By Jill Swan
Now that summer is upon us, things are heating up, which can cause our sporting dogs to overheat during training if precautions are not taken. Keeping your dog cool and watching for signs of heat exhaustion -- after all, they have a difficult time holding back and saying no -- are just as important as the lessons you’re teaching during your outdoor sessions. Heat exhaustion, simply put, is when the body gets overheated from working (exercising) in hot, humid temperatures. To gain better insight, we’ll rely on the expertise of veterinary associates Drs. Peter Lotsikas and Chris Zink of Veterinary Orthoperdic & Sports Medicine Group in Annapolis Junction, Maryland.
What are some of the signs?
Humans regulate their body temperature primarily through the skin, such as sweating. But "dogs do not sweat like humans, and the majority of their cooling ability comes from the respiratory system," says Drs. Peter Lotsikas and Chris Zink. "Dogs will initially start to pant and salivate when they become hot. The evaporation of the saliva from their tongue, mouth, and throat removes heat from the body."
What can I do to help prevent heat exhaustion?
Coat and coat care -- The thickness of your dog’s coat is also something to consider as dogs do use their skin for heat exchange. According to our docs, "A dog's fur traps air, just like birds, which acts as an insulator when it is cold as well as when it is hot outside. This allows dilated blood vessels to exchange heat with the 'trapped' cooler air in the fur. A dog’s ability to trap insulating air will differ based on breed type and coat characteristics. Short haired breeds do not have the ability to trap air within their coat, thus these breeds are more susceptible to overheating than are double coated breeds like retrievers. Keeping short haired dogs wet during training and heavy exercise is an effective way to keep them cool. As the water evaporates, heat is removed with it.
"For a double coated or long single coated breed, you are better off only wetting the groin and abdominal areas, where the skin is thin and poorly haired, to allow for heat excha nge. Wetting the back of these dogs actually traps water in the coat, and as this trapped water begins to vaporize it will increase the humidity around the skin, actually making the dog hotter." To better help the trapping of air, keep your dog’s coat well-groomed and clean.
Physical shape -- And of course, make certain that your dog is in good training condition. Dogs not used to heavy training or working on a regular basis outside will be effected more quickly. "A conditioned dog's temperature should regulate to normal (99.5-102.5) within twenty minutes of cooling. Any temperature of above 105 persisting longer than thirty minutes following appropriate cooling requires the attention of a veterinary professional."
Water -- Make sure to offer your dog plenty of cool water intermittently during your training sessions, and make sure he drinks some. "Remember that dogs do not need to drink large amounts of water in hot weather as we do, because they do not become dehydrated from sweating. Many dogs do not drink substantial amounts on performance days and it is not a problem," says Drs. Peter Lotsikas and Chris Zink. The important thing is that the coolness of the liquid will cool down the core body temperature of the dog.
What can I do if my dog becomes overheated?
Hopefully the situation never escalates to that level, but if you are seeing signs that your dog is overheated, then you need to immerse the dog in cool water. Don't use ice water because it constricts the blood vessels and can actually increase the dog's core body temperature. "If water is limited, then you are best to apply the water directly to the belly, armpits, and groin," advises Drs. Peter Lotsikas and Chris Zink. They also recommend rubbing alcohol: "It can be applied to their paw pads, external ear flaps, and abdomen, as it evaporates quickly and is an effective method of exchanging heat." Ender
Dr. Peter Lotsikas, DVM is an ACVS board-certified surgeon with the Veterinary Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Group (VOSM) in Annapolis Junction, Maryland. Dr. Lotsikas specializes in orthopedic injuries of the performance dog. His clinical focus is on minimally invasive surgery (arthroscopy) and joint preservation.
Dr. M. Christine Zink DVM, Ph.D, DACVP is a canine sports medicine trainer affiliated with VOSM. Her expertise is in evaluating canine locomotion and designing individualized retraining and conditioning programs for the canine athlete.