Can Dogs Get Frostbite? Signs of Frostbite to Look for in Dogs

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corgi showing her paws powdered with snow

corgi showing her paws powdered with snow

What is frostbite in dogs?

Frostbite refers to damage to tissues caused by prolonged exposure to cold temperatures. When a dog’s body is exposed to temperatures below freezing (32°F or below), dogs will raise their core temperature to protect their vital organs. This increases blood volume to the center of the body and blood flow is reduced in areas that are far from the heart, such as the feet, ears, and tail. This reduced blood flow and low temperature can cause tissues to freeze, leading to tissue damage and an increased risk of thrombosis. Symptoms of frostbite may include pain, swelling, blistering in the affected area, and in severe cases, necrosis, and black skin discoloration.

How do dogs get frostbite? Causes of frostbite in dogs

Frostbite can occur due to extended exposure to temperatures below freezing (below 32°F) or prolonged contact with cold objects, such as ice. Resistance to cold can vary among different breeds of dogs. For example, winter breeds such as Siberian Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes, with their long and thick coats, are better equipped to handle cold weather. Smaller breed dogs and breeds with short hair, such as Chihuahuas, may be more susceptible to frostbite. Nevertheless, it is important to take precautions for all breeds, as there is a risk of frostbite if they are exposed to extreme weather conditions for extended periods.

Signs of frostbite in dogs

Frostbite in dogs is commonly observed on their extremities, such as the dog’s ears, paws, and tail. It can be difficult to notice frostbite right away in dogs due to their fur covering their skin. If you suspect your dog has frostbite or has recently been exposed to a frigid environment for an extended period, it's important to inspect the skin under their fur and look out for any signs of frostbite. Some signs of frostbite may appear immediately, while others may not become noticeable until tissue necrosis sets in over time.

What does frostbite look like on dogs?

  • Discoloration of the skin;

    Frostbitten skin may become pale as it progressively turns bluish and grayish. The affected area(s) may eventually turn black as the tissue begins to die, called necrosis, and will require professional treatment at a veterinary hospital.

  • Skin is cool to the touch

    After your dog has been in a cold environment, their skin should return to normal body temperature fairly quickly. If their skin remains cold to the touch after some time, frostbite may be suspected.

  • Aches and pain

    Frostbite can be painful as well, your dog may show signs of pain when the suspected frostbitten area is touched.

  • Swelling and redness in the frostbitten area(s)

  • Blisters and ulcers in the frostbitten area(s)

Risk of frostbite in dogs on paws and ears

The body's extremities, such as the paws, ears, and tail, are the most frequently affected areas by frostbite. They are also usually more vulnerable to frostbite when they are wet. Frostbite causes severe pain and, in severe cases, the surrounding tissue may die. If your dog is experiencing severe pain, discoloration of the skin, pus, or ulcers, you should visit a veterinarian immediately. In cold environments that can cause frostbite, hypothermia can also occur, which can be fatal. If your dog is showing any symptoms of trembling, stiffness, or pale gums, these are signs of hypothermia and require an immediate visit to the vet as well.

two dogs sharing warm blanket outdoors on snow

Can you treat frostbite in dogs at home?

If frostbite is suspected, immediate first aid is the only viable home treatment

  • Move your dog to a warm place as soon as possible and take caution not to rub or irritate the frostbitten area.
  • Do not apply heat directly to the frostbitten area(s). It's recommended to slowly raise their body temperature indirectly by wrapping them in a warm towel or blanket and warming the surrounding air using a hair dryer or a heating pad.
  • A dog with suspected frostbite can be safely warmed by immersing them in warm water. The temperature should be set to a level where you can comfortably place your hand in it. After gradually raising your pet’s body temperature, gently pat it dry with a clean, dry towel.
  • The frostbitten area must be kept warm constantly. If the affected area(s) re-freezes due to more exposure to cold air, further tissue damage can occur.
  • After first aid is administered, you need to visit a hospital for accurate diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible. Do not use any medications, such as human pain relievers, without the advice of your veterinarian.

Diagnosing frostbite in dogs

The diagnosis of frostbite is usually made through a physical examination. To determine the extent of the injury, it's important to consider the duration of exposure to the cold and evaluate the dog’s overall condition such as body temperature, blood pressure, and tissue necrosis. In cases where excessive exposure to cold has occurred for an extended period, a basic blood test or urine test may be performed to assess any damage to other organs or abnormal changes in the body.

Treatment for frostbite in dogs

Depending on the degree of frostbite, the following treatments can be performed:

  • First Aid

    Check your dog's body temperature and take steps to raise it safely. Apply a warm water compress or soak your pet’s body in a lukewarm tub of water. If the heart rate and breathing are slowed due to hypothermia, prioritize measures to stabilize their condition, such as providing oxygen.

  • Medication

    Frostbite is often very painful, so pain relievers may be administered. If the tissue has already become necrotic or ulcerated, antibiotics will be prescribed to prevent infection. In cases where hypothermia is accompanied by low blood pressure or a slow heart rate, medications to address these issues may also be used.

  • Surgical treatment

    If the frostbite is not too severe, lightly wrap the wound with a sterile bandage to prevent further contamination. If the tissue necrosis is severe, the affected area may require surgical removal of tissue.


The prognosis for frostbite can vary, depending on several factors, such as the duration of exposure to cold temperatures, the temperature your pet stayed in, and the size, breed, and overall health of the dog before exposure. In minor cases, frostbite typically resolves without causing permanent damage. However, in severe cases that result in tissue necrosis, surgical removal of the affected tissue may be necessary.

dog outdoors in snow with a dog vest and boots on

Prevention tips for frostbite in dogs

In cold weather or when there is a flurry of snow, it is advisable to dress your dog appropriately when walking outside. Breeds with short hair and breeds that are susceptible to the cold, such as small dogs, should have their outdoor activity time reduced to avoid the cold weather. A wet dog in cold environments increases the risk of frostbite, therefore ensure that you immediately dry your pet off with a clean towel whenever exposed to any water.

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The Buddydoc library is filled with everything you’d want to know about each symptom and disease your pet may experience. If you would like to find out more about the causes, signs, treatments, preventions, and more for your dog’s disease. Try out the Buddydoc app and search your pet’s symptom or disease in the Buddydoc library.