Causes Of Unusual Coat Loss In Gun Dogs

Causes Of Unusual Coat Loss In Gun Dogs

Also, can early training cause lameness?

Q (Question): My 13-month-old American water spaniel lives outdoors, and by the end of last winter--the most severe Virginia has seen in years--she had an incredibly thick coat of about three inches. We cut her hair to about an inch at the beginning of this summer, which was also the most severe Virginia has seen in years, with numerous days over 100 degrees in the month of June alone, and almost all over 90 degrees. Every day was blazingly hot.


Her coat is now extremely thin, to the point of being threadbare on her chest, throat and shoulders. We brush her regularly, and there seems to be no end in sight to her shedding. I am concerned because I have never seen any dog lose hair to this extent.

I would welcome any thoughts you might have. --GC


A (Answer): I'm surprised you did not question whether it could be the dog food. It seems like owners judge dog food on two observable features in their dogs, and one is hair coat quality. The other is stool consistency.


Normally, dogs shed their hair twice a year. I have always associated it with the end of winter and the beginning of fall. Right now, at the first of August, my Lab is dropping black hair all over the place and getting started on the regrowth of a heavy double coat of hair for the upcoming hunting season. I help her a little with this process by combing out any clumps of dead hair that seem stuck, often over the rump and loins, but really don't have to do much of that.

In the case of your dog with a coat that is normally wavy to tightly curly, the shedding process may not go as easily, and more grooming in the form of daily deep combing and brushing may be required. Also, if in the future you feel this dog would benefit from a clip job to get ahead of the mats, then I would suggest clipping the dog down completely at the beginning of the summer. This gets all the dead hair and skin debris off the skin and allows it to have a new start.

Skin and coat care aside, there are some disease conditions that can cause hair loss such as you have described. A first one would be skin parasites, especially mange mites. These are easily tested for with a simple skin scraping. Fleas, of course, can be seen in the hair coat. Skin, fungal and yeast infections can cause hair loss. Your dog is on the young side for thyroid disease, so I would put it way down on the rule-out list.

I would start to attack this problem by first having your veterinarian examine the dog and do some skin scrapings or a biopsy to see if there is an underlying disease. Treat it if present, then begin a more concerted effort to keep this dog groomed well.

Q (Question): I have a nine-month-old German shorthaired pointer puppy with a shoulder problem. He started training with a professional trainer at six months and started limping around the eight-month mark. The problem is that he runs and works for a bit in the morning, then limps on his right leg later in the day.

He doesn't have any lesions, thorns or anything else superficial on his feet or legs, but we have noticed there is a small bulge on his right shoulder that protrudes farther than his left.

The vet did X-rays and determined it could be one of a few problems. The vet has not ruled out osteochondritis dissecans (OCD), tendonitis and a congenital problem with a dislocating shoulder. Right now, the dog is on a two-week rest period to determine if he will stop favoring his right leg. After that, if he doesn't stop limping, we are going to see an orthopedic veterinarian for dogs to see if he needs surgery. If it does not turn out to be tendonitis, they have suggested as little as putting a pin in his shoulder or as much as fusing the joint.

Are there any unusual conditions that GSPs have with joints and, if so, do they require surgery to correct them? Could starting training early have caused this problem? --NS

A (Answer): It sounds like you have identified most of the problems that could be causing the lameness. One more that I might add is inflammation of the growth plate. I would place this lower down on my rule-out list, however, as I usually see it in the distal epiphysis of the ulna.

The bump on the shoulder is hard to interpret, as it can be a swelling associated with bicipital bursitis, or just a more prominent point on the scapula from muscle atrophy. If this is an OCD, X-rays should show the lesions on the backside of the head of the humerus. Often in the early stages of the disease, the lesion has not developed well enough to visualize on a radiograph, but as the thing progresses it will become quite obvious.

I would recommend a blood profile to make sure the dog is not anemic or does not have a high white-blood cell count associated with an underlying infection. Both things could contribute to the problem as well as reduce the success of treatment. For now, I think the strict rest is good. I would also combine with that some of the chondro nutrient supplements that are available: glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, manganese ascorbate and injectable Adequan.

If it does prove to be OCD, surgery is almost always helpful. I would certainly agree that if the diagnosis is not obvious, then consultation with an orthopedic surgeon is a good route to go. I would think long and hard if it comes down to fusing the joint. This is a dog you hope to hunt with for another 12 years, and a fused joint could alter his ability greatly. Consider this as a last option when all else fails. I don't see the age at which the dog starts training as a factor.

Update on Belle
Now I want to talk about my dog, Belle, for a bit. I've been involved with her medically since her delivery and have done the dewclaw removal, worming and vaccinations, and as I write this I'm about two months away from hunting season.

Fortunately, Rick Bullock, the person I got her from, made the offer that I could bring her out to train with his group any time I wanted. He also had shown me some things to do with her at home to get her started. I couldn't believe that he starts teaching these pups stuff at four to five weeks of age.

Well, you can imagine that I started out good back there in February and had the pup doing things like sit, stay, heel, fetch, here and come. When the water warmed, I took her out and used a pigeon to get her into the water and swimming comfortably, but gardening and two fishing trips to Canada brought my training to a halt.

On Saturday, as I headed over to Bullock's to see how the other pups in the litter were doing and show them where mine was at in her education, I knew I was in trouble. Fortunately, I have suffered public embarrassment in the past and like to think of it as a growth experience.

The other six pups had been force-fetched and were doing doubles on ducks, with the longest mark

being 200 yards. I couldn't believe it, and obviously my dog had no clue as to what was going on, thanks to me.

What was amazing to me was that with a few training tricks Bullock had learned over the years, he had my dog doing 60-yard retrieves of a bumper on land and in the water, and retrieves of the duck in the water. I just can't get over how much these dogs can learn and how, with little force, they can develop their retrieving skills.

I really think the early lessons Bullock gave these pups accomplished what I call "teaching them to learn," and now, if I would get busy and do my job, this pup could be everything I want in a duck dog.

I did relate to Rick that it seems to me that if I show this dog some exercise three times, she gets it. When we left on Saturday, I think Belle and I both felt better about each other. We even shared an order of fish and fries from Long John Silver's on the way home.

Questions may be sent to me at htholcombdvm@qwestoffice.net.

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