How to keep dogs safe while exercising in heat
Greg Kincaid is the author of A Dog Named Christmas. His next book, the prequel Christmas with Tucker, comes out in November, and is now available for preorder at all major retailers. You can also read his previous blog posts for Petfinder and visit Greg at www.facebook.com/authorgregkincaid.
One of my life’s greatest joys is walking or jogging with my dog. If there is anyone who gets more out of it than me, it’s Rudy. We need the exercise and doing something together is rewarding for both of us.
I assumed I had a pretty good handle on some common-sense guidelines for making sure it was not too hot for Rudy when we walked or jogged. Recently, I decided to talk with one of our vets, Dr. Cindy Risen in Fairway, KS, to compare my own observations with someone who actually knew something!
I wasn’t too far off, but still Dr. Risen had some interesting information to share.
First let me say that Rudy and I are blessed with a wonderful running environment. There are creeks and water sources for him to drink from and I generally don’t have to worry too much about traffic. The first observation I can make is that a healthy young dog like Rudy can run me into the ground in the winter months. Rudy and I fairly regularly take eight- or 10-mile runs. I come home and collapse, exhausted, on the sofa and he wonders why I don’t want to go out and play fetch.
In the summer months, it’s a different story. He is much more vulnerable to heat than his human partner. So how do we both stay safe? For me, it’s easy: I get to set the pace, the course and the distance. Rudy, however, would never offer up anything less than his best, so what are some guidelines so he won’t hurt himself trying to keep up? What are some warning signs that he is overdoing it?
Rudy and I have two-, four- and eight-mile walking and running options. We cross over creeks with all of them. I always stop, take a drink from my water bottle, and allow Rudy an opportunity to jump in the water to cool down and get his own drink. When it’s 60 degrees or less — no matter how long the run or fast the pace — he will typically look at me and say, in his own way, “Why are we standing around? Don’t you know I need my exercise? We’ve got stuff to do, let’s get with it.”
When the temperature is over 60 degrees, Rudy’s behavior changes. He is much more interested in getting in the water, swimming around to cool off, and taking drinks. Over 70 degrees, he stops pulling on the leash to go out ahead of me and seems happy to just tag along at a slower pace. He starts panting lightly and taking me up on at least a few of his swimming opportunities. He might not stay in the water very long, but he’ll get in.
After about 10 or 20 minutes at the over 80-degree range, he’s not that interested in jogging at all. He seems to have a better time just walking and his panting is more obvious. He takes all the water breaks and seems to really enjoy them. Although he has a blast for five or 10 minutes at the over 90-degree range, he’s looking at me with his this-isn’t-that-fun look on his face.
Dr. Risen thought that Rudy and I had worked out a pretty reasonable regimen for summer exercise, but indicated that there is more to consider.
One of the most important considerations is the condition of the dog. She points out that, unlike his owner, Rudy is — well, to be blunt — sort of a stud. He is a young, strong dog and in great shape. Dr. Risen reports that most cases of heat exhaustion do not occur in the hottest part of the summer; they occur in May and June because pet owners take out dogs that have poor conditioning and then they overdo it. So if your dog is not in shape, he is going to be much more prone to heat exhaustion. Seventy degrees seems so lovely for us, but for an out-of-shape dog, it may be too hot for much exercise.
Intuition suggests that a dog’s fur might also make a difference. It does, but not in the way I thought. According to Dr. Risen, fur in sheep, poodles and some other mammals can actually act as an insulator from the heat. So shaving your dog may help with summer shedding, but it might not make your pet less vulnerable to heat exhaustion.
Here is another interesting fact: The dog’s metabolic rate is important. A big, muscular dog has a higher metabolic rate and is, therefore, more prone to exhaustion.
What are the warning signs for a dog who is overheating and vulnerable to heat stroke? If your dog quits on you — just lies down and does not want to go — respect that he is telling you he needs rest. Heavy panting and nausea or throwing up are also early warning signs. The color of your dog’s gums should be pink to red. Bright “cherry red” or purple gums or stumbling around (almost like a drunk pooch) suggest heat exhaustion and a trip to the vet is in order.
Your dog loves his exercise, so do it, but do it wisely!