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Dog sprinter overheating and cooling

Updated: Mar 14, 2022


Often interpreted topic. How to properly cool your dog, or how to prevent it from overheating during the race. I do not want to offer a guaranteed guide on "How to cool your dog" in the form of this article. I am aware of my partial incompetence in this regard, and therefore I will offer an overview of opinions and practical solutions not only from veterinarians, but also from the Czech top mushing. How do you even recognize playback? What can it cause? How can it be prevented? First, a dry statement of facts:


NMNM 2016

Overheat symptoms

  • Rapid breathing

  • Greater salivation and stickiness of saliva

  • Total apathy

  • Vomiting

  • In a serious case, loss of consciousness, falling on side

  • Significant fluctuations in behavior


"The critical and life-threatening temperature is 41 degrees Celsius. Dogs in musher sports often cross this border." Rob Downey

Aspects that increase the tendency to overheat during exercise


  • Dog breed (nose length, dog size, coat type, original breeding purpose)

  • Harassing or pregnant bitch (weakened organism)

  • Overweight (more weight ► more muscle work ► more heat)

  • Dog age (very young dog is not adapted, very old dog loses the ability to cool down quickly and efficiently)

  • Low or no adaptation of the organism (especially during the transition from winter to summer season)

  • Sick dogs (weakened organism)

  • Improper schedule of feed rations (excessive heating due to digestion of excess difficult to digest food)

  • Previous overheating (insufficient regeneration from previous overheating, albeit only slight)

  • Insufficient hydration (low fluids ► slower heat dissipation ► overheating)


"The temperature rise in a running dog can be up to ten times faster than the temperature rise in the warmest desert in the world." Rob Downey



Consequences of regular overheating during pregnancy

  • Decreased fertility in future offspring

  • Reducing the number of puppies in the litter

  • Reduction of birth weight of puppies

  • Decrease of temperature tolerances and ability of heat adaptation in born puppies

How does a dog's cooling system work?


Dogs do not sweat and do not have as extensive a system of sweat glands throughout the body as humans. On the contrary, their cooling system is based on the reflexive expansion of surface capillaries, which transport heat to the body surface. Here the heat is "transferred" by the flow of air. The dog uses natural airflow and low air temperature. Therefore, at high temperatures (note: for a dog, the temperature is as high as 15 degrees Celsius), it will overheat much faster than usual. Temperature is not the only bait, as is humidity. Another effective tool is the muzzle itself and the ability to produce large amounts of saliva. Accelerated breathing and salivation can dissipate large amounts of heat. Again, the size of the dog's mouth and its ability to use it for efficient heat dissipation play a role. Brachycephalic breeds (bulldog, pug, etc.)


Hydration plan


Water is as important for a dog as it is for a human. Due to its salivation, it uses about the same amount as a person sweating in proportion to its weight and size. For this reason, it is very important that the dog has enough water, especially during the training period. Be careful when giving fluids to dogs to keep the ingredient "Energy drinks" and do not contain large amounts of electrolytes. In humans, they have the ability to bind water and effectively hydrate the body. In a dog, electrolytes can cause diarrhea and with it acute dehydration. In large quantities, they also cause fatigue in the body. So the effect is the opposite in the final.


Thermal adaptation


If you thought you were protecting your dog by avoiding high temperatures, then you are next. That is, only if you intend to start in races where the temperature is expected to be higher than the average temperature during your training. With this protection against higher temperatures, you give the dog the possibility of natural adaptation. More experienced competitors know and often use this method in the form of repeated exposure to higher temperatures. Heat adaptation is a slow and gradual process, and therefore it is not possible to go out with the dog after the winter in the greatest heat at noon. Everything must be well planned, reduce the load, increase the temperature, even by just a few degrees. Runners usually adapt the body for 4-6 weeks to be absolutely sure that the body has got used to the higher temperature. It is not a good idea to keep a training diary and write down individual temperatures during training, along with many other important information. These entries will help you avoid errors in the form of large temperature jumps.


Thermal adaptation in points:


  • Adaptation to higher load loads is created independently of adaptation to physical loads. Basically, it's important to know what I'm training for. When I get used to the heat, I can't develop strength or other physical aspects and vice versa.

  • If a good adaptation to a certain heat load is to be created, it must finally adapt to the conditions for which the organism is to be prepared.

  • The temperature increases gradually in the first half of the process (2-3 weeks) with low physical activity, in the second half the target temperature is regularly dosed and the physical load increases.

  • Adaptation to heat decreases with age faster than physical condition.

