Use these tips and advice from Dr. Gracey Welsh to properly care for your gun dog after a hunt.
The moment your dog barrels through the cover or dives into the water at your command to find the coveted prize is amazing for both handler and dog. Everyone’s adrenaline is pumping and the focus is so intensely set on the goal that sometimes injuries can go unnoticed until things slow down. I always advocate for setting aside 5-10 minutes per dog to check them over before putting them up and away after a working session. This time is valuable bonding time and can also catch potential issues, which sooner leads to a better resolution and faster recovery.
Start with a head to toe evaluation of each dog, one at a time before your dog heads into the kennel. Starting at the mouth, lift the lips and inspect the mouth. Look for broken teeth, bleeding gums or foreign objects in the mouth. Pay attention to gum color and monitor for any changes in what might be ‘normal’ for your dog. Broken teeth are often painful and can get infected. But the sooner it’s dealt with, the sooner these issues can be avoided. I will very frequently find ticks, grass awns, or briars stuck between the gums and teeth. This is a good opportunity to remove these from the mouth. Next, gently manipulate the eyelids. You’re looking for any redness, increased discharge, or foreign material. An over-the-counter saline eyewash can be used to gently flush away any dirt or plant material that has accumulated in the eyes. I’m generally pretty conservative when it comes to the eyes. After all, they’re pretty important! Any increased redness or squinting would be alerts that a visit to the local vet might be necessary. A quick peek in the ears to check for scrapes, ticks or prickers is an easy next step.
Run your hands up the dog’s snout and over the head and neck on both sides. This is an effective way to find any swelling or abrasions in this area. If found, they need to get dealt with. Continue running your hands down from the bottom of the neck to the tip of the tail. Try to key in on pain, cuts, or abnormal swelling. Long tailed dogs may often have cracked the end of their tail and you may find blood along the tail and, given how hard they wag their tails while working, even along the sides of the dog. This can easily be cleaned up with some hydrogen peroxide to ensure that there is no major cut or abrasion under the bloodied haircoat.
Next, feel the abdomen for cuts or punctures while assessing the dogs reaction. Any pain associated with abdominal palpation is a red flag that something else might be going on. Similarly, feel the entire chest wall to make sure that there are no punctures that might indicate underlying foreign material or damage to the chest wall.
The legs are next. Run your hands down each leg individually, looking for pain or swelling in a joint. I always check between the toes (tops and bottoms!) for cuts, ticks, or things stuck in the wrong place.
Finally, run a flea comb over the dog for 5-10 passes. You can find one of these combs many places online. This will pick up any ticks or other insects that may be in the dog’s coat, but not yet attached to the skin. After I feel satisfied with having looked my dog over, it’s a good boy pat on the head and back into the box with some water.
I can’t stress the importance of daily checks for your dogs. Getting into the habit may take time, but it soon becomes an easy part of the process enjoyed by both you and your dog. Finding potential issues sooner means that if they require further care it can be given without delay. I also think it is important to do regularly, so that you can establish normal variation between dogs. If you are confident in what your dog’s legs generally feel like or what color their gums typically are, this will allow you to pick up on any changes or trends that are different. Noticing these can be lifesaving.
*Advice in this article is meant to help educate and prepare you, but should never substitute for a veterinary examination. If you are concerned about something with your dog, please visit your veterinarian.
Dr. Gracey Welsh is a small animal veterinarian. She splits her practice time between general practice in Lake Placid, NY and emergency work in Williston VT. Her professional interests include working dog nutrition and conditioning. Outside of work she loves spending time with her husband and their three dogs (two german shorthairs and one english pointer) in the woods--be it hunting season, summer training or winter skijoring. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her pointer crew on their adventures on instragram @points_north