Dog Frostbite 101: Signs to Know & Breeds Most at Risk

Avoid the chill of dog frostbite with these important tips – your pup will thank you for keeping them snug and safe!

Published January 24, 2024
Curious Chocolate Lab Sitting in Snow

Dog frostbite is a big issue, especially for folks who live in colder climates. It happens because the blood vessels in your dog's body start to narrow down to keep the blood closer to their important organs and keep them warm. This means less blood goes to their paws, ears, and tail. If you're not watchful, this can mean frostbite can set in where blood flow is lessened — and that can mean serious damage to those extremities.

Fast Fact

You might have felt something like this yourself. Ever noticed how your fingers and toes get really cold when you're outside in the cold? That's because your blood vessels are doing the same thing — getting smaller to keep your body's core warm.

Where To Look for Frostbite on Your Dog

Dr. Jennifer Miller, DVM, tells her readers that when you're looking for frostbite, it's important to look at the areas furthest from the heart. This includes the ears, tail, paws, and nose. 


Since your dog's paws literally touch the snow in cold weather, they're the most likely body part to get frostbite, and it can happen relatively quickly, especially if your dog's paws get wet. It could be as little as a few minutes if it's cold and windy outside. Touch your dog's paws gently to see how cold they feel, and watch for blisters or a blue-grey color.

Related: Winter Paw Protection Tips


The tip of a dog's nose will often become discolored with frostbite. Animal Emergency Care also mentioned that you may notice ice crystals beginning to form around your dog's nose.


The tips of the ears are the first to be affected, and they may feel brittle to the touch.


Check the tip of your dog's tail to see if it's cold or stiff. Lort Smith Animal Hospital says, "If cold exposure continues, body parts such as the tail tip may freeze and die, and may even fall off." We absolutely don't want that happening! 

Hairless Dogs

Dogs without fur, like the American hairless terrier, are even more at risk. Since they lack the protective layer of fur, all the above-mentioned areas are even more susceptible to frostbite. Extra care and vigilance are needed to protect them from the extreme cold.

Know the Signs of Frostbite in Dogs

Puppy in the snow

Frostbite can range in severity, but you might notice any or all of the following:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Discoloration
  • Stiffness
  • Blistering
  • Discharge from the affected area
  • Blue tint to body part
Need to Know

Affected areas may turn black and harden in severe cases.

Dogs With Higher Frostbite Risk

Not all dogs stand the same chance of getting frostbite, though every dog can (given the right conditions). Dogs most at-risk for frostbite include:


Puppies are more prone to frostbite because their bodies haven't fully developed. It's harder for them to maintain their body heat, and their lack of a full fur coat doesn't help. 

Related: Why Do Dogs Eat Snow, & Is It Safe?

Senior Dogs

Senior dogs have a weaker immune system and may suffer from health conditions that make it hard to regulate their body temperature. It may also be harder for senior dogs to move due to conditions like arthritis, which means these dogs aren't able to generate as much body height. They may also have a hard time sensing just how cold it is and stay out for longer periods of time.

Dogs With Respiratory and Circulatory Problems

Birch Lake Animal Hospital further explained that "respiratory and circulatory issues contribute significantly to colder extremities, which in turn lead to frostbite when dogs spend too much time outside on cold days. Keep your aging dog inside when the weather turns cold." 

Small and Short-Haired Dogs

Animal Emergency Care states that small and short-haired dogs are at risk of developing frostbite faster than others. Small dogs are closer to the ground, which means their belly may even be in contact with the snow. Short-haired dog breeds have less fur, which means they have less natural protection against cold temperatures.

Fur acts as an insulating layer, trapping heat close to the body. Dogs without a lot of fur don't have this layer, making them more susceptible to the cold.

Breeds most sensitive to the cold include:

Related: Brrrr-illiant Winter Chihuahua Memes for Snowy Snickers

Dogs With Certain Medical Conditions

Dogs with medical issues should also be carefully monitored outside, even if it's not quite to frostbite level. Birch Lake Animal Hospital states that dogs with diabetes or heart disease, for example, don't get as much blood flow to their extremities, which means they aren't able to keep those parts of their bodies warm against the extreme cold.

Breeds Less Prone to Frostbite

Northern Pike Vets says breeds like Alaskan malamutes, Siberian huskies, Bernese mountain dogs, and samoyeds are at lower risk for frostbite due to their thicker fur and adaptation to cold climates.

Need to Know

Even though some breeds can handle cold weather longer, that doesn't mean they should. Northern breeds can still get frostbite; it may just take longer.

Treating Frostbite in Dogs

Vizsla dog in the forest while it is snowing

Before you do anything treatment-wise, call your veterinarian and explain the signs you're observing. Take note of each body part above and discuss how it feels to the touch, along with its coloration. They may have specific recommendations. Treatment options for dog frostbite include moving the dog to a warm place, slowly rewarming the frostbitten tissue, administering pain medications, and treating any infections. If you notice signs of frostbite on your dog's paws after a walk, you should move your dog to a warm place and gently warm their paws using lukewarm water.

Recovery time depends on the severity of the tissue damage, and severe cases may require surgery or amputation. If frostbite has caused severe tissue damage to your dog's tail, for example, the vet may recommend surgery to remove that portion. The same goes for other parts of the body.

Need to Know

Veterinary Specialists of the Rockies advises against massaging or rubbing your dog's frostbitten areas, as this can lead to pain and potentially damage the tissue.

Preventing Frostbite and Keeping Your Dog Safe

Preventing dog frostbite is super important to keeping your dog happy, comfy, and healthy. Even though it may take a little time for your pup to get used to them, using sweaters and dog boots offers additional warmth for your dog in cold weather. Keeping your dog dry, limiting winter walks, and moving to more indoor activities for dog exercise, especially during the coldest parts of the day, can also help reduce your dog's risk of getting frostbite. 

Related: How to Help Your Dog Play Safely in the Snow

Grab Some Paw Pad Moisturizer

To keep your dog's paws protected (aside from booties),  the Animal Humane Society recommends you grab a good pad moisturizer if your dog refuses to wear their boots. The paw pad moisturizer will not only help keep your dog's paws looking good, but it will also work as a barrier between their skin and the snow or ice. 

Related: Picking the Best Boots for Your Dog: A How-To Guide

Being Careful During Cold Months

By taking preventive steps and being prepared to act if your dog were to get frostbite, you're helping reduce their risk of losing part of their nose, tail, or ears. Understanding when it's okay to take your dog out for long periods of time and when it's not can also help you reduce your dog's risk. With the right knowledge and prep, you can help your pet safely enjoy the winter season.

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Dog Frostbite 101: Signs to Know & Breeds Most at Risk