Field care for your sporting dog

It is true that bird and waterfowl hunting seasons are still months away. But spring and summer training sessions can still deliver a variety of injury threats for Fido. 

While next autumn's upland bird and waterfowl seasons are still months away, the training of good bird dogs and retrievers is an ongoing process that never ends.

For many sporting dog owners, the end of winter brings forth an acceleration of training exercises designed to get Fido into tip top shape for next autumn's hunting seasons.

Keep in mind that hunting season or not, each time a sporting dog owner heads outside with their faithful canine companion in tow, potential danger can be lurking around the next corner.

Such danger can be found in a variety of shapes, sizes, and temperaments including thorns, barbed wire, scrap metal, porcupines, western diamondbacks, and a host of other potential threats.

With such danger lurking afield, it pays to carry a canine first aid kit on each and every outing with your pooch.

North Texas veterinarian Dr. Bobby Cox of the Leonard Animal Clinic has a pretty good idea of what such a kit should contain, both as a DVM and as a veteran waterfowl hunter and an enthusiastic Labrador retriever owner and trainer for the past decade.

Cox suggests that dog owners carry a basic canine first aid kit that consists of the following items: aspirin for pain (the vet advises one adult aspirin for dogs over 25 pounds, one half an aspirin for dogs under 25 pounds); 250 mg tablets of an antibiotic such as Amoxicillin (administer according to your dog's veterinarian instructions); and Benadryl tablets.

Other items in the first aid kit should include: Betadine; Neosporin ointment; sterile gauze; sterile telfa pads; a three inch roll of gauze; two rolls of VetWrap; two rolls of elasticon; a small pair of hemostats and/or tweezers; and a pair of scissors.

If you need help in assembling — and tips on how to use — a proper first aid kit, be sure and check with your sporting dog's veterinarian for assistance.

In Cox's mind, some of the biggest dangers afield that a sporting canine can run into include an encounter with a hostile critter of the fanged or barbed kind.

"Rattlesnake bites are a risk in the right part of the country and that's a medical emergency," Cox said.

"You need to get (a dog bitten by a rattler) to the veterinarian as soon as possible. Don't use a tourniquet, but do use ice on the site of the bite."

Copperhead bites are generally less serious to a dog. Cox suggests that a canine suffering from such a bite be administered one tablet of Benadryl per 25 pounds of the dog.

While the vet admits that the recommended hemostats in the first aid kit can be used to remove porcupine quills, he strongly recommends getting the dog to a veterinarian hospital where a DVM can sedate the dog to remove the quills.

Perhaps the most common canine emergencies in the field are various lacerations from such items as a barbed wire fence.

When such a cut presents itself, Cox advises dog owners to refrain against using alcohol or hydrogen peroxide on the wound.

"I would wash the wound with a good clean antiseptic soap like Betadine, and then I would flush it with good clean water," Cox said.

"If it is a smaller cut, I'd put Neosporin on it, although the dog will (probably) lick it off."

For bigger lacerations of ¾ of an inch or more, Cox says that a dog will need sutures and care by a veterinarian.

For smaller cuts under ¾ of an inch, he says that field treatment will generally be ok, although he cautions against using Super Glue to keep a cut together since it can lead to an abscess if used on a contaminated wound.

Overheating is a common problem, especially for hard charging pointers with a snootful of bobwhite quail. As warming spring temperatures arrive across the country, training exercises for such dogs can also bring similar problems.

To help keep such a dog safe, carry plenty of drinking water, let the dog cool off frequently in a stock tank or watering trough, or even using a bottle of rubbing alcohol to help cool off a dog's core body temperature thanks to the alcohol's evaporative nature.

Similarly, Cox recommends carrying an energy bar or two to help treat an energetic sporting dog that has a tendency to suffer from a hypoglycemia low blood sugar event.

Perhaps most important of all, Cox encourages sporting dog owners to take a dose of common sense with them into the field, erring on the side of caution should something occur which injures the bird dog or retriever.

"If a person thinks that the injury is significant at all, they are way better off to err on the side of caution and to get the dog in and let somebody look it," Cox said.

If you own a sporting dog, that's good solid advice to keep in mind, hunting season or not.