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Sporting Dog Self-Cleaning Isn't Always a Good Idea

Featuring Dr. Jill Cline, Eukanuba and Royal Canin Pet Health and Nutrition Center

The season is coming up, and we want our dogs to stay in tip-top shape. Sporting dogs self-clean regularly, but sometimes it’s not such a good idea.

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The antibacterial enzymes in a dog’s saliva have healing properties, which help dogs get rid of infections in open wounds. Licking also gets rid of dead skin cells and helps make way for healthy fur to grow. Most of the time it’s normal and expected, but occasionally it’s not good at all. Here’s when self-cleaning can cause harm.

Pesticides ingested by licking

If you’re running shelter belts next to fields of row crops and your dog licks its paws or pads, they may ingest fertilizer or pesticides used in the field. If you’re concerned about what a farmer sprays, then rinse off their paws prior to loading up dogs.

Disease contracted by rolling

A lot of dogs love to roll—it’s their way of scratching their back. But if they roll in cow pies or in a decayed animal carcass, then there is a good chance they can get sick if they lick themselves. Wash dogs off in a pond or stream and let them dry before putting them in the kennel.

Seeds from hitchhiker plants

Plants that grab a dog’s fur can be harmful if swallowed. Dogs trying to remove burdock, beggar’s lice or cockleburs from their coats can swallow the seeds, which can become lodged in the throat or GI tract. Comb out any prickly seeds before they get swallowed.


I keep my dogs away from buckeyes. Buckeyes are deep brown nuts with a light spot resembling a deer’s eye. They’re in the same family as horse chestnuts. Chestnuts come from the beech family and are edible, while buckeyes and horse chestnuts are toxic. Keep them away from your dog. If they eat the five-sided, spiny husk that gets lodged in pads it can get caught in their throat or GI tract. If you believe your dog ate a buckeye then take a picture of the nut and husk and contact your vet at once.


Old farm fields frequently grow full with milkweed. Dogs that eat the plant can be poisoned by the galitoxin and cardiac glycosides. Symptoms include decreased heart rate, erratic heartbeats, collapse, and seizures. Tremors followed by sudden death occur if the dog has ingested enough. Whistle your dog out of the milkweed stand and comb him out before kenneling him up, and the problem is avoided. Again, if you unsure if your dog has eaten milkweed then snap a picture and consult your vet at once.

Before you load up your dogs after a run, watch to see if they are self-cleaning. If there is any doubt, brush and wash them off. Those few minutes of time can save an emergency trip to vet.

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