Jack Frost can bite your pet

The extreme winter conditions we're facing are adding extra challenges to our daily lives.

Besides tending to snow shovelling, anti-freezing our vehicles and putting on the extra layers to keep ourselves warm. we have to make sure we don't overlook the potential hazards of prolonged exposure of pets to the cold weather.

This week, I had three different cases of frostbites in dogs.

Frostbite is a condition in which certain areas of the body are severely damaged due to exposure to freezing temperatures.

The mechanism of frostbite is simple. 

The blood is transferred to the body organs via blood vessels. The blood vessels are dynamic and change diameter depending on many factors.

Cold temperature causes significant narrowing of the blood vessels, reducing or even blocking the blood supply to the affected areas.

Blood is essential for the organ cells' vitality.

There are four grades of frostbites depending of the length of exposure to the freezing temperatures, and the severity of the tissue. Frst-degree frostbite refers to a superficial damage of skin with a reversible changes that can heal and the area can return to normal function.

In fourth-degree frostbite, the deep layers of the area are severely and permanently damaged, which eventually leads to the detachment and falling off of the affected area/ organ.

The body extremities are the areas most commonly affected. 

The symptoms of frostbite depend on the stage.

In the initial stages, the areas can be numb and darker or blueish colour. In more advanced cases, blisters appear and eventually, in fourth-degree frostbites, the area became black and sloughs off.

Older animals, or animals with conditions that entail impaired blood supply (such as diabetes or heart problems), are at greater risk for developing frostbites when exposed to the freezing, cold weather. 

If you suspect frostbite in your pet, try to rub the area to warm it and stimulate blood flow. Seeking professional veterinary care is recommended in order to assess the severity of the situation and to tend to the problem to reverse the damage as soon as possible.

As always, prevention is the key.

Make sure that your pet is not exposed to freezing, cold weather for a prolonged period. When the animal is taken out, protective pet clothing can prevent the issue from occurring.

All pet stores, and other department stores, carry a wide variety of pet sweaters, jackets and paw wear. 

Do not take this issue lightly. It is true that animals have fur. However, companion animals have been domesticated for hundreds of years, hence are not geared toward spending a prolonged time in freezing conditions. 

Many dogs enjoy the snow and will happily dive right into it. There is no need to deny them this joy as long as basic safety measures are taken. Limit the exposure time to the frozen ground, and provide your pet with protective gear.

If your pet has been affected and you suspect frostbite, take it to see your vet. Early intervention can in many cases, changes the outcome of the damage. 

Corn (on the cob) in the dog

Animals never cease to amaze me with the things they swallow.

Unfortunately, swallowing foreign bodies is a common phenomena in both dogs and cats. 
This behaviour can stem from either playfulness, and ingestion of the foreign material by mistake, or simply due to being gluttonous, trying to eat whatever they can grab.

Meet Scooby, a two-year-old doberman. Scooby decided to chew on a corncob and swallow it. His loving owners brought him into the clinic, sick. We rarely get to clearly see the foreign body in the X-ray. Scooby’s case was really cool because it's easy to see the corncob in his abdomen.

Animals usually pass the object without complications, however, swallowing various objects can lead to serious conditions. If the object is sharp, it can cause tears of the gastrointestinal tract. Some object may be toxic to the animal, such as coins or batteries.

The most common complication is the lodging of the foreign body in the esophagus, stomach or intestine, and causing complete or partial blockage.

This is extremely important piece of information to take under account when bringing a pet home. Similarly to how we baby proof our house, we should also pet proof it.

Dogs have been known to swallow bones, balls,corn cobs, toys, sticks, stones, pins, needles, wood splinters, cloth, rawhide, leather, strings, fruit pits, and other objects. The most common foreign bodies found in cats are strings.

Any household object your pet chews on can become a foreign body problem.

Many times the owner does not witness the ingestion and is not aware or sure that the animal has ingested something they shouldn't have. Hence, it's important to be aware of symptoms that are associated with obstruction of the GIT. 

Partial obstruction allows limited passage of fluids and gas through the gastrointestinal tract, whereas complete obstruction does not allow any passage of gas and fluids past the obstruction.

A complete obstruction is a very severe condition, usually with a rapid progression and poses potential severe consequences if not treated right away.

Gastrointestinal blockage can lead to impairment of the blood flow and often to a permanent damage to the area of the blockage, infection due to bacterial overgrowth and severe dehydration.

