Heat Stress in our Canine Athletes

heat stress in dogs Aug 12, 2016

High drive canine athletes are at risk for suffering the effects of heat stress during training and competition. Studies show that some working dogs and k9 athletes can have body temperatures that are extremely high during strenuous activity (reported temperature values include Greyhounds 104 F - 106 F, Labradors 102 F - 107 F, Pointers 103 F - 106 F, and Sled Dogs 104 F - 108 F.) Interestingly, these dogs do not necessarily show any clinical signs of heatstroke or heat exhaustion. But other k9 athletes remain susceptible. Although the incidence of heat stress and heat stroke in K9 athletes has not been determined, we do know that several factors can increase your dog's risk. And we know that intervening during the early signs of heat stress can prevent heat stroke completely.

How hot is too hot?

It is not just extremely high temperatures that puts your dog at risk but also combinations of high temperatures and high humidity. A handy reference is to add the ambient temperature with the humidity percentage to get an idea of whether or not it is safe for your dog. For example, if the afternoon temperature is 95 F and the humidity is at 70%, you get a combined number of 165. Any number over 150 indicates you should pay close attention to your dog as there is a danger of heat stress. Any number over 180 and your dog is at high risk for heat stroke. Monitor your dog closely when conditions are prime for heat stress.

What are my dog’s Risk factors?

- Prior incidence of heat stress or heat stroke
- Stress
- Dehydration
- Improper athletic conditioning

What should I watch for?

The earliest signs of heat stress are:

- Excessive Panting
- Thick Saliva with a dry tacky mouth
- Dark pink/red tongue lolling out of mouth
- Decreased performance

And if I miss the early signs?  As heat stress progresses to heat exhaustion, you will see:

- Increased heart rate
- Excessive panting continues
- Body temperature continued rising above 102 F.
- Disorientation (no longer responding to cues, appearing anxious, or staring)
- Vomiting
- Diarrhea

What can I do to prepare my k9 athlete to compete in excessive heat?

While we are still determining what normal is for many k9 athletes during activity, we do know that a properly conditioned and fit k9 athlete has physiologic and metabolic differences from the companion dog. Conditioning should occur months prior to competition in strenuous sports to ensure that your dog’s body is at its peak ability to accommodate the environment during the exercise.

Key points to remember:

- Stay hydrated (but avoid drinking too much) - rule of thumb 1.5 oz per 10 pounds of body weight before and after strenuous exercise.
- Reduce stress.
- Begin Fitness and conditioning months prior to competition.
- Monitor your dog closely when conditions are prime for heat stress.
- Seek veterinary care for heat exhaustion immediately.


Conditioning and Training in the Canine Athlete

Robert L. Gillette, DVM, MSE, DACVSMR
Animal Health & Performance Program, Auburn University, AL

Heat stroke: diagnosis and treatment
Quick response, proper cool-down techniques essential to favorable outcome

Melissa Marshall, DVM, Dipl. ACVECC   Aug 01, 2008

Heat Stress in Hunting Dogs
by Delores E. Gockowski, DVM


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