You only need to step inside a pet shop to see the vast array of collars, harnesses and leads available to dog owners. Owners can choose a particular look, colour scheme and material type. But amongst all of this, there is a more serious question of the role of the collar and the impact it may have on the dog. Historically, collars were used as a means of identifying a dog as being owned. Today, in the UK, as in many countries, it is a legal requirement for a dog to wear a collar and tag to provide key information about the dog, in order to identify the owner and to return it should it become lost. However, collars are now commonly used as a means of restraint and control for dogs to make sure they don’t wander off when out for a walk.
The problem is that the neck is a pretty sensitive area of the body, and many dogs pull on the lead. Ultimately, the neck connects the head to the rest of the body, carrying some pretty vital anatomical features such as the spinal cord, major blood vessels, the windpipe and the food pipe. Serious damage to the spinal cord in the neck can result in paralysis, or even death. Similarly, damage to the windpipe can impact a dog’s ability to breath or even result in choking, another potentially fatal injury. Linking to our normal research area, heat-related illness, compression of the windpipe can impact a dog’s ability to breathe effectively, impairing their ability to cool. When it’s hot outside, allowing a dog to pull on a collar and lead could potentially result in them over heating more quickly.
In fact, when questioned, almost 50% of owners suggested that their dogs pulled on the lead. This might range from a consistent light pull, to an owner being ’towed’ up the street by an overzealous dog. And of course, there is the sudden jerk on the lead from a normally calm dog, as a cat goes running across the road. On the other end of the lead is the owner, perhaps getting a little impatient at the 17th lamppost being sniffed, and offering a quick tug on the lead, or the frustrated individual jerking the lead to remind their dog to listen and behave. In all these instances, the resulting impact is a pressure applied to the dogs’ neck.
Two aspects are worth exploring; the impact of the type of collar – are some better than others? And the impact of the force applied – is a light pull on the lead less likely to cause harm?
The forces tested aimed to replicate a light pull on the lead (40N), a strong pull on the lead (70N) and a lead jerk (~141N).
The collars reacted differently in both the way the pressure was distributed and the amount of pressure applied to the model neck, the pressure increased as the force applied to the collar increased. Arguably the most interesting and valuable finding was that the pressure exerted on the neck model ranged from the lowest, 83kPa at 40N to the highest, 832kPa at 70N across the range of collars. To put this into context, in humans, pressure over 33.3 kPa has been shown to increase intraocular pressure (pressure within the eyeball which can lead to pain and ultimately blindness) and compress blood vessels, limiting blood supply to tissues. Tourniquets used in emergency situations to stop serious blood loss following trauma are used at a pressure of 33.3kPa on the arm and 40.0kPa on the thigh. In horses, pressures above 30kPa under the saddle are associated with back pain.
In short, no single collar tested provided a pressure anywhere near low enough to remove the potential risk of injury when pulling on the lead. Where dogs pull on the lead or the lead is jerked, there is a risk of injury to the neck for all collar types and styles tested, even where collars are padded or wide fitting. Collars are a great way to display tags and add a little personal flare to your dog. But for restraint and control, a non-restrictive harness is a much better option, and in hot weather a harness is definitely the safest option.
If you’ve read any of our posts so far you will know we are all about monitoring body temperature, specifically as a means of understanding heatstroke risk in exercising dogs. As our fabulous friend Dr Jackie Boyd likes to remind dog owners:
Whilst Dr Boyd is referring to measuring food in relation to canine nutrition and weight management, the same applies to body temperature. You can only be sure your dog is not over heating if you measure their body temperature. You can only be sure your temperature management strategy is working if you continue to monitor their temperature. We’ve previously shared some advice on methods of monitoring body temperature in dogs and other animals, and we have an update coming on this topic very soon! Crucially though, if you’re going to measure your animal’s temperature, you need to know what the numbers mean, and how to react appropriately.
The “normal” range
For almost every measurable aspect of an animal, from age, height and weight, to temperature, heart rate or urine production, there are “normal” reference ranges. In theory, these are statistically calculated limits of the normal population; in other words, 95% of healthy animals will fall within this range – there are always extremes that don’t fit the normal limits.
