Veterinary expert John Houlton responds to your gundog medical queries.



Q. How do I treat a barbed wire injury in the field?

Most barbed wire injuries occur when dogs misjudge the height of a fence or they run into a fence with loose wire. If they trap a leg between two strands it is essential to support their weight while freeing them. Throw a coat over the dog’s head for even the most docile dog may try to bite in these circumstances. 

Many barbed wire injuries do not bleed as much as one might expect but if blood is spurting from a wound, this indicates arterial bleeding. Apply direct pressure to the wound and transport your dog to a veterinarian immediately.

Flush wounds with clean drinking water, to wash out any debris. If a squeeze-style water bottle is available the added pressure of the squeeze can help irrigate the area. Do not clip the adjacent hair as it is likely to fall into the wound, adding to the contamination. 

Then bandage the wound if it is possible to do so. Cover it with a sterile non-stick wound dressing if available; alternatively a disposable nappy or clean towel can be used. Do not apply antiseptic cream or antibacterial sprays to the wound, and use gauze or self-adhesive conforming bandages.

Q. I have heard that strenuous exercise after eating a lot of food can result in a dog getting a twisted stomach. What precautions should I be taking to minimise the chances of this occurring?

A twisted stomach, or Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV) to give it its technical name, is a rapidly progressive life-threatening condition commonly associated with dogs eating large meals. The stomach dilates because food and gas is unable to escape and may reach such a size that it rotates in the abdomen. The rotation may block the blood supply to the spleen and stomach, causing the dog to go into shock and die.

The risk factors for GDV are not completely understood, but the condition is associated with dogs that have a deep chest, are fed a single meal a day and are related to other dogs that have had GDV. Of the gundog breeds, setters and flatcoated retrievers would appear to be most at risk. 

It is advisable to split the daily feed into two portions and avoid feeding a large meal within 2–3 hours of working. When it is exercising, ensure your dog does not gorge itself on spilt grain or livestock feed pellets. 

If your dog is of a breed at increased risk of GDV, or is related to others that have had this condition, talk to your veterinarian about prophylactic gastropexy.  This can often be done at the same time as spaying and involves permanently fixing the stomach wall to the abdominal wall, thereby preventing rotation. The surgery may also be performed using minimally invasive techniques such as laparoscopy.

Q. How does elbow/hip scoring work?

gundog hip score

The hip and elbow scoring schemes are organised by the British Veterinary Association in conjunction with the Kennel Club – hence are called the BVA/KC hip and elbow dysplasia schemes respectively. All dogs must have permanent identification in the form of a microchip or tattoo, and the number must be checked by the veterinarian and shown on the radiograph. KC registered dogs must also have their KC registration number on the radiograph.

Once a certificate of scoring has been issued, the dog may not be resubmitted for scoring under the schemes but there is an appeal procedure if you believe the radiograph(s) were scored unfairly.

Hip scores are expressed as a total score of both hips with a range of 0–102; the lower the score, the better the hips. The BVA publish five- and 15-year breed median scores (BMS) along with rolling five-year medians and advise using breeding stock with values below the latter. (The median is the figure at which an equal number of dogs have higher and lower scores, therefore representing the middle of the population).

In contrast, elbows are scored 0–3 with the figure representing the score of the worst elbow. To minimise the chance of developing elbow dysplasia, only dogs with a score of 0 should be bred from.

Further details of the schemes can be found at www.bva.co.uk/Canine-Health-Schemes/Hip-scheme and www.bva.co.uk/Canine-Health-Schemes/Elbow-scheme

Q. My local shoot uses a lot of rat poison. What are the symptoms of poisoning in a dog and what should I do if I suspect my dog has eaten rat poison?

Most shoots use second-generation coumarins which inhibit the enzymes responsible for the recycling of vitamin K, thereby reducing the production of certain blood clotting factors. The lack of coagulation factors causes the animal to bleed to death because the blood does not clot. They have no effect on clotting factors already circulating in the blood stream, so there is a delay between poisoning and clinical signs. Second-generation coumarins are toxic with a single dose.

Signs: Lethargy or weakness; lack of appetite; blood in the urine or faeces; difficulty breathing; bleeding from the nose or gums; bruising of the skin; pale gums. The most common cause of death is bleeding into the chest.

Immediate action: If your dog is seen or suspected of consuming the bait or a dead rat, vomiting should be induced immediately. A few crystals of washing soda (NOT caustic soda) given by mouth may provoke vomiting after a few minutes.

Regardless of whether your dog has vomited, take it to a veterinarian immediately to begin further supportive treatment. Oral vitamin K1 is the specific antidote and should be continued for 1–4 weeks depending on the toxin ingested.

Remember, treatment that is started immediately after ingestion is less difficult and has a much better prognosis than if treatment is delayed until signs of poisoning appear.

About the veterinarian

John Houlton is a vastly experienced veterinarian. He has been published extensively and has co-edited five textbooks. He is passionate about gundogs and working labradors in particular, picking-up regularly throughout the shooting season.

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