Frostbite is much more common in animals than people like to think. When it's too cold for us to be outside without warm winter clothing, it's also too cold for dogs to be outside. Short-haired dogs can benefit from wearing jackets or booties made for this purpose. If your dog is shivering and looking miserable outside, it's time to bring him into the house and gently warm him with a heated towel.
In below freezing temperatures, the blood vessels of the extremities close up tight, preventing blood from flowing into those areas. This keeps the internal organs warmer longer by redirecting the blood to the torso. If this process continues, the extremity grows colder until it becomes as cold as the surrounding outside temperature. When this happens, the extremity becomes white and frozen, which painfully damages the tissues and causes cracks in the skin and bleeding open wounds.
The tips of the ears, or tail, the testicles in male dogs, the toe pads or the entire foot can all be affected by frostbite, as these are the parts of the body likely to freeze in extremely cold weather. The condition is marked by blue/white skin that may be coated with ice crystals. The frostbitten extremities become numb and stiff and turn red, swell up and peel if warmed up again so that normal blood flow returns.
When the frozen skin turns black, it's a sure sign that permanent damage was done and that particular body part lost its blood supply. The end result is surgical amputation of the body part. Sometimes, in the case of ear tips, the veterinarian can break off the dead portion of flesh without causing the animal any pain. The dead flesh must be removed or the extremity could get damaged further and become infected or gangrenous.
Short-haired dogs are most susceptible, but all dogs can suffer frostbite from being outside too long in the cold. Bringing your dog inside during below freezing weather prevents frostbite. When the dog has to go out, go out with him and watch him carefully to make sure he stays comfortable. Put a jacket on your pet, and for those dogs who prefer to be outside, provide a well-built doghouse with plenty of unfrozen water and warm bedding.
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