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Debra Folsom

Every year in the Spring and Fall of the year, I receive phone calls from hunters, concerned that their retriever may have hip dysplasia. When I inquire about the

can figure out not to throw the bumper a zillion timesheat exhaustion in the middle of summer as anyone can 

circumstancesregarding the problem - the story usually goes something like this. We were out pheasant hunting on the weekend and after just a short time, maybe an hour, my dog lost control of his back legs and couldn’t seem to stand up and was almost dragging his hind end. When I ask about the temperature and the time of day, it is usually late morning with temperatures in the seventies. The dog is usually an excitable, aggressive hunter that covers a lot of ground. There were no ditches or water for the dog to jump in to cool off.The dog’s tongue was very distended and he was panting rapidly. The hunters missed all the symptoms of over heating or hyperthermia in the canine partner of the hunting team. By the time the dog loses control in the hind quarters, he is very close to death. Hip dysplasia is not a rapid onset condition. It is usually characterized by the dog having difficulty rising from a sleeping position and or a slightly abnormal gate in the hind end that may become progressively more pronounced over time. Sometimes hip dysplasia doesn’t have any noticeable physical symptoms that we can see externally. On the other hand hyperthermia or over heating occurs quickly and usually during a period of exercise. It can occur as quickly as in five to ten minutes, depending on the level of activity and physical fitness of the dog. Other contributing factors include air temperature and humidity level.


It is important to remember that everything that you do, your dog is doing in an insulated fur coat. In the Spring of the year, the dog’s coat is especially heavy. The dog cannot adapt to the warmer Spring days. It will take a month or so of warm weather for him to shed his winter coat. The dog is also closer to the ground where the temperatures are often warmer and the breeze less. Most dogs will cover three to ten times the distance that you do when hunting. This is especially true in the first hour in the field when the dog is excited and full of energy.

A hunting retriever will not stop hunting or retrieving the bumper when he becomes dangerously hot. They do not reason that way. It is your job to do the logical reasoning on their behalf. Dogs rarely collapse from heat exhaustion in the middle of summer as anyone

can figure out not to throw the bumper a zillion timesheat exhaustion in the middle of summer as anyone can figure out not to throw the bumper a zillion timesor take the dog jogging when the temperature is eighty five degrees plus. Mostly over heating occurs in the late Spring or early Fall when we are not thinking about the temperature.It is important to learn the signs of hyperthermia in your dog and to think smart to avoid the circumstances that contribute to it. Over heating is a very dangerous condition for your dog and can become critical and life threatening.If your dog exhibits any of the signs of hyperthermia, stop hunting immediately. Get the dog out of the sun and to water immediately. You may have to carry him. Immerse the dog as much as possible in the water. Roll the dog’s body around in the water making sure to wet the belly as the skin is exposed the most there. Remember, a retriever has a waterproof coat. Make the dog stay down in the water until he has regained his composure, the tongue is not overly distended and the rapid panting slowed. If you have access to a water hose, turn the dog on it’s back and run cool water on the dog’s belly until the dog appears to be fully recovered. This may take twenty minutes to an hour or more.


If the dog does not appear to be fully recovered, take him to a veterinarian as quickly as possible. He may need intravenous fluids, medication and monitoring of his body temperature over an extended time period. Often after severe over heating the dog will have difficulty regulating his body temperature and the temperature may return to dangerously high levels hours or days later.

Overheating is a preventable condition, yet is a common cause of death for hundreds of dogs every year. The retrievers are the least heat tolerant of all the sporting breeds. They are great cold water dogs but not the best choice for dry upland conditions. When upland hunting or exercising a retriever - think smart. Stay within a reasonable proximity to water and watch the signs of over heating. When in doubt about the day, leave the dog home until the normal weather pattern is wet and cooler. 

How To Avoid Over Heating Your Retriever


Select a hunting club or field to hunt with ditches or ponds where your retriever can periodically cool off and drink. If there is no water in the area, wait until winter when the ground cover is wet and the temperature much colder. Carry water with you for the dog to drink periodically if there is none in the area. Even this may not be enough to cool the dog. 


Know your dog. Is he a fast dog that does a lot of running and is more susceptible to over heating If so you may have to stop often to rest and settle the dog. 


Watch the dog’s tongue. The tongue will become swollen and long when the dog is hot. A dog’s system is air cooled via the rapid intake and outlet of air by panting. Dog’s tongues are always overly distended when they are hot.


Watch the dog’s gate while hunting. If the dog staggers, appears to lose power or drag his hind quarters - he is in trouble. Stop and take the dog to water immediately.


Get the weather forecast and only hunt or exercise the dog very early in the morning on warm days. If you don’t need a jacket, it is probably too hot to hunt your dog.


Always crate your dog when you transport him in a vehicle. Then when you are parked, you can leave all the windows and other means of ventilation fully open without the danger of the dog escaping.



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