Keeping Your Dog Cool in Hot Weather

Helping You Get the Most From Your Hunting Dogs

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Heatstroke is the most severe condition and is caused by an impairment of the body’s temperature-regulating abilities. This is the result of a prolonged exposure too excessive heat and is usually characterized by many of the same symptoms as heat exhaustion, but to a greater degree. Symptoms include the dog’s gums are usually bright red and dry or tacky, his skin will also feel hot to the touch, he will be suffering from a high fever and, if not treated immediately, may suffer a stroke or cardiac failure. It is important to remember that left untreated dehydration, heat stress or exhaustion may progress into heatstroke, which is a life threatening condition. There is no set pattern, however, your dog may not show any symptoms of the lesser maladies and suddenly be in trouble. You have to really know your dogs and keep an ever-watchful eye on their demeanor because left untreated, a dog’s condition can deteriorate very rapidly. Knowing what symptoms to look for and how to respond and treat your dog in such an event could just save his life!

Allowing your dog to take a swimming break during a warm weather hunt or training session is a good way to cool him down. Water retrieves should also be incorporated into your training regiment. They help to reinforce control and steadiness, while keeping your dog cool!
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A simple way to become familiar with the major heat illnesses is to remember this easy phrase, “First you become stressed, then exhausted which can lead to a stroke.” As with any heat-related illness the first priority is to cool the victim down, get the dog out of the sun and to the nearest water source immediately, especially if heat exhaustion or stroke is suspected. If symptoms occur while in the field, immerse the dog in a stream or farm pond if necessary, to cool him down. If closer to home, place him in your bathtub or use a garden hose to soak him down. Applying ice packs to the back of the dog’s neck will also help to cool him more rapidly. In either case, contact the closest veterinarian as soon as possible.

While heat stress, heat exhaustion and heatstroke are the most recognized heat-related illnesses they are not the only ones. Dehydration and canine hypoglycemia (a.k.a. hunting dog hypoglycemia) are also common ailments afield. The problem with diagnosing a heat-related illness is that they do not distinguish themselves well from one another, making it hard for the average gun dog owners to recognize and treat the symptoms. Canine hypoglycemia is a good example, the dog will be fine one minute, then pass-out, often in mid-stride, the symptoms may resemble that of heat exhaustion or stroke, when actually the dog has a very low glucose (blood sugar) level. Many “old school” gun dog trainers and handlers still carry a small bottle of “Karo” syrup with them while afield. If the dog passes-out they would rub some of the syrup on his gums, where it will be rapidly absorbed into the blood stream, returning the glucose levels back to normal.

Although dehydration is usually one of the first stages of a heat-related illness, it can also be a problem in its own right. Dehydration is usually among the first signs of a heat problem, although, again there is no set pattern. The dog’s nose may become dry and his skin will appear to lose its elasticity, once again administering fluids and electrolytes as well as normalizing core body temperature and rest will help alleviate the condition.

As a gun dog owner, you should place a high priority on carrying water with you while afield. You need to take frequent rest stops and have a good supply of water available for your dogs in the field; a bicycle water bottle works well and can be carried in your game vest and your dog will quickly learn to drink from it. It is also important to know the area. Always have an idea of where the nearest water source, such as a stream or pond is located. It’s also helpful to know where the nearest veterinarian’s office or animal hospital is.

In situations like a dove hunt, where you will be in the heat of the day for several hours, commercial products such as "cool-down" collars and portable blinds will help to keep your dog cool.
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Being prepared for an emergency is an important part of avoiding problems. Always carry a first-aid kit with you and having a cell phone in your truck is a good idea just in case of an emergency. Never leave your dog in a vehicle during warm weather, even for a few minutes. A closed vehicle can act like an oven, becoming very hot in a short period of time, even in moderately warm weather.

Remember the old adage about an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure. Prevention such as pre-season conditioning is the best way to avoid heat-related problems in the field, not getting your dog into such a situation is another and having the knowledge to recognize the signs and to treat a heat-related emergency could save your hunting partner’s life!
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