Heatstroke in dogs (a temperature monitoring study in sport dogs)

Dog welfare is of upmost importance to us here at K9 Trail Time and so we spoke to Dr Anne Carter and Emily Hall MRCVS who have been conducting a temperature monitoring study for Nottingham Trent University, with dogs who have been at some of the races we attend, hosted by the Canicross Midlands club.

The aim of the study is to try and discover what factors affect dogs core temperatures and potentially put them at risk of heatstroke or hyperthermia. The study is still in it’s early stages and results have yet to be published, as both Anne and Emily feel there is much more research to be done in this area and that they have only begun to scratch the surface of what needs to be looked into to give dog owners and in particular, owners of dogs who compete in sports,  a useful guide to help them prevent their dog from suffering hyperthermia.

Dr Anne Carter put together these notes for us so that we could share them with our followers but there will be more to follow due to the full study not having been completed yet. We have added additional notes not within the speech marks, which summarise the points as we see them.

Prior to the study it was noted…

“Dark coated, male dogs appear to be at higher risk of hyperthermia. This corresponds with findings from literature that suggest higher risk groups include: brachycephalic breeds, those with respiratory disorders, overweight dogs, and poorly conditioned dogs.”

So this suggests that dogs who are unfit and unused to exercising in higher temperatures will be more at risk than those who have been sensibly and gradually acclimatised to working in warmer temperatures. We have always advocated light training through the summer months for this reason but distances need to be kept shorter and measures taken to ensure your dog never over works in the heat.

Training runs in warmer months should be kept short to avoid over heating

Training runs in warmer months should be kept short to avoid over heating

The study so far has taken the previous notes into account but developed them…

“Normal core temperature in the literature appears to be 38.3-39.2⁰C – We found a normal core temperature range of 37.4 – 39.1⁰C.”

“‘Knowing your dog’ is key. Some dogs appeared to be naturally hotter at both resting and post exercise temperature. Therefore, their normal range may be different to another dog. This doesn’t appear to be breed specific.”

Which is indicative of the individuality of the dogs measured in the study so far and would imply that it is very useful to understand your own dogs’ regular resting core temperature, so you can be aware of anything abnormal specific to your dog.

“Hyperthermia in canine patients is defined as a core body temperature above 39.2oC. Canine heat stroke is therefore associated with a core body temperature above 40oC

Both these temperatures were exceeded in (some) dogs after a 5km run, but dogs quickly returned to normal range.”

This would indicate that dogs very quickly reach internal body temperatures which would be considered abnormal and dangerous to dogs, however the fact the dogs return to normal very quickly and that there has been very little study done on this so far, seems to suggest that this is probably perfectly normal and as long as we are aware of our dogs’ limits, is not harming the dog in any way. This type of raise in body temperature is probably occurring in any daily activity we do with our dogs but we would not necessarily be aware of it because we wouldn’t be monitoring their core temperature so closely unless we were concerned.

Allowing your dog to cool off when they require it by planning run routes with water is a great way to know your dog will be happy

Allowing your dog to cool off when they require it by planning routes with water is a great way to know your dog will be happy

“If heatstroke occurs, active cooling should be undertaken using lukewarm (not cold water), air con in the car, mist spray of fans. Cooling coats so far, have not been shown to be effective. Veterinary care should be sought immediately to improve survival chances (delays over 90 minutes increased fatality rates significantly in the literature).”

We discussed in great detail the things associated with heat stroke and the main signs of over heating are as follows: restlessness, seeking out cool areas/shade, looking to lie down, excessive panting, excess salivation and thick sticky saliva. Also look for glazed eyes, red or very pale pink (rather than healthy pink) gums, stiffness in movement which can lead to staggering and any anxiety or agitation. If your dogs displays any of these signs then it must be taken straight to a vet as any delay may cost your dog it’s life.

The main issue with heatstroke in dogs is shock, so even if you get your dog to a vet (ideally within 90 minutes of the dogs first showing signs of heatstroke) there are no guarantees that they will be able to undo the damage done to the internal organs by shock.

The things you can do to help your dog if it has been affected by the heat is to cool the underside of their body with cool but not cold water (shock damage can be increased by using ice water), ensure air flow over the dogs’ body i.e. with a fan or breeze in a car and don’t put anything over them which can trap the air in the dogs’ coat, so no wet towels, blankets or coats.

Remember that dogs lose heat through their paws, so boots can restrict a dogs’ ability to cool efficiently, therefore only use boots in cooler weather and never to protect your dogs feet from hot pavements, if it’s too hot for paws on pavements, it’s too hot full stop.

Boots s - Photo courtesy of Fay Frost Photography

Boots should only be used when it’s cold enough for them not to interfere with a dogs ability to cool itself – Photo courtesy of Fay Frost Photography

Dr Anne Carter and Emily Hall MRCVS will be continuing their studies throughout this dog sport season so if you would like to take part they will be at some (not all) of the Canicross Midlands race series and also some training runs, asking for volunteers. They have also provided this link on body temperature in racing greyhounds for anyone who is interested in a published study. It’s open access so free to all. http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fvets.2016.00053/full

We will be following the progress of this study and hope it will help to raise awareness of heatstroke for all dog owners not just those taking part in the dog sports.

Happy trails and if in doubt – don’t run!

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