Cats And Dogs Do Suffer From Frost Bite and Hypothermia

KittenTrudy, an Itchmo reader, wrote this piece about pets and frost bite:

Pets are very vulnerable during this cold snap. They suffer in the bitter cold temperatures just like people can.

Pets will often get frost bite on their ears, paws, toes, or tails.

Ice crystals can form in the tissue of the pet’s body and damage the body tissue. This tissue damage may not be apparent for several days.

Frost bite occurs when the body gets very cold and the pet’s body system pulls all the blood from the extremities of the body to the center of the body to stay warm. This is a natural defense, as it draws the warm blood away from the organs and limbs that are not vital for survival.

I have personally seen this in kittens. Two years ago, I rescued a mother cat and her six kittens (one of the kittens is pictured here) that were born outside. The mother cat had tried to dig a hole in the frozen ground as close to the house as she could. The woman who owned the house had put a box out with towels in it, but the mother cat wanted them next to the house. Apparently she had the kittens in the tiny scooped out frozen ground.

After having the kittens, she decided to take them to the box. But for some, it was too late.

I went right over as soon as I got the call and brought them all home. I thought that some of the kittens’ tails looked strange, but I had never seen frost bite before. This was a litter of black and white kittens. Their tails looked like they were turning a funny whitish color and kind of wizzeled up.

Mother catAfter having them home for a few days, and keeping them warm, dry, and fed, I noticed the tails were looking shrunken and a white-grayish color. Then their ears started turning colors and then some of their toes.

After a few more days, their tails started to look shrunken, and then parts of those started falling off. Then parts of their ears and parts of their toes started falling off.

These were the extremities that had gotten the coldest, and had endured through the frost bite.

The mother (pictured here) and kittens are all healthy and doing great now.

Please keep your pets inside and only allow your dogs out for short periods of time during the cold temperatures.

If you suspect frost bite or hypothermia, get them to the vets as soon as possible. Do not put the animal in hot water, but instead put the pet in a warm blanket or towel and seek help.

14 Responses to “Cats And Dogs Do Suffer From Frost Bite and Hypothermia”

  1. Carolyn & Maggie says:

    Great reminder to keep pets inside and warm during this extreme weather … and another reason to spay/neuter.

  2. KAEfamily says:

    Our dogs stay inside the house. On cold days there are always blankets, throws and pillows in their beds and crates. Many times, we find they are tossed outside of their beds and crates during the night because the pets become too hot. If they are outside, they always their sweaters or jackets. Man, they are spoiled!

  3. Lisa says:

    As the owner of indoors-only cats, this isn’t an issue for me. My kitties have lived their lives very happily inside, and I plan on keeping it that way. Similarly, I live in Southern California where you’d think that frost bite weren’t an issue for any of my neighbors either. Wrong. Even here in one of this country’s warmest and sunniest climates, temperatures often dip below freezing overnight during the winter. It is imperative that ALL pet owners, regardless of where they live, protect their pets against cold weather.
    Thanks Trudy and Itchmo for posting this important reminder for everybody.

  4. Don Earl says:

    Thanks Trudy.

    I’ve been feeding what I thought was a feral cat for awhile. As close as I can tell now, he’s a stray, rather than feral. Very, very, very shy, but he will let me pet him and pick him up on a limited basis. He was skin and bones a month ago, but looks good now - he ought to the way he’s been packing away the groceries.

    There have been some cold days recently where I was more than a little concerned about what you mention in the article. He won’t let me keep him in the house, but I can get him just inside the glass door for brief periods for a little bit of petting. I figured that’d get him at least a little bit warm, but it isn’t much in terms of the big picture. An unusually cold day where I am is in the mid to low 20s. That’s not as extreme as some places, so I don’t know how it compares to areas that get sub zero weather. Even so, I was surprised he tolerated it as well as he did. He has long, thick fur, which probably helped some. I doubt a new born kitten could have taken it.

    I wish people had a better understanding of exactly what the consequences are of abandoning pets. I’m sure some of them are the kind of low lifes that would do it anyway, but at least some of them might have enough of a spark of humanity in them to understand just how cruel a fate they’re leaving their pet to when they just pack up and leave a pet that thinks it’s people behind.

  5. Pam says:

    I would suggest building a small house (like a dog house) and loading it with straw. Be sure it’s placed close to the house or on a porch with the opeing facing the house so it helps keep out the wind. You’d be surprised at how he’ll love it and burrow into the straw. I told a friend who had outside cats and it made a world of difference. Remember to load it with a lot of straw almost to the top.

  6. Captn' carl says:

    Thank You for a very well written and appropriate article, especially relevant here in Illinois where the temperatures often go to Zero and below.

    We have found a way to protect our pets from the horrors of winter weather.

    Our Cairn Terrier does not go outside when the temperature is below 20 degrees. Our cats NEVER go outside and my Chihuahua Mr. Caesar does not go outside when the temperatures are below 40 Degrees.

    We have “Pee Pads” that we buy from Sam’s Club by the case (Actually they are called “Member’s Mark” Comfort Shape “Underpads”); in a case there are 120 Pads, each made of a sturdy green plastic liner overlaid with several layers of absorbent material; (they do NOT leak through like others often do), for about @ $25.00. (Try to find prices like that at any pet store – good luck!)

    We place two of these pads side by side in a commercially available (available in the plumbing section at Menard’s – for @ $25.00 each) lightweight plastic washing machine tray / base for a shower @ 30” X 32” X 3” in height (something you would place your washer in to prevent any leakage onto the floor). We fold the end of each pad over about 4” under to fit the tray.

