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Using Cold Therapy for Dogs

Posted January 28, 2015 in Dog Diseases & Conditions A-Z

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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.

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Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a board-certified veterinary surgeon and author. His traveling practice takes him all over Eastern Pennsylvania and Western New Jersey. You can visit his website at, and follow him at