Frostbite in Cats is not a common problem, but when it happens, the effects can be serious and may lead to permanent injury.
Although frostbite usually occurs during prolonged spells of cold weather, it can also be caused by a cat’s curiosity — for example, if your cat should venture unseen into a cold storage room and become temporarily trapped there. Kittens and older cats are at greatest risk of frostbite, which can lead on to hypothermia and even death.
Most cats are well-equipped to survive outdoors in cold weather. Cats may be fascinated by snow at first, but extreme climatic changes can prove to be hazardous for them.
If your cat is suffering from frostbite, it is crucial to keep it warm.
It is the exposed parts of the cat’s body, especially the ears, which are at most risk from frostbite. The blood supply here can be easily affected by sub-zero temperatures, because the ears are thin and therefore chill easily.
SYMPTOMS OF FROSTBITE IN CATS
Intense cold will cause the skin to lose its colour, so that it becomes much paler than normal because of the disruption to the blood supply. The area then becomes very hot, red and painful as a result of the inflammation. This stage passes, but by now the damage is done, with hair being lost and the skin peeling off.
In extreme cases, the tips of the ears will shrivel up and then slough off like scabs within a week or so. When this happens, there may be bleeding at the stump of the wound, which can also become infected. Even after a relatively mild case of frostbite, the affected area of skin is likely to be more sensitive to cold in the future. Although it is not necessarily painful, the cat will scratch this part of its body in an attempt to relieve the irritation.
REDUCING THE RISK OF FROSTBITE IN CATS
During cold weather always be sure that your cat can come inside out of the cold, through a cat flap if necessary. This should safeguard your pet from the risk of frostbite. Even on days when the temperature is not far below zero, the wind chill factor can be raw, increasing the risk of frostbite.
- The fur between the paws of breeds such as Norwegian Forest cats, which originate from very cold areas of the world, is relatively long and thick. This helps them to walk on snow without slipping into the drifts, and also provides insulation against the cold.
- If your cat spends a long period wandering outside in snowy weather it may suffer from temporary discomfort on its pads, but the effects are likely to be far less severe than on the tips of the ears. The pads have a thicker layer of dead skin forming a barrier on the toes, preventing this area from becoming so easily chilled.
- Both wild and domestic cats from the far north of the world often have longer tufts of hair on the tips of their ears. This longer covering of hair may help to protect this vulnerable part of the body against frostbite, by helping to deflect snow away from the skin.
What should I do if my cat has frostbite?
Bring your cat into the warm. Improve the blood circulation by applying a hot flannel heated to about 40°C (105°F) to the affected area. It will be painful as the feeling returns, so stay with your pet and try to distract her from scratching.
What is the difference between hypothermia and frostbite?
Frostbite is a localised problem which affects exposed body parts, whereas hypothermia occurs when the cat’s overall body temperature falls. If unchecked, this can lead to death.
Can frostbite affect a cat’s hearing?
Damage to the tips of the ears is unlikely to affect a cat’s hearing. Even tomcats that suffer severe damage to their ears from fighting, are not hearing impaired.