At some point during its life, your gundog is likely to be injured – all experienced owners know this to be true. The nature and rigors of this sport inevitably lead to occasional emergencies, some potentially serious. You need to familiarize yourself with the injuries and consequences your dog could suffer in the veld, and know how best to deal with these. For this article, I draw on the excellent book, The German Shorthaired Pointer in South Africa, edited by Slang Viljoen and produced by the Transvaal Hunt, Point and Retrieve Field Trial Club, as well as www.petmd.com. Both are valuable sources of information for GSP owners.
It is unlikely there’ll be a veterinarian around, so you yourself must immediately deal with any emergency. First aid procedures applied to canines in distress are much the same as for humans. The obvious difference is that your dog cannot tell you what is wrong, so watch for the signs: limping, squealing, choking, biting or licking at the site of injury, or blood. Immediately remove the dog from any danger of further injury to somewhere quiet and shaded. If the injury renders carrying the dog painful or potentially harmful, use your jacket as a makeshift stretcher. Proceed gently and try to keep the animal as level as possible. Talk to it in a calm, reassuring tone. Maintaining your own composure will help to calm the dog, especially if it is in shock.
Then assess the injury. Be careful, as even the most docile animal may snap at you if your touch causes it pain. If necessary, use a strip of bandage or a handkerchief to apply a temporary muzzle.
Three of the most serious emergency conditions are collapse, bleeding and fractures. Collapse can result, inter alia, from choking, a hard knock, seizure and poisoning. Should your dog collapse, remember the ABC of first aid: Airway, Breathing and Circulation.
The first priority is to check the airway. Clear it of any foreign objects or matter and move the tongue away from the back of the mouth. Next, observe the dog’s breathing. Watch the chest and note if it rises and falls. Finally, check the circulation. A dog’s pulse can be found on the inside of the back leg, at a point on the top of the thigh muscle. If there is no pulse, give the dog a heart massage. With the animal on its side, exert firm pressure over the rib cage at five-second intervals.
Artificial respiration is given by holding the dog’s mouth closed with one hand and blowing through its nose. Your other hand should put firm pressure on the throat to prevent air going into the stomach – but be careful not to strangle. Breaths should be given at five-second intervals, and remember to continue checking for a pulse. Your lungs have three to four times the capacity of a dog’s, so exhale just enough air to raise the rib cage. Keep an eye on the colour of the tongue; it should go from blue to pink and stay pink. Once the animal shows signs of maintaining its own respiration you can stop the assisted breathing and monitor its condition.
Physical traumas are common in working dogs, resulting from sharp sticks, barbed wire, broken glass, fallen iron fence standards, etc. Minor cuts require only washing with an antiseptic solution and observation for secondary infection. Ensure that dirt and any other foreign objects are removed. In more serious cases, profuse bleeding is life threatening. If an artery has been severed, a quick response is vital to saving your dog’s life. You should stop the bleeding by applying direct pressure to the wound using an absorbent pad and bandage. Army field dressings (sometimes available from military surplus stores) are best for this, though your T-shirt will do in an emergency. If possible, raise the site of the injury above the dog’s heart to reduce blood flow to the wound. Try to avoid the use of tourniquets, as mismanagement of this technique may do more harm than good. Get the dog to a vet.
Broken legs are common injuries. Symptoms of bone fracture include malformation, limping and swelling. Try not to handle the break any more than is absolutely necessary, as this is not only painful for the animal, but may cause additional damage. Immobilize the limb as best as possible. Use material as padding and secure the injured limb to a splint. Try to prevent the dog placing weight on the leg. Again, get it to a vet.
ACCORDING TO www.petmd.com extreme heat or cold conditions can also pose a risk to your dog. Hyperthermia is a rise in body temperature that is above the normal range. Although normal values for dogs differ slightly, it is usually accepted that body temperatures above 39°C are abnormal. This is not uncommon among working dogs in hot African climates, especially the longer-haired breeds.
Heat stroke is a form of non-fever hyperthermia that occurs when heat-dissipating mechanisms of the body cannot handle excessive external heat. Typically associated with a temperature of 41°C or higher without signs of inflammation, heat stroke can lead to multiple organ dysfunction. Symptoms include but are not limited to: panting, dehydration, excessive drooling, reddened gums and moist tissues of the body, production of only small amounts of urine or no urine, rapid heart rate, vomiting blood, black, tarry stools, muscle tremors, and a wobbly, uncoordinated or drunken gait or movement.
Early recognition of the symptoms of heat stroke is essential. The first, immediate step will be to lower the body temperature. Some cooling techniques include; spraying the dog down with cool water, or immersing the dog’s entire body in cool – not cold – water, wrapping the dog in cool, wet towels, and/or evaporative cooling (such as isopropyl alcohol on foot pads, groin, and under the forelegs). Cease the cooling procedures when body temperature reaches 39°C (using a rectal thermometer) to avoid dropping below normal body temperature.
Avoid ice or very cold water, as this may cause blood vessels near the surface of the body to constrict and may decrease heat dissipation. A shivering response is also undesirable, as it creates internal heat. Lowering the temperature too rapidly can lead to other health problems, a gradual lowering is best. This also applies to drinking water. Allow your dog to freely drink cool, not cold, water. However, do not force your dog to drink.
Hypothermia is characterized by an abnormally low body temperature, and can occur when retrievers undertake numerous retrieves in very cold water, especially if there is a cold breeze blowing. It has three phases: mild, moderate, and severe. Mild hypothermia is indicated by a body temperature of 32-35°C, moderate hypothermia at 28-32°C, and severe hypothermia anything less than 28°C. Hypothermia occurs when an animal’s body is no longer able to maintain normal temperature, causing a depression of the central nervous system. It may also affect heart and blood flow, breathing, and the immune system.
Hypothermia symptoms vary with the level of severity. Mild hypothermia is evident through weakness, shivering, and lack of mental alertness. Moderate hypothermia reveals characteristics such as muscle stiffness, low blood pressure, a stupor-like state, and shallow, slow breathing. Characteristics of severe hypothermia are fixed and dilated pupils, inaudible heartbeat, difficulty breathing, and coma.
During treatment, movement should be minimized to prevent further heat loss and a potentially deadly irregular heartbeat (cardiac arrhythmia) while the animal is being warmed.
Mild hypothermia may be treated with thermal insulation and blankets to prevent further heat loss, while moderate hypothermia requires active external re-warming. This includes the use of external heat sources – get your dog into the cab of a vehicle and get the heaters going. If the dog does not show signs of recovery, drive to the nearest vet who will apply heating pads to its torso to warm its “core.” Severe hypothermia requires veterinary attention, as invasive core warming will be necessary – warm water enemas and warm intravenous fluids.
The above are first aid measures – seek veterinary assistance as soon as possible. Carry your vet’s contact number with you; if shooting far from home, ask the landowner in advance for the name and cell number of the nearest vet.