In the UK in Summer 2022 we have experienced the hottest summer on record with several record breaking days and runs of heat. there is also a drought and this leaves the ground parched and hot, retaining and reflecting the growing ambient heat, day and night. UK homes are not built for extended heat, indeed they are built to reatin heat to coonserve winter fuel. we are unused to heat and dont have air con as the warmer climates have to cool homes.
As the summer has drawn on there have been continuous messages and infographcs to remind guardians of the care needed in hot conditions. Some illustrations are below. There is information graphically to describe the temperatures and conditions which could stress dogs. Explanations of who are the most vulnerable to take care of. Heatstroke symptom checkers. There are also the stark danger warning posts and heartbreaking posts from Vets and guardians alike about dogs who have succumbed.
This blog is not intended to go over tthe basic information offered, they are illustrated within it. This is to offer some background to explain the why Canine Wellness Professionals are so vehement in spreading this message. The warnings are not just the “woolly”over caring dog world they are based in biology.
So many posts and questions abound
“My dog is off his food” “My dog wont go out/is so slow on a walk ” “My dog won’t play much”
” I can’t do the training you want as he just gives up” “She wont even do the fun games” “she is fidgetting all night”
” Just get on with it… dogs in hot countries do” ” they NEED a walk it is cruel not to let them chase after their ball, go running” “Its fine to walk out at midday his paws dont burn he never bothers”
… and on and on. Discussion after discussion. Rant after rant (both the get on with crew and the stay home and keep cool crew.
The background info to the concerns and warnings
Home living domesticated dogs have evolutionarily be bred to live in a temperate climate; neither very hot nor very cold, a “middle” common global temperature, dipping down in winter raising for summer, but neither extreme, and not for any length of time. Biologically they are set up for a mid range. The domesticated body (humans, cats dogs) can adjust for the odd warm day from time to time without too much internal stress and function as normal.
However, when we have extreme heat (over 28C) and that is over an extended time there is a biological stress that continues cumulitively over the time the heatwave occurs. The heat day and night for many days (even weeks at 26c and over for summer 2022) impacts biologically, the body systems struggle, which impacts emotionally and behaviourally too.
As a huge generalisation it can take around 60 days for the body to start to become acclimatised to a new weather environment change. Luckily our weather is not (yet) extreme for this length of time. We would really need to adjust our lifestyle and our homes if this becomes the case in the UK.
What is happening internally over these hot periods?
This is a very basic summary (so apologies to biologists/zoologists).
The body is set up to work to stay in balance (homeostasis). The brain and gut work hard separately and together to balance all the chemicals that are adjusted nanosecond by nanosecond, It is a finly tuned process. The brain or gut receiving external and internal information communicating and setting off the run of actions to maintain the balance, physically and emotionally.
When there is an extreme impact the body goes into disarray to balance the disrupted systems. For minor impacts this is unoticable, it gets warm , we get thristy, sweat. There are a wide range of actions the body engages to deal with an extreme heat situation. These are operated from the survival centres in the brain. The messages that go out are to do everything to protect the major organs and maintain the balance to keep the body functions steady. These responses are automatic and meant to last for a short while becuase they take away some resources from parts of the body needed for longer term functions (like digestion).
When the “threat” continues the organs are put under some stress and need to conserve their status. the body constantly tries to reduce the temperature that is rising internally and to protect from the external threat. This means that behaviours will change to reduce the impact of extra not needed functions, like movement, eating and non essential activities like play and social or environmenal exploration reduces. The brain is so busy balancing the body it finds it hard to think, so learning is impaired.
This balancing act begins when the temperature raises above that which the body is buiult to function. This can be as low as 23/24c. By 27/28 the body is struggling to do normal everyday activities so any added pressures from walking or running or lengths of time exercising or thinking can overwhelm the body. 32c is considered to be dangerous for all dogs with the balancing systems in overwhelm and the chance that some will need to be shut down. At around 36 ambient temperature the body now has a balance of external and internal heat , it is incredibly hard to distrubute heat outwards.
This is compounded by the added dangers at lower temperatures in anumals who have added health needs. this includes: Flat faced dogs or those with impaired breathing, obeseity, very young (under 6m), senior (7 and above) those with underlying conditions, minor or major, even minor issues suh as allergies have the body already in disarray.
“how would dogs in hot countries survive then if they dont go out twice a day for a run”.
This is a commin question oor babsis for a heavy discussion. Well, firstly they have the acclimatisation, through generations. They also (possibly as part of this generational epigentics) have different behaviours and habits.
