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Drew: Pet Safety During the Winter Months

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Samuetta Hill Drew

It is nice to have more seasonable weather back in our region of the country, but as we know our weather can pivot quickly bringing us additional bitter cold temperatures again. These temperature shifts can be hard on humans as well as our pets. It is critically important to know how to protect and keep our most vulnerable companions safe during cold temperatures.

This month’s series has been focused on providing you with valuable information about pet safety during cold temperatures not only for this year, but also for the future. This week’s safety tips will explore frostbite in pets.

Frostbite is a term many have heard, but few can actually define, so let’s start here. Frostbite is damage to skin and other tissues due to extreme cold. When the environmental temperature drops below 32 degrees Fahrenheit or 0 degree Celsius, blood vessels close to the skin start to narrow or constrict. This constriction of the blood vessels helps to preserve core body temperature by diverting blood toward the core and away from the cooler parts of the body.

 In extreme cold, or when the body is exposed to cold for long periods, this protective mechanism can reduce blood flow in some areas of the body, especially the extremities (e.g., paws, ears, and tail), to critically low levels. The combination of cold temperature and reduced blood flow can allow the tissues to freeze, causing severe tissue injury. Frostbite is most likely to happen in body parts farthest from the heart and in tissues with a lot of exposed surface area.

Tammy Hunter and Ernest Ward Doctors of Veterinary Medicine write that “The clinical signs of frostbite may take several days to appear, especially if the affected area is small and on non-weight bearing areas, such as the tip of the tail or ears.”

Several frostbitten areas will become necrotic or die. As the tissue starts to die, it changes to a dark blue to black color; then, over a period of several days to weeks it sloughs or falls off. During this time, pus may form, or the tissue may develop a foul smell, due to secondary bacterial infection.

Cats and dogs with heart disease, diabetes mellitus, or other conditions that reduce blood flow to the extremities are at greater risk for frostbite and damage may occur to these tissues very quickly.

 Diagnosis is usually based on medical history and physical examination. If the cat or dog was exposed for a prolonged time or to extremely cold temperatures, blood and urine tests may be performed to look for damage to internal organs.

 This is a serious medical condition for your pets, and you want to Keep an Eye on Safety during frigid temperatures. Next week we will review frostbite symptoms along with its treatment.