Oz Working Dogs - Assistance & Working Dog Equipment

For assistance/service dog equipment, as well as guide, therapy, detection, search & rescue, police and dogs in training equipment check out my website http://www.ozworkingdogs.com.au - I make and sell vests, capes, belly bands, harnesses, handles and more... and will post to the world!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Heat stroke in assistance/service dogs and what you can do about it

Updated 13th December 2013
(Knightley 2 years 4 months 2 weeks 1 day old, Apollo 1 year 3 months 1 week old)

I have been reading a fair bit on the topic of heat stroke and the particular dangers for assistance dogs. Here in Canberra the summers are usually fairly hot, with our hottest days coming in at about 39-40 degrees celcius (102.2 - 104 degrees fahrenheit) and many days in the mid 30s. Occasionally we have days in the low 40s (up to about 107.6 degrees fahrenheit), which are really horrible.

However, when it comes to keeping a dog cool, we have one blessing; we are really really dry. Go a couple of hours west of us and you are in the beginnings of what is known as the 'outback', ie basically semi desert. Go further west and you hit the real rolling sand dunes type desert. Anyway, keeping a dog cool seems to rest on one main thing, and that is evaporation. When there is already more moisture in the air (otherwise known as humidity!), evaporation doesn't take place anywhere near as well, as it is like trying to put more moisture where it isn't needed! Hence being dry helps keep your dog cool. We do have some humid days, in fact last summer was bizarrely wet and humid, so I need to be careful when working my dogs when we have both heat and humidity. Apollo especially seems to suffer from heat.

So how does it work? Well as I think we all know, dogs lose heat, ie they sweat, through their tongues. This is because their saliva is constantly evaporating from their tongue, cooling the blood that is running through it. As the dog breathes, the hot moisture rich air from their lungs comes up in a breath, and they suck down nice cool fresh air that runs over the tongue and further helps evaporate saliva from the entire tongue surface, drawing cooling air right down into the lungs. This is the main way dogs have for managing heat, however they also lose heat through their nose leather and foot pads.

Using dog boots during the summer is something you can do sometimes protect your dog's feet from being virtually burnt by hot surfaces but generally, if the ground surface is too hot for them, they shouldn't be going out at all. Try to find another time to go out, as putting boots on a dog will mean that your dog's feet won't be able to sweat and get cool when they have a chance. You can get summer boots with more ventilation, and you definitely should get these if you are intending them to be worn during summer.

A dog's cooling system is so different to a humans that in our misguided way of trying to help them, we may be making it worse. This is also true for many of those 'cooling' dog jackets out there, especially the cheaper ones. At best they may work well for a black short furred dog, but a dog with long fur relies on that fur to keep a layer of insulating air around him - a jacket will compress it until it just makes his fur hot and heavy. Cooling bandanas do not work well either, if anything they are dangerous because they may lower the brain temperature without lowering core temperature, so may make the dog think they are ok and shut down cooling systems when they could be going into heat shock. The best place to apply a cooling garment is on the abdomen, such as these ones worn by Military dogs in the Middle East. The ones that rely on evaporation are not very effective, you need to go for the ones with packs of oil or another material that will hold a constant temperature for a couple of hours. They can be very effective. I am currently considering getting a new cooling vest for Apollo to allow him to work on hot days. Most of this information about the efficiency of dog cooling garments I got from an excellent article right here.

During summer you should always be on the lookout for symptoms of heat stress, and of course heat stroke - which in extreme cases can lead to death in as little as 20 minutes (in a car would be the most obvious scenario here). Symptoms to look out for are thick gloupy saliva, rapid panting, lack of responsiveness, hyperventilation, increased saliva then a lack of saliva, confusion, vomiting, diarrhea and even bleeding. As it gets worse you can see the gums going grey. Eventually it goes towards coma, then death.

However, there are things you can do to prevent this happening. Firstly, if you have a long furred dog, make sure it is well groomed. Its fur only works as insulation if it is matt, dead skin, and dirt free. Taking water with you when you go out is a must, perhaps in a insulated bottle to keep it cool. Give your dog frequent drinks, because remember, he relies on that saliva on his tongue to keep cooling himself. Make sure your dog isn't over excited - a dog can actually get heat stroke in a air conditioned room if it gets excited enough. Don't ever exercise your dog on a really hot day for more than a few minutes unless you have some serious cooling at hand. Exercise makes your dog's temperature spike massively. If you want anymore tips on reducing the risk of heat related problems, go talk to your vet. A pet dog can just sleep through a hot day, but an assistance dog that is expected to work just can't avoid it.

As some basic heat stroke first aid, if you think your dog is panting harder than normal, or you don't like the look of the texture of his saliva, you can wrap an ice pack WELL to protect his skin, and put it under his elbow, against his chest. Remove it for a few minutes every 10 mins and feel the skin to make sure it isn't freezing cold. A lot of blood runs through there, and that will help cool him. You can also put packs on his stomach.

He should drink, although a dog who is going into heat shock often won't drink. If he is just over heated, he should be happy to drink. When he is truly going from stress to shock he may go from panting hard to not panting much at all. While he's panting, he is cooling himself effectively. If he really droops and becomes unresponsive, and stops panting hard, cover him with water and get him to a vet. If it's just him looking very hot, get him in a cool room, get him to calm down and lie down on a cool surface. You can mist the entire abdominal region, and possibly the head, with water too (not too cool)... the evaporation may help a bit. If you are unsure of his response, if you think he is looking at all worse, go straight to the vet. Heat stroke is not something to mess around with. Also, please be aware that a day does not have to be very hot to cause heat stroke in a dog, if it is also humid! Humidity if anything, is worse for heat stroke, than heat. Both together are a killer. So look after your dogs people.

I am finishing Apollo's training now and it's coming into full summer so we have to learn how he really copes with heat and how best to keep him feeling cool. He's having a little trouble coping with the heat and has gone into what I would call heat stress a couple of times. It was easily overcome though, so at that stage a little rest, a big drink, and a lie down on some cool tiles and he is as good as new! It is much harder if you don't closely monitor your dog and get it early though.

Take care of your dogs all, and yourselves. :) 

No comments:

Post a Comment