Examining risks and foot care methods for bird dogs during the winter.
From the crusty hard snow to the dry air and freezing cold temperatures, winter conditions can take a toll on your bird dogs, especially their feet. Being prepared and knowing how to deal with foot care, maintenance and injuries simply come with the territory of owning bird dogs.
Having owned a large sled dog kennel, I am very familiar with booties, putting booties on my dogs and getting a sore back in the process. I have found it much easier to prevent problems than than trying to heal an active dog’s foot. Foot injuries take time to heal.
Thus, taking time to check your dog’s feet after a hunt or exercise run is very important. However, too often we don’t look at them until we notice our dog’s gait is off, there’s blood on the trail, or the dog stops hunting.
Every dog is different in how quickly their pads wear on any given surface. A dog’s speed, gait, weight, and how hard your dog drives all affect the pad wear.
Personally, I do not like to use booties unless necessary. I only use them when the conditions are such that they are going to tear up my dog’s feet or if one of my dogs has a pre-existing condition that needs to be protected.
Knowing when to use them is the key. Also, the length of time you are going to run your dog in marginal or poor conditions is a factor. If in doubt take time to check their feet during the hunt and carry a set of booties with you.
Running your hand over the surface of the snow can tell you if the dog may have trouble. If the snow feels sharp and abrasive more than likely it will start to tear your dog’s pads up in an hour or so. Not every dogs’ feet wear the same so checking your dog’s webbing between the pads during the hunt will tell you a lot about the snow conditions.
I have booties in my first aid kit. I carry two types, 500 Denier Cordura boots and fleece boots. A dog that tears a pad or has a fissure in the webbing is going to be sore. After treating the sore foot, the fleece bootee goes on first (that is the cushion) then the 500 denier Cordura boot goes on next which protects the fleece boot and the foot.
Ensuring good foot care and injury prevention for our dogs is a must. Checking them regularly can help you detect problems before they affect your dog’s performance and prevent your hunting season from ending early.
Working with Your Dog’s Feet
It is never too late to start handling your dog’s feet. If you have a new puppy start right away playing with and examining their feet. With older dogs, start well before the hunting season. This includes, massaging their feet and getting them used to having their feet worked with. They should also be comfortable with trimming of the hair between the pads and around their paws if necessary. If your dog is used to you messing with their feet, working on a potential injury will be much easier.
Early Detection of Foot Pad Injuries
There are subtle signs that a dog will show that can indicate foot problems. Make it a part of your routine to check your dog’s pads over for cuts, abrasions and broken toenails after training runs and hunts. Limping and/or favoring a leg are obvious and these signs can mean the foot is in pain.
If a dog has a wear area on its pad you will want to boot the foot in order to protect the pad. Fissures occur when snow/ice packs between the pads and form long raw cracks. Fissures look like long cuts between the pads or toes. Many dogs who have soreness from cuts or fissures will lick their pads. The saliva will stain the hair a reddish color. Fissures can be difficult to heal. If a pad or area of the paw becomes infected, you may also detect swelling.
Winter Foot Care Precautions for Bird Dogs
Trim the hair between the pads and all around the foot. Reducing the amount off hair on and around the foot makes it harder for ice balls to form.
Always be on the lookout for ice-melt products as many are a skin irritant. These products can cause dryness, cracking, and even burns to a dog’s pads. Take time to rinse or wipe your dog’s feet if you believe they have encountered these products.
If you are going to use boots, make sure the toenails are trimmed properly so that they do not wear a hole through the boot.
If you secure a boot so it tightens over the dew claw this can cause the dew claw to start rubbing the leg leading to a sore spot. To help prevent rubbing marks on the leg, break off a small piece of cotton from a cotton ball, place it between the dew claw and the leg and use some medical tape to hold it in place.
If the boots become wet, put on a fresh pair. In cold weather the moisture can start to ice up around the paw and the boot will become stiff and uncomfortable. If a boot gets a hole in it, throw it away.
If you are going to run your dog without boots, you can try a product Musher’s Secret to prevent ice balls between the webbing of the feet. It’s a wax product that you’ll rub on and in between the pads. These products are designed to prevent ice balls from forming. However, there are some dogs that seem to have snowball feet no matter what you do. When I had dogs like that on my race team I would bootie their feet regardless.
It is very easy to look at your dog as a whole and miss something that is right in front of you. However, taking time to look at your dog’s feet to make sure they are in good condition is an important part of taking care of your dog.
The issue with foot problems is that they can easily lead to gait compensation that then causes other sore muscles or even injuries. A dog can easily become lame with a foot injury.
There’s and old saying that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” I can attest to this after running large teams of sled dogs, the ounce of prevention is probably worth ten pounds of cure… There are few things worse than trying to fix a foot injury. Always keep foot care and injury prevention for your bird dogs in mind.