Bird Dogs & Training  |  10/26/2020

Keeping the Hounds Healthy

Story and photos by Dr. Kristina Mott
Ninety degrees is either a thing of the past or may still be a thing of the future, depending on where you live and hunt, but summer is over and hunting season has arrived! With it comes the crazy doses of weather where you may need to be prepared for frigid mornings, then watch for heat stroke in the afternoon.
Everyone, human and canine alike, is mentally ready. But what about physically? Now is not the time to condition your hunting partner. As a veterinarian I hear all too often when I remark about chubby dogs in August, “Hunting season is coming, they will get into shape then.” No, they won’t. In fact, that’s when they can most likely get hurt.
Our canines are athletes and they need to be kept fit year-round, not just in the fall. If you are reading this and wiggling in your seat with that familiar buzz of guilt, the best advice I can give is own it, and take it slow. If your dog is not ready to be a weekend warrior all fall, take it easy and do not overdo it. And If you worked hard all spring and summer training and conditioning, there are still a few things to keep in mind as the season begins.

Remember that early season can have warm temperatures and dogs can easily suffer from heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Travel with clean fresh water, as many water sources you may encounter during a hunt will be quite algae-covered and murky until the temps really start to drop.
Monitor for early signs of heat stroke such as swollen tongue with the tip curled up at the end. This happens when dogs try to increase the surface area of their dog to increase evaporative cooling. If you see this, stop, water them, and rest in the shade until the panting slows and tongue decreases in size. Dogs left behind in the vehicle for a later hunt or resting after a morning round are also still susceptible to a hot vehicle if the afternoon sun is pouring in. It is easy to forget when the mornings are so nice and cool.

Eye wash is going to be your favorite item in your first aid kit during early season because of seeds and plant debris stuck in places they shouldn’t be. Washing out eyes after a hunt can help prevent corneal scratches and foreign bodies.
Some of you may have young females that had a first litter this spring or summer. Take it slow getting them back out and don’t forget you may need to add a vest to protect nipples and mammary tissue that wasn’t quite so prominent pre-brood bitch duties.  I have rehabbed multiple brood bitches post-hunting season that went out too hard and out of shape after a litter of pups and got hurt in one way or another.
Tick prevention is important during early season as well. In addition to using a preventative, I highly recommend combing your athlete or even bathing them after a hunt to remove anything that might be hitchhiking home. It is important to keep up frequent tick checks until there is good snow cover. Ticks are attracted to their hosts by sensing carbon dioxide, a component of the air we mammals exhale. 

A super cool and mostly weird tick check trick is to exhale heavily on your dog, as this will cause ticks to come up to the surface of their fur making them easier to spot and remove!  Depending on how out of shape YOU are during the hot parts of the hunting season, this may be a default option if you’re panting off the walk while looking over your dog.

If your athlete is about to start one of their last few seasons with a bit of gray on their muzzle, avoid being a weekend warrior with them. Switch them out with your younger dogs and know when to quit before they get injured and end their season earlier than necessary. If they are on an anti-inflammatory medication or have one from your vet for use as needed, the best way to prepare for a hunt is a dose the night before the hunt to help prevent the inflammation before it starts instead of trying to play catch up in a painful dog.
Soon enough it will be a whole new ballgame crunching ice and trudging through snow still chasing birds, we look forward to enjoying each portion of the season as it arrives!