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Gun Dog Allergies & Canine Coccidiosis...

Gun Dog Allergies & Canine Coccidiosis...

Plus, should you feed your gun dog a raw-food diet.

Q (Question) I hope you can help me with a problem my black Lab, Homer, developed years ago that none of the local vets seem to be able to fix.

Homer is five years old and is otherwise in good health; he is a big dog, yet not overweight. However, when he was three, he developed an allergy/infection in the webbing of his toes. The lesions swell up, are shiny and red, and often break and bleed--and, of course, he licks them.


He has undergone many rounds of cephalexin, metronidazole, one or two shots of steroids, over-the-counter allergy medications (for which you get a 117-pound object you cannot move), ointments, foot soaks, etc., none of which have worked or slowed things down. Tissue samples indicate it is not a cancer, but just an allergy with a cause that no one is certain of.


One of our local docs said Homer needs a shot, which would cost approximately "the equivalent of a down payment on a luxury vehicle," but the vet has not told me what that medication is.

My research online suggests that it could be interdigital cysts. I can send you pictures of his feet if necessary. I hope you can help. --SF


A (Answer) I know how frustrating these can be. There is no need to send me a picture of your dog, as I have recurring nightmares where oozy, red dog feet flash through my mind. The first thing you need is a veterinarian who understands that this is truly an allergic problem and that you will be contributing to your veterinarian's 401k plan as the two of you attempt to manage the flare-ups of the disease.


Two management tasks are to keep the dog's weight down and practice good foot care, i.e., clean the feet daily with an antibacterial wash and ensure the toenails are trimmed short.

Then, pursue the allergy issue in more depth. There is a blood test that may reveal allergens your dog is sensitive to, and you might consider desensitizing the dog with a series of injections. Also look into a 60-day feeding trial of one of the good hypoallergenic dog foods, like z/d Allergen-Free by Hill's Prescription Diet.

Continue to use antibiotics and occasional rounds of prednisilone to bring the acute episodes under control. Apparently, your veterinarian already biopsied the lesions, which is good. I suggest also culturing the discharge to make sure the selected antibiotics are the most appropriate.

Q (Question) I have a question about raw diets and how effective they are for hunting dogs. I've been trying to do research, but I haven't found anything that really supports this type of nutrition, although I know there are people who feed it on a regular basis. I have a black Lab, and with exercise and dog food he keeps a good 70-plus pounds on him. Any expert opinions would be helpful. --WG

A (Answer) When I was a kid growing up in the '40s and '50s, we mainly fed the dogs table scraps and occasionally canned or frozen horsemeat. Then along came the dry, extruded kibble products. Now dog food manufacturers have made things so complicated that it is not easy to understand what is going on.

My thoughts on raw diets: It is regression back to a point we were at 60-plus years ago. It is hard for owners to accurately mix these various ingredients to create a ration that meets the dog's nutritional needs. Also, raw meat products are frequently contaminated with bacteria, especially E. coli and Salmonella. These can cause serious intestinal and systemic diseases.

Finally, from a practical standpoint, it would be a real pain for me to have to stop and mix up meals for my dogs multiple times per day. This is especially true when on the road or when the dogs are being boarded. Just buy a good-quality commercial food that seems to fit your dog's age and working demands--and leave the formulating and mixing to the manufacturers.

Q (Question) I have a 10-month-old Lab, Gunner, that I got from a breeder in South Dakota. When Gunner arrived, he was a skinny little bag of bones, full of pep and energy, but really thin. He had canine coccidiosis, which was treated for a 10-day period. After treatment, his stool showed that the problem had cleared up.

At about nine months, I boarded him with a trainer. When he arrived, he weighed 67 pounds. About a month later, I took him home for a routine visit to the vet; he had lost seven pounds. We did not check his stool at that time, as I assumed the weight loss was the result of feeding him once a day while undergoing hard work. I noticed him getting thinner and about three or so weeks later, I took him to the vet again. He weighed 57 pounds and had minor diarrhea, but was still full of spunk.

One of the last days he was at the trainer's, we were working him in a pond that was the brooding ground for Canada geese. He ate a clump of goose feces two or three times. Can the coccidiosis organism be transmitted in the feces of geese or deer? He has a fondness for both.

I worked him in a pond a few days later with a friend and his 10-month-old pup. After that day, both dogs came down with a major case of diarrhea. Off to the vet again with a stool sample, and he was again diagnosed with canine coccidiosis. He has been on treatment for the past few days.

I made my trainer aware as soon as I found that Gunner had this organism again so he could get the other dogs checked. As I understand, it can be passed in the fecal matter of dogs by stepping in feces then licking their paws and ingesting the organism. We were wondering if dogs can get this by eating grass in the area where they also relieve themselves, some time after the feces have dried up and broken down.

On my vet's advice, I have gone back to feeding Gunner two to three times a day. Just as a side note, I feed him a brand of dog food made for active dogs, with a high protein and fat content.

I would be interested in your evaluation of the cause of the coccidiosis. Also, seeing as this is the second time he has had this in the past eight months, could he be especially susceptible? --DC

A (Answer) The organisms that cause coccidiosis are found in many soils and stagnant water pools that have been contaminated by fecal material. Fortunately, the organism is species-specific, and cross infection among animals is not common. The species found in dogs might also be found in the other canids, but from birds to dogs the transfer does not occur.

Coccidia are great opportunists. Dogs in good health and on good nutrition rarely are affected by the disease. Dogs that are raised in crowded, unsanitary conditions and on poor rations typically get infested with coccidia.

I don't recognize the brand of dog food you are using, but I'm betting against it. Get the dog on some good-quality food, stop t

raining for 30 days and let the dog catch up.

My new Lab pup is now six months old and weighs 60 pounds. This past weekend I had her out and she was making 100-yard water retrieves on pigeons. Have your veterinarian do some baseline red and white counts and see how healthy your dog really is.

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

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