Using Cold Therapy for Dogs

Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a traveling, board-certified surgeon in Allentown, PA. His website is He is the co-author of “Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound” (

Zee Mahmood, a veterinary technician in Reading, PA, contributed to this article.

Cold therapy is often an effective, easy solution to routine soreness that may accompany exercise, injury or surgery.

Concept of cold therapy
The application of cold can significantly help reduce swelling and inflammation (a.k.a. irritation) in your dog. It relieves pain by reducing damage to muscles immediately after an injury, surgery or heavy exercise. In addition, cold therapy will decrease muscle spasms and lead to faster healing. Faster healing and less pain means a happier dog, not to mention a happier dog guardian!

Location of cold therapy
Cold therapy is most often applied to joints:

  • Shoulder, elbow or wrist in the front leg
  • Hip, knee and ankle in the back leg.

It can be used on any body part where swelling or muscle damage occurs.

Technique of cold therapy
[Editor’s Note: Check with your veterinarian to see if cold therapy is right for your dog.]

Several devices can be used to provide cold therapy:

  • Homemade ice packs— A simple homemade ice pack can be made by placing crushed ice in a plastic bag, removing excess air, and sealing the bag.
  • Commercial gel— Commercial gel packs and wraps would fit much better around a joint. Always follow the manufacturer's instructions on the pack.
  • Ice packs and wraps— The simplest device is an ice pack. However its stiffness makes it difficult to wrap around a joint like the ankle.
  • Bags of frozen vegetables such as peas or corn— A bag of frozen vegetables, such as peas or corn, is an easy way to have an instant and cheap cooling device. Make sure you label it “ice pack only” with a permanent marker so nobody eats it after multiple thawing cycles!

One of my favorite techniques is to mix 1/4 cup rubbing alcohol and 3/4 cup water in a Ziploc® bag and place it in the freezer. To be safe, put another bag around the first one in case of leakage. For a larger body part, simply multiply the amounts. The result is a slushy solution that conforms or molds very nicely to any part of the body and will apply the cold more evenly.Danger of cold therapy
Burning the skin (similar to frostbite) is probably the biggest risk of applying cold therapy to a pet. Therefore, always place a thin cloth such as a T-shirt or a pillowcase on your dog's skin, and then place the cold pack on top of the cloth. This trick will also reduce the surprise of instantly feeling cold on a sore area.

Usage of cold therapy
Keep the cooling device in place on the affected body part. Leave it in place for about 15 minutes, or until your dog's skin feels cold to the touch. Cold therapy can be repeated every 6 to 8 hours.

If your dog displays any signs of discomfort during this process such as excessive movement, growling or biting, stop the cold therapy treatment immediately.

Cold therapy is an effective, cheap and easy way to help your dog feel better after an injury or exercise, helping them to enjoy more happiness and quality time with you and your family.

Questions to ask your veterinarian

  • Can I use cold therapy on my dog?
  • Which exact protocol would you suggest?
  • Which cooling device should I use in my particular dog?

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

Next, click here to learn about heat therapy.

Cold Therapy in Dogs

Cryotherapy Procedure in Dogs

Depending on the reason for the use of cryotherapy, your veterinarian may show you how to proceed at home with your dog. In common muscle injuries, cryotherapy is as simple as using an ice pack on the affected area in sessions of 10 to 20 minutes throughout the course of the day.

If your veterinarian is using cryotherapy to freeze off any skin ailments, this procedure will be performed in your vet’s office. This freezing process uses extremely cold temperatures to freeze the abnormal cells, causing them to die and fall off the surface of the dog’s skin. Your veterinarian will use liquid nitrogen to accomplish this task. This can be done in a few different ways. Spraying liquid nitrogen through a cryoprobe, a tube device used to safely disperse the liquid nitrogen, or dabbed on with a cotton swab for tiny skin lesions, or even an ultra-thin needle may be used to make the liquid nitrogen contact with the skin. This process will form ice crystals on the tumor or lesion, causing the abnormal cells to die off.

Icing sore muscles is a simple procedure you and your dog can do at home. However, the act of freezing skin tissue can be painful for the dog. This type of cryotherapy will be done in your veterinarian’s office, and your dog will be placed under some type of anesthesia. If your veterinarian is performing cryotherapy on very small areas of the skin, they may use a local anesthesia, numbing only that area of the skin. If the area is large, covering much of the dog, or located in moist tissue such as inside the dog’s mouth, your veterinarian may use general anesthesia, so your dog is asleep during the procedure.

Once the cryotherapy is complete and depending on the reason and size of the lesions, your veterinarian may recommend more than one procedure. The skin will begin to slough and will be easy to brush off with the help of simple bathing and gentle wiping of the dog’s skin. Be sure to attend the follow-up appointments with your veterinarian to ensure the issue is cured, whether you are using cryotherapy for musculoskeletal injuries or more severe skin tumors.

So first thing’s first. Let’s take a look at the Yin and Yang concept. This seems to be the foundation for the traditional Yin and Yang diet.

Yin is the hot side of things. So a Yin dog is a hot dog. They look for cool places to rest, tend to have itchy, inflamed skin, and may be more restless at night.

  • Look for cool places
  • Could be hot to the touch
  • Pant even when at rest
  • Prone to allergies
  • Could have red skin and eyes
  • Prone to anxiety

Yang is the cool side. A Yang dog is a cool dog. According to traditional Chinese medicine, Yin dogs are more weak and fatigued, show an intolerance for exercise, lack appetite, and are short of breath.

  • Look for warm places
  • Relaxed, calm demeanor
  • Love blankets and snuggling
  • Occasional lack appetite

Traditional Chinese medicine follows the above guidelines for hot and cold dogs and suggests food to help balance out. There are hot and cold foods just like there are hot and cold dogs. Hot foods are called Yin, tonifying, or warming foods. Cold foods are called Yang or cooling foods. There is also a neutral category, which as the name suggests supposedly neither warms or cools your dog’s body.

Watch the video: PBS NewsHour full episode, Mar. 23, 2021

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