For sporting dogs, heat and the potential to overheat can result not only in decreased performance but also serious health conditions. Owners should recognize signs of overheating so they can take steps to avoid potential health problems.
“The most common risk to a working dog is an increase in body temperature,” says Bob West, Purina Director of Sporting. “The level of danger from overheating can range from simply making a dog uncomfortable to a life-threatening situation.”
Exercise and other forms of physical activity can increase the body temperature of dogs. Dogs cannot regulate their body temperature by sweating. While people have sweat glands throughout their bodies, dogs sweat around the pads of their paws.
Most dogs are good at controlling their body temperatures, except when they are put in stressful situations. As a dog’s body temperature rises, the dog compensates by panting. The act of panting draws cooler air to the back of the throat and across the tongue, which cools the blood circulating to the core of the dog. While panting is an effective short-term solution, it is an inefficient method of lowering body temperature in the long run because the panting itself uses energy and that generates additional heat.
“You should take your dog’s temperature at the first sign of distress or after exercise,” West says. “If it is above 105.5 degrees Fahrenheit, start cooling down the dog right away. If the temperature drops below 104 degrees Fahrenheit in three to five minutes, the thermoregulatory mechanisms are working.
“On the other hand, if body temperature remains above that temperature, the dog may be having trouble regulating and you should do what you can to help bring the temperature under control. In cases where dogs become heat stressed or lose the ability to thermoregulate and remain at elevated temperatures for extended periods, they never totally regain their ability to regulate body temperature. These dogs will regain some regulatory ability but may never be able to work well again in even mildly warm conditions. This demonstrates that it is of the utmost importance to be vigilant about our dog’s well-being.”
External & Internal Overheating
Hunting and sporting dogs have the potential to overheat in two ways: externally and internally. A dog working the field on a warm, humid day can be at risk of overheating from external conditions. High humidity adds to the risk because it reduces the effect of panting since the saliva evaporates less quickly.
Additionally, the act of hunting or engaging in competition causes a dog’s body heat to increase internally. Research indicates that of the energy expended by muscle activity, only 30 percent is used for the actual work and about 70 percent is released as heat. The combination of warm environmental conditions and increased heat load from working muscles can quickly put a dog into a dangerous situation.
Panting generally is the first sign a dog could be at risk from overheating. This is frequently followed by a change in the dog’s gait and ultimately an unwillingness to continue to perform. Owners should keep a close eye for any change in a dog’s attitude. If the panting escalates to forceful painting, it’s time to cease all activity.
“Even moderate panting can indicate that the dog is having difficulty maintaining the level of performance,” West says. “While a slight case of overheating will cause discomfort for the dog, if not attended to immediately, the situation can move to serious health problems such as circulatory collapse, kidney impairment, brain damage and in extreme cases damage to the heart.”
Along with panting, owners should recognize any changes in a dog’s posture or behavior that could indicate a potential problem. West suggests carrying a thermometer when working with dogs. When possible, exercise in the coolest times of the day and avoid high humidity. He advises exercising a dog for short periods in warm conditions and taking a dog’s temperature at regular intervals to determine how the dog reacts to the heat.
In case of overheating, you should move your dog out of the sun into a cool area. Provide a few sips of water, if the dog can drink. Pour cool, not cold, water under the dog’s armpits, in between the legs and on the stomach. Contact your veterinarian if you cannot get the dog’s temperature to begin decreasing.
It is important to know a dog’s level of tolerance to heat. Some individual dogs and breeds can continue to work effectively and without risk at considerably higher body temperatures than others. Regardless of the tolerance level of the dog, strenuous activity should always be stopped at the first sign of a problem.