The Paw Print Genetics Blog

Preventing and Treating Canine Heat Stress

Preventing and Treating Canine Heat Stress

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, said Benjamin Franklin. While the founding father might have been talking about most things in human life, his advice also applies to canines.

During these hot summer days, commonsense prevention can help keep your dog safe. Dogs don’t do well in the heat; even seemingly mild days in the 70s and low 80s can take their toll quickly. Humidity compounds the heat and makes it harder for your dog to cool down. If your dog is out of shape, exercising in heat takes an even greater toll.

If you’re training your dog for competition – whether that’s field trials or hunt tests, obedience, agility or flyball – it’s best to practice early in the morning when the ground and air temps are at the coolest. Other commonsense precautions to take include: ample breaks in the action, plenty of cool water to drink and swim in between drills, as well as resting in the shade.

If you take the time and provide your dog with the chance to cool down, you should be fine. However, there are a couple of things to keep in mind when watching your dog work in the heat:

Big mouth: Excessive panting and an extremely widened tongue that’s cupped at the end are initial indicators of heat stress. Take a break, get the dog some water and wait until things return to normal.

Physical and mental impairment: Watch how your dog is running, walking and following commands. A stumble or disregarded command might not be momentary misstep or stubbornness, but instead a display of physical and mental stress brought on by overheating.

Spacey looks: Glassy eyes together with physical or mental stress are a very good indicator that something is seriously wrong with your dog.

If you see these warning signs, cease exercise and start to cool your dog down immediately. Give them water, put them in cool water and then put them in an air-conditioned vehicle or house and, if necessary, take them to the veterinarian.

Determining whether or not your dog needs to visit a vet can be tough if you haven’t assessed your dog’s baseline vitals and don’t have a thermometer (a dog with a temperature above 104 should probably be taken in for treatment). If the signs (excessive, rapid panting; lack of coordination; glossy eyes; etc.) don’t begin to reverse quickly, it’s best to err on the side of caution and find the nearest veterinarian; once a dog begins to overheat, it’s a hard thing to stop and then reverse – and it will kill your dog very quickly.

In addition, you must take precautions when cooling your dog:

Not too fast: Don’t put an overheating dog immediately into an ice bath, as it can lead to shock. Instead, ease them into the cooling process. Cool water taken by mouth (not too much, however) and poured over the body, placement in a cool pond with water continually flushed over the skin (get past that undercoat folks!), and placing ice along the stomach, inner thighs, ears and other areas with high skin contact will help.

Not too deep: Don’t just turn your dog loose, even if it’s walking okay. If heat stress has set in, they could collapse and if they’re swimming in deep water when they go down, you’re in trouble.

Not too long: Stopping the climb of the internal body temperature of the dog and then reversing it is the main goal. Cool-to-cold water, ponds, ice, air-conditioning and the like all help get the process going, but as soon as it begins to take place, stop administering it. Just as the dog’s body continues to heat as stress begins to set in, the internal body temperature continues to cool as it comes down. Too much of a good thing can lead to problems in the other direction (low body temperatures and hypothermia), which will compound the stress on the dog and its internal organs/systems.

*Image courtesy of Stewart Black*