?

Frostbite in dogs develops when the body gets cold enough for its circulatory system to concentrate on protecting the major organs of its core, and neglects the need to serve the dog’s extremities as a sacrifice for this.

The extremities then and the parts of the body most exposed to the cold are those most at risk of frostbite in dogs.

The individual toes, pads of the paws and paws in general are areas that might develop frostbite, particularly when you add in their contact with cold ground if the dog is standing or walking. The tips of the ears moving further onto the ears is perhaps the most at-risk area, particularly in dogs with pointed ears, and the tip of the tail is another danger zone too.

A dog that is trying to preserve heat will usually curl itself into a ball with its stomach at the centre, and the tail curled over the nose to protect the nose; this then leaves the ears, paws, and tip of the tail most at risk.

Are certain types of dogs at higher risk of frostbite?

The physical traits of individual dogs are a great contributing factor to their level of risk for frostbite, as we alluded to above. Other factors too include dogs that are kept outside or housed in cooler buildings like a kennel or shed rather than in the home (particularly if the overnight temperature drops lower than the owners predicted and mitigated against) those that sleep directly on the ground, and dogs that aren’t moving around; so a dog working outside is at far less risk of frostbite than one sitting around outside.

Added to this, elderly dogs and young puppies are at higher risk than their adult counterparts, and any canine health condition that affects the dog’s circulation increases the risk of frostbite or the speed they might develop it too.

This includes dogs with diabetes, and dogs with heart disease, even if these are well managed.

Does frostbite in dogs heal on its own?

Frostbite that has only reached the very earliest stage (and even if you’re with your dog at the time, you’re highly unlikely to realise that this has occurred other than by means of guesswork if you’re well informed about frostbite in dogs and are aware the dog might be overly cold) can sometimes reverse itself with just a period of pain and discomfort caused as this occurs.

This is really only likely to be the case if the theoretical person mentioned above was present with the dog, recognises the risks, and moves to get the dog inside to get warmed up immediately.

However, frostbite even in its early stages is an emergency and should never just be left; the dog needs to see a vet immediately.

Warming the affected area and raising the body temperature of the dog in general is integral to treating canine frostbite, but there are more wrong (and so, harmful) ways to do this than right ways, and most dog owners that don’t know what to do go about this in the wrong way even though they’re doing their best.

Can dogs lose a digit or even a limb from frostbite?

Yes, a toe, a whole limb, the tip or part of the tail, and part of the ear can all necrotise and die due to extreme frostbite in a dog and/or frostbite not treated properly and in a timely manner.

This necrosis can also spread, and result in tissue damage and secondary infections that are hard to treat, all of which can be fatal as well.

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