Make sure your dogs are kept cool by Geraldine Cove-Print
Extremes of weather play absolute havoc with dogs, for those trying to achieve that special lustre to a show coat it can be soul destroying to find most of it on the carpet in what seems like 24 hours! The last few weeks I have been either mopping up after downfalls of torrential rain or slapping sun cream on the white tips of my somewhat disgruntled cat’s ears.
Keeping animals cool becomes an obsession in my house with air conditioning units running and water bowls constantly topped up. I certainly worry about dogs in conditions that are less than ideal; rescue dogs in poorly built kennels really do suffer in the heat. If the ventilation is poor or the dog is unable to get out of the sun in outside runs they can deteriorate quickly if no-one is there to observe and act.
Many dog welfare organisations do get to the point where they can buy their own kennels but then if money isn’t spent on preparing for the worst of British weather dogs can be put in a dangerous position in the space of a few hours. I thought it a timely reminder in this first week of August to look at the problems of overheating dogs. Dehydration is the loss of body fluids with a depletion of the electrolytes, including the essential minerals of sodium, chloride and potassium.
There are several signs to look for in a dehydrated dog, sunken eyes, dry mouth and nose and dry gums are obvious symptoms of heat stress. You can then test the skin elasticity by gently pulling up the skin on the dogs neck into a tent and then letting go, the skin in a correctly hydrated dog will spring back easily into place.
Checking the dog’s capillary refill time is another way of checking for dehydration; press your finger on the dog’s gums until the gum turns white then release the pressure and watch how quickly the gum turns back to a healthy ink, in a well hydrated dog it should be immediate. It’s worth practising this technique so that you can quickly see if there is a problem in the future.
Overheating must be treated seriously and in the case of a working gundog they are often so intent on the task in hand they will ignore their body telling them to stop, so it’s down to the owner to keep a careful watch. Heat stroke and heat exhaustion can be a killer, remember it doesn’t need direct sunshine so if you put several small dogs in a crate you must check them individually and regularly. A dog’s normal temperature is around acceptable levels of 100.5 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit (38.05 to 39.16 C). If the body temperatures rises to 105 degrees changes begin to take place within the dog’s body and if the temperature rises to around 108 degrees irreversible damage occurs and death is likely.
Dogs who have narrow tracheas are at a big disadvantage in the heat, panting hard is exhausting so cooling the dog quickly and safely has to be top priority before getting the animal speedily to a vet. Common sense tells us that heavily coated breeds are at risk and there is evidence to suggest that black dogs are likely to suffer faster dehydration in direct sunshine. Getting cool but not cold water on the underbelly where there are higher concentrations of relatively superficial, large blood vessels and also to the pads of the foot should be the first place to start.
Airflow around the dog is important so draping a wet towel over the animal will just act like a sauna if the dog has really overheated, better to keep a cool spray on the dog if at all possible. This year we will see deaths of dogs in hot cars in the news, it’s become almost inevitable, it seems people will never learn.
I spoke to Natalie of Prestige Pet Products about its new cool coat; she told me she had just dealt with a customer over the telephone who wanted to order a cool coat so he could leave his dog in the car while he had lunch! She explained to him through gritted teeth that although the coats are revolutionary in the way they draw the heat from the dog it could never be used in such a situation and that the dog was surely safer left at home?
So now we come to prevention, the cool coat is definitely an innovation that I can see will make an impact on the dog showing scene, waiting around in scorching temperatures with so little airflow around the tented areas these light but effective jackets will keep dogs cool and dry as well as keeping coats in place.
Natalie tells me they have recently donated a number of jackets to Dogs Trust, much needed as although most of the centres are bang up to date some of the older buildings and compounds hinder keeping the dogs at the best temperature
Other countries seem to manage their animals in very high temperatures so why on earth are the British so bad at it? Lack of practice possibly, but in many cases we are, apparently, unprepared. No-one would lock a dog in a hot car knowing that the dog could be dead in minutes, surely? So when I hear over the tannoy at a dog show that a dog is in distress in the car park I am confounded by the ignorance of an individual who would put their companion in such danger.
Staying with the possible effects of extreme weather, there was tragic news from Drumbo Park in Belfast when four Greyhounds racing at a meeting on July 6 were destroyed after suffering stress fractures to their legs, in particular, the hock. This wasn’t the result of a canine pile up; each dog was racing in a separate race on the day.
The racing manager at the park, John Connors, has said that this type of damage is not uncommon and that they are career ending injuries. Does that necessarily mean life ending too? Greyhound rescues will be dismayed to hear of yet more dogs who have died for this ‘sport’, it is extraordinary for four animals to die in one meeting but the public outrage will bring to light the thousands of silent deaths that are the shame of Greyhound racing.
Many factors may have influenced the incidents including the heavy rain on the days before on a sand track. One of the vets who attends Drumbo Park regularly, Michael Watts, has spoken about the levels of fitness, conformation, genetic propensity towards fracture and the age of the dogs as being important to the investigation. Sadly, it is my opinion that few changes will be made.
The Greyhound racing fraternity says that the welfare of the dogs is paramount but apart from horse racing I can think of few billion pound industries that rely on volunteers to pick up the broken pieces when owners and trainers can no longer make a living from the animals in their ‘care’. Greyhounds were bred for speed, but surely we should look at ways to make racing safer, these dogs were also bred to feed a hungry commercialised activity – what is the real cost to a racing Greyhound today?