By the time this article is published, the hunting season will be over and your hard- charging hunting companion will be laying on the couch wanting his belly to be scratched and wondering why you forgot where you put your shotgun. I’ve had the honor of practicing veterinary medicine for the past 35 years and it has been amazing to watch the status of hunting dogs go from a back yard kennel to the “front door greeter and couch hog”. We love our dogs like family, so their health and longevity are so much more important than how many birds they retrieved or pointed last year. Nevertheless, we expect them to be “road ready” next September and it is important that they perform well. Who wants to lose a tasty dove, pass up a hidden quail or worse, go wading in knee deep mud to retrieve their own duck? So what should your dog’s health plan be for the “off season” interval?
First we will cover the “easies”. You MUST keep your dog on heartworm prevention whether you use the injectable every 6 months or the monthly oral/topical preventatives. Nothing is more disheartening than having a healthy looking canine drop dead the first week of hunting season from stray heartworms. These twelve inch adult worms live in the right side of the heart. When dogs retrieve, the volume of blood flowing through the heart skyrockets which may cause one of the many worms living in the right side of the heart to release and travel to the lungs. The devastating damage is called a pulmonary thromboemboli, similar to a blood clot in people and often having similar results which can include acute death. So NO excuses, just make sure they are on prevention – see how easy that one was?
The next slightly more difficult hurdle is nutrition. With the demands of hunting most of us have been feeding our dogs an additional cup or two or possibly a higher energy dog food during the season. Some dogs may be skinny and still need additional supplementation but most of our critters are in adequate body condition, in fact estimates reveal that 54% of our dogs are overweight. So what’s the problem if “Bubba” gains a few over the next few months? “He deserves a break Doc!” An over conditioned dog will never perform to his potential, weight just slows us all down and decreases stamina. Worse, overweight pets have an exponential increase in risk of overheating and injuries. ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) tears, overheating and many other potential ailments often require emergency care, extensive hospitalization and costly surgeries. So not as “easy” but still doable. If you want to see what your dog should weigh there is a very intuitive chart online that allows you to pick your dog’s general shape and compare it to what he should weigh. In my opinion, bird dogs should be in the 20 to 25% body fat range.
A yearly trip to see your veterinarian may seem like I’m “tooting my own horn” but let me explain why I believe it is important. A yearly checkup should consist of a complete head to tail examination that leaves no part of the body unexamined. Your veterinarian should have his/her hands all over your dog, including an opthalmascopic exam of the eyes, an otoscopic exam of the ears, a stethoscope over the heart and lungs, a good look at the teeth and oral cavity, palpation and movement of all the joints and a very thorough exam of the abdomen, etc… So many diseases are hidden and only a thorough exam can tell that your girl has a small cancerous mammary tumor forming, a painful abscess under a molar, a new heart murmur that wasn’t there last year, an early cataract that is going to make retrieving difficult or a very arthritic joint that has affected her hunting stamina. A heartworm test is so important, especially with new evidence that there is some heartworm larvae that are resistant to normal preventatives. A fecal is a must to make sure they have not picked up any “bugs” like giardia or intestinal worms. Don’t opt for the quick grocery store vaccination that takes your money and leaves your pet vulnerable. Preventative medicine is the best investment you will ever make in your pet so find a great vet and tell them you want every inch of that body examined! A great resource for pet health care can be found at www.texvetpets.org.
Lastly, be sure and continue some kind of exercise routine. Bird dog trainers are the experts on this subject so I’ll leave it to them. Just make sure some exercise is provided weekly and don’t try to get him in shape over the last few weeks prior to hunting season. Have fun, enjoy the hunt… “Hey, move over, your hogging the couch!”
If you want to see what your dog should weigh take a look at the body condition chart above. Ideal weight corresponds to a healthy 20% body fat. In my opinion, the ideal hunting dogs should be in the 20 to 25 % body fat range when the hunting season starts.
WRITTEN BY DAVID HEFLIN, D.V.M.
MISSION VETERINARY HOSPITAL, MISSION TX