Keeping Greyhounds Cool and Safe During Hot Weather: A Blog by Dr Simon Gower, GBGB Veterinary Director
In our latest blog, GBGB Veterinary Director, Dr Simon Gower, discusses the importance of keeping racing greyhounds cool, comfortable and properly hydrated during periods of warmer weather and the measures in place to ensure this happens during their visits to the track.
“It’s too hot!” that British cliché that pops up whenever the temperature climbs above 20°C, but our summers are indeed getting hotter year on year. Trying to sleep soundly in this heat is not easy, but it does mean getting up earlier than usual to walk my retired greyhound, Pugly.
When walking any dog in hot weather, we must remember to stay off pavements and roads that can overheat and run the risk of burning their pads. A simple test to check whether a surface is safe to walk on is to place your hand on the tarmac and count to five. If it’s too hot for your hand, it’s too hot for your dog’s paws.
We know that dogs are most comfortable when ambient temperatures are between 10-26°C. Outside this range, they need our assistance to either keep cool in summer or warm in winter. Luckily, keeping dogs within this zone when it’s hot is simple – keep them cool, comfortable and, importantly, properly hydrated.
Whether we are racing dogs or transporting them to and from the track, we are responsible for ensuring that greyhounds are kept within this temperature zone – also known as their Thermo-Neutral Zone (TNZ). If we do not, there is a risk of them developing heat stress. This serious condition results from a dangerous combination of high temperatures, high humidity and poor hydration. Any greyhound suffering heat stress will need immediate medical help.
As a sport, we have put in place effective measures for ensuring that greyhounds are safe during the summer and to keep them within their TNZ. Importantly, when the weather heats up, all GBGB tracks follow the structured GBGB Hot Weather Policy. The Policy includes a maximum temperature for racing and guidelines that racecourses must follow to keep their visiting greyhounds safe. And even at lower temperatures, certain kennel conditions must be met.
While a pet dog may go for a walk during hot weather, become overexcited chasing squirrels and sadly pass away from heat stroke, the many measures in place to keep our greyhounds cool mean that they can enjoy their short burst of exercise safely – and all with a vet present to provide immediate assistance, if needed.
Likewise, at residential kennels, there are a number of measures trainers put in place to keep their dogs cool such as air-conditioning and fans, access to paddling pools and cooling mats and ensuring access to shaded areas in their paddocks. Vitally, each greyhound must have access to a free supply of clean water at all times, both in their kennels and out in the paddocks, not just when we “think” they are thirsty. In fact, the law states that dogs must always have free access to water. The importance of this is something I cannot stress enough.
Research into the effects of hydration in dogs demonstrates that not having enough water impacts their ability to thermoregulate. In fact, research has shown that as little as 3% dehydration can increase the risk of post-race kidney disease, cramping and sudden death in greyhounds.
For those greyhounds who like to carry or knock over their water bowls, there are plenty of alternative containers available that can easily remedy this problem – ask your Stipendiary Steward for their recommendations.
Whilst I’m not a big football fan – although I did enjoy the Euros – one thing that struck me was how often the players drank water. Several games had enforced drinks breaks midway through each half, and every time a player snagged a nail, coaches rushed on with water for everyone.
Professional athletes recognise the importance of staying hydrated, and this is something all greyhound trainers must take on board. At the track, greyhounds are given a bowl of fresh water in their kennels before and after racing – but proper hydration must start well ahead of this. This includes planning your journey to include water breaks and always carrying an adequate supply of water and drinking containers, in case of delay or breakdown.
The effects of dehydration are often not seen until several days after racing and in some cases greyhounds have been found to have varying stages of kidney disease, which may be linked with periods of dehydration.
So, for the health and comfort of our greyhound athletes, water is vital – and plenty of it.”