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Heat Stroke In Greyhounds: A Very Real Threat
by Judy Kody Paulsen, Founder, GCNM
(Excerpt from Summer 2002 issue of GCNM News)


Every summer brings with it statistics that sadden those of us who endeavor to find good homes and responsible adopters for greyhounds. Those statistics involve the number of greyhounds that have fallen prey to the effects of weather and exercise conditions they cannot tolerate, specifically, heat stroke. Every greyhound rescue program should inform their adopters of the dangers of greyhounds exercising in warm temperatures. Unfortunately, many times these warnings are ignored or not taken seriously. Sometimes, even when all precautions are taken, a greyhound succumbs to sudden, unexpected heat exhaustion, which can result in death.

Not Long Distance Runners
Greyhounds are short distance sprinters: at no time while training or racing are they exposed to long distance runs, even at a slow pace. Subsequent to retirement, a greyhound’s training and conditioning are discontinued and it spends up to 22 hours a day in a crate, waiting for an adoptive home or for the “kill truck” to remove it from the premises and allow room for faster greyhounds. This inactivity makes a retired racing greyhound especially vulnerable to injury or death resulting from sudden increases in its activity. While an adoptive home is the preferred destiny for these greyhounds, this environment can be deadly if necessary precautions are not taken.

Like sedentary humans, retired greyhounds must be conditioned to endure even a slow paced jog or walk. Because dogs cannot sweat to cool off, they must pant, which is not a very efficient method of reducing the body’s core temperature once it has elevated to a critical point. Recognizing the symptoms that indicate a dog is in distress due to heat can be very difficult since dogs usually pant during and after exercise. Some greyhounds appear to be more sensitive to heat and/or cold but unfortunately, determining which ones fall into this category is virtually impossible.

Recognizing A Problem
Be aware of your dog’s behavior during and after any type of exercise. In greyhounds that have an especially high prey drive, the mere agitation of seeing another animal running can produce a rapid rate of respiration with increased heart rate and can result in an elevated body temperature. A greyhound off lead in a situation where it can chase anything can literally run itself to death, particularly in warmer temperatures. Even a greyhound on lead, accompanying a person for a leisurely jog, can succumb to heat stroke if it sees something that stimulates its prey drive to produce the effects described above (increased respiration/heart rate).

Under conditions of exertion that produce very rapid breathing accompanied by obvious pain, discomfort and/or weakness, the dog needs immediate professional attention. Muscle pain along the back or in the legs (particularly the hind legs) is an indication of serious injury from heat exhaustion. Occasionally, the dog will exhibit distress by acting confused and appear to have difficulty lying down - changing positions from standing to lying down can be very painful. There may be a tendency for the dog to drag the hind legs while walking, scraping the nails along the ground. Your swift response to these symptoms can mean the difference between life and death.

As quickly as possible, the dog should be transported to a veterinarian. Steps should be taken to cool the dog with whatever means are available while awaiting transportation. Move the dog to an air conditioned home or car; cold, wet blankets or towels draped over the body and changed frequently; ice or cold water on the feet; shade - any or all of the above will improve your dog’s chances for survival. Cold therapy should be discontinued when the body temperature returns to normal (102.5 degrees). At that time, the dog should be kept in an environment that is at about 72 degrees.

Once you arrive at the veterinarian’s office, it is imperative to let them know this is an emergency heat stroke case. Most veterinarian’s offices are familiar with the need to treat these cases without delay. Most cases of heat exhaustion require IV fluids to stabilize the dog. This will mean leaving your dog at the vet’s office for at least 24 hours, depending on the severity of the case.

The Ideal Companion, But Not For Running
It’s easy to underestimate the seriousness of ignoring the very unique physiological make-up of a greyhound - they are extremely sensitive in many ways. The fastest breed of canine known to man, greyhounds should never be mistaken for a breed with extraordinary stamina, for they are not. Ideally, greyhounds should not be perceived as running partners, but rather companions for leisurely strolls in mild temperatures so you can show them off to envious admirers of these elegant dogs!

 


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