Working dogs in the United States perform a vast array of duties including military and police work, service dog work, therapy work, hunting, herding, sled work, and search and rescue work. These dogs dedicate their lives to providing assistance – from helping individuals mitigate their disability-related limitations to helping protect the lives of our troops overseas and more. It is crucial to provide the best possible care for your working dog, both at home and on duty.
Working dogs are often asked to put their bodies through a lot of daily physical stress. This is why it’s so important to perform monitoring of your dog’s health at home. Pet parents should perform a basic physical exam of their working dog every week or two in order to help catch any potential health issues early on.
In addition to an annual or biannual routine physical exam at your local vet clinic, it’s important to monitor your working dog’s health at home. Your working dog should be kept up to date on vaccinations, flea and tick preventatives, and heartworm preventatives. It’s necessary to perform a basic physical exam of your working dog every one to two weeks to catch any potential health issues early on. Minor issues that could turn into more severe concerns go easily unnoticed because of a dog’s fur coat, high pain threshold, and inability to speak our language.
What to Look for During Your Home Exam
A working dog’s senses are his tools of the trade. Without them, he can’t perform his job. Routine exams at home are necessary.
Check your dog’s ears for buildup, debris, inflammation, redness, parasites, or pain regularly. If your dog is prone to buildup in their ears, frequent cleaning can help prevent ear infections that, if left untreated, can lead to permanent damage. There are many products available over-the-counter, including Zymox, that are easy to use and can help relieve pain and inflammation while cleaning your pet’s ears. Zymox offers an ear cleaner with Lacoperoxidase, Lactoferrin, and Lysozyme that have natural bio-active properties perfect for long term cleaning of non-infected ears. For inflamed and infected ears due to bacteria and yeast, Zymox has an Ear Solution with Hydrocortisone.
When it comes to your dog’s eyes, things to watch for include redness, squinting, discharge, and any abnormalities on the surface of the eye. In older dogs, it is important to monitor for the development of cataracts, which can impair their vision and their ability to perform their duties.
Examine your dog’s skin and coat on a routine basis for redness, itchiness, wounds, hair loss, or lumps or masses. Allergies or fleas can cause redness, itchiness, and hair loss; however, they can also be early indicators of more serious underlying health conditions. You can also find and remove any possible fleas or ticks. Zymox Topical Spray with Hydrocortisone is great for use on topical infections, wounds, and cuts. Remember to check between each of your dog’s paw pads for cuts or debris.
It is important to keep an eye on your pet’s teeth and gums and monitor for gingivitis, plaque buildup, broken teeth, or redness in their mouth. Poor dental health can lead to working dogs being unable to properly perform their duties in the field. Bad breath can serve as a sign that your dog is in need of a dental cleaning.
Eating, Drinking and Bathroom Habits
Sometimes we overlook the most basic signs that something might be wrong with our pets. It’s vital to keep an eye on your dog’s eating, drinking, and bathroom habits. Increased drinking and increased frequency or amount of urination both can be indicators of underlying health issues that should be further investigated by your veterinarian. It is also important to ensure your dog is drinking adequate amounts of water, especially for dogs that perform field duties or will be in hot environments. Typically, a dog needs one ounce of water per pound of body weight per day. In hot environments, they need unlimited water. As we all know, dogs love to eat. When a dog loses his appetite, it can be an indicator that he isn’t feeling well or could be an indicator of mouth or tooth pain.
You should always monitor your dog’s bowel movements as this is a great indicator for what’s going on inside. Look for signs of loose stool, blood, and/or parasites. If your dog doesn’t have a bowel movement for 24-48 hours and appears lethargic or just not quite themselves in any way, it could be an indication that a foreign body has been ingested and this requires a trip to your local vet as soon as possible.
If you see any signs of mild limping or lameness in your dog, immediately confine him to a small area for 48 hours and give him a chance to rest. If he still appears in pain or is seen limping after the rest period, take him to your veterinarian for further diagnostics. Proper rest among any signs of limping or lameness is vital.
Remember, just like with humans, dogs should properly warm up before performing strenuous exercise and be allowed time to rest and recover after strenuous physical exercise. In addition if your working dog will be working in very hot or cold environments they should be allowed to acclimate at first. When working in extreme environments, such as our Southern summers, your dog should be very closely monitored at all times for signs of exhaustion, dehydration, or a heat stroke. Similarly, dogs working in the winter, and especially those that will be in the water, should be monitored closely for exhaustion and hypothermia.
Nutrition is of great importance for working dogs. Because they’re required to be in peak physical shape at all times, they require a high quality food that meets the specific nutritional requirements to maintain normal body functions and provide the vitamins and minerals needed to keep them in great shape. Supplementation of omega fatty acids can have a vast array of positive health benefits from improving coat quality to helping maintain a healthy body weight. While many of the high quality brands of dog food contain a healthy ratio of omega fatty acids, Prudence offers a Skin and Coat formula that is great as a daily “add on” in your dog’s food.
For dogs that perform physical duties such as military, law enforcement, and hunting and herding, a high quality “performance” dog food is ideal to provide the necessary nutrients to feed their bodies. For these athletic dogs, a food should consist of somewhere around 30 percent or more crude protein and 20 percent or more crude fat to support their increased nutritional requirements. Due to the physical demands on hips and joints, Prudence Ultimate Hip and Joint supplement, which contains a vast array of ingredients designed to help support healthy joints, is a nice addition to a working dog’s diet.
Senior Working Dog
For active and aging dogs, it’s very important to keep a close eye for early signs of arthritis and other joint diseases. Things to watch for include:
- stiff gait
- difficult or slow to rise
- “bunny/hop” running
- holding one limb up
- side/sloppy sitting
These issues can be exacerbated by obesity. Keeping your dog fit is of utmost importance to his health now and in the future.
It’s important to recognize when it’s time to let your dog retire from work. Pushing an aging dog to his limits physically can have lasting effects on his health.
Working dogs rely on their bodies, brains, and senses to adequately perform their duties. It is of the utmost importance to be very thorough with monitoring them, and to offer them the very best in healthcare and nutrition.
Mississippi State University
College of Veterinary Medicine
Class of 2016