Basic Vet Care For Your Hunting Dog

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Your Dog Should Be Calm When You Work on It


I have interviewed our veterinarian regarding basic, but helpful information for gun dog owners. Craney Hill Kennel has had great success working with Jerry (Jerome F. Zeleny, D.V.M., Frankfort Animal Care Center, Frankfort, Illinois over the years and I believe one of the major reasons is that Jerry is a hunter as well. I believe this provides valuable experience regarding typical dog injuries that I encounter while on the road guiding wild-bird hunts and dog training our spaniels across the United States. I cannot express how important it is to have a good relationship with your veterinarian. They are a wealth of information for the daily care of your dog and if they also have gun dogs, it has been my experience that they better understand the appropriate weight for your dog and what a quality food is versus what they make the most money recommending. As I stress at our flushing gun dog training seminars, I do not suggest that you provide your own veterinary care for your dog. I do suggest that combined with a competent veterinarian, you both develop a plan of proper veterinarian care for your dog.

Question: What is the health risk associated with having my gun dog overweight?

Response: You increase the risk of injury, heatstroke, etc. You probably decrease performance such as distance covered and scenting since it will cause an increase in panting versus breathing through the nose.

Question: How do I tell if my gun dog is overweight?

Response: You need to know your breed and the individual dog. For an example, some Labrador retrievers are stockier than others. What we look for is a waist and a tuck. A waist is a taper behind the last rib and a tuck is the slant you see when looking at your dog from the side (up toward the tail).

Question: For most gun dogs, what is the appropriate protein/fat mixture for a dog food that is fed throughout the year?

Response: There probably is not a good general answer. However, an increased fat content would obviously not make sense for a dog that is already overweight. I personally believe that protein should be close to 28% or greater.

Question: What vaccinations are most important for my dog and when are they administered?

Response: The core vaccinations are distemper and parvo. Puppies should have a series of three or four shots, with the last one administered around 16 weeks of age. A booster shot is administered one year later. In addition, a rabies shot should be administered as a puppy and again one year later. After one year of age, it becomes confusing as whether to administer the vaccinations every one, two, three or four years. This is due to the lifestyle of the individual dog and the various strains of each disease that a dog may be exposed to in various locations around the United States.

Question: What about flea/tick/heartworm prevention and which products do you recommend?

Response: I like Frontline Top Spot. It is good for fleas and ticks and is more waterproof than other products. For heartworm prevention (which generally includes intestinal worms), I recommend name brand products such as Heartguard or Interceptor.

Question: Is this prevention required throughout the year?

Response: You should use the heartworm prevention throughout the year. Granted heartworm disease is transmitted by mosquitoes which are not generally around Chicago in the winter, but intestinal worms are and it helps to prevent these other worms. Flea and tick prevention is up to the owner and depends on the season. In the Midwest, I recommend April 1st through December. These products are very safe so if an owner wanted to use them throughout the year, they would have no adverse effects.

Question: What is the most common injury you see with hunting dogs?

Response: Foot injuries are the most common with numerous lacerations to the skin as well.

Question: What symptoms due we need to look for regarding heat issues and our dogs?

Response: Ataxia (unstable on their feet) is the most common effect of overheating. The early sign of overheating is excessive panting and should be noticed by the owner. It is important to know your dog and the environment that you are in regarding temperature, cover and access to water. The best prevention is to have a properly conditioned dog and to use common sense.

Question: What items are most essential to carry in a comprehensive first aid kit to leave in my car?

Response: Your kit should include eye wash, eye ointment, bandage material, tape, gauze, scissors, tourniquet, thermometer and a muzzle.

Question: What items are most essential to carry with me in the field?

Response: Carry water, quick bandage for a tourniquet and a muzzle (a leather shoe lace works great).

Question: Is it important to give supplements to my dog before, during or after the hunt?

Response: This is probably not necessary. The one published study I read was to feed one time a day after the hunt. There is no scientific evidence to support supplementing during the hunt except for water. Also, if your dog gets hypoglycemic (too much insulin/sugar) during the hunt, you probably have a big problem.

Question: What about chocolate?

Response: If untreated, a one ounce square of unsweetened baking chocolate will kill 50% of all dogs weighing 20 pounds or less. If treated, the dog will likely survive, but it sure puts the risks associated with baking chocolate into perspective. In contrast, one regular Hershey bar fed to a 60 pound dog probably will not even give the dog diarrhea. I do not recommend chocolate as a stimulant for a hunting dog.

Question: After the hunt, should I inspect my dog and what do I look for?

Response: Everyone should take the time to inspect their dog after the hunt. Check the feet, ears and coat for cuts, abrasions and burrs.

Question: What type of injuries/symptoms should I be aware of that will require me to get my dog to a veterinarian immediately?

Response: A severely bleeding wound is never a good thing. Watch the ears, as one small puncture can bleed a lot. Other injuries of major concern are eye injuries and wounds that penetrate the chest or abdomen.

Question: What about the tongue?

Response: The tongue tends to bleed a lot and is usually due to a cut on the tip. Blood loss can be deceptive if they swallow a lot of it. You need to calm the dog and inspect the injury. If the bleeding is very slow, it is probably not a problem unless the cut is in excess of ¼ inch in size.

I want to thank Jerry for his help with this article. As I said, a good relationship with your veterinarian is important. I believe almost any veterinarian can administer your dog’s regular vaccinations; however, it is during these visits that you will have an opportunity to talk to your veterinarian about health issues, gain knowledge and build a relationship. A word to the wise: If your veterinarian is overzealous in expressing that people should have all of their pets spayed or neutered or is pushing a bunch of health products, I would find a new veterinarian. Look for a veterinarian that has working dogs that are subjected to similar situations as your dogs.

Another source of information is The Orvis Field Guide to First Aid for Sporting Dogs, written by Charles D. DeVinne, D.V.M. I actually paid Chuck for a private consultation many years ago when I lived out east and he put a first aid kit together for me while giving me my first education on caring for my gun dogs. Chuck has gun dogs, is a crack shot and has written this book (available from Orvis), which is a good reference for most of the issues you will run into in the field.


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