Lab Safety 101

By Colleen Orfanello
Avid hunter and fisherman, Dr. Joe Vaccaro of Metairie Small Animal Hospital, shares a few tips on how to keep your hunting dog safe this season.  After all, a hunter’s best friend and most important asset is their canine companion. During off-season months, keeping your dog physically alert and conditioned will yield a productive and responsive hunting buddy.  When the season finally arrives, your obligations as a responsible dog-owner continue; keeping her safe and healthy is up to you. Joe Vaccaro, DVM, states that an abnormally low body temperature (or hypothermia) is a major issue that affects both humans and canines.  Contrary to popular belief, dogs can become hypothermic despite having a fur coat. Neoprene vests can be helpful for keeping her warm during the colder months, but carefully monitoring your dog for signs of hypothermia is always necessary. When hypothermia sets in, dogs can get very weak, start shivering, become disoriented, and can even collapse due to a low heart rate. 
If your dog experiences these symptoms, make sure to warm her immediately. Something as easy as covering her in a blanket or jacket can help. Warm baths will also help, but avoid over warming her and do not use water that is too hot. Hypothermia can be deadly. When planning your hunting excursion, it is advisable to locate nearby veterinary practices, especially when hunting in unfamiliar areas. If hypothermia sets in and your dog becomes unconscious, prompt veterinary care may be the difference between life and death.  Conversely, Louisiana’s mild weather can also prove to be dangerous to your dog in the form of aggressive reptilian activity. Although cold blooded reptiles such as alligators and snakes are not usually aggressive in late fall through early spring, they never hibernate and should always be considered a threat – particularly on warm and sunny days. Check and double check your surroundings for lurking alligators as well as for snakes which may harboring in your blind. A snakebite that is promptly treated by a veterinarian will minimize your dog’s pain, swelling, tissue damage, and risk of death.  Other (seen and unseen) hazards to be aware of are oyster shells and roseau cane. Puncture wounds can be season-enders for some dogs. It is crucial to check your dog, with emphasis on her paws, for any lacerations and puncture wounds. It is also advisable to make sure blinds and dog ramps are void of rusty screws that may be protruding through the wood.
Open wounds can get severely infected by harmful bacteria found in marsh water. If open wounds do occur, do not hunt your dog and flush and clean the wound. A canine first-aid kit containing peroxide, antibiotic ointment, and bandages should be an important part of your hunting gear.  It is also important to take your dog to the veterinarian to have her appropriately treated. “It sucks, but it’s better to sit out a hunt or two than to lose your dog for a whole season. Unfortunately, I see this happen every year,” Dr. Vaccaro adds. Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, also affects hunting dogs quite frequently. Hunters often worry about bloating and stomach flipping in their dog if they eat a large meal before a hunt; however, it is perfectly safe to feed a small amount to your dog prior to the hunt. Dr. Vaccaro suggests keeping treats in the blind to give after long retrieves. Hunting dogs exert a lot of energy to make long retrieves, so they are burning an enormous amount of calories and sugar.  Make sure to give her plenty of water and periods of rest too. Signs of hypoglycemia can be very similar to hypothermia: fatigue, disorientation and confusion, stumbling, weakness, and worst-case scenario, seizures or unconsciousness. A hunter’s actions can also be unintentionally hazardous. Proper gun and boat safety should always be heeded during the hunt; but excitement, anticipation, and fatigue may make the most experienced of hunters fire inefficiently or cause a boating mishap. Make sure not to shoot over your dog’s head if she is out retrieving a bird.
Also, make sure to not fire your gun very close to your dog’s head. A canine’s hearing is much more sensitive to sound than that of a human, and eardrum ruptures can happen quite easily.  This can lead to early hearing loss in your dog and poor performance when retrieving. It is also important to remember to be aware of your dog’s position while operating the mud boat; make sure to select an area where your dog is secure.  Vaccaro exclaims, “Everyone always thinks their dog will never jump out of the mud boat, but it absolutely happens.”  When utilizing these tips to care for your hunting dog and make her workday fun and productive, you’ll learn that the old proverb “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is certainly true.  By keeping her safe and healthy, your hunting dog will not only provide you several years of successful hunts, but will also be the loyal and attentive hunting buddy you want and expect her to be. Have a question for Dr.Joe?  He can be reached at 504-290-0025.