The dog days of summer have passed us by. The long summer days when our hounds bask in the sun, or hide in the shade, are slowly giving way to cooler nights, changing leaves, and more active bears looking to put on those precious pounds before winter sets in. Everything from the hounds to the bears they run seem to sense winter's approach.
However, summer hasn't completely disappeared and occasionally makes its presence more than a memory. We have all experienced those September days—reminiscent of July—when the humidity rises, the sun bakes, the air is still, and it gets HOT. I speak from experience when I say that unexpectedly warm autumn days are as effective a killer of hounds as even the meanest bear. Overheating and heat stroke has killed many good bear hounds.
Here are some tips for what to look for, how to avoid heat stroke, and how to handle it when the proverbial dog doody hits the fan.
Heat stroke in dogs is often lethal and, if they are lucky enough to survive, it can cause permanent damage to their brains, liver, kidneys, and other internal organs. The hound that is lucky enough to survive heat stroke will be susceptible to it for the remainder of its days. I can't tell you how many times I have heard someone say, “I don't think it's heat stroke. She was running in warmer temps a month ago with no problem.”
Well, back in August, that dog was acclimated to the summer heat. She had been baking in the warmth and her body was in full blown hot summer mode. Now in September, hounds like her have several things working against them. The recent nights have been cool or even downright chilly. Their bodies have begun to conserve heat and their metabolism is working to burn calories to keep them warm. As the hounds trained, they built muscle. Muscle produces enormous amounts of heat in a hound's body. The increase in activity usually requires an increase in calories to maintain their condition. What we have are hounds that have been getting signals from their bodies that winter is coming, and their bodies will struggle to make the adjustment to sudden hot ambient temperatures on the fly.
Counterintuitively, the hounds living and hunting in the northern climes are the ones most at risk. Dogs that live and hunt in warmer climates tend to be well-acclimated to the conditions. Dry ground hounds, or hounds used to hunting in the swamps of Florida, can work effectively in heat that would absolutely destroy a big northern boy like me with northern hounds like mine. My hounds would wither and fade after mere minutes of trying to work and exert themselves in heat like that, unless they had a good long time to acclimate. The thing that will dictate whether your bear hound can take the heat is the conditions it has recently become acclimated to. If your hound has been dealing with 50-60 degree temperatures for the last two weeks, it's a good bet that a freak day with 80 degree heat and high humidity will be approaching too hot for that hound.
How to avoid heat-related problems
Keep your bear hounds well-hydrated. A well-hydrated hound will stay cooler than a hound that isn't drinking well. A few tips are:
· - A few hours before heading out, give the hounds a quart of water each (baiting with a small handful of kibble works great).
· - Don't give your dogs a heavy meal before heading out. A hound with a full gut will be harder to keep cool.
· - Keep an eye on the weather forecast. Experience and common sense will tell you what is too warm for your hounds. Plan accordingly.
What to watch out for while out there
There are early warning signs that your hound is starting to get dangerously warm. Any hound that is exercising will (of course) be panting; that is not an immediate cause for worry. If you see your hound start to produce enormous amounts of drool, more than it can effectively expel from its mouth, so that it is coughing and hacking to clear its airways, then it is time to start paying attention. A hound whose eyes are bugging out of its head with a tongue hanging out of the side of its mouth is struggling. Once they become unstable on their feet and you can look into the dog’s mouth and see that its airways are fully open, its gums and tongue are bright red, and it is blowing and sucking air as fast as it can, then you already have a problem. If the hound starts to have seizures or is still breathing but otherwise unresponsive, then the dog is full blown heat stroking.
Hounds, especially hounds on a bear, have drive and grit that can sometimes write checks that their bodies can't cash. Many a houndsman has gotten to a tree on a hot autumn/spring day and found hot hounds with their sides slathered with drool as they bark treed. That's not unusual, but I have personally had hounds that have gotten game denned or treed, only to collapse after we have left the tree and they have had a few minutes to cool down.
The hound is starting to or has overheated. What now?
Use whatever means you have necessary to gradually cool that hound down. If you have water, do not try and force the hound to drink. Pour that water over areas of skin where bigger veins and arteries transporting blood are close to the surface. The carotid artery in their neck and femoral artery in their back leg/thigh are great places to start pouring water. Lift the hound's back leg and allow the thin, poorly-furred skin on their stomach and inner thighs to cool. If you have a baseball cap, use it to fan the dog's stomach and thighs. If you have the possibility to submerge the dog in water, do that (while supporting the dog's head above the water) for 30 seconds at a time with a minute or two break where the hound is out of the water. Repeat until the hound starts to regain its motor function and its breathing begins to calm. Take your time. Remove the hound immediately from the water if it starts to shiver. Lowering the body temperature too fast can be dangerous as well.
As the hound cools it will most likely begin to drink, often to the point that they vomit. A dog that is breathing hard and then vomits has a high chance of inhaling water/vomit into its lungs, raising the risk of aspiration pneumonia. Try not to allow the dog to drink more than small sips of water (a few tongue-fulls) at a time.
Murphy's Law seems to be a houndsman's constant bedfellow. So when a hound overheats, it seems like it is always far from the truck in some endless holler filled to the brim with mountain laurel or alder brush. If you need to carry the hound out, do it in short spurts, allowing the dog time to rest and stay cool. A sweaty houndsman will keep an overheating dog too warm, so take breaks on the way out (for both your sakes).
Once you are back to the truck, keep the hound cool. Put it in the cab of the truck as you drive so it doesn't have to combat the body heat of the other hounds in the box. If the hound is still struggling to stand or is still breathing hard and fast, get to a veterinarian as fast as possible. IV fluids and medication can do much to alleviate your hound's distress and mitigate long-term consequences of the heat stroke.
Overheating and heat stroke are hard on the body. I once overheated while doing construction and it took over a week before I felt like myself again. I have been prone to overheating ever since. Allow your hound some days to fully recover. A few days of care may mean the difference between having that hound treeing bears for years, and suddenly being in the market for a finished bear hound.
Follow these tips. Enjoy the warm days of running autumn bears, and keep your hounds safe and cool.