Canine Heat Stroke
As we approach the Dog Days of Summer, remember to be judicious about training your bird dogs during the intense heat of the day. Exercise and muscular activity can rapidly drive our bird dog’s body temperature to a life threatening level. Heat stroke can develop and lead to the death of your athletic partner.
What is heat stroke? Heat stroke is a form of hyperthermia (extremely elevated body temp) that occurs when a dog’s heat-dissipating mechanisms of their body cannot accommodate extreme temperatures. The mechanisms to dissipate heat include panting and sweating; heat is removed from the body by the evaporation of sweat and dilation of blood vessels. 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° F without evidence of an infection suggest hyperthermia (a normal dog temperature can vary from 100 to 102.6° F, and a fever is when their temperature is greater than 103° F). The critical temperature for our bird dogs when they are hyperthermic is 109° F—as this is the temperature that is associated with heat stroke and organ failure!
When a dog reaches the 109° F core body temperature, thermal cellular damage begins. Excessive heat causes cellular death leading to multiple organ (liver, brain, kidney, gastrointestinal, muscles) failure and ultimately death may result.
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 bird dog’s normal body temp and heart rate is), difficulty breathing, bloody diarrhea or bloody vomit, dizziness, disorientation, muscle tremors or weakness, changes in behavior—just to list 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 stroke or other heat-related disease such as heat exhaustion. Dogs that have had a previous heat-related injury are much more prone to having a second 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 your way to the nearest hospital? 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 or place them in a well ventilated area to aid in evaporation. 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 return to 103° F, stop all cooling procedures because they can become hypothermic very suddenly. DO NOT use ice on the dogs because it causes the blood vessels to constrict which will impede heat removal. Be very careful in giving them both food and water once they are in heat stroke as it may cause severe gastrointestinal distress. Move your dog promptly to the nearest hospital for further treatments—which may include IV fluids and other emergency protocols deemed necessary by your veterinarian. Blood work can assist your veterinarian in assessing the degree of organ distress or damage such as the liver, kidneys, and pancreas.
Some things that I do with my own dogs are to condition them early in the morning when the sun is not directly over head. I offer them cool water before and after exercise. I work them in an area with lots of available ground water for dunking and drinking. Make sure you force regular breaks or periods of rest on your dogs! Make them rest and rehydrate them often! When you are finished training, place your bird dogs in an air conditioned car with you. Finally, condition, condition, and condition them! Heat stroke is a condition that can be avoided by using an ounce of prevention!