Warm summer days can be challenging when it comes to training dogs. Overheating could potentially lead to fatal conditions, such as heat stroke or cardiac arrest.
Dog’s bodies are built differently from ours. The biggest difference in this case is that they cannot sweat, which is one of the first techniques for thermal cool down for humans.
- To make up for it, the dog pants a lot, exhaling air and water vapors through the mouth. This process in itself manages to evacuate about 60 percent of dissipated heat. Other physiological processes also occur in the case of a strong heatwave, including peripheral vasodilatation or an increase in the pumped blood volume in the heart, both contributing to cooling down the body at a significant level. These techniques account for 70 percent of evacuated heat on the surface of the body. The dog will also modify its behavior, searching for cooler flooring, shade, and breezes, as well as limiting its activities, says vet student and canicross athlete Camille Paris.
Understanding the mechanisms behind the dog’s cooldown is essential for the optimal prevention and management of a heat stroke.
How to recognize a heat stroke
A dog that is too warm will pant a lot to compensate for the accumulation of internal heat. Consequently, cardiac rhythm increases as well as the femoral pulse, which can be palpated under the thigh. Gums suddenly dry, turning dark red, despite the fact that the dog will be salivating a lot.
- A dog about to suffer or suffering from a heat stroke will seem weaker and will stagger due to suffering from lower blood pressure and will also vomit and have diarrhea with blood in the stools.
If the dog hasn’t been cared for by then, the symptoms will continue, evolving towards a weakening of the femoral pulse, extreme pallor of the gums, gradual progression of respiration towards apnea, vomiting, and bloody diarrhea, and ultimately convulsions and coma. Some signs may also appear several days after the incident, such as cardiac arrhythmias, convulsions, decreased urine volume, and/or appearance of jaundice (causes skin and the whites of the eyes to turn yellow).
Hyperthermia is considered severe when the dog’s body temperature exceeds 41 degrees Celsius/105.8 degrees Fahrenheit; however, certain breeds, such as Greyhounds, naturally have an elevated body temperature.
What do I do if my dog suffers from a heat stroke?
First, the focus should be on stabilizing the dog by reducing its body temperature.
- Place the dog in a cooler environment and wet it with a towel previously dipped in water at room temperature. The use of cold water will have an opposite effect to the one desired, as it will provoke a vasoconstricting (narrowing) effect on the blood vessels.
Using a ventilator can also help considerably as well as placing the dog on cooler flooring, such as tiles.
It is recommended to place ice packs on the neck, under the armpit, and in the region between/under the hind legs to cool as much blood as possible by targeting the large vessels: the jugular, brachial, and femoral vessels.
- Once the body temperature reaches 39.4-40 Celsius/102.9-104 Fahrenheit, it is recommended to stop all actions actively cooling the dog to avoid hypothermia because the body will continue with its own cooling mechanisms. In extreme cases, the veterinarian may choose to pursue the cooling process, such as with the use of intravenous therapy.
Let your dog adapt to the heat
Establishing an adaptation period will help your dog, especially in spring or early summer. Theoretically, a proper adaptation period lasts 20 days, but some studies with working dogs in Dubai have shown that after four days, the difference is already quite noticeable.
- Early morning fresh air or evening breezes are preferred for training. Avoid the warmest hours of the day. Choose forest trails full of shade, and ensure that water will be available at some point to maintain proper hydration.
Adjust distance and duration
When performing harness work, wetting your dog using a towel dipped in room temperature water will be beneficial to your dog.
- Be sure to avoid the classic pouring of freezing water on your dog—it will do more harm than good.
Shortening the distance and duration of training will also help.
Following an intense effort, Camille recommends slowly walking the dog to help with recovery.
When it is warm (between 18-25 degrees Celsius / 65-77 degrees Fahrenheit), multiple world champion Tessa Philippaerts usually won’t train for any long distances.
- Probably around three kilometers with the dogs attached and most of the time in the form of intervals (3 x 1 kilometer). For longer distances, I make sure that we have a lake or some water stops on the way.
She doesn’t really train her dogs during summer.
- It is more like keeping them a little bit in shape and happy. In this weather, they do not need much activity to become tired. If you want to keep your dog in real shape in summer, swimming is the perfect answer. It’s also a very good alternative after a whole season of pulling.
Camille recommends you offer water or a mineral enriched drink for dogs.
- The amount shouldn’t be over more or less than 300 milliliters (approximately the size of a medium bowl) to avoid stomach torsions and hyperhydration. Once the pulse slows, you can offer more water and a good recovery afternoon in a calm and fresh environment.
It’s also very important to water the dogs before training or racing, preferably 1.5 to 3 hours in advance.
Cool my dog down before training or not?
Tessa will hardly ever cool her dog down before training.
- I do not want my dogs to run like crazy. The fresher they feel, the harder they will pull the first kilometers until they suddenly hit a wall of heat. I prefer that they run at their own speed in warm temperatures so that they are able to finish training without becoming overheated.
Warm temperatures and race rules
Race rules regulate which distance is allowed at different temperatures. When it is warm, the trail has to be shortened to a more appropriate distance. Australia is particularly conscious of this. The Australian Sled Dog Sports Association, Inc. (ASSA) created a table to provide clear guidelines for both temperature and humidity.
- The rules used to be based on an equation of temperature plus humidity. As a flat rule, the cut-off for racing was a 15-degree cut off for scooterjoring, 18 degrees for bikejoring, and 22 degrees for canicross. The ASSA revamped its temperature rules in 2017 when the committee consulted with experts with experience in and research on thermal comfort and thermal stress and how they relate to dog sledding, especially in Australian conditions, says canicrosser and IFSS Oceania delegate Alex Watkins.
Detailed information about the table they created can be found here.
It is important to note that the table assumes there is zero wind speed for the wind chill factor, such as when running through a forest or dense bushland, where it will be minimal.
- Based on the observations related to thermal comfort, we are working on the understanding that dogs will reduce their body temperature through sweat and evaporation as well as ambient cooling through the surroundings (ground and air temperature), so this table does not offer a complete guarantee you will not overheat your dog under these temperatures, as there are many other factors, such as fitness conditioning and track difficulty to contend with. You could consider it an attempt to greatly improve the accuracy of temperature calculations to enable Race Marshalls and organizers to make an informed decision regarding the effects of temperature in consideration of the welfare of the dogs racing.
Different clubs and states have their preferences for solving the challenges related to heat.
- The most common would be shorter tracks, reverse order, and faster starts. Here in Western Australia, we can start as early as 4:30 AM, with the last dog finishing as late as 10:00 AM. We still run rigs, scooters, bikes, touring, and canicross all at the same events, and they have been becoming longer and heat has become a real issue for us.
In Australia, race organizers have a duty of care to ensure that they take all reasonably practicable precautions for their competitors, spectators, and animals’ health and well-being. This is also similar to other industries, such as Greyhound and horse racing.
- Dog welfare is the driving force behind the awareness of apparent temperature.
Swimming is a great way of training during hot summer days! Our Safe Life Jacket will not only keep your dog safe in the water, it will also help it improving its swimming technique!
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