K9 Trail Time Interview with an expert (or two) Dr Anne Carter & Emily Hall MRCVS Experts on Heatstroke in Dogs

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.

Dr Anne Carter herself knows about the risks associated with dogs in the heat as she regularly competes in canicross races with her own 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.

Research has shown that black dogs suffer more in the heat that other coloured coated dogs

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.

Allowing your dog plenty of breaks to cool off if running in higher temperatures or if you suspect they may be getting warm

 

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

Many factors affect a dogs’ ability to cool itself but keeping them fit and a healthy weight will help

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.

Emily Hall MRCVS who has devoted a huge amount of time to this research to help dog owners recognise the signs of heatstroke and prevent unnecessary cases of it

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/

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Too Hot to Trot?

I’ve never felt the need to write a blog before on if it’s too hot to run with your dogs. I’ve often written about it being a factor you have to consider very seriously when canicrossing in the summer months, but I actually feel the need to write a little bit more about it considering this long spell of exceptionally warm weather we are having.

Many people talk about not running dogs in the summer months and I agree that you should be very, very careful about this but have always advocated using common sense and knowledge of your own dogs limits to guide you. I stick to very early morning runs (pre 6.30 am) I take water with me everywhere, even if it’s only 1.5 miles or 2 miles and I watch my dogs like a hawk, looking for signs over over-heating.

Always keep your dogs comfortable with any exercise they are doing, watching for signs of over heating

Always keep your dogs comfortable with any exercise they are doing, watching for signs of over heating

I’m going to stress at this point just how dangerous over-heating is in our canine friends, they do not always know what is best for them, they will try to please you by carrying on, some might not even show many visible outward signs of being too warm and it is your responsibility to decide if, when and how far you will exercise your dog.

It is also not always widely known how much of an impact the humidity has on dogs. Dogs can’t sweat and have to lose heat primarily through panting , humidity has the effect of making our dogs cooling systems less efficient and is extremely dangerous when combined with higher temperatures. There are many temperature x humidity formulas you can look up to help guide you but I prefer not to use these and go with my knowledge of my dogs, rather than a figure which may not be appropriate and take any risks.

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. There is also an increase in core body temperature and increase in heart rate , although if you were exercising your dog you may not be able to monitor this.

Always ensure your dog has plenty of opportunity to keep cool - ideally with a cooling dip in water where they can also drink

Always ensure your dog has plenty of opportunity to keep cool – ideally with a cooling dip in water where they can also drink

Other factors which influence how the heat may affect your dog are your dogs fitness, the breed, the type of coat your dog has (double coated dogs can get extremely uncomfortable in the heat) and if your dog is overweight at all. If you are in any doubt about the suitability of the weather for running your dog, even if others are running theirs, please do not be tempted to risk it as there have been too many tragic stories already this summer about dogs collapsing and the owners being heartbroken. If in ANY doubt, do not risk your dog.

If you think your dog might be getting too hot when you are out there are a number of things which can help cool a dog down safely, however if you suspect over heating ALWAYS get your dog checked by a vet as soon as possible because heat stroke is fatal. If you can do the following in the meantime it can help…

Allow your dog to cool off in a shaded area and follow other precautions

Allow your dog to cool off in a shaded area and follow other precautions

Stop all physical activity

Move your dog to a cool/shaded area as quickly as possible

Provide your dog with cool water (but not icy) to drink

If possible get paws and underside of your dog in water or on a wet towel but make sure you keep re-wetting the towel to keep it cool, the underside of your dog is where cooling will be most effective

If you can,  also increase cool air flow over your dog (fan, windows wide open in a moving car)

Always put your dogs’ health first in the summer months, in the UK we have plenty of cool weather for running our dogs in, so why risk it?!