The clinical presentation of foreign bodies depend on the location of the object and whether the object caused a partial or complete obstruction. The most common symptom associated with gastrointestinal foreign body is vomiting.

In a complete abstraction the vomiting will be profound and frequently will be accompanied also by lethargy, loss of appetite, and depression.

A pet with an untreated case of complete obstruction will probably die within only few days. In a partial obstruction, the symptoms will be less severe and intermittent. The animal will lose weight, but as long as the animal keeps drinking it may live for three to four weeks.

Foreign bodies are usually diagnosed by imaging. Some objects can be seen on a plain X-ray like in the Scooby’s case. If an animal swallows an object such as a rock, or metal object, they can be seen easily In cases that the object itself can not be seen, but the shape of the intestine reveals typical pattern that highly suggests the presence of a foreign body.

Sometimes a contrast X-ray is required. In this type of test, the animal is fed a special dyeing material that helps determining if there is obstruction and its nature. Some foreign bodies can also be diagnosed by ultrasound or an endoscopic exam.

Once the diagnosis of foreign body was established, the treatment depends on the location of the object and the pet’s medical condition. If the pet’s condition allows it, the vet will repeat the X-rays in order to assess whether the object is moving and can pass on its own. In many cases a surgical intervention is required.

In simple cases, the surgery involves only removing the object. In more complicated cases, where the blockage has caused permanent damage, the surgery is more involved and may include a partial removal of the damaged intestinal segment.

Beside removing the object most animals also require hospitalization with intravenous supply of fluids till the animal gets back on tract and is able to drink and eat on its own. The treatment usually also involves medication such as antibiotics and electrolytes supplementation.

Prevention is very important and may spare your animal from getting through a very painful and potentially life threatening  condition. It is important to pet proof your house. Keep away any object that your pet might ingest. Make sure that the toys that you give to your pets are large enough so they can not be swallowed.

Also make sure that the toys are made of good quality and can not be broken into pieces easily. Some dogs tend to chew on objects more than others, I would keep away toys from these kind of dogs — better be safe than sorry. It is very important to make sure that your pet will not have access to garbage and garbage bins.

Some dogs have extreme tendency to chew on an object when they are walked  outdoors. If that is the case with your dog and you feel that you are having difficulty controlling what your dog chews on, you can consider walking it with a muzzle on.

If your pet shows any of these symptoms, especially choking ,severe or intermittent vomiting, take it to your vet. 
Always pay attention to the toys you are giving to your pet. Make sure that they are not easily coming apart to smaller pieces that can be swallowed and cause obstruction. 

Your vet can guide you which toys and treats are ideal for your specific pet.

Guarding against giardia

Not many diseases can be transmitted from pets to humans, but there are some exceptions and one that can affect both pets (mainly dogs) and humans is caused by a parasite called giardia.

Giardia is a one-cell parasite that affects the intestine and decreases the ability to digest food, thus causing severe intestinal-related symptoms such as:

  • severe diarrhea, often accompanied by a mucus, jelly-like material
  • excess gas
  • stomach or abdominal cramps
  • upset stomach
  • nausea

In severe cases, dehydration and nutritional loss may need immediate treatment.

Giardia infection spreads through the feces. The most common source for infection in both humans and pets is contaminated water in lakes, rivers or puddles.

The transmission from pets to humans has not been proven, but due to the fact that the parasite can affect many types of mammals, including people, it is assumed that the transmission between pets to humans can occur and safety measurements should be taken.  

Giardia infection is diagnosed by a fecal test in which the parasite or its eggs can be seen under the microscope.

A more modern and reliable lab test is now available, and can be done easily and cost effectively in most veterinary clinics. In this test, a sample is taken directly from the rectum by a special Q-tip, and the presence of the parasite is checked by a chemical reaction test that yields better objective results.

The treatment of giardia infection consists of specific antibiotic medication.

The diagnosis is easy and the treatment is straightforward. Catching the infection in timely manner can spare grief for both you and your furry friend.


Giardia is found in contaminated water, especially in stand still water such as ponds and puddles. Giardia may also be found on the surface of the ground, in the soil, and in undercooked foods.

  • Maintaining proper hygiene should protect you and your dog.
  • Avoid letting your dog drink water in the wilderness.
  • Make sure to always wash your hands thoroughly after picking up or cleaning your dog’s feces.
  • Boiling water for one minute should be sufficient in killing giardia parasites.
  • Avoid eating or offering undercooked food to your dog.