Generally dogs in tropical or sustained heat environments are given more freedoms and not habitually lead walked. Or they live in homes set up for heat, air con, quiet daytimes with social times later in the evening as it cools – remembering the closer to the tropics the earlier the sun goes down, there is less time in the day with full sun.
They are “crepuscular” going out at dawn and dusk for engagement, food, social time, exploring the environment. They then spend their day in a cool place, sleeping , dosing. The evening cool is time to socialise, explore until night falls and they find their overnight sleeping space. Rarely are they out in the sun unless by own choice.
Our UK dogs just dont have these freedoms of choice. We lead walk, often for a specific time or distance, or drive and get a run. But the choice of where when and how is human led. Would they choose to go for a drive and a long wood run? Or a lead walk along the streets and parks? Maybe, Maybe not. We really should hear their decisions around this. Are they keen to get in the car or their lead on? Do they seem slower or tired? If you turn back do they move to the car or head for home? Are they showing signs of getting hot? Listen and respond, even the late and early walks may be too much day after day.
“My dog wont toilet at home/ I live in a home with no garden”
This is a genuine difficuclty and one I have much sympathy for. it woudl seem that this is the reason some dogs must have an onlead walk to the park in the heat. A little planning could avoid cumulitive stress. Our dogs generally have toilet habits including time and where. By practicing different times to go out, including early mornings and later evenings we can reset that habit, ina not stressful time. Ideally choose a time under 23c, which in our August evenings has been impossible for sure. we also know they often have a special place. Why not go directly there, if necessary drive if it is a while away. it may also be possible (out of a stressful time) to retrain to toilet very close to the home or in the garden. when puppy training, rescue toilet training or moving home I suggest taking a sample of the grass or mop up some wee and take the collected poo and leave in the garden (hard to use this in an open space). Take the dog at their chosen time and hang out whilst they explore and hopefully will go. This takes some persistance.
“my dog is fine out walking, he needs to play and run or he will be a pain” ” we are only doing an hour in the field for a play and run” ” its just a cool fun run in the woods” ” he always runs with me at lunchtime/after workin the morning”
Coupled with ” my dog is really lethargic” ” my dog is not eating much” ” my dog is so slow walking” ” my dog is very grumpy when I get him to do….”
These are all clear messages from the dog and their internal systems that they are in overwhelm , pysically and emotionally.
What is wrong with a good run and play? My young dog wants to. I think young dogs or those who are very human programmed to do certan activities at certain times in certain ways are in automatic mode, their brain is by passing the information that there is a danger. It is often why they so easily succumb to heatstroke in lower temperatures but over exercise.
So why is exercise, the “Dont walk your Dog” message so strong , “a missed walk wont kill your dog but a hot walk may” meme so shared by wellness professionals? Simply the biology again.
Exercise and fun activities create the release of chemicals which flood the muscles and systems to produce muscle movement , more excitement or the run run run message the more chemicals flood in. the muscles are flooded wiht blood and oxyegen creating heat. internal heat, competing with the external heat and the bodys ability to balance. this also causes the heart to race and lungs to breath faster, creating yet moe internal heat. The chemicals that create excitement (or fear) have a knock on affect to th eproduction of other chemicals , some disperse quickly many stay longer, meaning th ebody continues to heat long after the exercise/excitment has ceased. Too much exercise causes an accumulation of these chemicals over time and the anxiety caused by overwhelm will keep them topped up.
even if th edog seems fine at the time, it will be impacting that day and subsequently.
This is how heatstroke seems to happen suddenly, why it can take over a dog who has been quiet since their morning walk. This is why Wellbeing practiotioners say Limited exercise and hear your dog and advocate for them.
“my dog is off her food”
As with all behaviours noting when food is not important to the dog is a meaningful observation. Food/nutrition is of course important long term for survival, but not vital in the short term. it is why when under physical and emotional stress the gut shuts off for a while. Digestion is energy consuming and it creates heat, the last pressure needed in heat or anxiety and fear overwhelm. Water is of ourse vital but with systems struggling the messages may not be consistent , here we need to advocate and note fluid, just as we do with ourselves and kids.
So when your dog is lethargic, not wanting to play or engage, getting tired quickly, struggling to sleep, grumpy, off food this is their body slowing things down to protect and conserve the vital organs. We need to listen, not carry on with our preprogrammed human expectations and habits. think of the why, what s going on biologically and how we are contributing to the overwhelm.
All that said. Don’t panic. Hearing your dog. Managing their environment knowing what is happening should be all that’s needed.