Has your wirehair dropped hints about needing a trip to the spa for a bikini wax?
When your setter pants, does its tongue dangle lower than an abandoned long lead on an unruly giraffe?
Do you find your vizsla loitering around the refrigerator ice dispenser or stockpiling cooler packs?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, it’s time to acknowledge that summer is upon us and we need to give extra thought to keeping our bird dogs cool.
Seriously…Dogs have higher body temperatures than humans, and it takes them longer to cool down than it does us. Although they can shed heat by panting, the only surfaces that “sweat” on a dog are its nose and foot pads. On warm days, other than when there is an early morning dew, the temperature down at a dog’s running level close to the ground can be much hotter than up at our breathing level. If the air temperature around is us 80 degrees, by afternoon, in thick hot grass, it could be over 100 degrees at dog level. What is tricky is determining whether the dog is approaching heat stroke or is simply panting as is normal when it is warm.
There are two types of panting. Controlled panting is a natural cooling mechanism. Uncontrolled panting is not. The way to determine the difference is to call, whistle, wave or do something to distract the dog. If the panting is controlled, the dog will close its mouth and look to see what’s going on, showing the ability to regulate that panting. Not responding – not pausing the panting or momentarily closing the mouth – can indicate distress. Then it’s time to intervene and cool the dog down by rinsing thick saliva out of the mouth, immersing in cool water (never ice!), and applying rubbing alcohol soaked pads or cloths to the dog’s armpits, legpits, underbelly, and under ear flaps.
Besides that heavy panting, symptoms of overheating include excessive thirst, dark red gums, heavy salivation, and poor coordination. You can test for dehydration by pinching a roll of skin on the back of a dog’s neck. If it “sticks” up, hydration probably is needed.
Further symptoms of heat stroke include glassy eyes, weakness, vomiting or bloody diarrhea, increased pulse and heartbeat, collapse and seizures. Typically, a dog’s temperature should be 101 – 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. When a dog’s temperature hits 109 degrees or higher, its cells literally start to deteriorate. Within minutes, heat stroke can cause critical damage to the dog’s brain, liver, heart and nervous system as the brain swells and kidneys shut down.
Cooling an overheated or hyperthermic dog must be done carefully. The first thing to do is to move the dog to a cool place—shade, creek, fan, air conditioned building or vehicle. Again, never put ice on the dog or immerse it in ice. Place cool wet towels or pour cool water over the dog, concentrating on the head, neck and underside of the dog’s legs.
The cooling process must be gradual, so the temperature drops slowly. If a dog’s temperature drops too quickly, the risk of damage to internal organs increases. If the temperature gets down to 104 degrees and the dog can keep its head up, offer small drinks of water; too much water can induce vomiting. Once the dog’s temperature reaches 102.5 degrees, stop the cooling process (it might be smart to keep a canine rectal thermometer in your first aid kit).
Having plenty of water is priority one—gallon jugs in the truck and squirt bottles in the bird vest. That being said, we don’t want to turn our dogs into hippo-sized water balloons, so we need to watch and monitor input and output. Some dogs don’t like to drink in the field or while hunting. Adding a gravy or beef bouillon to the water bottle can help.
Priority two is making sure there’s a cool down spot nearby. Shade, vehicle AC, stream, water, canopies, etc. Consider keeping one of those reflective silver mesh shade tarps on hand. Draped lean-to style over a raised hatch, open truck back window, or tree branches, these tarps reflect sun but let in the breeze, considerably dropping the temperature underneath.
We have to be smarter than our dogs. Some of these bird-seeking-missiles have an override switch when it comes to self-regulating in the heat. To prevent your dog from impersonating a burnt fajita left flat out on the griddle plate, a little planning, a lot of observing, and some prompt responding can go a long way.