Frostbite, Hypothermia, and Your Pet

With winter weather surely just around the corner, we want to make sure that cat and dog owners can spot the signs of frostbite and hypothermia. Both of these conditions can be extremely painful for our pets, and while prevention is key, we also want to share the symptoms so you can take action if you spot them!


The most common areas that experience frostbite include the ears, tail, and feet.  Frostbite may take several days before you notice and often times appears as pale, grey, or blue-tinted skin.  These areas can also be hard and cold to the touch or even develop blisters.  As the tissues dies, it will blacken and fall off.  As the tissues warm up, they “thaw.”  Thawing is extremely painful and often times turn the tissues red in color.  Severe frostbitten areas may need to be amputated.


Hypothermia occurs when a pet (person, or other animal) is unable to generate enough heat to accommodate the environment’s cold temperatures.  Your pet’s body temperature will begin to drop, and if not warmed up, your pet will experience violent shivering and breathing troubles.  If your pet is still not warmed, he or she may fall unconscious or even die.

So what do we do about these dreaded winter ailments?  Here’s a list of things you should do (and not do)


  • Warm up your pet if you cannot keep the area consistently warm.  This means that if you’re trying to warm up a frostbitten area or your whole, hypothermic pet but they will immediately be put back in the cold to go to the vet’s,they will experience re-freezing, which does even more damage to their bodily tissues.
  • We do not recommend using warm water to aid your pet’s hypothermia or frostbite for many reasons.  If you use water of any kind and then need to take your pet back outside to get to the vet, he or she will lose body heat even faster! In addition, many owners struggle with determining what is “warm” water (roughly 106°F) is and hot water can do even further damage.
  • Never massage frostbitten tissue.
  • Do not use a hair dryer or heating pad.
  • Do not give any kind of pain medication; many human pain relievers are toxic to pets.

Do this instead:

  • Prevent hypothermia and frostbite with clothing, boots, and limited time outdoors during the winter months.
  • Prep to take your pet to the veterinarian immediately.  Call your regular veterinarian or the emergency clinic to let them know you’re on your way with a frostbitten and/or hypothermic pet.
  • If your pet is wet, dry them to the best of your ability with warm towels.
  • Place dry blankets or towels in your dryer for 10 minute to warm them up, then wrap them around your pet.
  • Keep your pet wrapped and warm to the best of your ability while getting them out to the car.  If you have a large dog, you can ask the veterinarian to send out someone to help you bring in your dog (especially if they are unconscious or unable to walk).

If you believe your pet is frostbitten or hypothermic, Emerald Animal Hospital is ready to help.  You can give us a call at 216-749-7161 to set up an appointment or with any questions about your pet.  We will do our best to easy your concerns and treat your pet with the utmost care.  While we hope it’s a safe winter for everyone, we’re also here for you if things don’t go as planned!