Man chases down antelope!! 

Can a man chase down an antelope? What if I told you yes? Doesn't sound believable but it is true. Early man used a technique called persistence hunting to chase down and kill prey that at first sight, it would seem that there was no way of catching. The hunt was conducted on a warm to hot day and involved selecting an animal from a herd and then chasing it.

The chase did not have to be at a super fast pace. The intent was only to keep the prey moving. Man has evolved with one of the best cooling systems in the animalcaveman kingdom. We sweat over our whole skin surface. This gives us a massive cooling surface and the ability to keep moving even in hot conditions. Antelopes and most animals on the other hand have limited surface area for cooling and although they can sprint fast over short distances to outrun most threats, they cannot sustain this effort over a longer time frame without overheating. 

Early man just kept the prey moving until it overheated and collapsed. It was then easy to catch up and spear the animal and bring the hunt to a successful end. 

What has this got to do with us today? Even though modern man threatens to break out in a sweat just getting a beer out of the fridge, we still possess that incredible cooling system that allowed our ancestors to rundown animals that could sprint many times faster than us. It is our ability to sweat and cool down in hot weather that poses a threat to our pets, dogs in particular. 

Every summer we see a large number of dogs suffering from heat injury. Many of these cases result in the death of the animal. Owners are often baffled that their pet could suffer so easily from heat stress even though they feel fine themselves. Dogs can only cool themselves with their tongues by panting. This is a very small area in relation to total body mass. Adding to the problem, dogs are often so excited at a trip to the beach or even when chasing a ball tossed in the backyard that they will continue until severely overheated, leading to heat stress and death. How hot we feel is not a good guide to how hot your pet is feeling. And like the prey of the persistence hunter most dogs will also keep going until heat stress leads to collapse and death. 

Signs of heat stress may include excessive panting, bright red/pink gums, weakness, lethargy and vomiting. Your pet’s heart rate may also be greatly increased. If not treated and the body temperature is not reduced irreversible damage to the brain (causing seizures and coma) and body organs (causing kidney, heart and liver failure) can also occur and may be fatal. Immediate veterinary treatment is required. Transport the dog on wet towels, with ice packs placed in the groin and arm pits. 

Preventing heat stress is by far the best treatment. Keeping your pet indoors with air conditioning is ideal, but not always practical. If not able to do this, then providing plenty of shade and copious amounts of clean fresh water outside is imperative. Be sure that the water containers cannot be knocked over. Frozen water bottles are also helpful. Avoid exercise during the heat of the day, and most importantly check on your pet frequently if they are outside for long periods. Never leave your pet in a hot house, shed or vehicle. Long haired pets can be clipped during the summer months.  

Dr Alison Banfield 

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