Frostbite in Capybaras

Capybaras are tropical rodents. They live near the equator where all seasons are mild. Daylight hours are roughly equivalent in length to nighttime hours throughout the year. There isn’t an equivalent climate in the mainland United States. Even Florida lies outside the temperature ranges of the South American countries where capybaras live.

Dobby in the snow

I have written about winter before, and how difficult it was for Dobby. Our winters are an unfamiliar season to capybaras, unlike any situation they would ever encounter in South America. Hypothermia and frostbite are two serious weather-related medical conditions they would never encounter in their native habitat. We know enough about frostbite to know how deadly it is for capybaras. Their feet seem to be unusually susceptible to frostbite, and standard treatment is ineffective. It probably doesn’t help that they are uncooperative about leaving their foot dressings alone.


The ROUS Foundation for Capybara Veterinary Medicine was founded in order to gather information with regard to veterinary treatment in cases for which little or no information is available. Our Why Weight? study is nearing publication, and the data we collected has helped numerous capybara owners understand whether their young capybaras are growing at a normal rate.
We are very concerned about the fate of pet capybaras living in areas of extreme cold weather. Last week’s devastating arctic event affected much of the United States, including– and notably– Texas, where many capybara breeders and pet owners live. How did the cold weather affect the capybaras living there? Large zoos are generally well equipped to handle emergencies, but at least one animal rescue lost several animals. Smaller facilities and pet owners aren’t likely to have procedures in place to handle cold emergencies.

“More warm water, please!”

We would like to learn how to prevent frostbite in capybaras. If your capybara did, or did not, get frostbite from the recent cold weather, we would like to hear from you. Please answer the following:
1 How much exposure to freezing weather was too much?
2 Do you think the cause was snow depth or frozen ground?
3 Was the problem length of exposure or repeated exposure?
4 Were some substrates inherently better, and what are the the options?
5 What emergency equipment do you have on hand (or wish you had on hand)?
Reporting your experience to us could save lives.

In addition to learning how to prevent frostbite, we would like to learn how to treat frostbite. If your capybara was an unfortunate victim of freezing weather, we would like to hear from you. Please answer the following:
1 What was the first sign of frostbite?
2 When did you start treatment?
3 What was the treatment?
4 How long did you continue treatment?
5 Did you have a positive result due to this treatment?
6 How was your veterinarian involved in the treatment?

From Thermal Injuries in Veterinary Forensic Pathology; Wohlsein, Peters, Schulze, and Baumgärtner; 2016.

Sadly, the few cases we have tracked in the past resulted in death of the animal from infection, or euthanasia, usually several months after the freezing weather. Discovering the frostbite and treating it for a couple of weeks is only the beginning, as treatment for severe frostbite can continue for months. (See article referenced below) For that reason, we would like to hear from you for several months after you discover the frostbite.

The ROUS Foundation can offer veterinary support (specific to capybara care) to your veterinarian. Let us know and we will have our veterinarian contact your veterinarian. We may also be able to help with long-term care on a case-by-case basis.

Here are two ways to contact us:

Capybara Owners Facebook Group (public)

ROUS Foundation (confidential)

Reference: Thermal Injuries in Veterinary Forensic Pathology; Wohlsein, Peters, Schulze, and Baumgärtner; 2016.


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