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The Best Way to Select a Veterinarian for Your Sporting Dog

If you're hunting for a veterinarian for your bird dog, here are some things to think about during your search.

The Best Way to Select a Veterinarian for Your Sporting Dog

With so much time, energy, and emotion invested into our hunting dogs, the least we can do is offer them proper veterinary care. (Photo courtesy of Jackson Walker)

By the time you’re reading this, you likely have already, or are soon to bring your bird dog puppy into your home. You may be thinking the hardest part is behind you—the monumental task of choosing a breed, finding a reputable breeder, and picking a puppy—but now you’ve realized you need to find a capable and trustworthy veterinarian for your newest four-legged family member.

Your sporting dog is special, and a hardcore canine athlete. We routinely put them into some of the most intimidating terrain, unforgiving conditions, and punishing environments. We expose them to extreme weather, from sweltering summer heat to bone-chilling cold. Every day in the training grounds and hunting covers there are endless hazards, and the unexpected can happen at any moment.

Aside from a vet who is ready to respond to accidents and injuries from the field, choosing one who is familiar with the routine care and conditions of your specific sporting breed is going to ensure that your dog will be in the best of hands for its entire life. Don’t underestimate the added insurance of securing veterinary care that matches your dog’s drive; here’s your guide to getting it right.


Locating a Veritable Veterinarian

Jackson Walker of Walker Animal Hospital in Anderson, South Carolina, has been a practicing DVM for 12 years. He’s also an avid wingshooter and has owned and hunted with a plethora of sporting breeds from shorthairs to goldens to Drahts, Boykins, English pointers, and even a blue-tick coonhound. In his general practice he sees his share of family pets, but also a good amount of sporting dogs.

Walker touches on some of the finer points for those beginning their search, and some key things to keep in mind when visiting veterinary offices or making telephone calls. “Find a vet who takes a genuine interest in you and what you’re doing with your dog,” he says. “They’re not trained or required to do this, so if you find it, you’re in the right place. Be honest, ask questions, and look for transparency. They should take their time and be excited to help you meet your goals with your dog.”

sporting dog veterinarian with pointing dogs in vet clinic
Dr. Jackson Walker reminds us that a good vet will aspire to take an active role in helping you meet your goals with your gun dog. (Photo courtesy of Jackson Walker)

Walker goes on to outline how beneficial it can be to work with a vet that is familiar with hunting dogs and their commonly associated injuries, illnesses, and conditions. “With sporting dogs, we see a lot of tick-borne illnesses, eye injuries, water-borne exposures, broken teeth, ear infections, lacerations, and puncture wounds, as well as gastro-intestinal and other travel-related conditions.” He adds that finding a vet who is familiar not only with hunting dogs but also has experience with your particular breed allows them to provide you with even more directed care. “Ask them how often they see your breed,” says Walker. “This is a great opening question and can lead into a conversation about what that vet is passionate about.” “Many times, they are able to help you with early screenings, preventive care, modified diets, and other nuances for your breed of choice.”

german wirehaired pointer with a face full of porcupine quills
Sporting dogs will inevitably find their way into a field injury or accident at some point, so it's important to locate a qualified and confident veterinarian who is familiar with the specific issues hunting dogs are likely to encounter in their lifetime. (Photo By: Steve Oehlenschlager/Shutterstock.com)

Getting Down to Business

After you’ve identified an individual that is keen on becoming involved in your life with your dog, there are some basic considerations when looking at the overall practice. Walker suggests that most clinics will be equipped to handle an accident or emergency but offers a litmus test to gauge the confidence of the veterinarian you’re speaking with. “Ask them what you should do if you’re hunting nearby and have an emergency with your dog. If the vet is interested in the emergency and wants to take it, you know you likely found the right place. If not, keep looking. A good vet should give you a deliberate, detailed description of what would happen.”

Walker then speaks to the importance of establishing an ongoing connection of care with a vet. “You’ll certainly want to establish a VCPR (veterinary-client-patient relationship) and develop a connection with your vet and their staff. You should also ask them their policy on same-day appointments or the average time to get a scheduled appointment,” Walker advises.


Back on the subject of sporting dogs and travelling bird hunters, Walker mentions that telemedicine is becoming more prevalent, providing dog owners and veterinarians an expedited means of communicating from home or the field in the event of an emergency. He also suggests that a good vet who shares your values can recommend field supplies to carry and help you make a plan for if/when something was to happen.

Lastly, Walker reminds us that a good sporting dog vet will also have a strong network of specialists and advanced care clinics, as hunting dogs can, on occasion, suffer from chronic medical conditions or may require specialized care after an injury.

Don’t be afraid to dig in a little and play detective when it comes to choosing a vet for your bird dog. Do your research, shop around, ask for referrals, and settle in on a knowledgeable medical professional that you’re confident is going to understand the specific needs of your working dog. It may take a while but spending a little extra time on the front end of this arrangement is undoubtedly going to pay out in the long run, for both you and your sporting dog.

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