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208 Breeds, 422 Health Conditions  |  Find a Vet

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Frostbite View In Cats

First Aid Condition

First aid health condition




Condition Overview

Ice cubes often overflow their trays because water expands as it freezes. The same thing happens when dogs and cats get frostbite. Water in the body's cells freezes and expands, causing cells to rupture.


Pets with frostbitten toes will limp, and frozen ear tips will often droop. The affected skin will be hard and non-pliable, and it will be extremely cold. Days afterward, there may be redness, blisters, and possibly a serious infection.


Extended periods of uncovered exposure to cold temperatures will cause frostbite.


Frostbite can be hard to recognize because the characteristic pale white, gray, or blue color of frozen skin may be invisible beneath the pet's fur.


All cases of frostbite should be seen by a veterinarian immediately after first aid at home.

  1. Check your pets temperature - First, take her inside right away. pets with frostbite often have hypothermia as well, so use a rectal thermometer lubricated with petroleum jelly to take her temperature. If her temperature is below 99F, begin treatment for hypothermia right away.
  2. Thaw the frostbitten areas - Try to thaw the affected areas by dunking them in lukewarm (NOT hot) water for about 20 minutes. Small areas of skin that are not deeply frozen are often very red immediately after rewarming. The skin will become softer, warmer, and more pliable. One dunking should be enough, so repeat only if necessary.

    Dunking isn't easy when the frostbite has occurred on the ear tips or scrotum. You can warm these areas by wetting a cloth or paper towel with lukewarm water, leaving it dripping wet, and holding it against the affected area for 20 minutes. Don't rub the area - just hold the towel gently against the skin. Exchange the cloth for a fresh warm cloth every few minutes. Use this procedure to warm any affected areas if your pet has hypothermia in addition to frostbite. Remember that water evaporation removes heat, don't get your pet too wet during the process. Use the cloth only on the frostbitten areas.


Keep dogs indoors during cold winter days. Keep exposure times to a minimum, or provide the appropriate clothing to protect them from the elements.


Your veterinarian may advise you to apply an antibiotic ointment for mild frostbite. The vet may alternatively recommend using a protective ointment containing zinc, like Desitin, which can help skin damage heal more quickly. Follow your vet's instructions for application.

Dogs and cats with sore skin will often lick it, which will extend the total healing time of the sore. Your veterinarian may recommend using an Elizabethan collar (head cone) to prevent this.

Vets usually apply bandages to areas with serious frostbite. You will need to keep them dry to prevent further skin damage or infections. You can protect bandages on your pet's legs by wrapping them with plastic wrap like Saran Wrap, a bread wrapper, or clean garbage bag and taping it in place. Remove the wrapping once the dog has returned inside the house, this will allow the bandages to breathe. Check with your vet for instructions on how often the bandages should be changed.

Your pet may need prescription antibiotics when he comes home. Follow your vet's instructions for dosage. For dogs, you can hide pills in a piece of cheese or other treat. Cats may not be fooled as easily, so a pill syringe may be necessary to administer the medication.

Show Sources & Contributors +


The First Aid Companion for Dogs And Cats

Publisher: Rodale Inc, 2001

Website: http://www.rodalebooks.com/

Authors: Amy D. Shojai, Shane Bateman DVM

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