The dog days of summer send temperatures and humidity levels sky high. Although summer is a good time to begin a conditioning program in preparation for the fall hunting season, be wary that outdoor exercise can be taxing on your bird dog.
For any dog, exercise and conditioning can help positively stimulate his or her metabolic state, thus helping to prevent obesity. However, as the level of activity for dogs, especially hardworking bird dogs, increases, so do the physical demands placed on the dog’s body, according to Robert Gillette, DVM, MSE, DACVSMR, of Red Bank Veterinary Hospital in Red Bank, New Jersey.
Structural, physiological and external factors, such as the environment, also are factors in metabolic utilization. Thus, it’s important to acclimate your dog to the environment in which he or she will perform to help minimize stress.
“A conditioned dog handles stress better than an unconditioned dog,” Dr. Gillette explains.
However, there can be times when exercise can stress a dog’s metabolic state to extremes, such as when an underconditioned dog exercises in an environment that he or she isn’t prepared to handle. Another instance is when a conditioned dog engages in an activity for which he or she is unprepared, possibly resulting in exercise-induced conditions such as overheating, hypoglycemia or exertional rhabdomyolysis.
Overheating, also known as hyperthermia, heat prostration and heat stroke, is a dog’s inability to regulate body temperature. Unlike humans, dogs cannot regulate their body temperature by sweating. Whereas people have sweat glands throughout their bodies, the only places dogs have sweat glands are their noses and around the pads of their paws, so they instead regulate their body temperature via the respiratory system, signaled by panting, and by emitting heat off the body through convection.
As the temperature outside increases, dogs have to work much harder to stay cool.
Look for little changes in your dog, such as rapid breathing, shade-seeking behavior, lack of motivation, wobbly gait, gaping mouth, and curled tongue, as signs of overheating.
“Overheating is a dangerous situation, so time is of the essence,” Dr. Gillette advises. “At the first signs, stop the activity and contact your veterinarian while taking action to enhance the cooling process. Give your dog some water and rub cool water on his or her abdomen. While transporting your dog to the veterinary clinic, position him or her in front of an air vent and allow cool air to move around his or her body. It’s important to seek veterinary care as soon as possible, because the longer the dog is exposed to high temperatures, the more damage you can cause.”
Hypoglycemia, or a drop in a dog’s blood sugar level, can be a serious medical condition that is caused by overworking an underconditioned dog or allowing an overzealous young dog to be overworked.
“The most common early sign of hypoglycemia is lethargy or fatigue, followed by loss of appetite, staggering gait, incoordination, and muscle twitching,” Dr. Gillette says. “Severe cases of hypoglycemia may result in seizures and even death.”
Once a dog starts to show signs, all physical activity should be stopped. Seek veterinary care and give your dog sugar water or an oral concentrated solution of glucose, such as corn syrup or honey, in the interim.
Exertional rhabdomyolysis, also commonly referred to as tying up, muscle cramps, and Monday morning sickness, is the muscle cell imbalance between energy needed and what is in stores. Mild cases can cause muscle soreness, while severe cases can cause major muscle damage and potentially be fatal.
“Various things can make a dog susceptible to rhabdomyolysis,” says Dr. Gillette. “Typically, either a dog is not conditioned properly to run or a conditioned dog is put in a situation in which the demands of the activity are above his or her capability.”
Warning signs include a change in a dog’s gait usually starting at the hind limbs, shaking, slow down or reduction in work, humped back, and tender to the touch. If your dog shows any of these signs, stop exercise and get the dog into a cool place. Give him or her small amounts of water and a readily available source of carbohydrates. If your dog doesn’t revive within five to 15 minutes, take him or her to the veterinarian.
The bottom line is to use common sense in caring for your dog during the summer. Be smart about when and how long to train. Keep an eye on your dog and anticipate problems before they occur. Although you can’t change the weather, you can be sure your dog is healthy and comfortable.