A winter wonderland isn’t always wonderful: fighting frostbite in pets

Winter wonderland


When the temperature dips outside, we are all very aware of covering up exposed skin to avoid frostbite…but did you know that your pets can develop this painful condition as well?

While our pets are covered in fur, there are several areas of their bodies which have less hair and are more likely to develop frostbite. Areas such as the tips of ears, tails, and their paws are particularly susceptible.

Frostbite develops progressively when animals are out in the cold, although in extreme cold temperature with high wind chill, it will develop at a much faster pace. The body undergoes a few changes to try and adjust to the cold. First the fur will begin to stand on end (similar to when we get goose bumps!). This is to try and trap air to insulate the animal. The animal may also begin to shiver in an attempt to generate some heat.  Then the animals blood flow will restrict itself to the animals ‘core’ where all the important organs are – heart, lungs, abdominal structures, leaving little circulation to the peripheral areas of the body.  With the lack of circulation, the tissues begin to die.

Frostbite is usually not apparent at first when the animal comes indoors. The affected areas may at first appear red and feel warm to the touch. They will then turn a pale, waxy color and feel cool. The area may begin to ‘droop’ as well. Finally, in severe cases, the tissues will turn black and necrotic, and may even fall off. Pets are often in discomfort and may scratch or paw at the area.

If you are concerned about frostbite in your pet, seek veterinary care immediately! You may try and warm up your pet using towels from the dryer or wheat bags (wrapped in towels, they should never have direct contact with your pets skin as they can unintentionally cause burns) en route to the vet.  Never rub the affected areas as this may further damage tissues.

At CHS, we see cases of frostbite every winter.Thankfully, frostbite is easy to avoid by limiting your pet’s exposure to extreme cold. Only going out for short walks is a great start, but if your pet is very small, has short hair or is sensitive to cold then investing in a pet coat or pet boots can help your pet stay warm (and besides, on very cold days who wouldn’t want to be inside cuddled in a blanket?!)


A stray cat brought to Calgary Humane Society with frostbite on its ears.