What is Cryotherapy?

Cryotherapy in dogs, consisting of ice or freezing therapy, is growing in popularity. The dog is exposed to an extreme cold by various methods including but not limited to placing the dog in a cryotherapy chamber for a brief period. Cryotherapy in dogs is used as a treatment for various illnesses and ailments. Most veterinarians focus cryotherapy on smaller areas by applying cold packs, using an extreme cold or ice bath, or freezing a small area on the dog. Recent studies have shown cryotherapy is an effective treatment for skin conditions and well as the musculoskeletal system. Used in conjunction with anti-inflammatory medications, cryotherapy can be an effective treatment for aging dogs or younger dogs who have are experiencing minor injuries from muscle overuse.

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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.

Efficacy of Cryotherapy in Dogs

In the case of muscle tears and pulls, cryotherapy along with rest is highly curative. Rest in these cases may be as important as the cryotherapy to ensure the area is not re-injured or a more significant injury does not occur. This is true for post-surgery cryotherapy as well. Rest and cold or ice therapy for the surgical area may help keep the dog comfortable while healing.

Freezing off skin cells by way of cryotherapy is also known to be curative. Depending on the size, depth, and scope of the lesion, more than one application of a cryotherapy procedure may be required. Cryotherapy is effective for warts and superficial skin tumors. Your veterinarian will be able to access the area and communicate the goals while giving professional opinions on how many treatments your dogs may need for complete efficacy.

Cryotherapy Recovery in Dogs

Cryotherapy for post-surgical recovery and musculoskeletal injuries or soreness is only a portion of the dog’s recovery. Do not ice the affected area more than twenty minutes at a time, but be sure to ice throughout the day. Follow your veterinarian’s instructions to ensure full recovery of the injury.

Freezing of cells with cryotherapy can be painful, but recovery, once the procedure is completed, is rather simple. Your veterinarian will give you instructions for follow-up care which may include a soothing bath to remove the dying tissue. There may be an odor with this sloughing tissue, and the affected area may appear greenish in color. Despite these unpleasant side effects, your dog will be comfortable because the area will be numb and free of pain or feeling. The area, depending on size and number of treatments, should not take more than a few of weeks for a scab to form and fall off creating new, healthy skin.

Cost of Cryotherapy in Dogs

Cryotherapy is a simple and cost-effective procedure for ridding your dog of minor skin irritations. Icing your dog’s muscles can be as easy as creating an ice pack from ice and a plastic bag wrapped in a paper towel or hand towel at home.

Cryotherapy in your veterinarian’s office for the use of freezing off skin lesions will vary in cost depending on the size of the lesion, whether your doctor uses anesthesia and if it is a local or general anesthesia, and the number of treatments your dog needs. Each treatment can run anywhere from $100 to $300 including your regular office visit costs. Anesthesia will drive this price up, starting around $75 and moving upward depending on the type of anesthesia and the size of your dog.  

Dog Cryotherapy Considerations

If your dog has been injured, catching the dog’s change in demeanor or movement early will be crucial to helping them control and manage their pain. In this case, cryotherapy by way of ice packs on the injured areas will help with swelling.

In other cases of cryotherapy, if your dog has skin irritations, cryotherapy in the form of liquid nitrogen freezing can benefit the dog’s overall health significantly. Not only will freezing the abnormal skin cells give the dog relief of pain and irritations, but it will also kill any germs, bacteria, or potential for additional cell growth in the case of small tumors. There could be a chance, if the lesion is cancerous, of relapse. It will be imperative to visit with your veterinarian for follow-up care and skin checks.

Cryotherapy Prevention in Dogs

In the event of musculoskeletal injury, unfortunately, there is not real prevention. However, you can prevent a more serious injury by paying close attention to your dog’s gait after play. Dogs are often injured by running and jumping. They will show signs of an injury by favoring a certain limb or muscle when they walk or by limping. With rest and ice packs, more damage could be halted.

Keeping your dog on a skin healthy diet as well as practicing good hygiene with your dog will give them the best chance of healthy skin. Some irritations take time to get to the point where cryotherapy might be needed for removal. If caught early on, a better grooming process, skin creams, or steroids from your veterinarian may help improve some skin ailments. In many cases, the cryotherapy treatment itself can be preventative for increased cancer risk. Removing smaller tumors or lesions before they grow and spread could stop future problems.

Your veterinarian can assist you with the best diet and the best grooming care for your dog breed. Some breeds are more susceptible to certain skin ailments than others.