Near Chagrin Falls, Ohio, a pooch named Beau went out his doggie door during a blizzard to answer nature’s call.  The eight-year-old 13 lbs. pooch did not quickly return, and to his owner’s dismay, found him outside looking like a white statue.  According to Beau’s Veterinarian, Dr. Carol Osborne, “We quickly wrapped him in blankets to warm his body, assessed his vitals and discovered his heart rate was low as was his body temperature, only 98̊ F!”  The staff blew his wet coat dry, gave him warm subcutaneous (under the skin) fluids and a vitamin injection.  Osborne adds, “Beau was offered warm chicken noodle soup and recovered just fine.”


Frostbite vs. Hypothermia

All pets aren’t as lucky as Beau.  Although frostbite is not the same as hypothermia (body temperature below the normal range of 100.4̊ F – 102.5̊ F), an animal can experience both when he remains in the cold and sustains a lower than normal body temperature.  Dogs and cats can end up with patches of frostbitten skin as well as damage to their internal organs and often cannot be revived.  Taking medication necessary for heart conditions and diabetes may increase the risk of a dropping body temperature.  Windy and wet conditions can also make the effects of cold worse, especially for an older fella or lady whose immune systems may not be as robust as it once was, but younger pets too can succumb to the cold.


Face it.  Animals don’t tell us when their paws get numb.  We find out only when it hurts for them to step on their furry covered paws or when we notice tissue has become hard and dark.  Think of the ground meat sold in the grocery store — soft and pink when you buy it.  Bring it home, toss it in the freezer, and a few hours later — hard and dark!  This is what happens to the dog or cat who is subjected to the cold.  Frostbite is a condition that can occur as a result of exposure to freezing or subfreezing temperatures. It most commonly affects the tips of the ears, the tail, the scrotum and the paws, especially the toes.  When your four-legged client is in a cold environment his body responds by reducing blood flow to the extreme parts of his body. This channels good blood flow in the direction of vital organs but decreases the oxygen and warmth in the extremities allowing ice crystals to form in the tissues.


Haiku Fleck stylin’ the large cocoa colored Walkee Paws!

Preventive Measures

  • Use common sense and limit time outdoors.  When walking to answer nature’s call, periodically warm ear flaps between your hands, check paws to keep snow and ice from between the toes and never let your friend out in the winter without being by his side.
  • Protective paw wear can help, just make sure snow and ice doesn’t go over the tops of booties and still reach the toes.  Realize too that there may be a learning curve for wearing footwear.  These great leggings from Walkee Paws keep paws AND legs dry!
  • Short-furred dogs without an undercoat generally benefit from a dog sweater when outside for even short periods of time. Not only does it prevent cold from getting into their bones, but it helps them retain body heat.
  • A temperature of 32º F or below is too cold for a dog to withstand, but there are too many variables to predict at what temperature tissue damage will occur. Arctic breeds usually do better than Chihuahuas and the length and thickness of coat, the animal’s age, other health issues, medications, conditioning to the cold, wind chill and dampness all play a role.
  • Although it is always best for canines and felines to have a warm bed indoors, outdoor pets should not only have well-insulated dry bedding for winter (straw is a popular choice), but the animal’s caloric intake should be increased by at least 25% to generate the necessary body heat lost trying to stay warm!  Not so for indoor dogs who probably exercise less and could pack on the pounds.



Signs & Symptoms

Hard tissue varying in color from pale to gray could mean frostbite and may not be detected unless the fur has sloughed off.  Once the area defrosts, the skin will redden and become tender.  In severe cases, the tissue turns black within a few days and dies.


What You Need

Towels, blankets, warm clothes dryer, warm liquids and a syringe to administer fluids





What to Do

1. Gently warm the area with a wash cloth and lukewarm water.  Wrap frozen paws with blankets (tumbled briefly in a warm — NOT hot — clothes dryer) but do not massage area if tissue is hard as it will hurt. Never use a heating pad or hot water bottle as you may damage nerves and blood vessels.

2. Lower effected area (legs, paws, tail) by having pet lie in your lap or on a sofa dangling body parts to promote circulation to frostbitten areas.

3. Get to veterinary care.  As the tissue warms, frostbite turns painful, and Veterinarian Brooks Bloomfield of Truckee-Tahoe sadly explains, “Many of the dogs I’ve seen had accelerated heart rates due to pain and some self-mutilated their paws and tail as the circulation returned.”  Antibiotics may also be required to prevent infection along with pain relief medication.  In severe cases, amputation or surgical removal of affected tissue is not uncommon.

Be prepared, heed precautions and do your doggone best to keep learning ways you can help your animal clients live longer, happier, healthier lives!


A few notes about De-icers/Melting Salts…

Try an experiment, and place a Tablespoon of rock salt into a ziplock baggie with just a few drops of water and seal ‘er up!  In a short time, that baggie will get doggone hot!  Now imagine that salt between your dog’s toes as he starts to lick from the irritation.  Not only will he ingest the chemical but his toes could heat up to as high as 170 degrees Fahrenheit!

Rock salt thrown into snow is sometimes rounded, but as you can see above, even if not jagged, it can be dangerous.  Precious paws need protection, so get dogs use to protective booties and/or wash paws thoroughly even after the shortest walks in the snow and ice to be sure all traces of chemicals have been removed.


Chloride-based ice melters are the most common. They include calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium — basically salt.

  • Magnesium chloride – can be irritating and result in gastrointestinal upset; dangerous for dogs with kidney problems.
  • Sodium chloride – Large amounts can be lethal to dogs. Smaller amounts can cause stomach upset like vomiting and diarrhea.
  • Potassium chloride – Severe irritant and can cause gastrointestinal irritation to the point of bloody vomiting or diarrhea.
  • Calcium salts (calcium carbonate, calcium chloride, and calcium magnesium acetate) – Calcium salts are the most irritating of all the ingredients in ice melts. If your pet ingests these,  he’s likely to experience vomiting and diarrhea as well as irritated paws.

Ethylene glycol-based de-icers contain the same active ingredient as antifreeze which we know to be highly toxic and deadly if consumed!

De-icers with a propylene glycol base, are safer for dogs but can damage a cat’s red blood cells when ingested.


When pet’s must go out in the snow and ice to answer nature’s call, protect those precious paws, tails, ears, undercarriage and the whole pet for a longer life together!



Portions of this article by Denise Fleck first printed in the January/February 2019 issue of Pet Sitters World Magazine.  Learn more about this professional organization at