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Gun Dogs: First Aid Emergencies in the Field

Waterfowl Magazine - August/September 1993

Debra Folsom

It is very easy to forget about your dog when planning an exciting hunting trip, but without him, your hunting capabilities may be non existent or at least significantly reduced. Most of the common first aid emergencies involving hunting dogs in the field, can be prevented. When a dog is hunting, he often performs at a maximum level of physical exertion, sometimes over a period of several days at a time. It is like running a marathon or for the dog. He must be in good physical condition and all the hazards he may encounter, taken into consideration, when preparing for the trip.


HEATSTROKE: In California, overheating is one of the biggest problems for the hunting dog. Many of the pheasant clubs open early in October when it is still very warm. The retriever breeds are especially susceptible as they have the lowest tolerance to heat. If you hunt a retriever, only join a bird club that has access to water throughout, or plan to shoot your birds later in the season when it is cooler. Dogs that are overweight will become overheated quickly. Slim off those extra pounds before the season and exercise the dog to get him into shape. Never hunt too far from water when the temperatures are warm. Carry a canteen of water and pan with you if necessary. Heatstroke can be fatal! Travel with your dogs kenneled in a dog crate, in your vehicle. Leave the windows open or remove the crate, and put it in the shade if necessary. Many dogs are killed in vehicles every year from heat stroke, even on cool days! If the dog becomes overheated get him to water immediately, and immerse him or pour water over him. Allow the dog to drink which will also help to cool him. After getting him cooled down take the dog to a veterinarian if he doesn't appear to be fully recovered.


FEET: Pre season conditioning will help toughen your dogs pads. Few retriever's feet will hold up in the stony terrain of the hill country, where some of the best quail hunting can be found. There are commercial products such as "Tuf-Foot" available from your vet or kennel supply. You begin applying it to the dog's pads two to three weeks before the season, to toughen and strengthen the feet. There are also several styles of dog boots available. They are good to have on hand in case a dog should cut his foot. Often the dog can still be hunted if the injured foot is protected. You can make dog boots by cutting a piece of bicycle inner tube into a strip about 12 - 14" long. Slip it over the dog's paw like a sock, leaving about 8" of it hanging down. Fold the extra underneath the paw and up the bottom side of the leg. Tape it securely into place going round and round the leg with adhesive tape. Do not tape so tightly that you cut off the blood circulation to the foot Most glass cuts occur near roads or in ditches and streams of water under bridges. Keep your dogs out of these areas. Barbed wire fences are another common source of lacerations in hunting dogs. When a bird flushes, your dog may run after it through a barbed wire fence, or across a road, where he could be hit by a car.


SNAKEBITE: We have a rule at our kennel, when we are going to hunt country where there are rattlesnakes. We leave the dogs at home until later in the year, when the weather is cooler and the snakes are in hibernation. There are snake-proofing clinics available for hunting dogs. These usually involve walking the dog through defanged rattlesnakes with an electronic shock collar on. When the dog goes for the snake, he is shocked with the collar and therefore associates the punishment with the snake. Snake proofing seems to be relatively successful for some dogs. There is also an inexpensive suction device called a "Sawyer Extractor". It is very effective at sucking out the venom if used in the first few minutes after a snake bite. It can be used on dogs and humans. Cold compresses can help slow the absorption of the venom until you get the dog to a veterinarian. Poisonous snake bites can be fatal.


FOXTAILS: A foxtail is a relatively short stemmed grassland plant with an elongated brushy head that can be deadly to hunting dogs. They are prolific throughout California. The only areas that are usually free of them are wetlands or irrigated pastures. The segments that make up the fuzzy head, of a foxtail, have barbs on them. When they go into the flesh, they only move forward migrating further into the dog. A foxtail in the foot will usually localize and cause the foot to swell, become painful and infected. The dog will need to be anesthetized by a veterinarian and the foxtail removed from the foot.


Foxtails pose the most danger to hunting dogs if they are inhaled into the nose or lungs. Often the dog will go into violent fits of sneezing that will continue until the foxtail is removed by a veterinarian. A foxtail can migrate through the lungs, causing them to collapse, then into the abdomen of the dog, creating a path of infection. It is very difficult for a veterinarian to locate a foxtail because they do not show up on an x-ray. Do not hunt your dog in foxtails. Check the dog's feet after hunting and remove any foxtails or debris that he may have picked up during the hunt. If the dog is having sneezing fits, take him a the veterinarian and have his nose checked for a foreign body.


HYPOGLYCEMIA: is a low level of sugar in the blood. It is characterized by lack of coordination, confusion, and or convulsions. The dog may become disorientated and fearful, appearing to be having an epileptic fit. It is more common in older dogs. The physical exertion of hunting causes an acute shortage of blood sugar. Often this condition can be prevented by feeding the dog a small meal before hunting. Also take some food along. When planning a hunting trip, take your hunting dog into consideration. Plan for his safe transportation, housing, feeding and first aid needs. A bottle of eye wash, a dog boot, a role of elastic adhesive bandage and a few other items won't take up much room in your gear. It could make the difference between an enjoyable hunt, or a disappointing one, cut short by an injured dog.


EYES: Always check your dog's eyes for weed seeds and debris before you put him up, after a day in the field. Seeds left in the eye can work their way between the eyelids and the eye may become very swollen by the following day. Wash the seeds out of the eye with ophthalmic saline solution available from most drug stores. If you don't have any saline available, tilt the dogs nose downward, hold the eye open and you can blow the seeds out of the inner corner of the eye, with short breaths of air. Repeat, until no more seeds are visible. 

If you don't have any eye wash, you can blow weed seeds out of the inner corner of the dog's eye. Tilt the dog's nose downward and hold the eye open. Blow with short blasts of air until no more seeds are visible.

You can make a protective dog boot by slipping a 12 - 14 inch strip of bicycle inner tube over the dog's leg like a sock. Leave about eight inches hanging.

Fold the extra tubing underneath the paw and up the back side of the leg. Tape it securely into place, going around the leg with adhesive tape.


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