What you see. The starting point for addressing any equine health related issue is your observation.


Frozen Ears, Tail or Limbs


In excessively cold weather, your foal's or horse's ears appear frozen. When you feel the ear, it feels cold and stiff.

Frostbite is the cellular destruction of tissues due to extreme cold, and often occurs to extremities such as the ears, tail or limbs.

Frostbite is very rare in healthy adult horses. They usually tolerate extreme cold very well. When it occurs in adults, usually just the tips of the ears are affected. Older horses and ill or debilitated horses that are down for extended periods are more likely to develop frostbite. Frostbite is also more common in donkeys and mules that have longer ears.

Foals born in subzero temperatures or windy, cold and wet conditions may have problems with frozen ears, and occasionally frozen feet or tail. Providing shelter from wind and moisture is the single most important thing you can do. In severe weather, it is best to have your mare foal inside, at least out of the wind and moisture.

  • Code Red

    Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours
    • If the horse seems to be in distress.
    • If the problem seems severe, or involves a large area.
  • Code Orange

    Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours
    • If the problem seems very mild and limited to a small area.
    • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) suggest the horse is otherwise normal.

your role


What To Do

If you believe that your foal's ears, tail or limbs are frozen or frostbitten, move them to a sheltered stall or into room temperature, and contact your vet. Assess the foal's general health, attitude and appetite and share your findings and concerns with your vet.

What Not To Do

Do not vigorously rub the affected areas as this can worsen the damage. Do not apply any heat to the area, including hot water. Do not encourage excess movement, as this may cause additional pain or damage to the affected tissues.

your vet's role

In newborn foals, frostbite is often accompanied by other potentially life-threatening problems that need to be addressed. Your vet's priority will probably be to assess general health. Along with providing general nursing and supportive care, there may be treatments your vet can perform that will reduce the long-term damage.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • When do you think the foal was born?
  • Do you think that the foal is nursing?
  • What are you doing to warm the foal?
  • How do you know that your horse has frostbite?
  • What are the results of the newborn foal exam?
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?

further reading & resources

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP