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Gun Dog Preseason Health Check


Summer is winding down, and it’s time to start thinking of donning your vest, grabbing your gear, and hitting the uplands behind your gun dog. Preparing your dog prior to the opener is of utmost importance to his health. Dr. Ira McCauley, a lifelong outdoorsman and veterinarian, recommends a thorough preseason health check.

Hunter trimming an English Setter's nails on a tailgate

Body Condition

“The most important part is determining your dog’s body condition score,” says Dr. Ira McCauley. “To run well, your dog should be at the correct weight, and the body condition score is a great baseline for comparison.” Overweight dogs should shed some pounds before training starts so that they can be physically prepared to perform in the field.

“You want your dog to have a waist,” says McCauley. “You want to be able to see an indentation in the abdomen and to be able to feel the ribs easily, but not see them.” Bottom line: If your dog is in shape, he will be better prepared to perform and less vulnerable to injury. Consult with your vet to help determine the best course of action if your dog is overweight.

Paw Prep

To avoid having to sideline your dog after the first day in the field, it’s vital that you prep his paw pads for rough terrain. Walking on carpet or hard wooden floors is a lot different on pads than traversing rough ground.

Toughen paws ahead of the season by taking your dog on hikes in environments similar to those you plan to hunt. Something as simple as walking your dog on the sidewalk can help, as well. Walking on concrete isn’t exactly the same as traversing rough terrain in the wild, but it’s better for toughening paws than carpet and hardwood floors.

As for nails, keep ’em short, Dr. McCauley says.

“Some dogs will naturally ‘file’ their own nails from running, but if your dog doesn’t, make sure to keep the nails trimmed and short,” he says. “If nails are too long, you risk separating the nail from the bone, which is very painful and will keep your dog out of commission.”

Vet Checkup

Preseason training should always begin with a health check from your vet. Book your visit well in advance to make sure that all issues are properly treated and resolved before your training gets underway.

Taking your gun dog to the vet prior to the season is especially important for older dogs. As dogs age, medical problems can arise that are best addressed early on.

“Once a year, you should have your dog evaluated to ensure all the Ts are crossed,” explains McCauley. “Sometimes we find broken teeth or other problems that people don’t know are there.”

McCauley also strongly urges handlers to make sure they stay up to date on flea and tick preventives for their gun dogs. Ticks are a big problem in the early season due to the warm weather. They can carry and spread diseases such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease, and ehrlichiosis.

“Tick-borne diseases can be life-threatening to your dog—and to you,” says McCauley. “If your dog seems lethargic, anorexic, has a fever, or is limping, pay a visit to your vet right away. The earlier you catch the ailments, the better.” Also, make sure all immunizations are current and up to date before getting underway with preseason activities.

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