Vet­eri­nar­ian Dr Karen Davies on keep­ing your gun dog in tip top shape.

Field and Game - - VET ADVICE - With Dr Karen Davies

How do I keep my dog fit dur­ing a long hunt­ing sea­son?

It is im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that prior to hunt­ing your pet should be fit to re­duce the risk of in­jury. In the same way you would not go “full bore” at the gym with your per­sonal trainer with­out hav­ing done any pre­vi­ous ex­er­cise, you should not ex­pect your dog to do the same.

Get­ting fit for the hunt­ing sea­son will de­pend on what you use your dog for. Start­ing sev­eral weeks ahead of your first out­ing will give you and your dog the best op­por­tu­nity to get the job done. If you are a stalker, long walks and some off-lead play will gen­er­ally be suf­fi­cient. How­ever, if you have a run­ning dog, you should build up to more vig­or­ous ex­er­cise to sup­port both fit­ness and stamina. Swim­ming, tread­mills and hy­drother­apy will pro­vide fit­ness as well as re­sis­tance work, al­low­ing your dog to run fur­ther and for longer. Fit­ness is key to pre­vent­ing mus­cle sore­ness af­ter a week­end away. En­sure your dog has had a good qual­ity feed to achieve suf­fi­cient blood glu­cose lev­els and elec­trolytes to al­low for pro­longed ex­er­cise.

Pre-made bal­anced for­mu­la­tions such as Lec­tade and Vy­trate are great to have on hand. Fol­low­ing up with th­ese so­lu­tions will also help re­duce mus­cle sore­ness. It is very im­por­tant when hunt­ing in the cold sea­son that you do not al­low your dog to cool too quickly af­ter ex­er­cise. Warm­ing up be­fore­hand will help re­duce mus­cle sore­ness and in­jury in the cold, as, like us, mus­cle cramps are more com­mon in the cold. Af­ter ex­er­cise you should en­sure the dog is dried off if wet, and for light­coated or short-coated breeds, a jacket is not un­rea­son­able to pre­vent rapid chill­ing. Walk­ing prior to putting to the dog back in the crate for the trip home will help re­duce mus­cle sore­ness, in the same way that ath­letes will have a cool-down ses­sion. No breed is im­mune to the ef­fects of the cold. While wire-coated breeds will gen­er­ally dry quicker, their coat pro­vides min­i­mal warmth. Some of the short-coated breeds, such as labs, will de­velop a dou­ble coat dur­ing the win­ter months. They are at less risk of over-cool­ing but if rugged up too soon, or too much, can read­ily over­heat. A coat is a great idea for af­ter the hunt. Work­ing the dog dur­ing a hunt in a coat is not a great idea; they get caught up in the bush, and we have seen dogs end up with bro­ken limbs when run­ning flat out and the fore­limb has ex­tended through the neck of the jacket trip­ping the dog up. Once your dog has fin­ished the hunt al­ways wait for the res­pi­ra­tion/breath­ing to come back to nor­mal be­fore “rug­ging them up”, oth­er­wise you may risk over­heat­ing. Any jack­ets placed on the dog af­ter ex­er­cise should be rel­a­tively light weight and non­re­stric­tive, just enough to stop a chilly breeze. Ezy­dog El­e­ments are a great jacket for this pur­pose. It's re­ally im­por­tant to dry your dog off af­ter ex­er­cise in cool weather to avoid hy­pother­mia and mus­cle cramp­ing. Hav­ing a cool-down ses­sion to al­low the dogs res­pi­ra­tion and body tem­per­a­ture to come back to nor­mal be­fore putting them in the car for the trip home will re­duce the in­ci­dence of mus­cle sore­ness, cramps and “tie-up” (the com­mon term for lac­tic acid build up in the mus­cles). It is best not to have heat mats or to put the car heater on flat out when you get them back to the car as, if the dog is still hot from the hunt, you can cause them to over­heat and this can have cat­a­strophic consequences. Just dry them off, get them out of cool breeze, apply a light­weight coat if nec­es­sary and walk them un­til breath­ing and body temp are back to nor­mal. An elec­trolyte mix will also help at the end of the train­ing/hunt­ing ses­sion to re­duce mus­cle sore­ness and fa­tigue. Older dogs are at greater risk of mus­cle in­jury and fa­tigue, along with lame­ness due to arthritis and back in­juries. Fit­ness is key, the old say­ing “you snooze — you lose” has never been truer than when we talk about mus­cu­lar and car­dio­vas­cu­lar fit­ness.

Keep­ing older dogs fit dur­ing the off-sea­son is es­sen­tial, and main­tain re­sis­tance work such as swim­ming or hy­drother­apy.

Keep the dog in a good weight range and with a rea­son­able level of fit­ness, then in­crease the level of fit­ness prior to the sea­son. If your dog has the be­gin­nings of arthritis you can try glu­cosamine and chon­droitin sup­ple­ment to im­prove the health of the joints and omega sup­ple­ments to re­duce in­flam­ma­tion and pain.

As arthritis is an im­mune-me­di­ated de­struc­tive dis­ease, it also makes sense to sup­port your dog with anti-in­flam­ma­to­ries (sup­plied by your vet) if needed. My old girl Bella, a GSP, was re­tired from stalk­ing at 13 years of age due to ad­vanced arthritis. Around the same time, we started her on some anti-in­flam­ma­to­ries to keep her com­fort­able.

Her im­prove­ment was so great she re­turned to stalk­ing and hunted for an­other two years. Granted, she mod­i­fied the way she stalked; she would walk up to the bush, en­gage the deer and back away bring­ing the beast out into the open. She loved it and lived it right to the end.

Some of my hunt­ing will be in the cold­est months. Do some breeds cope with the cold bet­ter than oth­ers? Will a dog coat pro­vide ad­e­quate pro­tec­tion? What can I do to help my dog re­cover af­ter work­ing in cold water or in freez­ing con­di­tions in the bush? What should I worry about with older dogs?

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