  • Being overweight significantly limits the ability to adapt to heat.


"Some international races directly ban water soaking of dogs and call it abuse."

Conflict of views: veterinarians vs. musher practice


According to the available advice of veterinarians, dogs should not cool down in a so-called shock manner. The immediate action of cold water shrinks the capillaries on the surface of the body, which can no longer effectively dissipate heat. Despite all these facts, we can see experienced fighters at musher races, soaking their dogs at the start not only in all weaknesses, but also in thicker fur and on larger muscle groups. Dogs start soaking and return to the finish line, often completely dry. Some of their dogs literally get cold at the start. They don't do it because they wouldn't know how a dog's cooling system works. They do it because it works. Based on the experience and monitoring of their dogs, they can already quite accurately estimate which dog is more prone to overheating and adapt its preparation accordingly. Opinions vary across the starting field and it depends on who is more influenced by the opinion of one party or another.




Author's opinion:


Veterinary practice is based on the general average and centralizes individual breeds into one group. Based on this, it issues recommendations and draws conclusions. "The dog must not be watered because it will overheat." Unfortunately, we will no longer know under what circumstances this is inappropriate and when it is desirable. In practice, it seems that dogs with a greater tendency to overheat require cooling down before exercise. This significantly reduces the body temperature, which then does not rise as high during the race as if the dog started uncooled. It is necessary to take into account that racing dogs are well adapted to cope with high temperatures and their health must be at a top level. What a race dog can do in training can be life-threatening for common dog, who guards at home behind the fence. It is also not sensible to cool the dog sharply with icy water. Water temperature also plays a significant role. Conversely, a properly soaked dog can dissipate heat more efficiently thanks to wet fur. Remember that feeling when you run with wet hair. :-)


Finally, a few lines from our elite racers:


"Properly timed dog cooling can fundamentally affect his performance. There are many discussions and different theories on cooling. Despite the fact that it may be a denial of physiological principles, I have tested in my twenty-year career that it is actually an alpha and omega quality result. Personally, I think this is perhaps more important than connecting a dog. So we are talking about a sprint up to about 6 km. I actually train with dogs all year round, only the intensity and volume change. But even in 30 stages I will go 7 km training. The big advantage is that I have routes around the river. And so I can dose the cooling well. Sometimes it happens to me that in the autumn, when it is around zero or in the morning just below and I reach the finish line and throw the ball into the water, the dogs disappear below the surface, so passers-by are surprised that they do not collapse or their hearts do not burst. But experience speaks for itself. Cooling is necessary even at temperatures around 0, even in on-snow races. And it's not just us here in the Czech Republic. For example, at the European Championships in Norway, when the temperature approached zero, 75% of the competitors watered their dogs. And what does overheating affect the most? I currently have 6 dogs in training and everyone reacts differently to the heat. Some slow down, which we don't want. Others run to the finish line, where the "collapse" occurs. And this must be prevented. The worst is sudden warming. It's like you're training at -5 and suddenly it's +1, but it's the same at +27 and jumping to +33. This is especially important! It is mainly associated with humidity. Dry fresh air is best, the wetter and "heavier" the air, the worse. Advice in conclusion - cool your dogs. You certainly won't spoil anything, no one has frozen me yet. :) "

Michal Ženíšek (více o Michalovi zde)




"We have six European sled dogs in our pack. Despite the same training system and overall living conditions, we observe differences in the individual's ability to withstand heat. But they have one thing in common, and that is the ability to go beyond their capabilities, which can be self-destructive, and the inability to teach them to work "sensibly." Our task is to keep dogs comfortable and healthy. In practice, we soak and cool the dogs before almost every training and race, depending on the ambient temperature. Ideally, we use a natural watercourse or swimming pool, where they like to go swimming themselves and are willing to climb it themselves to an air temperature of about 5 ° C, but sometimes it happens that they go to our mountain rivers to cool themselves even in the snow. . If this is not the case, we soak the dogs with towels and water barrels. There are dogs that only need watering and dogs that we have to literally "cool down". The difference between the condition of the dog after running with and without soaking is so striking that I do not doubt the correctness, although of course we know all the physiological instructions about the negatives. Ideally, our dog is still racing with wet fur. Sometimes it is necessary to cool the dogs even during winter races in the snow at sub-zero temperatures, especially when there is a sharp warming and the dogs do not have the opportunity to adapt to it. I must say that during my ten-year career in mushing, I have not encountered a health problem related to dog cooling. On the contrary, I had to treat several overheated dogs. "

Veronika Navrátilová (více o Veronice zde)


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