Blue Skies With a Chance of Frostbite

It could be freezing cold outside with five feet of snow and our pets will still want to go outside to play and explore. Even the smallest of our 4-legged family members (both cats and dogs) enjoy a good outdoor winter adventure now and then. Pets with a healthy hair coat and undercoat usually don’t have a problem with maintaining their core body temperature in cold weather as long as they keep active and continually moving. If your pet doesn’t have a very thick hair coat, putting a doggy coat or vest on them can help keep their core warm.

Your pet’s body responds to cold temperatures by keeping its blood supply focused on the main organs in the body so they don’t become damaged from hypothermia. Tiny blood vessels in the ears, tail and paws constrict in attempt to preserve core body heat and keep blood moving toward the vital organs. If this shift in the blood supply away from extremities goes on for too long, frostbite can occur. Freezing temperatures allow tiny ice crystals to form within the exposed tissues while the blood is not fully circulating to them. These ice crystals injure and can destroy healthy skin cells. If your pet is wet or damp, their tissue is even more vulnerable to frostbite.

Frostbitten tissue is usually noticeable within a few hours of warming up.  It may cause the tissue in the area to initially appear pale or gray. It may also still feel hard and cold once your pet’s body has warmed up. As the tissue begins to thaw, it may appear red and can be very painful. In severe cases, the damaged tissue may eventually turn black and slough off.


The tip of this cat’s ear has been damaged by frostbite.

Dogs and cats with extra hair between their toes can sometimes build up little ice balls between the toes, which can be very uncomfortable. Salt used on the roads can be quite irritating to your pet’s paws.  Be sure to clean their paws once you arrive back home. You can also get little booties for them to wear when walking outside in winter conditions (although it may affect their “cool” look!) to keep their paws clean and comfortable.


“Boone” showing off his cute little feet. The hair between his toes provides a great home for ice and snowball buildup. Ouch!



“Boone” modelling his Muttluks (a few sizes too big!).

If you think your pet has been exposed to extreme cold temperatures, move them into a warm and dry indoor area (or even into a warm vehicle) as soon as possible. Wrap your pet in warm, dry towels or blankets to improve their circulation and increase their core body temperature. If you think there are areas of frostbite, do not rub or massage the affected areas.  Allow the circulation to return naturally as your pet’s body warms up. Your veterinarian may need to prescribe your pet pain medication and antibiotics (to prevent secondary bacterial infection in cases of tissue death and sloughing) in severe frostbite situations.


“Boone” wrapped up in a cozy blanket after playing outside in the cold.


Ears: A Five Star Breeding Environment For Bacteria

Not to bore you with a long-winded, scientific write up about ears but here is a quick animal biology class review leading up to some simple ear cleaning instructions: Dog and cat ears have 3 major parts: the outer ear, middle ear and inner ear.  Cats don’t seem to have nearly as many ear infection issues as dogs do. Dogs with large, floppy ears commonly have issues with ear infections. Some dog breeds have excess hair growth in and around the ear canals. Floppy ears and excess hair growth can lead to poor air circulation and buildup of moisture and wax, which creates a favorable breeding environment for bacteria. Dogs that spend a lot of time in the water are prone to developing ear infections. Dogs or cats with skin allergies may also have ear problems as part of the allergic reaction. Signs of an ear infection may include: redness, swelling, discharge, odor, excessive head shaking, excessive scratching or rubbing of ears.

The outer ear consists of the earflap (also called the pinna). The pinna funnels sound into the ear canal. Many dogs have ears that are folded over and cats have ears that sit upright. Unlike humans that have a very short ear canal, dogs have a long, narrow ear canal that makes almost a 90-degree bend as it travels to the deeper parts of the ear.

The outer ear canal is separated from the middle ear by a thin membrane called the eardrum (or tympanic membrane). The eardrum is very fragile and can be damaged if an ear infection is present. The middle ear consists of 3 small bones, an air filled cavity called the bulla and a thin tube leading from the bulla to the back of the mouth.

The inner ear connects to the brain and contains nerves and aids in balance and hearing. Image


Mischa modelling her canine earflap (pinna).


A little peek inside Mischa’s ear canal. Waxy debris will sometimes buildup in the skin folds inside the ear.


Stella showing off her pointy feline earflap (pinna).


A little peek into Stella’s ear canal.

How To Clean Your Pet’s Ears

  1. Squeeze a moderate amount of ear cleansing solution into the ear canal.
  2. Massage at the base of the ear to distribute the ear cleansing solution throughout the ear canal (you can be quite rough at this point to loosen up all the waxy buildup and debris inside the ear). You will hear a “squishing” noise as you massage. Your pet will enjoy this part!
  3. Let your pet shake their head. Be sure to move your face back or else you may get some ear debris shaken into your mouth or eyes!
  4. Use cotton, Q-tips, tissues or gauze to wipe away any debris or waxy buildup from the inside of the earflap. To reach down into the ear canal it is best to put a tissue or gauze around your finger and then gently insert it into the ear canal. Your finger will not be small enough to reach down to the tympanic membrane (or eardrum). A Q-tip can gently be used to wipe the folds of the ear.
  5. Allow your pet to shake their head again.
  6. Reward them with a treat!

 How To Administer Ear Medication Into Your Pet’s Ears

  1. Make sure your pet’s ears are clean and dry before instilling the medication so that is can penetrate into the skin instead of being stopped and absorbed by debris or waxy buildup.
  2. Pull back the earflap and gently insert the tip of the bottle or tube into the ear canal. Be careful with your cat’s ears – do not insert the bottle far into the ear canal.
  3. Squeeze the recommended amount of medication into the ear canal. You may need to hold your pet’s head still so they do not shake the medication out right away.
  4. Gently massage at the base of the ear in order to distribute the medication throughout the ear canal.


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