Treatment for Frostbite and Hypothermia

February 19, 2013

It is a mistake to believe that because your cat or dog has a fur coat that they can withstand extreme cold for very long.

If left out too long, an animal’s body reacts just like that of a human. Blood is diverted from the extremities, which are the legs, tail, ears, feet; this is done so that blood is circulated to the vital organs (liver, heart, lungs and kidneys).

Deprived of blood flow, the extremities will suffer severe frostbite, which can result in the loss of limbs, ear tips, nose and tail. Footpads, their eyes, faces, nose, ears and in males, their genitalia, could freeze.

Look for signs of frostbite: your pet is shivering, there is ice on limbs and body, body tissue has turned bright red, followed by a pale color, often turning to black, which is indicative of dead tissue which will be followed by gangrene if not immediately treated medically. If you see any of these symptoms you should immediately provide First Aid.

  1. Use towels soaked in warm water (not hot) or warmed ice packs to warm the affected area
  2. Using a warm bath or bowl of warm water to soak a frozen limb or paw.
  3. Once the area has been warmed, dry the area completely and NEVER massage or rub frozen tissue. This area will be very sensitive and painful, to prevent further self-injury caused by licking or chewing, wrap your pet in a blanket and keep warm.
  4. NEVER apply snow or ice to the frozen area and NEVER completely immerse your pet into a bath, this would cause the body temperature to drop more and the result would be hypothermia.
  5. In the case of frostbite, severe life-threatening infections in dead tissue resulting in gangrene, which can spread rapidly.

If your pet is showing signs of frostbite, there is a possibility that your pet is also suffering from hypothermia (abnormal lowered body temperature). This can happen even if the animal does not show signs of frostbite and it will result in death if immediate action is not taken.

Hypothermia: What you can do: Body temperature is below 37.5C

  1. Use blankets to warm your pet. If using hot water bottles or an electric heating pad, DO NOT apply directly on the pet, but wrap these warming agents in towels first. If not wrapped they have the potential to burn your pet and increase the risk of tissue damage.
  2. DO NOT overheat your pet. Normal body temperature is 38.5 C; monitor your dog’s temperature using a rectal thermometer. Remember to lubricate the thermometer with vaseline first.
  3. SEEK VETERINARY CARE: Even if your pet seems to have recovered, both bladder and kidney problems are common in animals that have been hypothermic. A pet that has suffered hypothermia and or frostbite is in danger of losing their life.

Your pets count on you for their safety! Use common sense combined with a good understanding of first aid to ensure that your pet lives a long and healthy life.