Collapsing Gundogs

Why do gundogs collapse? What can you do if it happens to your dog? And what is the cause? Vet REBECCA BAILEY looks at one of the most distressing incidents that can hit any gundog handler in the field.

It is without a doubt one of the most frightening things to experience when your otherwise fit and healthy gundog suddenly collapses during work. I am sure that most people reading this article will at least know of one or two handlers to which this has happened. Currently there are many theories as to why it occurs but no-one has yet identified an underlying cause. Some letters have recently been published in the veterinary press offering suggestions and drawing attention this important condition.

How and when?

Unlike many other breeds our gundogs are expected to carry out their work in very tough conditions. Bitter winds, freezing water and steep rough ground are only some of the challenges we ask our dogs to face not only once, but many times over the course of a shoot day. The demands put on them are profound, both physically and mentally and it is generally when the intensity of the work is at its peak that a collapse will occur.

There are various degrees of collapse that have been recognised which are generally dependent on how long the dog is allowed or encouraged to continue working after signs appear. The early stage may be almost too subtle to notice but can include loss of co-ordination, inability to focus properly and general weakness or exhaustion. The point of complete collapse may follow shortly and can include trembling, shaking or convulsions and is sometimes accompanied by howling or yelping.

What to do?

If your dog is showing signs of the early stages then it is possible that by allowing your dog a period of rest and some intake of food (many people carry an emergency piece of chocolate or biscuit) then you will be able to prevent a complete collapse. Take a sensible approach after this and consider retiring your dog for the day – it is no disgrace to allow him to recover whilst you carry on.

  • If your dog progresses to complete collapse then it is most important to remain calm. I have heard of one or two dogs that have collapsed whilst working in water. Obviously in this sort of situation it is important to try and reach these dogs as soon as possible to keep them from inhaling too much water or even drowning.
  • It is unlikely that your dog will recognise you at first so approach him gently and with care. Sometimes a collapsed dog’s reaction will be to snap or pull away as it is undoubtedly frightened and confused.
  • Do not rush to pick your dog up and move it unless it is in immediate danger. Give him some time for the episode to pass, the heart rate to slow and the body regain control of its actions.
  • Once the dog has settled enough to be carried or can get up and walk then it is advisable to retire it for the day.
  • Move him somewhere sheltered, dry him off then use a dog coat or similar to keep him warm.
  • Small amounts of food and water can then be offered.

Why does it happen?

Various theories have been put forward concerning why these dogs collapse. Is it because we are pushing a body to limits for which it is not fit enough? It is due to a drop in glucose levels because it is not fed a full meal before work? Many people have different ideas as to why it occurs and what can be done about it but now for the first time a proper study is taking place at the University of Edinburgh.

If you would like any more information please contact me via BASC, Marford Mill, Rossett, Wrexham LL12 0HL, Tel: 01244 573051

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