Dr. Jennifer Wardlaw says there is a simple process for getting your hunting dog back outdoors after the winter layoff.
Spring is near and for many that means you will be returning to the great outdoors on a more regular basis. And while you are ready to hike in the nearest part or go for an evening run, your four-legged friend may need a little time to get up to speed.
You would not just go run a marathon tomorrow (or ever in my case). You would first slowly integrate a program that would reduce likelihood of injury and increase the opportunity for success. The same holds true for your dog.
Unless you are outdoors being highly active year-round you will want to be cautious getting back to fast-paced activity. Your dog will act ready to go because like you, they are ready to get out as well. They will go as far and as fast as you will let them.
Sprains and strains are the two most likely injuries that can occur. While those may not seem like much, muscle sprain or tendon strain can truly impact the performance and overall health of your best friend. It is up to you to keep them out of the veterinarian's office and off a surgeon's table.
Here are three steps to keep in mind when you are gearing up for your return outdoors, according to Dr. Jennifer Wardlaw of Gateway Veterinary Surgery.
1. The first step is to evaluate the condition of your dog.
Has he packed on the pounds over the winter? Like humans, dogs will add a few pounds during the winter months. Even in the short time following duck season to the time you get outside in the spring, a few pounds can creep onto their frame. For athletic dogs the ideal body build is to be slightly on the skinny side of normal.
You will look for an apparent waist from the side and top of your dog.
The ribs should be easily felt, as if the dog is wearing a t-shirt. If it feels more like he is wearing a pullover, there are a few extra pounds.
You should be able to see the ribs when a short-haired dog is laying stretched out on their side.
You should not be able to see their spine, should blades or hip-bones. If that is the case they could use a healthier diet.
2. Begin taking light walks/runs, exercise (retrieving routine, agility training).
The key here is to start with 2-3 times per week at 10-20 minutes per time with varying levels of difficulty. As you go forward you would increase one aspect at a time, not all three. So you could move up to 30-40 minutes in duration or more times per week, but not both. The entire process of getting back to 100 percent on a healthy pace should take 6-8 weeks.
3. Lastly, you should assess your dog's diet, nutrition and possibly nutraceuticals with your veterinarian.
When we age we cut back on the cheeseburgers; as your dog ages and activities change, their food will change with them. In a blog post you will find ideas, but no one can truly tell you what your dog should be eating or supplements they should be taking except your vet. There are simply too many factors at play and to do so would just be guessing.
Your veterinarian can also talk to you about nutraceuticals (vitamins and supplements) which are not regulated by the FDA.
"I love them for preventative health care," says Dr. Wardlaw. "However, the wrong ones may do nothing at all or worse, cause harm. If you have a bottle you are currently give to your dog you should take it to your vet for review."
Most importantly, use common sense when getting outdoors and keep an eye on signs your dog may have an injury. If they are non-weight bearing on a leg for three days, if they are intermittent non-weight bearing three times or more in three weeks, or have an ongoing intermittent issue for three months, then make sure your vet knows about it.
Now that the guidelines are out of the way... go have fun outdoors!