Vet Services Hawkes Bay Ltd

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Keeping your working dog working

Working dogs are the hardest working and cheapest labour unit on your farm.  Here are a few points to consider to ensure they are in optimal health and are able to give you their best.


This is the most important factor influencing the health of working dogs and also the most neglected!  Feeding a premium working dog diet with high levels of protein and fat daily is the best way to ensure totally balanced nutrition. It has been shown that a dog fed 19% protein is eight times more at risk of soft tissue injuries than a dog fed 24% protein.

Remember bones have no nutritive value and can lead to constipation, broken teeth and possible gut obstruction!

An ideal body condition is the ribs not showing and a slip of fat cover over the ribs, a good quality coat and an obvious waist line. Working dogs tend to be more under optimum weight than over.

Twisted stomachs (GDV, bloat) are more commonly seen in Huntaways. Twisted stomachs often result in a dead dog, expensive vet bill or both. Ways to minimise GDV risk include:

·         Feeding from ground level.

·         Separation of dogs when feeding, so they eat slower.

·         Avoiding exercise 2-4 hrs after feeding so their stomach cannot twist. 

·         Checking your dogs at night is important. The chances of survival are directly proportional to the time between the stomach twisting and surgical intervention. 


Working dogs are high performance athletes working to extremes.  Sometimes they break!  Fitness plays an important role in the incidence of musculo skeletal injuries. Unfit and tired dogs suffer more injuries.  Dogs coming back into work after a quiet period need to be worked carefully to re build previous fitness and stamina levels before you need them to do the hard yards.  Some common injuries causing lameness include:

Worn pads – prevention is best by limiting road work and giving time for the pads to harden up after rest period, especially soft pads after a wet winter. Once pads are worn and painful the only effective treatment is rest. And this may take months to fully heal 

Toe/ nail infections – Working in wet conditions infections or working when the ground is really hard predisposes to nail/ toe. Signs generally are swelling at the end of the toe and pain on touching the nail. Prompt antibiotic treatment is crucial to prevent the spread of infection into the bone and joint and subsequent toe amputation, but usually if the nail is infected it needs to be removed under general anaesthesia or sedation. We can and do keep older dogs working well and comfortable with targeted treatments.

Arthritis - There are multiple management options available and these are tailored to each individual dog’s needs. Common treatments include management of exercise levels, anti-inflammatory drugs, and joint supplements.

Hip dysplasia - Using Penn Hip x-ray screening in pups from 4 months of age can give an indication of hip dysplasia and the risk of subsequent hip arthritis. It is always heart breaking to see young Huntaways at 2 -3 years of age breaking down due to severe hip arthritis. This situation can be prevented by early hip screening and is especially important if you plan on breeding from the dog.

When to call the Vet

Any non-weight bearing or toe touching lameness should be seen as soon as possible.  Remember that the reason dogs do not bear weight on a leg is because it is painful. Never work a dog on three legs, it is in pain.

A mild lameness that is unresponsive to 2-3 days’ rest should also be seen.

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