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Keep Your Sporting Dog Safe in the Heat

Written by Dr. Jill Cline, Eukanuba and Royal Canin Pet Health and Nutrition Center

It’s common for sporting dogs to run in hot weather. Sometimes it’s in the early season, while at other times it’s in a warm, Southern region. Hot weather takes a toll on pointers, flushers, and retrievers.

English setter panting from a hot run in the woods

While significant pre-season conditioning and training offer major advantages, they don’t prevent dogs from becoming dehydrated or suffering from heatstroke. It’s important to diagnose their signs quickly so as to keep them healthy.

Dehydration and heat stroke is a three-stage process. High environmental temperatures increase the rate at which dogs become dehydrated. And as the percent of water loss from the body increases, the signs become more severe.

I recommend two strategies for helping dogs maintain hydration. The first strategy is to make sure your dog is well-conditioned and fit for hunting season. Regular exercise is really important. Exercise programs for sedentary dogs should always begin slowly and increase as the dog becomes more fit. Feeding dogs a healthy diet of Eukanuba Premium Performance 30/20 dog food helps give them strong muscles, healthy joints, and energy to run hard. Dogs that are more fit are more resistant to dehydration and heatstroke than those that are not in shape.

My second strategy is to pre-hydrate your dog prior to a hunt. Instead of feeding your dog dry Eukanuba Premium Performance 30/20, add water to the kibble. Measure out water in a 1:1 ratio and feed immediately so the kibble doesn’t soak up the water. Some of our studies show that dogs working for successive days in a hot environment will become chronically dehydrated. The studies also show that pre-hydration—adding water to dry food—helps significantly. If you’re hunting in a hot climate, you should begin pre-hydration feeding three to five days before your first hunt.

Ultimately, you’ll need to know if your dog is dehydrated or suffering from heat exhaustion. Here are some ways to read your dog to keep him safe.

Excessive panting

One of the first signs of dehydration and heat stress is excessive panting. The easy solution is to take a break from hunting. Sit in a shady area with a cool breeze until your dog cools down. Provide ample water.

Thickened saliva sticking to gums or teeth during panting

Dogs dissipate heat through their mouths. When thick saliva coats a dog’s tongue and gums, it prevents cooler air from reaching the blood vessels of the mouth. This makes the dog hotter and more dehydrated. The simple fix is to rinse the saliva out of the dog’s mouth by squirting water from a bottle.

Thick, pasty saliva is the beginning of heatstroke

Dogs exhibiting thick, pasty saliva are showing the initial signs of heatstroke. Rinse the dog’s mouth with cool water, and give them some to drink. Also, I recommend applying alcohol-soaked pads to the pinnae of the ears, in the armpits, and in the groin area. The alcohol placed in those areas will help cool the surface blood immediately. Do not start working the dog until it has recovered.

Attitude change

When your dog’s snappy points, vigorous flushes, and sharp retrieves become sloppy, or if he’s not crisply responding to commands, then he’s probably dehydrated. Rest in a cool spot, rinse out his mouth, and water the dog. If he’s super-hot, apply cool water to his paw pads and underbelly, both of which help to reduce core body temperature.

Sunken eyes

Dry gums usually accompany sunken eyes, and that’s an indication for a handler to get his dog to the vet. Before you head to the veterinarian, place a cool, wet towel on the bottom of his kennel. Make sure he’s in a crate large enough for him to lie on his side. It’s important that the dog stretches out so there is maximum heat dissipation. Apply cool water to his paws, and place alcohol-soaked pads to the pinnae of ears, armpits, and groin area. If you have a fan on the cage door, turn it on. Absolutely do not put the dog in extremely cold water, and never put ice on the dog’s skin. That extreme cold causes surface blood vessels to shrink and worsens the dehydration and heatstroke.

Significant slowness or lack of coordination

When a normally fast dog runs slowly, or when he exhibits a lack coordination, disorientation, or collapse, get your dog immediately to a vet. Follow the above-mentioned guidelines before you begin your drive, and make every effort to get to the clinic as quickly as possible. Your dog is in danger.

We can’t choose our weather, but we can take care of our dogs. Take care when it’s hot, and keep your dog safe. Run in the cooler parts of the day, such as in the early morning or late afternoon. As temperatures drop, you’ll have a string ready to run all day.

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