Lovely Lily: the Cat with the Frostbitten Ears

Lovely Lily: the Cat with the Frostbitten Ears

There are still many folks that still believe just because an animal has a ‘fur coat’ that it will fare just fine in any cold weather. This is so not true. The most vulnerable parts of a cat or dog’s anatomy are their paws, especially the toes and pads, their tails, and the tips of their ears.

Frostbite is very painful. When the body’s core temperature drops (hypothermia) the body’s first defense is to withdraw blood flow to the extremities to protect core organs. Ice crystals then form in the affected area. The skin can change color, from very pale or light bluish to very black. Frostbitten areas will often slough off some the affected, dead skin. The ice formation can kill or severely damage the frostbitten areas.

Lily arrived at CHS as a transfer from another shelter. She had three very young kittens with her when she first arrived. At first Lily went into a foster home because her kittens were too young to be adopted. Once the kittens matured they were all quickly adopted out to loving homes.

With Lily, It was clear that her ears had been frostbitten in the past. The photos tell the story, but they can’t illuminate the pain that Lily must have suffered.

In Lily’s case, fortunately the only area affected was her ears. Lily has an amazing, friendly personality. It wasn’t long before she caught the eye of an adopter and went home to a loving family. In less than two weeks after she became available she was adopted by Sarah Ragan.

We don’t know what happened to Lily. How did she wind up outdoors in weather so cold her ears were severely frostbitten? Was she just a stray cat that escaped her owner? Maybe she was dumped when an owner grew tired of her. Unfortunately, these questions can never be answered. Sadly, all of these scenarios can happen to our pets at any time.

Frostbite is very painful. When the body’s core temperature drops (hypothermia) the body’s first defense is to withdraw blood flow to the extremities to protect core organs. Ice crystals then form in the affected area. The skin can change color, from very pale or light bluish to very black. Frostbitten areas will often slough off some the affected, dead skin. The ice formation can kill or severely damage the frostbitten areas.

Once the affected area is warmed up and feeling returns, the animal experiences a lot of pain. Often the damaged portion needs to be removed for the animal to be relieved of its suffering. If not, exposure to cold will always bring a return to pain in the frostbitten area.

Cold weather can be a real danger to all mammals, including dogs and cats. There’s a lot of misinformation and strange beliefs out there when it comes to proper animal care. There’s a substantial number of folks in the world—in the USA as well—that never allow any of their pets indoors. Many people do provide adequate, warm shelter for their animals in colder climates, but there’s always some that do not—with devastating consequences for the animals when the temperatures drop too low.

How Frostbite Occurs:
Frostbite occurs when animals are left outside and unprotected during cold weather. However, falling temperatures aren’t the only culprit affecting this painful condition. Wind chill, dampness from rain or snowfall—wetness from just going for a swim—can quickly bring on a chill resulting in hypothermia (lowered body temperature) and frostbite. The Activity level of an animal can also greatly affect the impact of temperature change on their bodies. Greater activity produces greater warmth. Dogs contained in a small, outdoor space or chained to the ground may not be able to generate enough body heat to stave off hypothermia and frostbite.

What You Can Do:
Pay close attention to your animals’ behavior when they are outside. If your dog is shivering, whining, generally acting uncomfortable, or holding up a paw it’s probably time to go inside. If your animals must stay outside make sure they have adequate shelter and bedding which protects them from the wind and cold. Clean, dry straw works well in a doghouse or in an enclosed home for your outside cat to burrow in to stay out of the cold.

Temperature Checklist:
All dogs and cats should be brought inside if temperatures fall below 20º f. Smaller dogs, cats and animals with thin sparse or thin coats will feel the cold much more quickly. These animals should be brought inside at 32º f or when they are exhibiting signs of discomfort from the cold.

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