There is so much information out there about how we should or shouldn’t look after our dogs in the hotter weather. Is it safe to run our dogs? Should we run our dogs? How should we exercise them? There are so many different questions and if you ask on any canicross page you will get a range of answers. As we at K9 Trail Time are trying to get the best information out there we went straight to Dr Anne Carter and Emily Hall MRCVS from Nottingham Trent University who have, over the past few years been looking at how dogs respond to heat, especially when running in harness. There is very little published research about dogs exercising in hotter or more humid conditions and so the work that Anne and Emily have been doing is invaluable to our dogs.
The first question everyone wants to know is how do we know if it is too hot? Does the temperature x humidity = 1000 actually mean anything?
As part of our research we calculated the “temperature x humidity” for 210 dogs at 10 canicross races, to see if the “do not run your dog if temperature (oC) x humidity (%) is greater than 1000” guideline was an accurate predictor of “safe” dog temperature. We found no correlation between the temperature x humidity value and dog temperature, or the number of dogs developing hyperthermia, or the number of dogs developing a temperature at risk of heatstroke, so would not recommend using this as a hard and fast rule.
If there is no set way to determine if it is too hot, how do we plan training our dogs over the summer so that they are fit enough for the racing season in September?
Unfortunately, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach. Black and male dogs are at higher risk, as well as those that are overweight, unfit, dehydrated or have a breathing disorder (including brachycephalic dogs). The important thing is to know your dog, some dogs cope better with the heat than others. Heatstroke is still possible in winter. Dogs can acclimatize but this can take around 6 weeks, something the British weather doesn’t often lend itself to. So if the temperature suddenly increases, the risk may be higher than after a steady increase. Try to exercise in the cooler parts of the day and use alternative keep fit options like swimming. Above all, get to know your dog! Crucially, does your dog stop or slow down when they get too hot (if so you’re lucky), or, will they run until they collapse. If your dog is the latter, you need to be extra careful.
What is humidity and why does everyone make a big deal about it? How does it affect the dogs?
As with people, high humidity can make a temperature feel a lot warmer and a run feel a lot harder. It is used to calculate the ‘feels like’ temperature. In high humidity, it is harder for dogs to dissipate heat, making them more at risk of heatstroke. Both humans and dogs rely on some heat being lost through evaporation, in humans we have sweat to evaporate, dogs use panting. At any temperature, a high humidity will limit evaporation, limiting heat loss.
When running our dogs in harness over the warmer months are there things we can look out for to make sure that our dogs aren’t over heating?
Early signs your dog is getting hot include increased salivating, excessive panting that doesn’t stop after rest, and a large and darker tongue. This can progress on to staggering and loss of balance, eventually causing collapse. One early sign could be that your dog stops pulling, or starts to stumble and trip more frequently. Reducing speed can help and letting them take a dip to cool down throughout the run.
What if my dog doesn’t really pull in harness, they just trot, and does that make a difference?
The less effort the dog puts in to a run, the lower the temperature of the dog-on average. There is still a risk of heatstroke, particularly in very hot weather, but we did find slower speeds didn’t increase body temperature as much as fast speeds.
Can I run my dog in their cooling coat? It helps them keep cool at home…
The problem with cooling coats is they can affect the dog’s natural cooling mechanism. The only study to look at cooling coats put them on greyhounds after a sprint race. Those in cooling coats had a higher body temperature than those without. There is no current evidence investigating the use of cooling coats during exercise, so we can’t comment on this, but if it’s hot enough that you think you might need a cooling coat, then perhaps a walk in the shade or a dip in the river might be a better option.
If that isn’t a good idea then how do I cool my dog down after a run? What if my dog doesn’t like getting in water?
After a run, active cooling is a good idea. Standing in or lying down in water, splashing luke warm water under their belly. Avoid using cold or iced water or submerging them in it as this can restrict blood vessels in the body and increase the risk of shock. If they don’t like water, they can be walked round or rested in the shade to cool them off, air movement is also very effective so pick a windy spot, or use the car air conditioning or a fan if you’re worried.
Sometimes our dogs put on weight over the summer as they do less, does this affect how they cope in warmer temperatures?
Increased weight can increase a dog’s ability to cope with the heat. It your dog is a little less svelte than usual, you will need to be more cautious when exercising in warmer weather. Reducing food intake relative to exercise can help keep the pounds off through the summer
Our dogs do agility and other sports over the summer and always seem fine; should we be watching for anything whilst competing in other sports or is it just harness sports?
Heatstroke is a risk for all dogs at any time but particularly when exercising in warm weather. Although sports such as agility are for much shorter periods of time, ambient temperatures are often higher so the risk of heatstroke is just as real.
If you are worried that your dog is suffering from heatstroke, active cooling is key. The car air con can be very useful, but the best chance of survival is to get them to the vets as quickly as possible.
So it sounds like there are still quite a few unanswered questions regarding heatstroke in exercising dogs, do you have any plans for more research?
We have just finished surveying owners of sports dogs about methods of cooling used, so expect to hear the results of that study in the hopefully not too distant future! We are also currently researching cooling after canicross races, measuring the dog’s temperature for up to 20 minutes after a race to see what impacts how quickly they cool, this study is still on going so you’ll have to wait a little longer for the results of that one.
Our next big research project is looking at activity levels in all types of dogs, any age, any breed and any health status, looking at how much exercise dogs are getting in general, but also how extreme weather impacts their ability to exercise.
The results of all our studies can be found on our blog: https://hotdogscanineheatstroke.wordpress.com/