We scratched our dogs from a show on the weekend because of the appalling weather. And when I say appalling, I mean so bad even the handlers couldn’t walk properly, let alone the dogs. So bad, the Waimate District Council Emergency Operations Centre was activated because of the risk of flooding.
Our absence has attracted a degree of amusement from a certain, small and sadly ignorant element in the show world on social media, who think they’re tough (or their dogs are) because they stuck it out and went on with the show.
We’re not that interested in winning. We are interested in the health of our dogs and fully aware of the risk of hypothermia. A combination of factors can set the stage for hypothermia and all of them were present in Waimate when we made the decision to remove our dogs from the show. Even light winds of 15 kph can drop the core temperature of a wet dog who is outside on a windy, cold day. Toy dogs have a large surface area compared to their body mass. This means they lose heat much faster than a larger dog with a higher body mass with a relatively smaller skin to body mass ratio.
There are range of symptoms as a dog progresses from mild to severe hypothermia. Initially they will be shivering, followed by symptoms of being lethargic and tired. At this point the dog’s temperature will be between 37.2-35 C. (Normal body temperature for a dog is between 38.5-39.5 C.). When a dog’s temperature drops to 32.2-35 C they have reached the second stage of hypothermia. They have not adapted to the cold or “toughened up”, they are no longer be able to shiver and may begin to stagger, seem clumsy and or even lose consciousness. At this point a dog’s life is in serious danger. A further drop in body temperature below 32.2 C and they have trouble breathing as internal organs start to become affected.
If a dog had inhaled even a small amount of water it can cause the muscles in the airways to spasm, causing them to have difficulty breathing, and potentially atelectasis (collapsed lung) and they may need oxygen supplementation. Then you need a vet, active warming procedures such as warm intravenous fluids, a urinary catheter to flush with warmed isotonic fluids, flushing the stomach or rectum with warm isotonic fluids, and monitoring for heart arrhythmias which can be fatal.
Treatment of hypothermia requires extreme care as the effects of re-warming can cause secondary problems, such as a sudden drop in core body temperature due to active rewarming causing vasodilation to the skin and limbs.
Chihuahuas and Pomeranians, being the smallest of breeds, are at the greatest risk, which is why we scratched them. Showing a dog under conditions likely to endanger their life doesn’t make the other dogs who stayed “tough” or “real dogs”. It just gives the impression their owners are irresponsible and so obsessed with winning a pack of poo bags, they are prepared to risk their dogs’ life.
This is one of the reasons dog showing and breeders get such a bad rap in the general (and veterinary) community. They are seen as “win at all costs” fools, who would risk their dogs rather than take the safe route and call off an event when the Met Bureau has issued an extreme weather warning. All the “lets promote pedigree dogs” campaigns in the world are worth nothing, when Joe Public sees the videos posted on Facebook of wet bedraggled dogs being shown for their owners' gratification and thinks if breeders will do that to their dogs, all the other horror stories they hear from extremist groups like PETA suddenly aren’t such a stretch to believe about breeders either.