In many ways our gun dogs are much like their two-legged companions. A gun dog that is healthy and feels well will perform at a higher level just as their human companions will. In essence, a healthy dog is a happy dog! Certain elements of health maintenance, such as nutrition, are topics for past and future columns of their own. In this column I will address preventative veterinary care, as well as, home preventative medications and topical applications.
There is debate about how much and when with regard to vaccinations and medications for our canine partners. More owners are checking blood titers, and using them as a guideline instead of automatically giving vaccinations, but there is no debate that our gun dogs need protection from a growing list of bacteria and virus that they are facing and the pests that often carry them. When I started breeding and training gun dogs heartworm, Lyme disease and parvovirus, among others, were unheard of health threats. Today, they are very real. Medications for the dog need to be part of a multifaceted approach to healthcare that includes premise cleanliness and pest control. For example, flea and tick transmitted diseases can be prevented by keeping your dog's living area free of fleas and ticks. Personally, I only use external applications for fleas and ticks on my dogs when I am taking them hunting somewhere a known population exists. I have never had a flea infestation at my property in the twenty-four years I have lived here, and I rarely have a tick. Vigilance with a premise control program has worked.
A good overall health program starts before your pup's birth. The mother should be vaccinated and disease free so that she can pass immunities to her pups in the first days of nursing and will not pass disease. A mother's colostrum passes immunity to her pups against diseases such as parvovirus, distemper, parinfluenza, hepatitis and others. The extent of that protection is not certain, so a program to protect each pup must begin early in life. Nearly all pups have roundworms whose eggs lay dormant in the mother only to be activated in her mammary glands when she begins to produce milk. One of pup's first applications of medication from you or your vet will be to rid it of these roundworms, usually at four weeks and again at six weeks. Also at six weeks pups should receive their first vaccinations. Vets, breeders and owners vary on the content of six week shots, but most include distemper, hepatitis, parinfluenza and parvovirus (DHPP). Booster shots for these should be given at nine, twelve and sixteen weeks. Many vets will also include leptospirosis at either nine or twelve weeks in a five way shot (DHLPP). Repetitive shots are given to assure that your pup's own system will develop immunities when mother's protection ends, which could be anytime throughout this period. Since mother's protection will kill a modified live vaccine when it is given to the pup (such as most parvo vaccine), pup's own protection will not develop until mom’s ends, and another shot is given. Bordatella vaccine to protect against some forms of kennel cough can be given at nine or twelve weeks usually by nasal spray. DHLPP boosters are given once every 3 years and bordatella vaccines are given once a year. If desired, Lyme's vaccine should be given at the last two puppy visits with the two shot series being no more than two to three weeks apart. In a gun dog that is constantly exposed to deer ticks, the primary carrier of Lyme's, I highly recommend it. Finally, pups should be given their rabies shot at the sixteen week visit. Rabies boosters are either two or three year applications. Different state's laws and different vaccines will dictate their frequency.
In addition to the above vaccination schedule, heartworm protection is a serious consideration in more parts of the country than it once was. Most owners prefer a monthly tablet based upon the dog's weight to protect against this deadly blood disease transmitted by mosquitoes. Increasingly, these same medications protect against many intestinal worms as well. It is important to understand that once an unprotected dog develops visible heartworm symptoms, it is too late. The dog will either die or be permanently debilatated.
The breeder of your pup should get pup's worming and shot schedule started, and keep it up to date until pup is sold. If the breeder's program is insufficient, do not buy a pup from him or her. Otherwise, take the pup to your vet within two weeks of your purchase, and take along its health records from the breeder. Talk to your vet, and develop a reasonable health program for your pup. Be sure that your vet understands your pup will be a gun dog, and what it will be exposed to when afield. You also need to be aware of health problems for which your breed may be genetically predisposed. Remember, a healthy dog will perform more vigorously, and likely live longer. A healthy dog is a happy dog with a satisfied owner.