Cats and dogs have fur, but it's a common misconception that they can handle freezing temperatures. While there are large dog breeds, such as the Alaskan Malamute that are naturally equipped for the bitter cold and love the snow more than anything, most dogs and cats have little tolerance for the extreme cold.
You have to be careful with cats when it's very cold out. If your cat has a tendency to wander, you want to take a note of the forecast before you let your cat out. If your cat takes off for the night, the temperatures may drop so low that he or she develops frostbite and hypothermia, especially if you're not home when they're ready to come back in the next morning.
What is frostbite?
When skin and other tissues are exposed to extreme cold, they can become damaged and this is called frostbite. When the temperature outside drops below 32° F, blood flow is reduced in the extremities, which causes the tissue to freeze, sometimes causing a need for amputation.
Frostbite is more likely to occur in the parts of the body that are the farthest distance from the heart, such as the tips of the ears, the tail, and the foot pads.
The signs of frostbite, include:
- The affected area is discolored (pale, gray or blue)
- The area is cold or brittle when touched
- The animal is in pain when you touch the affected area
- The affected area is swollen
- There are skin ulcers or blisters
- The affected area has dead or blackened skin
When a dog or cat's core body temperature decreases, their bodies shiver to generate heat and warm them up. If the animal's body temperature drops too low, it will send warm blood to the heart, liver, kidney, and lungs instead of the extremities. In effect, the tissues in the extremities are seriously injured. As a frostbitten area thaws, it may become red and cause the animal a lot of pain due to inflammation.
If a pet is left outdoors too long in subzero temperatures, they can become hypothermic. If your dog or cat shows any signs of frostbite, they may also be hypothermic. However, hypothermia can occur with or without the presence of frostbite.
If an animal experiences frostbite or hypothermia, their life is in danger and they must be seen by a veterinarian right away.