Because of the environment in which most hunting takes place, there are always hidden threats lurking about. Farmlands, abandoned homesteads, fence-lines and hedgerows all seem to attract and hold upland game bird species. But, these areas can also contain inconspicuous objects that can pose a threat to your dog. Barbwire fencing, broken glass, discarded metal, nails and other sharp objects can puncture or cut a dog’s skin. Many old farms and abandoned home sites contain old dumpsites or areas of accumulated trash, which can pose a serious threat to a dog running in that area.
All outdoorsmen should have and know how to use basic first aid equipment. The Author keeps well supplied kits for both humans and canines in his SUV. He also carries a smaller version on him while afield.
Photo by: Author
Naturally, occurring organic objects such as sharp rocks, broken branches, thorns and briars can also cause injuries to your dog. Several times throughout their hunting careers, my springers have needed sutures to close deep lacerations caused by barbwire and once my older female, “Bess”, received a very long gash along her ribs from a sharp cedar branch, which she had brushed-up against while running after a rooster pheasant.
Sharp thorns and briars can also pose a threat, specifically to a dog’s eyes. Injured eyes should be washed with water, saline or an eyewash solution. Eye injuries need a veterinarian’s attention, as it is very hard for the layperson to tell the true extent of eye damage. Immersion in contaminated water while hunting can also cause eye infections. Special antibiotic creams are available from your veterinarian and can easily be administered to each eye after the hunt.
Waterfowling, especially in small beaver ponds can also expose dogs to waterborne bacterial infections such as leptospirosis. Leptospirosis, known to early North American trappers as “Beaver fever”, is caused by a build-up of rodent urine in the water, which is very common in beaver ponds. The bacterium enters the skin through a cut or orifice, or is ingested.
Hunting can also expose your dog to other less noticeable hazards such as carrion, other dogs and wild animal feces and encounters with both domestic and wild animals, all of which have the potential of leading to an infection from a host of communicable diseases. Viral and bacterial infections such as ademovirus, bordetella bronchiseptica infection, brucellosis, hepatitis, parainfluenza, parvo, neonatal canine herpesvirus and trench mouth are but a few of the more common diseases out there. Again, annual vaccinations can help to prevent these illnesses.
Thorns and briars can also cause skin infections and abbesses if not removed or treated. Small cuts or tears to an ear may bleed heavily and be slow to heal. As with all cuts or lacerations, clean the wound with fresh water and apply an antiseptic. If a small wound continues to bleed try covering the wound with a dressing and applying pressure for several minutes. You can also apply one of the septic powders or gels that are specially designed to stop bleeding, such as the new EMT Gel. These products are available from most pet suppliers. For larger more serious wounds requiring sutures, several safety pins can be used to close the wound until the dog can be transported to an animal hospital. Only apply a dressing after most of the bleeding has subsided. If the wound is large and an artery or vein has been injured, a tourniquet may be necessary, depending on the location of the wound. Always try to control bleeding with pressure first. If a tourniquet is required due to an injured vein or artery (blood is bright red and spurts with each heartbeat), place the tourniquet between the wound and the heart. A tourniquet can quickly be made from anything from a bootlace to a rope lead and a broken branch. After wrapping the wound (if possible) with a bandage, apply the tourniquet around the appendage; use the piece of branch to tighten it in a twisting manor. Tighten the tourniquet until the bleeding subsides. Loosen the tourniquet every 10 minutes for 10 seconds, and transport to an animal hospital as quickly as possible.
Certain regional plants and vegetation can also cause serious problems for gun dogs. “Foxtails” and “Cheat grass,” among others, can enter a dog’s body through the skin or be inhaled. Left untreated, the foreign body will migrate through the dog’s body causing infection and in the most severe case death. A veterinarian’s consultation should be sought if you believe an invasive plant has affected your dog.
Mosquitoes and parasites such as ticks can also pass on life threatening illnesses such as Heartworm and more recently, West Nile Virus. Ensuring your dog’s shots are kept up-to-date and immunizing him against disease such as Lyme disease, will greatly reduce his chances of contracting one of these devastating illnesses. Monthly Heartworm pills and applications of flea and tick repellant can also help to reduce the risk of infection. Prior to going afield or outdoors, dogs can be sprayed with a specially designed commercially available repellants, which will also help reduce mosquito and fly bites. After each hunt or outing dogs should be brushed and checked for ticks, burs and thorns. Ticks can be removed with a pair of tweezers or one of the specially produced products available at most pet supply outlets. Remove a tick by grasping it with the tweezers near the tick’s head, where it is imbedded into the dog’s skin, and pull it out slowly. Clean the area with soap and water and apply an antiseptic. As with other cuts and scrapes keep an eye on the wound and make sure it heals without becoming infected. Tick bites can lead to Lyme disease and although infection rates in canines is very high; if treated quickly a full recovery is possible, if the disease is caught in time. Symptoms of Lyme disease include a bull’s eye pattern around the wound area. Other symptoms include joint stiffness, lack of appetite and fever. If you suspect your dog has contracted Lyme or any disease contact your veterinarian.