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Frostbite: prevention and treatment for pets

Even if a dog enjoys the snow, it is the owner's responsibility to keep it safe
Even if a dog enjoys the snow, it is the owner's responsibility to keep it safe

Frostbite is a real and present danger to pets, especially dogs. Frostbite occurs when tissues begin to freeze. This usually happens in extremities farther away from the body’s core, such as paws, ears, the male dog’s scrotum, and the tail. Like in humans, a dog’s body will constrict its blood vessels to limit blood flow to the extremities in cold weather in order to keep the more important organs in the core of their bodies warm.

In the extremely cold weather that has been commonplace this new year, the beginning of frostbite can take as little as five minutes to set in. This is especially true for small dogs, short-haired or hairless dogs, but long-haired big dogs are also susceptible, even those that are bred for colder temperatures.

Frostbitten skin may aware gray or white and turn red as it thaws. Thawing can be very painful. In cases of extreme frostbite cases, tissues will turn black as they die and may have to be amputated. There are special booties for dogs that can keep their paws dry and keep the snow and ice from getting cause between the pads of their feet, which is also painful and should be removed immediately.

Even in cases where frostbite or hypothermia is suspected, there are some steps to take to help alleviate the dog’s discomfort:

1. Use warm water –never ever hot water – with wet compresses or soaking to slowly thaw the affected area. Do not use a heating pad or hairdryers as these may warm the area too quickly and only increase the animal’s discomfort.
2. Very gently dry the newly warmed area. Do not rub or massage, rather pat dry.
3. Contact your vet for immediate care. Wrap the dog in a warm towel or blanket before transportation.
4. Remember, if the frostbitten area cannot be kept warm, do not begin the warming process. It may cause more damage to the tissues if they are subjected to warm and cold in quick succession.
5. Do not give any pain medication to the animal unless advised and prescribed by the vet.

The most important thing to remember this winter is to keep walks short, use jackets and booties, and always keep the pet dry. Frostbite is never pleasant, and as a human’s best friend, pets deserve just as much protection from the cold as their owners.

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