Treating your dog's bumps and bruises as the season wears on
By Casey Sill
Hunting seasons start early up north.
A lot of our openers come at the beginning of September, and by the time pheasant season kicks off in mid-October dogs can be worn in at best — worn out at worst.
Hunting is hard on dogs, and as the season grinds on the bumps and bruises begin to pile up. Some of the most common offenders for upland dogs are lacerations on the chest and legs, issues with feet and raw noses and ears. It’s important to understand how to treat these injuries, and to recognize when days off are warranted.
Dr. Jennell Appel is a Georgia-based veterinarian who manages a mobile vet clinic at retriever field trials across the country when she’s not running her regular practice. A large portion of her clients own hunting dogs, and she helped lay out several ways to treat and prevent common upland injuries.
Feet and Toes
Dr. Appel said feet are one of the most common areas of concern for upland dogs. Pads being ripped off are a pretty regular occurrence, as are losing toenails, puncture wounds and other more pedestrian lacerations.
“Nails in particular are actually a huge issue,” Appel said, “And a lot of it comes from the fact that people don’t cut their dog’s nails short enough.”
Dog owners tend to be leery of cutting nails to short for fear of hitting a quick, the soft cuticle containing the blood vessel and nerves that run through the nail. But leaving them too long can cause much bigger issues.
“The quicks grow with the nail, so the longer you let the nails go, the longer the quick gets. Then you can’t cut them short,” she said. “You need to trim them every three weeks or so, just to take the tips off and keep that quick from growing out.”
Old hunting dogs almost always have ugly noses — years of pushing aside grass and cattails leave them scarred and discolored. It’s one of the first areas to get rubbed raw during a hunting trip and it can be quite painful, but it’s also incredibly hard to treat. Naturally, dogs tend to immediately lick off any salves or medicine applied to the nose, but Dr. Appel gives some sound advice.
“Something I’ve had decent luck with are vitamin E capsules,” she said. “You can break them apart or poke the end and pour the powder out of them, then apply to the nose. It doesn’t taste good so oftentimes dogs wont keep licking it, and it’s a thicker substance so it acts sort of like a glue and sticks to the nose more than something like Neosporin would. Also, if it’s ingested, it’s no big deal.”
Other areas to keep an eye on for raw spots are the chest and underneath the legs (legpits? That’s definitely not a word, but you get the point). Vitamin E can be helpful for raw spots in those areas as well.
The number one overall issue for upland hunting dogs is lacerations to the legs and chest. Barbed wire, rocks, sticks and grass can shred a bird dog. Treating these cuts depends on the severity, as well as where you’re at.
“If you’re out in the boonies somewhere and aren’t going to be able to get to a vet in 24 hours with a large wound, it’s better to close it,” Dr. Appel said. “But it has to be a deep wound, down past the sub Q tissue and into the muscle. With smaller skin cuts, I simply clean, flush, treat with antibiotic ointment, and leave them open.”
If you do need to close a wound in the field, a small veterinary stapler will do the job. But leave the bottom of the wound open just a bit so fluids can drain to avoid a seroma (fluid build-up).
Morning After Syndrome
If Dr. Appel had a mantra, it would be “Know your Dog.” Reading a dog’s behavior is the best way to tell if they’re game to keep hunting, or need a break. If they begin to lose interest in the middle of a hunt or their drive decreases noticeably for no reason, it’s a good sign they’re worn out. If you’re on a multiday trip, the first 20 minutes after your dog wakes up in the morning can tell you a lot about what kind of shape they’re in. Dr. Appel calls this the morning after syndrome
“That first half hour is going to give you a lot of information about how they’re feeling,” she said. “If that dog wakes up the morning after a hunt and they’re rearing to go and bouncing around, then I’m not concerned. If they’re slow and stiff and they’re stretching a lot, that tells me their muscles are tense and they’re not ready.”
Dogs are tough, incredibly tough — they can shrug off all kinds of physical pain with an astoundingly nonchalant attitude. Hunting is also inherently dangerous for dogs - letting them out of the kennel has its risks. It’s important to respect their tenacity, and come to terms with the fact that if you hunt your dog, there’s going to be bumps and bruises along the way.
“If people are overly concerned about the risk of serious injury then they probably shouldn’t be hunting,” Dr. Appel said. “No matter what kind of medical or first aid supplies you have, at the end of the day things can still happen, so preparedness is key.”
Casey Sill is the public relations specialist at Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever national headquarters in St. Paul, Minn. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.