Dog treatment, dog rehab, dog rehabilitation, dog osteopathy, dog ice therapy

My Dog is in Pain: When Should I Apply Ice?

The application of ice to an acute injury is a common treatment modality in our world, and it can be useful for your dog too.

Treating pain with ice can be extremely effective for a number of different conditions and injuries. The tricky part is knowing which situations call for ice, and what calls for heat.

Should I use Ice or Heat?

As a general rule of thumb:

  • Use ice for acute injuries (muscle, joint, bone, post surgical) and pain, along with inflammation and swelling.
  • Use heat for muscle pain or stiffness (e.g. arthritis, tight muscles).

How Ice Therapy Works:

Ice therapy works by altering both neurological (nerve) and vascular (blood flow) mechanisms. Reducing the temperature decreases the circulation and blood flow to a localized area, as well as decreasing the firing of nerves. This leads to decreased pain and a reduction in swelling.

Types of Ice Therapy:

There are various methods of application including:

  • Ice packs – bag of crushed ice, frozen peas, or a commercially available gel pack.
  • Ice towels – freeze a wet tea towel or soak the towel in ice water slush (these don’t usually last as long so you may need to alternate).
  • Ice massage – freeze 1/3 cup of water in a polystyrene cup – remove cup before use.
  • Inflatable splints – available commercially.

How to Apply Ice Therapy:

  • Cover an ice pack with a single layer of wet tea towel (enhances heat exchange) or similar.
  • Apply the ice pack to a localised area, at the site of an acute injury or post-surgical e.g. knee.
  • Apply ice packs for up to 10-20mins followed by 60mins off.
  • Continue for the first 48-72hrs after an acute injury or until instructed otherwise.
  • If applying ice massage, apply parallel to the muscle fibres, for 5-10mins. Ice massage is usually applied under the guidance of a Rehab Professional.


Frostbite is a potential complication of ice therapy. Even in dog’s you need a barrier (wet tea towel or similar) between the ice pack and the skin.


Ice therapy can be an excellent source of natural pain relief after acute injury or post-surgery. Ice packs wrapped in a wet tea towel should be applied for 10-20mins with 60mins break between applications. This can continue for the first 48-72hrs after injury, or until otherwise notified.

The article above does not replace the advice of your Vet or Canine Rehab Professional. If you haven’t already, please make an appointment with your Vet or Canine Rehab Professional so they have the opportunity to assess, diagnose, and treat your dog’s new injury.

You may also find my article on the application of heat therapy useful in the ongoing management of your dog’s rehabilitation.

Scroll to Top