    We have two of these trays; one inside by the patio door entrance to the deck (Where the dogs are used to going outside in warmer weather) and the other in the basement.

    The pads are changed probably twice a day in each tray. It took all of about 2 days for them to start using these alternatives. Other than an occasional accident (that can happen even when they go outside in the summer) it has worked out much better than anticipated.

    All in all, we feel that it is a very small price to pay to insure your fur kids are not exposed to frostbite or any the other winter hazards such as rock salt (damage the pads on their paws), Ice melter (uses the heat it generates to melt the ice), and anti-freeze (also found in windshield washer solution in wintertime) that is toxic and 100 % Fatal to pets if swallowed.

    One other consideration: We live in an area that is populated with rabbits, opossums and the occasional raccoon, coyote and deer. There are also several feral cats that are seen from time to time.

    If you look closely at these outside animals, they are all well adapted for these horrid temperatures. Heavier fur, thicker fur on the underbelly, etc. These are animals (Like the Lynx and Snowshoe hare) that are created to live outdoors.

    Mankind, over the years has taken wild dogs and cats and bred the outdoor protection out of them giving us much more domesticated versions of what still roams about outside.

    For this nature exacts a price. The price must be paid. Nature does not fool around.

    With more domesticated animals came less resistance to the elements, more dependence on provided food and shelter, and one helluva nice deal for us animal lovers!

    I feel sorry for the outdoor animals that must fend for themselves in this inhumane weather, but also realize that this is where they were meant to be.

    They could no more survive trying to live as our pets do than they could survive trying to live as their ancestors did.

    Just a thought. Keep warm and give your pets an extra treat today just for being themselves.


  7. Cheryl says:

    Here’s instructions for building a feral cat shelter.


  8. G in INdiana says:

    All our dogs are big and furry, so there isn’t a problem with them being outside for potty breaks and walks in the woods. The only one who has any problems is our Greater Swiss who always gets cold feet when it is snowy and below 20. The other dogs have a lot of fur between their toes (we do not trim this in the winter) so the snow does not get up in between them and make them cold. He is fine when there is no snow on the ground.
    Our barn cats have a heated tack room set at 45 in the winter and it only goes up to about 80 in the summer, since it is so well insulated. I make sure their water and food are in there so they stay in there when it is cold. Needless to say, the mice live under the tack room during the winter…
    Also, I always feed up during the winter to make sure everyone has enough calories to stay warm. During the summer the feed bill is a lot less.

  9. Claudia says:

    Last night in Winnipeg, Canada, where I live, it was -36 Celcius (-33 F) and with the wind chill it was more like -50C. I have a feral shelter out by my garage built out of R10 styrofoam insulation lined with a reflective survival blanket. Inside the shelter is an outdoor-rated animal heating pad that warms to a cat’s natural body temperature when they are lying on it. I also have an electric water dish that has seriously impressed me on these crazy-cold days.

    On warmer evenings, I have 3 “customers.” On these frigid nights, I have one. I have tried catching this one female (calico) a couple of times, but she is so quick. She bolts at the sound of any noise nearby if she is in the shelter. Not sure if she’s feral, but she is at least extremely wary of strangers.

    She only spends the night in the shelter and usually gone in the daytime — but I wonder where. She doesn’t eat that much of what I have put out. Trapping in these temperatures is extremely dangerous because they can get stuck to the metal cage (humane society has seen a few of these cases and advises not to trap), so I only do it if the animal is injured (happened once before). I will, however, trap her in the spring in order to assess her condition and see if she is someone’s lost cat. If not, I will have her spayed and either return her if she is truly feral, or find her a home if she can trust us humans.

    If anyone is interested in my little shelter, I have a step-by-step pictorial guide along with the story of how I came to build it in the first place. You can find it here:


    Also, here is the link to where I bought the heating pad. Strangely, I couldn’t find one here in Canada that was outdoor-rated, so I ordered it from the US. Great product.

    It just makes me sad that ANY animal is out there in these temperatures, but at the same time, I am in awe that they are so smart and can survive with a little help.

  10. Don Earl says:

    Thanks for the ideas on feral shelters. I like the plastic bin idea for a quick fix to what is hopefully a temporary situation. Some of the designs are no doubt good, but aren’t very practical without a week of summer Sundays to work on one. Actually, in the current situation, nesting two cardboard boxes, with the dead space stuffed with newspaper would be better than nothing until I have time to work out something better.

  11. Mary says:

    There is also an item called a “Snuggle Safe” which looks like a fat frisbee. You put it in the microwave to heat for a few minutes, and then wrap it in bedding and it will stay warm pretty much all night. One of these in a cat house would be ideal. We use it here for older cats & dogs that like the extra warmth in their bed. We got ours at PetsMart but they may be available elsewhere too.

  12. Cate says:

    Cheryl, I have built quite a few of these shelters and my ferals use them during the nights.

    Claudia - what a great shelter!!! Would you be able to send the instructions to Neighborhood Cats for inclusion in their feral cat shelter information?


    Also, Allie Cat Allies has a section on feral shelters and yours would be a great addition:

    Mary - the Snuggle Safe is a great idea!!!

    I’m so glad to know that so many people understand how important shelter is for feral cats!

  13. Claudia says:


    Strangely, I did send it to them the same day I posted. I haven’t received a reply yet. I had sent them a suggestion previously about the survival blanket that I line the shelter with and they had put that on their website several years ago. I hope they follow up and post my new info.


  14. Riley says:

    This Happened To my Cat Named Bud Half OF his Ear Fell Off

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