While most gundog owners can treat minor issues, some will require veterinary advice and attention. In this first of two articles, veterinary surgeon Laura Keyser shines a light on some common gundog injuries and how to deal with them.
Author Laura Keyser
Docked or not, beating dogs charging through dense undergrowth are at risk of damaging the end of their tails. Without careful management, tail tip injuries are unlikely to heal and can rapidly develop into chronic bleeding wounds. These cause pain and suffering for the dog, not to mention the blood splatters all over the walls and carpet as they wag enthusiastically when you return from work.
Avoiding tail tip injuries in an undocked dog can be difficult. Bandaging tails before going out for a shoot day proves to be tricky and they rarely stay on for any length of time.
Tail tip injuries should be treated promptly. Interference by the dog from licking, chewing and wagging, untreated skin infections and further trauma can allow these wounds to deteriorate quickly.
As well as prescribing antibiotics, pain relief and a ‘cone of shame’, your vet will advise how best to provide protection while the tail tip heals. In the past, this was often fashioned out of syringe cases, bandages and foam insulation/lagging, but now there are specially designed mesh dressings which provide cushioning and aid healing.
These wounds can take two weeks or more to completely resolve. If not treated correctly, they can lead to chronic injuries, deep tissue infections and osteomyelitis (infection of the bone), resulting in tail amputation.
Also known as ‘swimmer’s tail’ or ‘rudder tail’ this is technically called acute caudal myopathy. Working dogs, especially those that have been overexerted and exposed to cold weather or very cold water within the last 24 hours, seem to be at greatest risk. Typically the dog appears to have a limp tail drooping between their legs, or conversely, it may stick straight out behind them. This condition is often very painful, so they may be uncomfortable sitting or squatting to go to the toilet.
Diagnosis is usually based on the history and symptoms, but other conditions need to be ruled out including tail fractures, back or spinal pain, anal gland infections and prostate disease. Affected dogs usually recover fully within a few days to a week, with rest and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
This can be caused by anything from a cut pad or torn claw, to a strained muscle, cruciate ligament injury or fracture. Some lameness will improve with rest and anti-inflammatories, whereas marked or non-weight bearing lameness warrants veterinary attention.
Unfortunately our beloved spaniels and labradors, those most commonly out in the field, are prone to hereditary conditions such as Incomplete Ossification of the Humeral Condyles (IOHC) and hip or elbow dysplasia respectively. Kennel Club screening schemes aim to reduce the incidence, so it is advisable to buy from a reputable breeder who has hip and elbow scored their dam and sire.
Spaniels suffering from IOHC have been known to jump fences or out of gamecarts and fracture their elbow, with very little force. This is either because the elbow doesn’t fuse completely during development, or a stress fracture develops in adults, causing a fissure and therefore a weak point. Sadly, three of our family’s springers have suffered from this condition, resulting in catastrophic fractures, a lot of metal work and hefty vet’s bills. Thank goodness for pet insurance! (Ed. There’s another discussion right there...)
Hip dysplasia is the most common cause of hind limb lameness in dogs and most frequently affects large breeds such as labradors. The hip is a ball and socket joint. In a dysplastic hip, the head of the femur fits loosely into a poorly developed, shallow cup. Joint instability occurs as skeletal growth exceeds muscle development, promoting abnormal wear and tear, cartilage erosion and pain, and eventually arthritis.
The most commonly recognised symptoms in young dogs between 6 and 12 months are: a bunny-hopping gait; difficulty getting up and down; limping or stiffness; and exercise intolerance.
Although hip dysplasia has a genetic component, there are a number of environmental factors that contribute. You should avoid feeding a high calorie or inappropriate diet to growing dogs and keep them lean and fit. Avoid excessive exercise during growth and discourage young dogs from jumping (such as over a fence) until fully matured.
Diagnosis relies on an accurate history, examination by your vet and X-rays under sedation/anaesthetic or CT/MRI. Conservative management includes non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), additional pain relief, joint supplements such as omega-3, hydrotherapy or physiotherapy and weight control
Severe cases can be treated surgically, with options including Total Hip Replacement (THR).
Hip and elbow dysplasia can lead to osteoarthritis (OA). The condition causes long-term, irreversible degeneration of joints and affects the cartilage, bone and joint fluid. Key signs of OA are stiffness, lameness and pain, often more evident after a period of rest or a day’s work. Your old dog isn’t just ‘slowing down’. Arthritis is painful and their quality of life can be dramatically improved with pain relief.
Barbed wire, dog fight or muntjac attack, whatever the cause, deep wounds need veterinary attention. Cut pads and broken nails are also very common. Wounds are likely to be contaminated with mud and bacteria. Out in the field try to flush them thoroughly with clean water, to physically remove the dirt. Once clean, cover the wound with a sterile dressing if available. It’s worth having a dog first aid kit in the car but in an emergency, a makeshift dressing such as a handkerchief or gun cleaning cloth would suffice.
Superficial wounds may heal with cleaning, dressings and medication. Deeper wounds may need stitching under sedation/anaesthetic, allowing the best outcome, the neatest cosmetic appearance and fastest return to work. It is also important to know that wounds can breakdown and may not heal the first time, so the dog may be off work for more than two weeks.
Whenever possible, try to avoid your dog jumping over barbed wire by lifting them or laying a coat sleeve over the fence before they leap. I’ve seen enough penile, scrotal and inguinal lacerations to make anyone’s eyes water...
Eye injuries should always be considered an emergency. You may have been unaware of an injury to your dog’s eye occurring, but may notice them squinting, trying to rub or paw at their face and appear light sensitive. The eye may have a red or cloudy appearance, with an ocular discharge and small pupil. Eye trauma is notoriously painful. Penetrating injuries, such as a thorn in the eye, must be treated with great caution and only removed by a vet. Never try to pull out a foreign body.
If there is no visible foreign body, your Vet will need to assess the severity of a corneal wound by applying a special dye called fluoroscein. This turns green in the eye, adhering to and highlighting areas of ulceration.
Small or shallow corneal abrasions will be treated with antibiotic drops, painkillers and atropine drops to relieve spasm and pain. If not responding to treatment, your vet may need to debride any poorly healing areas of cornea, and perform a grid keratectomy (small scratches on the eye’s surface to promote healing), apply a contact lens or temporarily suture the eyelids closed, or perform a corneal graft.
Deeper ulcers eroding the cornea down to the bottom layer are very serious. If not treated aggressively, liquid from within the eye can leak causing the eyeball to collapse and irreparable damage occurs. This eye would then need enucleating (removing). GJ
In the next issue Laura will look at a few more common gundog ailments, such as skin infections and Alabama Rot and how to prevent and treat them.