Treating Dog Injuries – When & How to Use Heat vs. Cold Therapy

heat vs. cold therapyheat vs. cold therapy
heat vs. cold therapyheat vs. cold therapy

How to Use Heat and Cold Therapy to Help Your Dog

When your dog injures themselves it can be very confusing trying to decide the best course of action to take to ensure you do the best possible treatment for them. Most pet owners do not understand when and how to apply cold therapy vs. heat therapy. When and how do you apply them? Why? Common client questions include – should I use and ice pack on my dog? Should I apply a heat pack?

Here are some tips on how and when to use cold therapy vs. heat therapy.

Cold Therapy for Dogs

Cold therapy should be used on new injuries within 24 to 48 hours. It is used for local swelling, pain and inflammation which is the body’s response to the tissue damage and the pain.

How Does Cold Therapy Work?

The cold helps to numb the area and causes vasoconstriction which slows the flow to the area and reduces fluid buildup in the area. It treats the swelling and redness but does not treat the actual injury which should be seen by your regular veterinarian.

When Do You Use Cold Therapy on Your Dog?

You should apply cold to an area as soon as possible to reduce the amount of swelling, redness, and pain. It can also be used on muscles after you take your pet on a long hike or run as exercise can also cause inflammation and pain.

Items to Apply Cold Therapy At Home on Your Dog

You can use many different items to apply cold therapy to your dog. Commonly used are ice packs but frozen vegetables such as peas work really well. They conform to the injury and can be refrozen. You can also buy commercial products to freeze and refreeze that work great. Items commonly used include:

  • Ice packs
  • Cold towel
  • Frozen vegetables
  • Gel packs
  • Frozen Water Bottle
  • Cold Water

How to Apply Cold Therapy to Your Dog

Cold therapy should be applied as quickly after the injury as possible. You should apply cold therapy for 10 to 20 minutes at a time giving your pets tissues a break between applications. You need to always have a barrier between your cold or frozen item and the skin and never leave them on for too long as it can cause tissue damage.

Heat Therapy for Dogs

Heat Therapy is most commonly used on chronic, long term injuries or for infected wounds or abscesses. It can be a source of relief to muscles and can be used to treat spasms, soreness due to exercise and can increase range of motion. Heat treatment on infected wounds can help draw out the infected materials. It is most commonly recommended after 48 hours.

How Does Heat Therapy Work in Dogs?

Heat is very calming and increases blood flow to the area of the body it is applied to. It carries oxygen and nutrients to the tissues and carries away toxins and lactic acid which is responsible for muscle soreness after exercise.

When to Use it Heat Therapy on Your Dog

You should use heat therapy for an ongoing source of pain and aggravation from soreness and stiffness. When using heat on your pet for exercise purposes it should always be applied beforehand not after.

Items to Apply Home Cold Therapy At Home on Your Dog

You can use many different items to apply heat therapy to your dog. Commonly used warm towels or wash clothes that have been run under hot water. They conform to the injury and can washed and reheated. The washable feature is especially helpful if you are using it on an abscess or infected wound that is draining. Items commonly used include:

  • Hot Water Bottle
  • Warm Water
  • Warm Moist Towel or wash cloth
  • Hair Dryer (if your pet will allow it)
  • Heated blanket or pad

How to Apply Heat Therapy to Your Dog

Never apply heat directly to the skin. There needs to always be one to two layers of fabric between your pet and a hot water bottle or heating pad. Pets that are immobile or sedated are at high risk to be burned by heat therapy so special care is needed. You should apply heat therapy for 10 to 20 minutes at a time giving your pets tissues a break between applications. You should periodically check with your hand to ensure that the heat therapy is warm but not hot enough to burn or scald. You also shouldn’t use heat therapy on an open wound or on stiches after surgery.


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