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Frostbite Nipping At Their Nose

Winter Warnings: Watch Out for Frostbite and Hypothermia

Winter is just around the corner, and that means you need to take special precautions to protect your pets from frostbite and hypothermia. Many people mistakenly believe that their pets are immune to the effects of the cold because they have furry coats. While it’s true that some breeds of dogs fare fairly well in the cold for reasonable periods of time, others, particularly short-haired breeds, have little or no tolerance for the cold. (Most cats do not care for the cold, and it’s best not to let your feline friends outdoors regardless of time of year, as there are plenty of dangers for kitties in even the most ideal weather!)


Frostbite: Symptoms and First Aid

When animals are exposed to a prolonged period of cold, the circulation to their extremities may become impaired. This is because the body sends blood to the vital internal organs to keep them functioning, directing it away from the outer tissues. The impaired circulation to the outer portions of the body can result in frostbite—damage to ears, tails, paw pads, limbs, and other areas.  Signs of frostbite include shivering, paleness and/or hardness of the body tissues, and even ice on the body. In extreme cases, the affected tissues may turn black, indicating that the tissue has died.

First aid starts with warming the affected area quickly with towels soaked in warm water. Gently apply the warm, wet compresses, taking care not to rub the area. Keep the area warm, not hot. Do not immerse the entire pet in warm water—just address the area that is frostbitten. Once you have warmed the area, dry it gently and keep it warm. As the tissue warms, it will cause considerable pain. Do not allow your pet to lick or chew at the area.

Call your vet and request an immediate examination—ideally, at your home so you do not have to take your pet back out into the cold. If you do have to take your pet outside, wrap your pet in a warm blanket and keep the animal warm on the way to the vet’s office. Your vet will prescribe antibiotics and pain medication. Again, if the tissue damage is severe, surgery will be needed.


Hypothermia: Symptoms and First Aid

Hypothermia means abnormally low temperature. When a pet has hypothermia, the body is too cold for normal functioning to occur. The central nervous system becomes depressed, circulation and respiration become impaired, and the animal may lose consciousness, lapse into a coma, or even die. While the average body temperature of a healthy dog is 101° F, a dog with mild hypothermia will have a temperature of 90 to 99°F; when hypothermia is severe, the temperature can go below 82°F. It is easy to take your pet’s temperature rectally using an electronic thermometer that has been lubricated; these thermometers register temperature quickly and do not hurt the animal when used properly. 

Signs of hypothermia include shivering, weakness, pale gums, and slow breathing and heart rate. In severe cases, the animal will become unresponsive and die. (Keep in mind that an animal may have hypothermia without having frostbite.)

First aid focuses on slowly warming up the animal with hypothermia. Wrap the animal in warm blankets. Place a hot (warm) water bottle near (not on) the animal, and/or use a hair dryer set to low. Monitor the pet’s temperature using a rectal thermometer; check the temperature every 10 to 15 minutes until it is back to normal.  Do not allow your pet to become overheated!

Call your vet and request an immediate consultation—even if you think your pet is okay. If you have a mobile vet who can come directly to your home (and you do not need to take the animal back outside to travel to the doctor’s office), you can give the animal a warm bath and then dry it with a warm (not hot) hair dryer. Your vet may recommend intravenous fluids, oxygen, or warm fluids infused into the abdominal area.


Steps for Prevention

The best way to prevent your beloved pets from suffering frostbite or hypothermia is to keep them indoors during cold, inclement weather. Of course, all dogs need to go out to “do their business,” but you can ensure their safety by having them outdoors for the minimal time necessary. Protect particularly susceptible pets with warm coats and boots when they have to go outside for any length of time. This is especially important for dogs that are small, sick, elderly, or short haired.

Finally, keep in mind that even sturdy, thick-coated breeds that can tolerate cold weather for reasonable periods of time need warm, dry shelter available to them at all times when outside in the winter so they can escape the elements when necessary.


Always Seek the Services of a Qualified Vet

Always call a vet immediately if you suspect your animal is suffering from frostbite or hypothermia. If you would like more information on how to protect your pets from frostbite and hypothermia this winter, always consult a qualified veterinarian. A mobile vet is an excellent option because she can provide personalized, compassionate care to your furry companion right in the comfort of your home.

Source: Gold Coast Mobile Veterinary Service