Down and dirty on diarrhea

Curiosity and gluttony along with a sensitive digestive system make dogs and cats prone to suffer from diarrhea.

In my experience, diarrhea is the No. 1 reason for contacting a vet.

All pet owners have been in this situation before, the animal has diarrhea, now what do you do? Is it worth while taking it to a vet or do I wait a day or two. 

I hope this will shed some light over this dilemma.

Diarrhea is characterized by changes in the stool consistency — runny stool — and the stool’s colour.

Diarrhea can be caused by a disease of the small intestine, large intestine or other organs outside the intestinal tract, the liver for an example.

There are few differences between the diarrhea that is originated from the small and the large intestine. Small intestinal and large intestinal diarrhea have different causes, require different tests to diagnose and are treated differently.

Your vet will ask you instructive questions in order to understand, better locate the pet’s problem, and to plan for specific tests to determine the cause of the diarrhea.  
A pet with diarrhea originated from the small intestine will topically defecate three to four times a day with a large amount of stool in each time.

With large bowel diarrhea there is usually increase in the frequency of the defecation with small amount of stool in each time. If there is blood in the stool it will appear as black discoloration of the stool in case of small intestine diarrhea and red in large intestine diarrhea.

There are numerous reasons for diarrhea. Amongst the hundreds of causes for diarrhea  there are viral, bacterial or fungal infections, Food allergies, intestinal parasites, tumors, diseases of the pancreas, liver or Kidneys and many many other reasons.

The most common reason for diarrhea is probably dietary indiscretion, meaning the pet got into garbage or other rotten food. Some pets are have a very sensitive digestive system and just a change in the pet’s diet can elicit diarrhea.  

When the pet has diarrhea it is not absorbing the nutrients from the diet properly which leads to weight loss and electrolytes imbalance that can have severe consequences if left untreated. Diarrhea may also lead to dehydration and occasionally severe blood loss.

If your pet is normally healthy and has a normal body condition (not too thin or fat) suddenly shows diarrhea, without any other signs of sickness such as lethargy, lack of appetite, etc, you may try attempting treating it before rushing into the vets.

You should follow these tactics:

  • Stop feeding it for 24 hours to rest the digestive system.
  • It is crucial to encourage your pet to drink and stay hydrated. 
  • Make sure your pet has constant access to fresh water; many dogs may also like to fool around with ice cubes, this is another way to get fluids into them. Cats really like running water, so allowing them to drink straight from a tap might do the trick. 
  • After 24 hours providing the diarrhea has subsided, you can offer the animal a small amount of easy-to-digest food such as rice with chicken flesh (without the bones, skin, salt or any other spices) or commercial food carried by veterinarians that is designed for animals with digestive problems.
  • In the first day, you should offer the food in small amounts every three to four hours.
  • Gradually over the next two to three days, if the animal tolerates the food well and the stool is forming back to normal consistency, decrease the frequency of the feeding and increase the amount of food in each feeding.
  • When the pet is back to normal do not switch to its normal diet abruptly, it is better to mix over few days to prevent recurrence of the diarrhea.

Having said that, be cautious. Not every case should be treated at home without the professional help of a vet. If there is no improvement in the pet’s condition after the fasting and the change of diet. Or in cases that the diarrhea is also accompanied by other sickness symptoms such as lethargy, fever, vomiting, weight loss or any other concerning condition.

If the stool or vomit contain blood, it would probably be better idea to go and see your veterinarian right away.

Cat owners be aware; overweight cats are not allowed to be fasted. Depriving food from fat cats even for a short period of time can potentially cause severe liver damage.

Diarrhea may be just a simple and transient condition that may be simply treated at home with a diet change, but often diarrhea is a symptom of a much more severe condition that requires medical treatment.

If left untreated prolonged diarrhea can lead to severe consequences

More Dr. Oz's Vet Advice articles

About the Author

Dr. Moshe Oz owns Rose Valley Veterinary Hospital, a small animal veterinary practice in West Kelowna.

Dr. Oz has deep love and affection for animals. It was his childhood dream to become a veterinarian, a dream that he has fulfilled when he graduated with honours from KUVM,on 2006. Dr. Oz's special interest is internal medicine and surgery.

In his free time Dr. Oz enjoys training and racing triathlons, including the legendary Penticton's Ironman.

Dr. Oz can be contacted through his website: www.KelownaVet.ca

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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