Google “normal temperature for a human” and you will see the top result, Wikipedia, reports “The normal human body temperature is often stated as 36.5–37.5°C”. It goes on to mention that “In adults a review of the literature has found a wider range of 33.2–38.2°C (91.8–100.8°F) for normal temperatures, depending on the gender and location measured.” A study recently found that the long established “normal” body temperature for humans is too high, highlighting the continued use of out of date normal ranges by medical professionals all over the world. This situation is mirrored in animal species. Textbooks state the normal range for various biological parameters in almost every species, but rarely state where this reference range has come from, how old it is, which animals were used to establish it and how their temperature was measured.
Our primary interest is canine health and welfare, so this all started when we tried to find a reliable source stating the normal resting temperature for a healthy dog. We struggled. Every textbook listed a slightly different range, 37.9-39.9°C on one website, then 38.2-39.2°C in a veterinary nursing textbook. The most recent reference we found was in a paper measuring rectal temperature in 62 dogs presenting to a veterinary hospital for routine health checks, who reported a normal range of 37.2 to 39.2°C. However, this did not report how this range was calculated, so without details of the statistical methods used to determine this range, it can not be considered truly valid.
Where does this leave us? Well, at the moment, we don’t actually have a robust, recent, reliable normal reference range for canine body temperature, when measured with a rectal thermometer. Three different sources state that 39.2°C should be considered the upper limit of normal, so we are fairly happy to accept that as our upper limit. What we do have, is a scientifically calculated normal reference range for canine ear temperature – because we calculated it! We measured ear temperature 416 times, from 157 healthy dogs attending various canine sports events over a two year period. Importantly, these dogs were not at the vets, so whilst they may have been excited, they were not stressed or scared. We calculated the normal range to be 36.6-38.8°C.
Returning to rectal temperature, we know from our research, and from studies done by various other research teams around the world (Zanghi, 2016; Gomart et al., 2014), that ear temperature tends to measure around 0.4-0.6°C lower than rectal temperature. So, the rectal range of 37.2 to 39.2°C then quite nicely reflects our ear temperature reference range, just 0.4-0.6°C higher. This is the range we would consider to be most appropriate for interpreting canine body temperature, when measured with a rectal thermometer.
Equine body temperature
Because we are both slightly mad, some might say obsessive, we couldn’t stop at establishing a normal reference range in just dogs. Oh no, we had to look at horses too. Whereas a dog may try to escape, sit down, or worst case scenario bite should they resent having their rectal temperature measured, a horse can, and if suitably aggrieved will kick you. This can be catastrophic. So if you’re going to risk your life measuring your horse’s temperature, and there are plenty of reasons you should be doing this, we felt it our duty as scientists to ensure you have a means of accurately interpreting the result.
We started by trying to find the evidence behind the “normal temperature range” for horses. We failed miserably. Once again, whilst plenty of textbooks, websites and other studies investigating equine temperature all state what the normal temperature range for a horse is, none of them reported where this range came from. Similar to the situation in dogs, if you don’t know where a reference range came from – how many horses were included, what part of the world, what breeds of horse, who took their temperature, how was their temperature taken – how can you be certain it is relevant to your horse? The simple answer is, you can’t.
So we decided to establish our own reference range. The horses at our University Equestrian Centre are cherished; the team caring for them will (and have!) battle blizzards, tropical storms and heat waves to ensure these horses are fed, watered, comfortable and loved. Part of their routine husbandry includes temperature monitoring, and yes, being University horses they do have to work for their living, so they are often used in non-invasive research work like our study comparing rectal temperature to eye temperature (measured with a non-contact infra-red thermometer, and coming soon!). Working with Dr Carol Hall and Dr Anne Stevenson, we collated rectal temperatures taken from 41 of the horses on the yard, measured at rest during a number of projects and routine monitoring. This gave us over 600 resting, healthy horse temperatures, all measured with a digital rectal thermometer by a familiar person, in the comfort of their stable. Knowing the horses were relaxed and not stressed is important, as stress can influence temperature in horses and other species.
