Frostbite, clinically called Congelatio is the damage caused to the skin and other vital tissues. It happens due to exposure to extreme cold conditions when the temperature of the environment drops below zero degrees centigrade. In such a scenario, the blood vessels which reside just beneath the skin start reacting by narrowing or shrinking. It is an anti-reaction against the extreme temperature to preserve and store the body temperature by channelizing the blood towards the core, and away from the colder parts of the body.
In extreme cooler temperature, when the body of the dog is directly exposed to the outer temperature, this protective mechanism reduces the blood flow in the body to critically low levels. The dangerous mix of cold temperature and a sudden reaction in the blood flow can freeze the body tissues causing severe tissue damage.
Tissues of the ears, paws, and the tail are most likely to get affected by frostbite. The condition is more likely to happen when the body is wet and damp making makes the wet areas more likely to suffer.
As frostbitten areas relax, the regions may become very painful and reddish due to massive inflammation. The medical signs may take months to appear, especially if the affected area is the small and weightless such as the ear or the tip of the tail. Regions suffering severe frostbite may appear necrotic.
If the tissues start to die, then it changes color from black to blue. In coming few weeks, the frostbitten area may even fall off. During this phase, the affected region may produce pus with a foul smell as the result of secondary bacterial infection.
Dogs with conditions of the heart, or diabetes mellitus, or any other condition that may compel the blood vessels to reduce to extreme stages are at greater risk.
It depends on conducting a physical examination and examining the health history. If the dog had a lengthy history of exposing itself to extremely cold temperatures, the vet might immediately suggest a urine and blood test to check out if there is any damage to the internal organs of the dog.
Self-medication is entirely out of the question unless the vet suggests some. Many human pain relievers which include aspirin and acetaminophen are fatal to these animals.
Usually, it starts after a thorough examination followed by treating the underline cause(s). As the thawed tissues are extremely painful, the vet prescribes pain medications and antibiotics (to avoid any secondary infection). Sadly, some dogs with heavy frostbite need amputation.
The prognosis will highly depend on the extent of the injury. Mild cases will only leave little damages, while severe cases, may disfigure the pet, for its entire lifetime. Serious damages can alter the tissues and may also need surgical amputation.