A golden retriever sitting in deep snow in the forest.

Can My Dog Get Frostbite?

There’s little chance that you would run outside barefoot if there was ice or snow on the ground, right? Too cold, too slippery, too much danger of frostbite. But does your dog worry about frostbite? Can dogs even get frostbite?

Dogs probably don’t think much about frostbite. They’re dogs! Frozen tootsies are the furthest thing from their minds when there’s a delivery person to greet. But dogs can get frostbite, so it’s up to us to protect our safety-unconscious pals from its dangers.

How Does Frostbite Affect Dogs?

First, let’s talk about exactly what frostbite is. The simple answer is that it’s what happens when skin freezes from being exposed to the elements for too long. When it’s cold, the body keeps the core warm by pulling circulation away from extremities like ears, fingers, paws and tails. It’s nature at work; a body can survive without a working toe or tail, but if the core gets too cold, the body can become hypothermic, a life-threating condition that can impact the organs and eventually lead to death. Unfortunately for the hands and feet, less blood pumping through them means that they’re even more susceptible to the cold, and that’s when things start to freeze. For dogs, the danger areas are the ears, feet, tails, nose and scrotum.

The extent of the damage from frostbite depends on how deep into the underlying tissues the freeze…bit. Superficial frostbite causes no permanent damage but can result in numbness or patches of skin that appear burnt or discolored, and blistering might occur. Severe frostbite results in the death of tissue, meaning that there’s no recovery for the infected areas.

Take Paw-cautions and Bundle Up to Avoid Frostbite in Dogs

According to the Mayo Clinic, specific conditions that lead to frostbite include:

  • Wearing clothing that isn’t suitable for the conditions you’re in — for example, it doesn’t protect against cold, windy or wet weather or it’s too tight.
  • Staying out in the cold and wind too long. Risk increases as air temperature falls below 5 °F (minus 15 °C), even with low wind speeds. In wind chill of minus 16.6 °F (minus 27 °C), frostbite can occur on exposed skin in less than 30 minutes.

This is why humans take time to bundle up before venturing into extreme weather conditions. We don’t always consider our dogs, though. They have built-in fur coats, after all! And they may resist safety measures like paw protectors or booties, anyway. But there are no excuses when it comes to winter weather safety for your dog. Here’s how to help your dog avoid frostbite.

Protect those paws. Since a dog’s feet will most assuredly spend time in contact with frozen ground (especially if there’s snow on the ground), strongly consider dog boots. If they absolutely disagree with this idea, be sure to keep the hair between their paw pads trimmed so that ice and snow don’t accumulate there. The toes are especially vulnerable to frostbite, and even a little moisture in that fur can cause harm if left to freeze. Remember that some dogs require extra winter gear. Malamutes and huskies have thick double coats that help provide insulation from cold, but breeds with short, thin hair or no hair at all need winter coats. Ensure that sweaters or coats are designed for the right-sized dog and are rated to the proper temperature. Also make sure that any dog clothes don’t limit movement or get in the way of potty time.

Limit their exposure. Frostbite can occur at any temperature below freezing, meaning that those balmy 30-degree days in January aren’t as safe as you think. Frostbite can set in in less than 30 minutes if conditions are below freezing, so limit potty breaks whenever possible. Multiple short trips outside throughout the day are better than fewer longer excursions. When walking your dog, don’t let them walk on ice.

Finally, make sure your dog stays dry before and during any exposure to the freezing temperatures. Contact with ice is the quickest way to get frostbite, and moisture on the skin (especially between those toes) can be deadly.

How to Tell if Your Dog Has Been Bitten by Frostbite

The signs of frostbite are somewhat easy to spot. If you have any suspicion that frostbite has set in, contact your veterinarian immediately. Most frostbite isn’t life threatening, but the earlier it’s treated, the easier recovery will be in most cases. Here’s how to tell when to head to the vet.

  • Skin is discolored, usually tinted grey or blue
  • Pain or sensitivity to an area when touched
  • Black or dead skin
  • Unexplained swelling, blisters or ulcers
  • Skin that is “hard” and cold to the touch


A mild case of frostbite can be fully recovered from, if treated quickly. In extreme cases, removal of skin or even amputation might be required to save your dog’s life, but it’s very rare that a case of treated frostbite ends in death. The good thing is that it’s not too hard to help our snow-loving pals avoid it. With just a little caution and a few changes in habits for the season, winter will be all bark and no bite.




The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.


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