An exhausted Maggie has played hard and is taking a breather in a cool, shady spot. Photo by Carol Ostrom
Dr. Kobi Johnson, executive administrator of Puget Sound Veterinary Referral Center in Tacoma, answers this week’s questions about exercising your dog. This post was originally published last July.
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Question: What needs to be taken into account when trying to exercise my dog in hot or cold conditions? What are the signs of overheating, and if my dog has overheated, what do I do?
Answer: Be especially careful on hot days. Did you know Alaskan sled dogs have warm fur coats and retain so much heat that they perform best at 0 degrees Fahrenheit?
I use this example because dogs don’t sweat like humans. They can’t eliminate heat from their bodies efficiently. This is why dogs handle exercise in cold climates much more safely than even moderate heat.
Dogs cool themselves primarily by panting — breathing in and out to move air over the moist surfaces of their tongue, oral cavity and airways. This is called evaporative cooling, and it works fairly well, but slowly.
Exercise produces heat, and when a dog can’t eliminate that heat, their internal body temperature rises rapidly. The result is heat stroke, a dangerously high internal body temperature that damages organs and circulation. It is life threatening.
Although it can be treated with aggressive emergency care, the resources needed can devastate your pocket book, and a significant percentage of these dogs do not survive. It’s especially difficult on owners, because this condition is preventable with diligent care and monitoring.