Working gundogs need to be fit.
To run long distances, jump hedges and trample through the rough and tangled undergrowth, good health is a must.
Gundogs have been carefully bred for a specific working purpose, with parents of new litters being selected for obedience, intelligence and fitness. But unfortunately along the way, they have picked up some nasty tendencies for inherited diseases too.
One such disease that is rife in a lot of our gundog breeds, is hip dysplasia.
What is Hip Dysplasia?
Canine Hip Dysplasia is the term given to a malformation of the hip joint.
[wp_ad_camp_1]In a healthy dog the round end of the bone at the top of the leg will sit comfortably in the deep socket of the hip.
In a dog with hip dysplasia that socket will be too shallow, leading to progressive damage of the joint as the dog ages.
Symptoms of hip dysplasia include stiffness, trouble rising to a stand, hesitation when offered exercise or the opportunity to climb stairs, reluctance to jump, and a limp or bunny-hop motion.
The severity of the condition varies between individual dogs and can be managed for some with painkillers and reduced exercise, but in others may require surgery. Sadly, in extreme cases euthanasia may be the only option.
Who Gets Hip Dysplasia?
Hip Dysplasia can affect any breed of dog, but is more common in certain pedigree breeds.
Most severely affected are larger/heavier breeds like Labradors, but Springer and Cocker Spaniels can suffer from it too.
Fortunately, there is a test that breeders can do find out whether their dog carries the tendency for this crippling problem.
When a responsible breeder has chosen to have a litter from their Labrador Retriever, they will take it to the vet to be x-rayed first.
This x-ray will allow the veterinarian to measure several aspects of the dog’s hips, and give them a score.
Zero would be a perfect hip, and the higher the score goes the worse it is.
Each hip has it’s own score, and they are usually stated together, for example as 5/6 or 5:6
What is a Hip Score?
The hip score gives us two important pieces of information.
Individually, the value tells you how good the hip is. But the comparison between one hip and the other is also important.
For example a balanced hip score of 12 (6:6) is better than one that is heavily weighted for one side (2:10), as this tells us that one hip is severely affected.
A breeder should never breed from a dog that has a hip score that is worse than the average for that breed. This way over time the mean for that breed will gradually improve.
When you are choosing a puppy that you hope to work with later in their life, health testing is important.
To carry out the activities you will require of him, your dog will need to be fit, healthy and pain free.
Traditionally, the gundog community have lagged behind with regard to health testing, especially with regard to spaniels. You can read more about this topic in Pippa’s article here: health testing working spaniels
Buying a puppy from health tested parents will significantly reduce the chances of getting a dog with hip dysplasia, but it will not eliminate them completely.
So what should you do if you do end up with a working dog with symptoms of hip dysplasia.
Your first port of call will be your vet, who will use an x-ray to diagnose the condition.
They will be able to advise you on the appropriate course of treatment, and whether your dog should still be working.
If his condition is mild and he is used as an occasional peg dog, who will happily self-restrict his running to trotting out for the rare bird, then you may still be able to take him out shooting with you.
Unfortunately, if he was intending to jump streams in a single bound and crash through bracken for several hours a day, you may have to rethink your plans.
Make sure that you are very clear with your vet about exactly the activities you would want him to carry out, and listen carefully to their advice regarding the impact of them on his health.
We’re not quite at the gun dog stage but hope to be in the future, energy levels allowing!! We have a wonderful black lab, Libby, 6 months old, who has just started accompanying my headmaster husband to school football and hockey matches – her predecessor having been a great hit at these.
Unfortunately Libby is so desperate to join in the game that she pulls and practically strangles herself, exhausting everyone and cutting short the outing and many wonderful opportunities for chats with parents and pupils. It seems she can’t be distracted.
All advice gratefully received regarding how we might prevent this behaviour.
The first thing to do with this kind of problem is stop giving the dog chance to practice the unwanted behaviour. So don’t put her in this situation. The next thing to do is to introduce the distraction in a way that ‘dilutes’ its power – so engage the dog in training and other activities at a distance from the match (far side of the field for example) This takes time and patience, but you’ll gradually be able to move closer to the source of the distraction with the dog nicely under control.