Heat-Related Illness

Heat-Related Illness | Shooting Sportsman Magazine

If we want our gundogs ready for opening day, then we have to train in the heat and humidity. But training and conditioning at this time is tough, due to the heat. Trainers should be aware of hyperthermia and avoid it at all costs.

Hyperthermia is a heat-related illness (HRI) that comes when a dog’s core body temperature rises above the normal 101°F to 102.5°F range. There are two types of hyperthermia: non-exertional and exertional. Non-exertional HRI is when a dog overheats when left in a hot car, and those instances always make national news. Exertional HRI can come from running dogs in the heat, and this can be dangerous and even lethal.

One of the country’s leading experts on the physiological impacts of exercise on dogs is Dr. Michael Davis, leader of the Comparative Exercise Physiology Laboratory at Oklahoma State University. “Heat-related illness in sporting and working dogs is simply a failure to match heat dissipation with heat generation,” Davis said. “In the summer dogs have an extremely difficult time cooling down. The faster and harder the tissues are working, the higher the rate of heat generation.” For gundogs to perform, they have to be able to cool down.

Dogs cool down in different ways, according to Russ Kelley of Eukanuba’s Pet Health and Nutrition Center. Two main ways are through their skin and by panting. “Seventy percent of a dog’s heat is dissipated through his skin,” Kelley said. “Cold outside air cools off working dogs. But in the summer the air temp and the dog’s core body temp are similar, so the dog doesn’t cool off easily. And panting is the exchange of hot internal air for cold external air. In the summer dogs exhale hot air and inhale hot air, so temperature regulation is difficult.”

A third way dogs cool down is through their noses and paws. “Dogs can cool down through their noses and paw pads,” Kelley said, “but a dog’s nose represents such a small surface area that the amount of dissipated internal heat isn’t much. Conditioned gundogs have tough, calloused pads. Those tough pads resist cuts, punctures and abrasions, but they don’t allow much heat to escape.”

A last way dogs cool down is by lying on the cool ground. Of course, finding cool ground in the summer can be difficult, as sometimes even shady areas are warm.

To avoid exertional HRI you have to recognize the signs. There are three progressive stages: heat stress, heat exhaustion and heatstroke. Here’s what to look for.

First stage—heat stress—clinical signs:

Less-animated behavior.

Visibly tired or moving slower.

Changes in the dog’s focus or attitude.

Excessive panting.

Pasty saliva in the mouth.

Increased thirst.

Tongue excessively protruding with a flattened end.

Cheeks pulled back revealing the full arcade of the teeth, including the molars.

Brick-red mucous membranes.

Heat cramps or muscle spasms.

Second stage—heat exhaustion—clinical signs:

Any of the signs from the first stage plus additional potential signs:

Weakness or stumbling.

Mentally aware but too tired to react.

Uncontrollable panting.

Significant thirst.

Sunken, dry eyes.

Dry mouth, gums and nose.

Vomiting or diarrhea.

Muscle tremors.

Final stage—heatstroke—clinical signs:

Any of the signs from the first two stages plus additional potential signs:

Significant slowness or lack of coordination.

Weakness in the hind end.

Wobbly and unsteady.

Unresponsive or confused.

Aggressive panting.

Dark urine or lack of urine.

Seizures.

Head tremors.

Shock.

Collapse.

Coma.

HRI Treatment

While detection is critical to prevent overheating, appropriate actions are important for treating dogs in trouble.

First stage—heat stress—actions to take:

Take a break, sit in a shady area and provide your dog lots of water.

Reduce the dog’s core body temperature by applying cool water to its paw pads and underbelly.

Rinse out the dog’s mouth to remove the pasty saliva from the gums and tongue.

Check the dog’s temperature with a rectal thermometer. If the temperature is above normal, apply rubbing-alcohol-soaked pads to the ear pinnae, “armpits” and groin.

Resume work when the dog is fully recovered. Even then, it might be best to rest the dog until the next day.

Consult your vet for additional instruction.

Second stage—heat exhaustion—actions to take:

Get your dog to the nearest vet immediately.

Before heading to the vet, place a cool, wet towel on the bottom of the dog’s kennel.

Be sure the dog is in a crate large enough for it to lay on its side. It is important that the dog stretches out so there is maximum heat dissipation. If the crate is too small, lay the dog in the back seat of your truck.

Apply cool water to the dog’s paw pads and underbelly.

Rub alcohol-soaked pads on the ear pinnae, armpits and groin.

If you have a fan on the cage door, turn it on.

Absolutely do not put the dog in extremely cold water, and never put ice on the dog’s skin. Extreme cold causes surface blood vessels to shrink and increases the risk of dehydration and heatstroke.

Final stage—heatstroke—actions to take:

Get your dog to the nearest vet immediately.

Follow the actions from the second stage before you begin your drive to the nearest vet.

Pro Training Tips

According to Chris Akin, owner of Webb Footed Kennel, in Bono, Arkansas: “It’s tough to train dogs in the summer, so wake up early and train in the coolest part of the day. And be sure dogs have plenty of cool, clean water to drink.”

Here are five of Akin’s tips for summer training.

Open it up. “Cover and grasses trap heat, while open space circulates air. Even the lightest breeze helps dogs cool down.”

Shady stakeouts. “When dogs aren’t running, stake ’em out in the shade. Dogs with dark coats absorb more heat than lighter-colored ones.”

With less run time comes less food. “Reduce feeding, and feed only in the afternoon. Digestion increases internal temperatures, so dogs run cooler on an empty stomach. Add water to their kibble to increase hydration.”

Watch the tongue. “Rounded ends, long tongues and tongues coming out of the sides of their mouths means back off. Lack of focus, wobbly legs and excessive panting means cool ’em down. Take your time, and build up progressively.”

Keep Labs dry. “Cut water, as it’ll keep ’em cool. Be sure dogs are dry before loading ’em up. If a Lab’s undercoat is wet, the kennel’s heat will create a fungus.”

Getting to opening day means we have tough sledding during the dog days of summer. Keep a close eye on your pup so that you’re all ready for go time.


Tom Keer is a freelance writer who lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. He loves all sporting dogs and is a setter man.


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