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New Research Shows Hot Walks Biggest Risk Of Heat-related Illness For Dogs

3 months ago

8th July, 2021 15h45

Dogs Trust

As temperatures soar, experts warn of dangers of inappropriately exercising dogs especially if these are flat-faced breeds and offer advice on keeping your dog safe 

Dog owners, especially those of flat faced breeds such as English Bulldogs, Pugs and French Bulldogs, have been urged by a coalition of dog welfare experts and organisations, to take extra caution walking or exercising their pets in the heat, after new research reveals that exercise is by far the most common trigger for heat-related illness in dogs in the UK and that the risk is greater in flat-faced breeds. 

The warning by the UK’s Brachycephalic Working Group (BWG)* comes after research from the VetCompass Programme at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) in collaboration with Nottingham Trent University shows that of the ‘common trigger situations’ for heat-related illness in dogs - such as exercise in the heat, hot weather, humidity and vehicle travel2 - exercise in hot weather accounts for almost three quarters of heat-related illness cases (74 percent) seen by UK vets. More than one in ten cases (13 percent) are triggered by hot weather and 5 percent are as a result of dogs being confined in a vehicle. 

Heat-related illness occurs when a dog can no longer maintain a safe body temperature, which can lead to tissue and organ damage and, in some cases, death. The illness can affect any type of dog, but certain breeds and types of dog, including brachycephalic dogs, are at increased risk. Over a third of owners of flat-faced (brachycephalic) dogs reported that heat regulation is a problem for their pet3. English Bulldogs are fourteen times more likely to suffer heat-related illness compared to Labrador Retrievers, whilst French Bulldogs are six times more likely1. 

The research highlights the need for all dog owners, but especially those with flat-faced dogs, to think carefully about how to safely exercise their dogs during the warmer months.  

Dr Dan O’Neill, Chair of the Brachycephalic Working Group said:  

“Owners have been alerted for years about the dangers of leaving dogs in cars especially in hot weather, but the latest VetCompass research at the RVC shows that it’s not just bright sunshine and being confined in a vehicle that can cause heat-related illness. Factors such as over exertion and humidity also play very significant roles; it doesn’t take a great amount of exercise to have potentially dangerous effects when the weather is hot or humid. In hotter weather, we urge owners to consider exercising their dogs in the early morning or late evenings when temperatures are cooler and to be especially careful with breeds that are flat-faced in order to avoid potentially devastating heat-related illness in their dogs. 

“We have also put together information and advice on how to keep dogs cool and how to spot and deal with the early signs of over-heating should this occur – which include seeking early veterinary care and advice –to prevent the devastating situation where dogs get sick or die from serious forms of heat-related illness.” 

Dogs Trust, the UK’s largest dog welfare charity, provided a Canine Welfare Grant for the recent UK research studies that are cited in the BWG position. 

Paula Boyden, Dogs Trust Veterinary Director, said:  

“Dogs Trust has campaigned for many years on the ‘Hot Dogs’ issue, providing guidance to owners to help them look after their dogs in hot weather, but sadly every year we hear of dogs dying as a result of heatstroke. The findings of this research are so important in highlighting the impact of exercising dogs in hot weather.  

“The research also showed the risks to dogs are much lower if heatstroke is detected and managed early. Therefore, raising awareness and knowledge of the early warning signs amongst owners, and encouraging prompt attention, will help avoid the heart-breaking situation of their dog becoming severely ill or dying as a result.” 

In response to this new UK research, the BWG, made up of major stakeholders in dog welfare in the UK including The Kennel Club, PDSA, Dogs Trust, RSPCA, the Royal Veterinary College, the University of Cambridge, the British Veterinary Association, the British Small Animal Veterinary Association, Bulldog, French Bulldog and Pug breed clubs, and DEFRA has provided top tips for owners on how to prevent, reduce and take action on heat-related illness in dogs: 

What to do if overheating occurs 

How to prevent heat-related illness 

Keeping dogs cool  

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