Jun 1, 2012, 6:04 AM EDT
By Jerry Sather
The best way to deal with heat-induced health issues in dogs is not to let them happen in the first place. Your dog’s water intake and activity level in hot weather conditions are entirely under your control. The dog is counting on you to act wisely because its one goal in life is to please you, and in the case of a hunting dog/retriever, to find game and bring it back to you.
So first the decision is yours whether to allow the dog to be active on any given day. If in doubt, don’t. One day of training, or one day of hunting for that matter, isn’t worth risking your dog’s health … or life. In hot humid conditions, things can get serious fast.
Some breeds and individual dogs handle hot weather conditions better than others. Generally speaking, dogs with lighter color coats can tolerate the heat a bit better than dogs with dark color coats – yellow Labs versus black Labs, for example. This is simply because dark colors absorb and hold heat more than light colors. Think about gray leather seats in your pickup truck versus black leather seats. However, this is generality and just because you have a light-hued yellow doesn’t mean you can run him no matter what the conditions.
If you elect to train or hunt, it’s critical you know your dog well so you can read its body language and attitude at all times. There will be signs early on if your dog is stressed by the heat. If you perceive there is a problem ACT, don’t wait or try to “work through it.”
In addition to heavy panting, physical signs of heat stress are flushed, red skin on the ear flap; deepening color of the mucous membranes; gums may appear pale and dry; and/or a darkening color and slight swelling of the tongue. As the stress increases, you may see a lurching gait or loss of balance, quivering and/or weakens of extremities, hyper-salivation, vomiting and/or diarrhea, decreased mental awareness, and convulsions.
Heat stoke can occur if a dog’s temperature goes above 104 degrees. In heat stroke, the blood thickens causing stress on the heart as it attempts to pump the heavy blood through the system. Blood stagnates and eventually clots, causing tissue death. The brain, liver, and intestine are most prone to damage.
Again, if you even suspect your dog is heat stressed STOP EVERYTHING. Get the dog to where it can cool down. If nothing else, put the dog inside your car and crank the air conditioning. It’s better if you’re prepared with that kiddy pool we talked about in the last blog and a big supply of cool water to apply to the parts of the dog’s body where fur is the thinnest like the underbelly and groin. Applying ice directly is not as efficient as water and can put a seriously stressed dog into shock.
This is an emergency situation. Get the dog to the vet as quickly as possible, but continuing measures to cool the dog on the way. At the very least, get your emergency vet on the phone and follow their advice for cooling the dog. Delaying cooling can increase the risk of long term effects or death.
The best method is to run cool water over the dog. Pouring cool water over the belly and the groin area is ideal because of the rich supply of superficial blood vessels.
Some effects of heat stroke may not be evident for hours or even days. In some cases, there can be long term or permanent consequences. Dogs that have experienced extreme heat stress or even heat stroke are more likely to feel the effects of heat more quickly in the future.
Hopefully, now that you’ve read this and understand the serious problems heat stress can cause, you’ll never have to deal with it because you’ll use your discretion to avoid putting the dog in that situation.
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