Next weekend’s opening of Kansas’ pheasant and quail season will see thousands of hunting dogs hitting the fields. Sadly, some won’t come home alive.
Two deadly threats those dogs may face are heat stress and stomach twist, and heat stress.
Kansas’ mid-November openers for pheasants and quail sometimes seem as warm as the Sept. 1 opening of dove season. But hot temperatures aren’t the only things that can push dogs towards heat stress.
“It’s the humidity that really does them in, and most people don’t think about,” said Dan Heard, a professional retriever trainer from Louisiana who trains dogs at Flint Oak in southeast Kansas. “I’ve seen dogs, in good shape, go down when it’s 60 degrees. High humidity is a killer.”
Hodes said heat stress affects dogs by raising their body temperature so much that it damages their brain and a variety of internal organs. Sometimes it can be corrected. Other times the damage is permanent and or fatal.
Out-of-shape and overweight dogs are more susceptible to heat stress, muscle and joint injuries, according to Rose Hill veterinarian Brian Hodes. A diet of quality food helps dogs stay in the kind of physical shape that helps them deal with heat or cold. Preseason conditioning is as important for dogs as people.
Different breeds, bloodlines and individual dogs handle heat differently. Hodes said owners need to learn what their dog can tolerate and always look for signs of heat stress during every outing.
Heavy panting is a sign of heat stress in many dogs. Heard watches for the dog’s tongue to widen, and becomes especially concerned when it starts hanging from the corner of the mouth.
Both experts said heat-dogs usually start to act uncoordinated. They may sit with more of a slouch than usual.
“Most good trainers and handlers know their dogs, so they know right away when something looks wrong,” said Hodes. “That early detection goes a long, long ways.”
He also suggests hunters carry rectal thermometers to check their dog’s body temperature. Around 101 degrees is normal, he said, and anything 104 degrees or more needs immediate attention.
Proper hydration throughout a hunt is always important, though problems can arise if a dog gets too hot, and drinks too much, too fast. Hodes and Heard suggest possibly giving dogs electrolytes in advance.
Heard said hunters shouldn’t see the nearest puddle or shallow pond as an instant cure. Often the water isn’t cool enough to make much of a difference. He prefers to place a frozen water bottle under the arm pits of a stressed dog to help cool its core temperature. Hodes suggests putting cold packs between the back legs, too.
Both said rubbing alcohol on the pads on a dog’s feet can help. Hodes suggests wiping a dog’s pads down with an alcohol-soaked cloth.
“I get big bottles of alcohol and pour them into big pans and have the dogs stand in them,” Heard said. “Alcohol is always cool, and one of the best ways to get a dog’s temperature down.” He also carries large syringes and may give a heat-stressed dog a cool water enema.
Hodes cautions that cooling a dog too quickly can lead to problems.
Heard is disappointed many hunters are unaware of stomach twist, which is often fatal. He has had several friends lose high quality dogs, often at the peak of their working careers.
Hodes said stomach flip is a condition where the dog’s stomach flips and cuts off circulation to the area and may rupture the spleen. The main cause is exercising dogs too much, and too soon, after a big meal. It’s more prevalent in large dogs, such as Labrador retrievers, and can be a genetic problem that’s more common in some bloodlines than others.
Feeding quality food helps because it takes less food for a dog to get the required nutrients. Low-quality foods often produce more gas, which can raise the chances of a dog getting stomach twist.
Heard feeds his dogs once per day, well after their last exercise. He said dogs that gobble their food seem more prone to gas and getting stomach twist, and recommends bowls that prevent fast eating of dog food.
Hodes said hunters that worry their dogs may be running low on nutrients can give their dog specialty canine power bars to help boost their stamina without filling their stomachs.
If caught quickly enough stomach twist can be cured. Hodes said signs to look for include a dog unsuccessfully attempting to vomit, or with a severely swollen abdomen. Often the symptoms don’t occur until well after the exercise, and possibly after the dog is crated or kenneled.
Both experts mentioned a surgery that tacks the stomach in position so it can’t flip, especially if it’s from a bloodline prone to stomach twist. Hodes said it’s easily done when a young female is being neutered, and not difficult on older dogs of either gender.
“It’s an easy surgery for maybe $500 that works,” he said, “and could save you a $2,500 or $5,000 for (rescue) surgery that could still leave you with a dead dog. It’s sure worth considering.”