Yes, dogs can get frostbite. It is very important that you monitor the temperature during the winter months to determine if your dog is at risk before it is let outside. Any temperature below freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit) has the potential to cause frostbite, but generally, temperatures have to be lower for serious problems. A low temperature combined with being wet from rain, snow, or swimming can also lead to a higher risk for frostbite.
How long does it take to get frostbite?
The colder it gets, the faster your dog can get frostbite. And when you add wind and water, the process speeds up even more. Every dog and every situation is different, but here are a few guidelines to know:
- Once sub-zero temps hit, it takes about 30 minutes for exposed skin to get frostbite.
- At 15 below with a little bit of wind, frostbite is possible within 15 minutes.
The chart below from the National Weather Service shows how long it might take to develop frostbite at varying temperatures and wind speeds.
Make sure your dog is dry before taking them out for a walk. The ears and tail may take some time for signs of frostbite to occur, but the paws will likely show signs right away. If a dog is wet or damp, these areas are more vulnerable to frostbite.
What to do if my dogs shows signs of frostbite?
- Warm a towel on a radiator or in a clothes dryer, or using a handheld hair dryer. Do not directly warm the dog with the hair dryer or other heat source.
- Apply the warm towel to the affected areas. Do not squeeze or rub hard, as this can cause more damage. Do not warm an affected area unless you are able to keep the area warmed.
- Use tepid water to warm up the affected areas to a temperature of 100°F (32°C), but no higher than 108°F, as this can cause more damage.
- As the areas thaw, they will redden. If they become dark instead, seek immediate veterinary attention.
- It is always recommended to seek veterinary attention to make sure there is no other damage and that no additional treatment is required.
Most cases of dog frostbite are based on the amount of the body and they are usually mild and resolve with only cosmetic damage. More severe cases can cause disfigurement of affected tissues. Very extreme cases of frostbite may require surgical amputation of dead tissues. Your veterinarian may prescribe pain medication and antibiotics.