Heat Stress: Early Signs and Life-Saving Tactics

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Pet owners tend to think of their dogs in human terms. When it’s cold, they want to make sure their pets are warm – to the same degree, literally, that they themselves are comfortable. At the Sportsmen’s Alliance, we’ve even seen legislation banning outside dogs when temps drop to 32 degrees.

While 32 degrees might be freezing for humans, for dogs, comparatively, it’s much warmer. These same pet owners wouldn’t disagree that a polar bear experiences environmental temperatures differently than humans, but will usually argue all day long when it comes to dogs. The truth is, dogs have evolved to conserve heat by keeping it internalized. They’re very efficient at staying warm.

Conversely, it’s quite easy to endanger, even kill, a hard-hunting dog on even a mild day. Every year dogs are put at risk for heat-related issues during late summer and early fall hunts and field trials. In 2003, more than 100 dogs died during South Dakota’s pheasant opener.

However, if you know your dog and know the signs of heat stress, you can keep you dog safe and still enjoy the training, testing or hunting. Here’s what to watch for and do:

1) Big Tongues: Rapid, excessive panting with an extremely widened tongue that's cupped at the end is an early indication of heat trouble. Bright pink or red mucous membranes and thick, clingy saliva are later signs of heat stress.
How to stay safe: Find shade, take a break, and give your dog cool water.

2) Hot skin: This is where knowing your dog really well can save its life. By being familiar with your dog’s normal body temperature, breathing and heart rates, you have a baseline from which to evaluate her in the field. Any dog with a body temperature over 104 degrees is in serious danger.
Check here: Periodically feel your dog's inner thighs. If it's hot, and especially in combination with heavy panting, back off the activity until things normalize.

3) Lack of coordination: This can start physically with a small misstep that’s easily discounted or a seemingly silly mental mistake. It could be happenstance, or it could be the beginning of heat stress. An unsteady gait and glassy eyes are undeniable signs of heat stress. Vomiting or diarrhea could accompany these. Collapsing could quickly follow as heat builds up inside your dog.

How to save your dog: Get the dog into a cool pond and continually flush water over his body, then move him to an air-conditioned truck and get to a veterinarian immediately. Apply ice to the dog's skin on the belly and inner thighs to help keep him cool during the ride to the vet.


About the Author

Brian Lynn
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Brian Lynn has enjoyed a career in the outdoors industry for more than two decades, including as senior editor and gundogs editor at ESPNOutdoors.com and Outdoor Life magazine. Currently he defends hunting, fishing and trapping trapping from the animal-rights movement as the vice president of marketing and communications at Sportsmens Alliance


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