By Susan Scofield
Recently, the Club had a run on the Snoqualmie Valley Trail. The trail offered plenty of shade, and there was water in the ditches. Ditch or trailside seasonal creeks are a favorite of WA dog scooterers; water being the primary ingredient needed for a comfortable run in warmer weather. In the spring, this is available, but come summer, the ditches are dry.
On this day, the temps reached 87, a degree at which I would normally NEVER run my dogs. I learned the hard way about overheating a scooter dog, and I hope to never make that mistake again. Attentiveness to the dog and the environment and a flexible attitude is necessary under all circumstances of running dogs, but especially in stressful conditions; high temperatures accompanied by humidity being one of the worst scenarios. Often times common sense tells us to stop, but if we have driven a long ways, and are aching to run dogs, and there is pressure from the group to run, we may fail to heed our intuition and head out on the trail when really the dogs and driver ought to turn around and go home. Or, we do not stop and rest, as we should, because we want to get back to the car.
Dogs cannot sweat as humans do; they cool themselves by moving air over their moist tongue and airways through panting.
One to two hours before the run give the dog a couple cups of baited water. Baiting means to add something to the water that will encourage the dog to drink, i.e. canned cat food, tuna, or a nutritional supplement. A well hydrated dog is necessary for peak performance and for helping the dog stay cool as its metabolism rises during exertion in warm weather. Carry additional water for the dog and driver. Offer small amounts while on the trail. If possible immerse your dog in a pool or pond prior/and or during run. As they move, air will pass over their moistened body, allowing for evaporation.
Schedule the run in a shady area
Frequent stops are Mandatory
Watch for excessive panting. Watch for swelling tongue, indicating that the dog is unable to meet its cooling needs. Tongue hanging out with heavy breathing is past the need for rest. STOP and rest until breathing is normal.
Heat stroke can occur if a dog’s temperature goes above 104 degrees. The increased temperature causes a metabolic disturbance that triggers the release of chemicals that ultimately causes cell destruction. In heat stroke, the blood thickens causing stress on the heart as it attempts to pump the heavy blood through the system. Blood stagnates and eventually clots, causing tissue death. The brain, liver, and intestine are most prone to the effects of such cell destruction.
Ear flaps may be reddened.
Tongue may swell and darken
Dog begins huffing and puffing or gasping for air
Dog begins to weave when it walks because of dizziness
Dog lays down or collapses and can’t get up
Dog becomes unconscious
If you determine your dog has heat stroke, it is imperative to cool the dog down! The best way is to run water over the dog, so there is always fresh water in contact. When you immerse a dog in a tub, the water trapped in the hair coat will get warm next to the dog, and act as an insulator against the cool water and cooling stops. If you can run water over the dog and place it in front of a fan that is the best. Misting the dog with water will only help if you are in a dry environment or in front of a fan.
Wet the ears, base of neck, belly, groin, under arms, under legs, base of tail and underneath the tail.
You can always put your dog in the car and turn on the air conditioner. You can offer your dogs tiny amounts of water to wet the mouth, but the dog will probably not drink…and water in the stomach does not cool the dog. When heavily panting, the dog will take in large amounts of air and this could possibly cause a condition called bloat, a serious medical condition. Misting the dog with water will only help if you also have a fan. Getting the dog wet is not enough, it needs to be cool water, and it needs to evaporate, as this is the dog’s cooling mechanism. Ice is also less effective than cool water, because it causes constriction of the blood vessels, and thus does not promote the most efficient exchange of heat. Emergency ice packs (the kind you shake to activate) are best applied to the inner thighs, under the arm, under the tail, and under the ear flaps.
Check the dog’s temp and if it is starting to drop, then you stop the cool water. This would be at 103. If you do not have a thermometer, do not stress over this, stop pouring the water over the dog, and observe it closely. Is the panting slowing, are the ears coming back up, is there less of a dazed look, is the swelling of the tongue going down, is elasticity returning to the skin? Is the dog more alert? You must stop cooling the dog BEFORE the temperature drops to normal, as it will continue dropping, and then you will enter into a hypothermic situation. Glyco-charge, Peidalyte, Gatorade, can all be given to the dog to help restore electrolytes. If your dog has come close to death in an over heating situation, please take it to your vet as soon as possible. The effects of heat exhaustion may take several days to show themselves, as tissue death of vital organs may have occurred. I can testify to the fact that once a dog has overheated, it will remain heat sensitive for life.
A completely soaked dog should not be enclosed in a plastic crate or small space without good airflow. Again, you would be putting the dog in a situation where the process of evaporation cannot effectively take place. Airflow must occur over the damp dog for cooling to take place.
Here in Washington, with my Siberian Huskies, I have a guideline for running my dogs. If I am wearing a tee shirt only, it is too warm to run my dogs. Of course, I watch the temp, feel the humidity, and observe my dogs.
Attentiveness to your dogs, knowing your dog, watching their body language is the BEST way to avoid over heating. You must be AWARE that you are the one that must recognize when to stop. The dog will run itself into a dangerous situation. Know if you have a high risk dog: Examples would be young dogs, sick dogs, overweight dogs, out of shape dogs, dogs on certain meds, short muzzled dogs such as the bully breeds, dogs with respiratory or heart conditions. Overheating can happen any time a dog is moving. Pay attention, know your dog, and trust your wisdom, and have fun on the trails.
(as seen in the LineOut Issue 07 2008)