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Recognize & Treat Canine Hypothermia and Frostbite

Published: Jan. 11, 2009
Subject: Winter Weather First Aid
Category: K9 Care

Recognize & Treat Canine Hypothermia and Frostbite

Recognize & Treat Canine Hypothermia and Frostbite

It’s not just for sled dogs. Hypothermia and frostbite can strike dogs that plunge into freezing water for Frisbees or dash around in the snow. That thick, cozy fur coat isn’t always enough to protect them. That’s why we asked Peter Pay, a certified K9 CPR and First Aid instructor for tips on spotting and treating these critical conditions. Follow on for the facts.


Hypothermia How-To
Hypothermia occurs when a dog’s core body temperature falls below the normal range of 101-102 degrees Fahrenheit. Whenever your dog is exposed to cold temperatures in the water or air, watch him for these signs of hypothermia: uncontrollable shivering and/or lethargy, shallow breathing, and a weak pulse.


If you suspect hypothermia, get your dog into a warm, dry environment immediately to prevent further heat loss. If your dog is wet, dry him immediately; cover him with blankets and use body-to-body contact to warm him. You may also apply a warm water bottle to his torso. Take your dog’s rectal temperature, and continue to warm him until it reaches 101 – 102.5 degrees. If your dog doesn’t quickly show signs of improvement, make sure to get him to a vet urgently.


Frostbite Facts 
Frostbite occurs in sub-freezing temperatures when the fluid inside cells freezes and causes tissue damage. Pup’s extremities, like the nose, ears, paw pads and the tips of their tails, are prone to frostbite. Since the early signs of frostbite can easily be missed as hair covers many of these susceptible areas, check your dog often for signs of frostbite while out in the cold. If your dog has frostbite, the skin will be pale and cold to the touch and may be blistered.


If you think your dog may have frostbite, bring him indoors into a warm, dry environment and thaw the affected area with warm water. Do not massage the area since it may cause the release of toxins that can cause further tissue damage. Then gently apply a protective layer of petroleum jelly, cover the area and get him to the vet. Note: Do not thaw the frostbitten area if there’s a risk of it refreezing before getting the dog to a vet.


First Aid on Paw
If you take your dog to the beach or on cold weather excursions, it’s smart to include the following additions in your first aid kit: Absorbent towels for drying your dog, a space blanket or other heat reflective blanket, two pairs of child-sized, thick sport weight or wool socks, a cold weather dog jacket and petroleum jelly.


The Scoop:

Thank you to San Francisco East Bay’s Peter Pay for assistance with this tip.

Peter Pay is a certified first response trainer who specializes in Pet First Aid & CPR and teaches classes throughout the Bay Area. Visit his website for more information.


Thank you to John and Ella for the photo.

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