Can Cats Get Frostbite?

Lisa Selvaggio
by Lisa Selvaggio

When a cat is exposed to extremely cold conditions, they are at risk of frostbite, which may require professional veterinary care. But what is frostbite, what puts a cat at risk of frostbite, and what can be done to treat it? Here’s a short guide to help you better understand this condition and keep your cat safe.


What Is Frostbite in Cats?

Frostbite can happen to cats when they’re in freezing temperatures under 32°F (0°C) for too long. In response to the cold, the cat’s body will try maintaining its temperature by moving blood away from the extremities and to the core. It does this by constricting blood vessels. When that happens, the tissues that are getting less blood flow are at risk of freezing. In particular, the paws, tail, and ears can become frostbitten.

Any cat can get frostbite, but some kitties, such as those with certain medical problems, seniors, and kittens, are more susceptible than others.

What Are the Symptoms of Frostbite in Cats?

Frostbite is a serious condition that could lead to irreparable damage. So, in addition to knowing how to recognize the signs that a cat is cold and the symptoms of hypothermia, it’s important to be aware of the symptoms of frostbite. 

Here are some of the signs of frostbite, often seen on the ears, paws, and tail:

  • Cold to the touch  
  • Fragile, brittle skin
  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Pain
  • Blisters
  • Ulcers
  • Pale skin
  • Discolored skin (blue, gray, purple)
  • Black skin that has died and falls off

Some symptoms, such as coldness, might be apparent right away. As the skin thaws, you may notice that it becomes red, painful, and swollen. However, some symptoms might not become apparent until days after frostbite has set in. And if the skin has died, it may slough off days or even weeks later.

The more severe the frostbite, the more damage will occur. And there’s also a risk of a secondary bacterial infection. So, while minor frostbite may cause redness, deeper frostbite will lead to increasingly intense symptoms, to the point that tissues could die and permanent damage could be caused. 

What Are the Treatments for Frostbite in Cats?

If you think your cat has frostbite, let your veterinarian know right away. They can give you instructions on what to do at home, and will likely advise that you take your cat to them to be examined and treated.

Treatment will depend on how badly frostbitten the tissues are. If the frostbite is severe, surgery or amputation might be needed. On the other hand, if it was caught in time and minor, your cat may recover without lasting damage to the tissues.

Your vet may tell you to dry your cat if they’re wet and gradually warm them up, especially if they’re showing signs of hypothermia. You can wrap them in a blanket like the PetAmi Fluffy Pet Blanket, which features soft Sherpa for warmth and comfort.

Ask your vet if you should provide your cat with extra warmth by using a heating pad for cats, a heated cat bed, or water bottles filled with hot water, making sure hot items don’t make direct contact with your cat’s body. These steps may help keep your cat warm on the way to the vet as well. 

Massaging or rubbing any areas of your cat’s body that are frostbitten isn’t a good idea, nor should you use heat, such as from a hair dryer. Instead, your vet might recommend heating some water up so you can apply warm (not hot) compresses on affected areas or soak them in the water. Be sure to pat the skin dry when you’re done. 

Your veterinarian will check your cat and determine the extent of the frostbite before providing the appropriate treatments, which may include antibiotics and pain medicine. If there are underlying medical problems or your cat is hypothermic, your vet will tackle those issues as well.  

How Can You Prevent Frostbite in Cats?

The best and easiest way to prevent frostbite is by keeping your cat nice and warm indoors. If your pet is an adventure cat who likes to explore the outdoors, don’t let them out when it’s cold or windy or when it’s raining or snowing. Keep an eye on the temperature outside, and if it’s near freezing, don’t let them out even for a short amount of time, as it can be risky.  

When it’s a bit chilly and you want to take your cat outside for a walk, you can put a sweater or jacket on them to help keep them warm. Of course, only do this if your cat is fine with wearing clothes, and make sure the clothes are the right size so they won’t be uncomfortable or restrict movement.   

Seek Veterinary Care If Your Cat Has Frostbite

Bottom line: a cat with frostbite needs to be seen by a veterinarian, who can determine the extent of the damage and provide you with a treatment plan, so don’t delay getting help from a professional.  

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Lisa Selvaggio
Lisa Selvaggio

Lisa Selvaggio is a freelance writer and editor, and our resident cats-pert, with certifications in pet nutrition and pet first aid. She enjoys producing content that helps people understand animals better so they can give their pets a safe and happy home.

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