We used a statistical method to then determine our horse’s “normal” temperature range, basically the middle 95% of the temperature readings. On our yard, this was 36.0-38.0°C. The upper limit is particularly important, as it is around 0.5°C lower than most of the previously published normal temperature ranges for horses. When an animal’s temperature exceeds this upper limit of normal, they are considered to be hyperthermic, too hot. The temperature reading alone can not explain why the animal is too hot, but it is an important indicator that something isn’t quite right (or, the horse has been exercising or in a hot environment). The term pyrexia, or fever, describes an animal that is too hot due to illness, this could be an infection, inflammatory or painful process. A low grade fever is where an animal’s body temperature is just slightly increased above the normal range and can be an early indicator of disease. It is therefore important that the normal reference range is accurate, otherwise these early indicators of illness can go unnoticed.
It is worth noting again, that the method of temperature measurement used is really important to consider when assessing your animal’s health. True core body temperature can only be measured using invasive, or ingestible devices. Rectal temperature remains the most accurate estimate of core temperature in most animal species (thankfully in humans non-contact thermometers appear to be as reliable!), but even the depth of rectal thermometer probe placement can have an impact on the resulting reading. A difference of 1cm can impact the temperature reading in chinchillas, whilst inserting a probe to 15cm or deeper in horses is likely to result in a higher temperature reading being obtained. Whilst we have no published evidence to support our theory, we suspect inserting a rectal probe to 15cm or deeper may also increase your risk of being kicked, so our normal temperature range is based on a 5cm thermometer depth.
If you monitor body temperature in two different ways you will get two different results. We know ear temperature is typically 0.4-0.6°C lower than rectal temperature. So it is important that you use the same method of temperature measurement each time if you are going to monitor your animal for changes in body temperature. That said, if you are ever worried about your animal’s temperature, use a rectal thermometer as this is still the most reliable estimate of core body temperature. Also, see your vet. Both high and very low body temperatures can be fatal in all species, so if your animal is unwell DO NOT delay seeking veterinary treatment.
Our equine paper is available to read and download (free!) on the publisher’s site until 8th March 2019:
After this time, if you do not have access to the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, then you are of course welcome to read the full article in the unfinished form below (this is the accepted manuscript, just not formatted into the journal’s style).
The Hot Dog’s team (Emily and Anne) are now working with Dan O’Neill from the Royal Veterinary College on a UK wide canine heatstroke study. The study will use data from the Vet Compass™ database to review the clinical records of over 900,000 dogs registered with UK primary-care veterinary practices for heatstroke events. As well as canine risk factors (e.g. breed, age, sex and bodyweight), additional information will be collected to establish the incidence, fatality rate, seasonality and underlying causes for canine heatstroke. Understanding the risk factors of heatstroke specific to the UK dog population will provide evidence to better support educational campaigns aiming to reduce or prevent this potentially fatal condition.
We have started this blog to share our research findings with the wider dog owning, dog working, and dog competing community. Apologies for the lack of content at the moment, but we hope this will soon change!
For now, here are some of our recent research findings and publications in an openly accessible format, along with links to the published works (which are sadly mostly behind paywalls):
We will be sharing our research at the following events in 2020:
Skinner’s Canine Science Conference (Thursday 26th March) – Anne and Emily will be presenting “It’s getting hot in here! So, take off all your… fur? How climate change may impact your dog’s ability to dog.” For tickets please click HERE – this event was sadly cancelled, but we hope to present these findings in the future.
BSAVA Congress 2020 (Saturday 4th April) – Emily will be presenting initial findings from the Hot Dogs VetCompass research project. BSAVA was cancelled due to COVID19, but Emily will be presenting these preliminary results on-line mid May, updates to follow shortly!
Information presented at these events will be added to the site shortly after.
If you have any concerns about your dog’s health please consult your veterinary surgeon immediately. This site is designed to provide information and share knowledge regarding heatstroke, but is no substitute for veterinary care for your dog
Sharing our research into canine heatstroke and heat related disorders.