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NDSU Vet Informs Producers on Frostbite Dangers

01 April 2009

NORTH DAKOTA, US - Livestock producers need to protect their animals from hypothermia and frostbite, says a North Dakota State University Extension Service veterinarian.

“Hypothermia is a profound drop in body temperature,” says Charlie Stoltenow. “Animals less than 48 hours old or animals with a pre-existing condition or disease are at the greatest risk for developing hypothermia.”

Newborns often are hypoglycemic, which means they have low energy reserves, and have electrolyte imbalances. Animals with pre-existing conditions (pneumonia, old age, thin, emaciated) have impaired body reserves and may succumb more readily to very cold and windy conditions.

Frostbite refers to the destruction of tissue in a localized area due to extreme cold. It is uncommon in healthy, well-fed and sheltered animals, but animals that are less than 48 hours old or animals that have a pre-existing condition are at the greatest risk for developing frostbite.

The areas most likely to be injured include the ears, tail, teats, scrotum and distal parts of the limbs, especially the hooves. Hind limbs are more likely to be affected in cattle since the animal’s normal posture is to draw its front legs up under the chest while the hind legs protrude out from under the body.

“Treating cases of hypothermia and frostbite is often unrewarding,” Stoltenow says. “Prevention is of primary importance.”

Prevention consists of keeping the animals, especially newborns, warm and dry. Windbreaks must be provided to counteract the effects of the wind chill.

Bedding also is essential. It has two functions: It insulates the animal from the snow and ice underneath the body, which prevents hypothermia and frostbite, and lowers the animal’s nutritional requirements. Bedding allows the animal to “snuggle” into it and lowers the body surface area exposed to the wind.

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