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Helping You Get the Most From Your Hunting Dogs

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Krassler also recommends keeping several extra towels in your truck and drying your dog thoroughly at the end of the hunt. "An insulated pad and a grate in your travel crate will keep your dog warm and comfortable while traveling. The grate will allow any extra moister to run off your dog, keeping him above the water and dry. The insulated pad will help retrain body heat and keep him warm and sooth sore muscles." Krassler explained that there are several other products on the market that can help to keep your hunting dog warm and comfortable in cold weather. "Insulated crate covers are great if you are traveling and must leave your dog in the car overnight, but they also help to keep the dog warm on the ride home after a cold day afield. Several manufacturers also make "horse-blanket" style coats that are great for after the hunt." Dr. Morris said that these products help to keep the dog’s muscles warm and limber after a cold hunt, but stresses that preconditioning, housing and nutritional concerns are the key elements to avoiding cold weather illnesses and injuries. "Any of those items will help your dog to retain more body heat, which will help keep the dog from cramping or stiffening-up during or immediately after the hunt. As with any physical activity, preconditioning is the key to preventing injuries and building-up strength, stamina and endurance." Dr. Morris continued, "As mentioned, your dog needs to spend time in the outdoors to build-up an undercoat and acclimatize to cold weather conditions, otherwise his overall efficiency in the field will be effected."

If there is a long low in the action or you notice your dog shivering, wrapping him in a towel, blanket or even your jacket. This will help to maintain his body heat and avoid cold weather injuries.
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Dr. Morris feels that proper nutrition is the single most important factor in a dog’s health and well being in cold climates. "Even in the best of conditions, a hard working hunting dog can not perform at their optimum without a nutritionally balanced diet." He continued, "There are many variables that effect the number of calories a hunting dog needs to perform at a high level including the breed, size, age, activity level, physical condition and overall health. In cold environments, dogs’ nutritional requirements increase significantly. Some dog food manufacturers recommend increasing your dog’s intake by up to 10 percent more food per feeding for each 10 degree drop in temperature below freezing, in some areas that could equal up to a 50 percent increase in food, remember extra calories not only provide your dog with energy to hunt but they also help him maintain his body temperature and heal injuries," Dr. Morris said. Krassler agrees adding, "Up here in the Berkshires, we regularly see winter temperatures well below freezing, for a dog to stay warm, he has to burn calories and that has to come from well balanced high-quality dog foods." Krassler continued, "Quality is almost always as important as quantity, your food should be nutritionally balanced and include 20 or more percent protein, from a high quality meat source, and at least half that number in crude fat." Dr. Morris added that crude fat is very important in a dog’s diet. "Protein from a quality meat source will help your dog recover faster from the stresses of cold weather hunting, but remember that a dog needs a certain amount of fat in his diet to build-up insulation and fuel." Dr. Morris recommended cutting back on the amount of food fed daily if you feel that your dog is putting on too much weight. "Watch the dog’s ribs, they shouldn’t be hidden under layers of fat or pronounced and prominent, but just slightly noticeable." Doctor Morris also recommended feeding your dog twice a day to help increase his metabolism and provide him with plenty of fresh water. "Even in winter your dog needs plenty of fresh water, as water is critical to your dog’s health and will help him digest and utilize the food properly." Krassler also recommended adding warm water to the dog’s food, which will improve the food’s taste and helps it to be digested faster.

Both Dr. Morris and Krassler believe that living conditions for dogs that stay outdoors during winter months should also be of concern. "A lot of people believe that since canines are animals capable of enduring extreme weather, they should have no problem staying outdoors in cold weather," Krassler said. Whether you build your own or buy a dog house, there are several things that need to be taken into consideration to insure that it provides adequate shelter for your dog. "The house should be big enough for your dog to turn around in, it needs to be up off the ground and out of the wind." Krassler continued, "You need to provide a bedding material in the house to help the dog retain body heat and replace it often. Some of the best are cedar shavings, hay and straw." Dr. Morris added, "Be certain that the straw or hay has not been chemically treated or grown with nitrogen fertilizers, which can irritate or burn the dogs skin with prolonged exposure."

Although uncommon in healthy dogs, hypothermia, frostbite and pneumonia can and do occasionally occur. "Most cold weather human fatalities are due to people failing to recognize or ignoring the warning signs of hypothermia, and that can go for their dogs also. Hypothermia is an abnormally low core body temperature that left untreated will result in death." Dr. Morris continued, "Where as, frostbite is an injury to the dermis or the destruction of skin and underlying tissue, most often effecting the extremities such as the nose, ears, feet/toes, tail and scrotum resulting from prolonged exposure to freezing or subfreezing temperatures." Dr. Morris explained that if left untreated frostbite might result in a severe infection such as gangrene and may require amputation. "Your dog can also develop pneumonia especially if he is in poor health, poorly nourished or left exposed to the elements for prolonged periods of time," Dr. Morris said.

Again a dog’s age, physical condition, and his lifestyle are all-important factors in determining if the dog may be at risk. Less active older dogs, dogs in poor physical condition or ill health and dogs that have not been acclimatized to cold weather conditions are all at a higher risk of becoming hypothermic, frostbite or pneumonia when subjected to spending prolonged amounts of time in cold wet environments. "Think of all the energy your dog is exerting every time he enters that cold water to retrieve a duck or bounds through a snow drift after a pheasant. Add to that a wind-chill factor and you could be subjecting your dog to conditions he is unable to handle." Morris went on to described the signs and symptoms of hypothermia and frostbite. "Watch for violent and uncontrollable shivering, physical weakness, apathy, listlessness, unresponsive or inattentive behavior, these could all be symptoms of hypothermia." He continued, "If your dog develops these symptoms you need to get him warm and dry as soon as possible. Give him some warm fluids and get him to a veterinarian as soon as possible! Signs of frostbite include a dark pink or reddish color to the skin, when the skin turns pale white to a gray color, again get him to a veterinarian!"

Krassler advises, "It is best not to take chances with your own safety or your dogs, especially in extremely cold weather conditions." Morris agrees adding, "You are the best judge as to what your dog can or can’t handle, use common sense and avoid putting your dog in situations that could cause problems. Remember that in cold weather, life-threatening situations are mainly caused by continued exposure and failing to recognize or ignoring the warning signs!"
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