Recently I was asked to make some comments on heat related injuries in the dog! It’s now the “Dog Days of Summer”…so this is a great topic to discuss!

What is heat stroke? Heat stroke is a form of hyperthermia (high body temp) that occurs when a dog’s heat-dissipating mechanisms of their body cannot accommodate extreme temperatures. These mechanisms to dissipate heat include panting and sweating…heat is removed from the body by the evaporation of sweat. Dogs do not sweat the way horses or people do so they rely mainly on panting and dilation of the peripheral blood vessels to remove excess heat. Body temperatures in the dog that exceed 106 degrees F without evidence of an infection suggest hyperthermia (a normal dog temperature can vary from 100 to 102.6 degrees F…a fever is when their temp is greater than 103 degrees F). The critical temperature for our dogs when they are hyperthermic is 109 degrees F. This is the temperature that is associated with heat stroke!

When a dog reaches the 109 degrees F mark, thermal damage occurs causing cellular death leading to multiple organ (liver, brain, kidney, gastrointestinal, muscle) failure…and ultimately death results!

Signs to look for while in the field include excessive panting, high rectal body temperature, excessive salivation, brick-red gums, higher than normal heart rates (it’s a good idea to know what your dog’s normal body temp and heart rate is), difficulty breathing, bloody diarrhea or bloody vomitus, dizziness, disorientation, muscle tremors or weakness, changes in behavior…to name a few.

Factors that can influence the severity of heat stroke include age, obesity, long hair coat, poor acclimation, poor conditioning, underlying heart or lung disease, dehydration, and most importantly a previous history of heat-related disease. Dogs that have had a previous heat related injury are much more prone to having a 2nd episode because their heat regulatory center in the brain is most likely already damaged.

What can you do to immediately begin treatment in the field while on the way to the nearest hospital? Great question! Spray your dog with water or immerse their entire body prior to traveling to the nearest hospital. Use a cooling fan if at all possible. You can soak the dog’s feet and groin/armpit area with rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol to aid in convection or removal of heat. Monitor the dog’s temperature constantly…once they hit 103 degrees F, stop all cooling procedures because they can become hypothermic very suddenly. DO NOT use ice on these dogs because it causes the blood vessels to constrict with will impede heat removal. Be very careful in giving them both food and water once they’re in heat stroke as it may cause severe gastrointestinal distress. Move your dog ASAP to the nearest hospital for further treatments!

Some things I do with with my own dogs is condition early in the morning when the sun is not directly over head. I work them in an area with lots of available ground water for dunking and drinking. Make sure you force breaks or periods of rest on your dogs! Make them rest and rehydrate them often! Condition, condition, and condition them!

5 Comments Add yours

  1. CHAZZ says:

    >that is a very informative post. Thanks

  2. >I almost lost my very first bird dog 40 years ago because I didn’t recognize heat stroke. I was lucky and instinctively did the right things. Only later did I find out that was the problem.Thanks Dr. Shawn.

  3. Chet says:

    >I read an article by George Hickox along time ago and he said he always fills the feed bowl with water and food making soupy mixture, the reason being your dog can never be to hydrated. I have always done this, what’s your opinion on this practice? Even before we hit the field I’ll put a handful of food in a bowl of water and he’ll put it all away.Sometimes Otto will pass on water and eat snow… any explanations? I offer and offer figuring he’ll drink when he wants.

  4. >Chazz and Walter…thanks!Chet…I too add water to my dogs’ food for the same reason. It was thought some years ago that moist food leads to dental tartar…this has been proven to be NOT true. I would continue to add water to their food. My setter, Gretchen, did the same thing last winter while I was hunting scaled quail in Colorado (moved 10 covies that day on Public land!…why she’d rather eat snow is beyond me!

  5. Mike Spies says:

    >AMEN! A tmely subject.Heat is probably the number one killer of bird dogs. I know experienced people who have lost dogs to the heat, with death occurring days after the overheating event.If it is over 65 to 70 degrees, watch your dog like a hawk. he cannot tolerate the heat that we can easily handle by sweating. If he gets warm, dunk him, roll him on his his back and pour water over his chest. Get him in the shade and fan him with your hat… but cool him down.I also buzz the hair off my setters when we are running in warm weather. Effectively makes about a 20 degree difference. Take no chances.

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