As hunting season approaches, many of us are eagerly looking forward to taking our canine companions hunting with us. Before taking them into the field, however, it is important to review a few precautions to help keep them safe. First, we should double-check that our dogs are current on all of their vaccinations. In particular, Rabies, Distemper, and Leptospirosis can all be transmitted through contact with wildlife and contaminated water sources. We also need to be sure that our dogs are on an effective flea and tick preventive, as wildlife frequently carry these bugs, which can transmit diseases like Plague, Tularemia, Mycoplasma, Murine Typhus, Ehrlichiosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Even though there are fewer mosquitos out as it gets colder, heartworm prevention is still important for dogs who go hunting because heartworm-transmitting mosquitos do survive for longer than we expect in low-lying wet areas with heavy cover. Heartworm preventives are also effective at removing intestinal parasites that dogs can pick up while hunting.

Another important measure to keep our dogs safe while hunting is to fit them with blaze orange vests. A correctly fitting vest should be snug enough that it will not slip off or get snagged on brush, but not so tight that it restricts movement or causes rub sores. A breakaway collar is also a good idea while hunting in order to avoid neck injuries that can result from a standard collar getting snagged on a branch or fence. A microchip placed by your vet will help to maximize the likelihood of being reunited with your dog if they get lost.

When setting out for a day of hunting, it is important to load dogs into properly secured kennels rather than allowing them to ride loose in the back of a truck. This helps to prevent injuries that can occur when starting, stopping, or turning a vehicle, and also helps to protect them from hypothermia. Be sure to pack plenty of water and some extra food to help fuel their increased level of activity. It is also a good idea to pack a first aid kit to address any injuries until veterinary attention can be sought. This should include iodine or chlorhexidine solution, saline solution, gauze pads, rolled gauze, self-adherent cohesive wrap, medical tape, triple antibiotic ointment, styptic powder, bandage scissors, tweezers, and nail clippers. If your dog has had any orthopedic injuries or has been diagnosed with joint or muscle disease in the past, ask your vet about getting a small supply of anti-inflammatory pain medication to have on hand in case of soreness or lameness.

While hunting, be vigilant for signs of dehydration and low blood sugar, including weakness and loss of balance. Rest, water, and a snack can get most dogs back into action, but sometimes these signs mean it’s time to stop for the day. While hunting, dogs should also be checked periodically for lacerations and puncture wounds. While dogs will often continue to act normal despite an injury because they are so focused on their task, it is important to stop if a wound is found, rinse it gently with antiseptic (like iodine or chlorhexidine), apply antibiotic ointment, cover the wound with bandaging material, and seek veterinary attention. These wounds (especially punctures) can be much deeper than they appear and can cause damage to important structures.

With just a little bit of advanced planning and preparation, we can help our dogs have a fun, healthy, and safe hunting season. Happy hunting!