Canine Survival – The Heat Is On (Part One)

What’s the Number 2 cause of deaths to Police Dogs and the Number 1 cause of non-combat deaths to Military Working Dogs?

Training related events? Road accidents?


Simon Newbery (BSc BVetMed MSc Forensic Science MRVCS) renowned for his work in remote area and hostile environment K9 medicine regularly writes for us and shares his experience which also includes that as a police vet.

Courtesy of Simon’s knowledge the answer is……….Canine ‘Heat Injury’

This came as a surprise to us that the number one cause of non-combat deaths in military dogs and the number two cause in police dogs (trauma being the number one cause) was this preventable condition. Hot Dogs 11

Well traditionally we refer to terms such as heat stroke, heat exhaustion and heat cramps but these really relate to humans so what is meant by canine heat injury?

Simon explains: “In canines we prefer the term ‘Heat Injury’ or hyperthermia this term being broader in its meaning. To know if a dog is suffering from heat injury the handler must first be familiar with what is ‘normal’ to their dog,”


So why with all our understanding and awareness does this claim so many canine victims? Simon helps us understand this condition with some expert advice.

The ‘Frame of Reference”

Many books quote a temperature or a certain range as normal for a dog, however we know that different dogs operate at different normal temperatures. A dog may have a resting temperature of 101.00 o F but when worked it may rise on moderate exercise to say 103.00F, which may be perfectly normal in that particular dog at that level of exertion. Hot Dogs 17Temperatures of military working canines have been recorded overseas in hot climates as high as 1150F whilst working.

Working temperature is generally considered to be 104-1070F and above.

It is also important for handlers to be familiar with the normal colour of the canine’s oral mucous membranes before, during and immediately after exercise/exertion. These are often far redder with heat injury.

The ‘Heat Gradient’

Hot Dogs 3When the heat gradient is shallow a canine is able to ‘push’ heat out of the body comfortably, however as the heat gradient gets steeper, it finds it harder. When the heat gradient is very steep the dog can’t ‘push’, i.e. pant efficiently enough, to get rid of excess heat. Canines pant and drool to cool themselves by evaporation. Canines do not sweat (except through their pads) so this method of evaporative cooling is not available to them. Blood vessels on their skin and periphery dilate to cool by radiation and convection. Much of the research for this has come from colleagues studying military working canines in Afghanistan and Iraq (LTC Janice Baker, US Army Veterinary Corps) and also sporting canines (Rob Gillette DVM, USA)

  • Did you know?

  • There is no evidence in canines that suffer from heat injury, that they will be more prone to it in future, unlike humans

  • Following heat injury the canine’s temperature may be unstable for hours to days

  • The Animal Welfare Act does not in law protect anyone who causes damage breaking into a car to rescue an overheating dog

  • Just wetting coat is not very effective in canines, they need air movement over coat as well to cause evaporation and coolingHot Dogs 8

Read Part Two where Simon reveals some of the causes and the all-important What to do to save your dogs life.








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