Frostbite… don’t get bitten by Frostbite!

The winter months in Montana can be brutal for us and also on our dogs!  We love the outdoor activities this beautiful part of the USA has to offer…..but there are some precautions we should be taking for our dogs!

Frostbite can easily occur when the temperatures go below 32 Fahrenheit and if your dog has prolonged exposure to the cold.  It is also important to take into consideration the windchill!

So what is Frostbite?

Frostbite refers to the freezing of body tissue that results when the blood vessels contract, reducing blood flow and oxygen to the affected body parts.  Normal sensation is lost, and color changes also occur in these tissues.  Frostbite is mostly likely to affect body parts that are farther away from the body core and therefore have less blood flow (source

Parts of the body away from the center of your dogs body then get less blood flow resulting in them freezing more easily.  The parts of the body that quickly received less blood flow are normally your dogs ears, tail, toes and nose.

Recommended outside time

There is a lot of information on the internet which gives approximate times for safe outdoor exercise during the really cold days.  If temperatures are between -18 degrees Fahrenheit and -32 degrees Fahrenheit we would recommend no more than 10 minutes of outdoor time, please also consider the windchill factor.  Once the temperatures are below -33 degrees Fahrenheit then we recommend no more than 5 minute intervals for outside time.

‘My dog has long and thick fur, he will be ok’- yes the thick fur helps keep them warmer but it doesn’t protect the extremities such as their noses and toes.

How to recognize Frostbite

As frostbite can be beneath your dog’s fur it can sometimes easily be missed or not recognized soon enough.  Look out for these signs in your dog:

  • Limping- the dogs paws can be sore from the initial frostbite
  • Frozen ears will often droop
  • The skin will be extremely cold and hard
  • Swelling of the area exposed
  • Sore to the touch
  • Blackened skin
  • Following the exposure the skin can be red, blistered leading to an infection if not treated

We HIGHLY recommend that if you suspect that your dog has frostbite to contact your veterinarian immediately after giving first aid at home! Please don’t delay seeing your Veterinarian as early treatment is key to preventing lasting damage.

Top Tips to prevent your dog from getting Frostbite

  • Monitor and limit the amount of time your dog spends outside in extreme cold conditions
  • More frequent but shorter outside time
  • Invest in a jacket or sweater, keeping the main core temperature of the body warm
  • Snow boots- these are also great for preventing the annoying (and dangerous) snow balls forming between their pads which act like ice cubes

    Phoebe wearing her boots (credit to Loni Hanson)

What to do if you suspect your dog has Frostbite

Even before racing to the veterinarian there are several things you should do right away.

Check your dogs temperature- many dogs who get frostbite also have hypothermia.  If your dogs temperature is below 99 degrees Fahrenheit begin treatment for hypothermia immediately and contact your veterinarian straight away! Signs of hypothermia include excessive shivering, shallow or laboured breathing, stiff movements, lethargy, low body temperature).

Thaw the frostbitten areas- only use lukewarm water on the frostbitten skin.  Frostbite on the ear tips and nose can be treated with a wet lukewarm cloth.  DO NOT rub the area, just hold it against it.  Keep re-wetting the cloth to ensure that the water is lukewarm.  We suggest doing this for 20 minutes.

Keep your dog warm (warm blankets in a warm area, wrap hot water bottles in towels and place them near your dogs body) and gently remove any snow ice balls which could continue to cause frostbite on the skin.

Once the skin has thawed and warmed up, please contact your veterinarian to check whether you need to bring your dog in for further evaluation.

What NOT to do:

Do not use hot water to warm the frostbitten areas

Do not use direct heat such as heating pads, hand warmers or a hair dryer

Do not rub or massage the affected areas

Do not give your dog pain medication unless prescribed by your veterinarian



Limiting the amount of time your dog is exposed to the extreme cold is the best prevention for frostbite! Always check over your dog when they come back in and remove those ice chunks!

For Veterinarian care please contact Dr Clark and his team:

The Animal Clinic of Kalispell





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