Winters can be really snowy and cold in my neck of the woods, making it hard for humans and animals to get around. My dogs do fine when we’re outside, provided their time in the snow and cold is limited. But in extreme cold, it takes only a few minutes before they’re limping back with very cold feet. I’ve had occasions where I’ve had to pick one up and carry her back inside. It’s important to keep a close eye on pets during the winter months because they can get frostbite on their feet, ears, tail and nose.
Some dog and cat breeds have a warm coat that provides them with good protection from harsh weather. The Norwegian Forest Cat and Maine Coon Cat developed naturally on their own, adapting to weather conditions to survive. Northern dogs were bred to work in extreme weather conditions. They needed to be tough because human lives depended on their ability to handle snow and cold. However, even pets with double coats can feel the effects of the cold and are at risk of frostbite, especially inside pets that aren’t acclimated to the colder temperatures.
A pet is at risk of frostbite when the temperature drops to 32º F and below. When exposed to the cold for too long, the body begins a process of survival. Blood vessels closest to the skin begin to constrict and push blood to the core to protect vital organs like the heart and liver. The longer the body is exposed to the cold, blood flow at the extremities can become so low it can’t protect these areas from freezing, which results in tissue damage. These are the areas of the body farthest from the heart with little to no hair covering them. The tip of the tail, ears, paw pads and toes are the most common areas affected, but dogs and cats can get frostbite on their nose, too.