Umbilical Hernias, Loss Of Scenting Ability

...Plus, a caution against heat exhaustion.

(Question) I am about to purchase a bird dog pup for the first time. I feel that I am dealing with a reputable dealer. He lives quite a few miles from me so our correspondence has been by phone and e-mail. He told me that one of the pups I am interested in has an umbilical hernia and he would knock some money off the purchase of the pup in case I wanted to have it fixed. From what I could gather, it is not an uncommon or serious condition. How should it affect my decision in choosing a pup? What is the average cost in having it repaired and is there a deciding factor in whether or not to have it repaired? Are there any precautions I should take with a pup with an umbilical hernia? Thanks. --G

(Answer) Umbilical hernias can be hereditary or acquired. I judge the difference by the number of pups in a litter affected and a history of occurrence of hernias in the family. I would say that most umbilical hernias I see are acquired, i.e., due to some event at birth that affected the navel cord. Most umbilical hernias are small, five millimeters or less in diameter, and contain only a small pledgit of fat. A few present large body wall defects with a diameter of two to five or six centimeters. These also contain fat but in addition can contain loops of gut.

The small hernias are really not much of a problem. They are often fixed at the time of a spay surgery by simply continuing the incision forward into the hernia. Large hernias should be repaired in both the female and male as the potential for a strangulated hernia is a possible emergency situation.

Large hernias in female dogs intended for breeding should be viewed suspiciously as they can be a signal that the ventral body wall may not be strong enough to support a pregnant uterus.

(Question) Our one-year-old French Brittany has been lame for about 10 days. At first it didn't seem to be anything to worry about but it doesn't seem to get any better. He limps around the house and when we walk him, but if allowed to run free or play with our other Brittany he shows no signs of soreness. It's been very cold and our ground is covered with snow.

We wonder if perhaps his paw was frostbitten. He won't let us spend much time examining the sore paw, but it looks as though the tips of the two middle digits are cracked. What advice can you suggest for diagnosis and/or treatment? --LP

(Answer) Your dog could have as simple a problem as cracked pads from environmental conditions and with a simple exam of the affected feet you should be able to identify this. Be careful with a dog of this age, as there are several growth-related problems that could be causing lameness. If cracks in the pads are not obvious or they do not heal up in a few days then you should have the dog examined for more serious musculoskeletal problems.

(Question) We just got a male English springer spaniel. He is about 12 weeks old and I want to start training him for hunting. Is there a certain age to start training a puppy or is it the sooner the better?

(Answer) It is never too early to start training a pup. I think the thing you need to understand is the type or degree of training you are going to do with this pup at the various stages of his development. From three to six months of age the pup should be taught to learn. This includes recognizing you as the pack leader and keying on you for directions. You can use low impact methods such as treat rewards to teach sit, come and drop.

This age is also a good time to start introducing the pup to the various types of habitat that he will be expected to hunt as an adult. Again, be light and have fun. Teach your dog to pay attention to where you are and the direction you are going. Keep commands simple, one word.

As the pup reaches six to nine months of age, begin more serious training. To teach commands, make sure the dog understands the command and then require that he respond correctly each time it's given.

(Question) I would appreciate your advice concerning a young beagle that exhibits a marked reduction in scenting ability on a track. The dog had exhibited outstanding ability prior to a trial early in 2003. Since that time, the dog exhibits limited tracking ability and sneezes occasionally only while it tracks, exhibiting no other symptoms of a medical problem.

The owner reports that the beagle club informed him that the dog exhibits symptoms of "nose virus," an often-reported phenomenon in tracking beagles. Affected dogs may regain their sense of smell, but their tracking ability is "never the same." The owner's veterinarian treated the dog with a three-week course of penicillin without any improvement.

The literature indicates that distemper can cause a loss of the sense of smell, but I was unable to find any other references that address this particular problem. Other literature indicates that humans can experience a temporary or permanent loss of smell after a URI.

Any information that you can provide to resolve this problem would be most appreciated. --NW

(Answer) The receptors of the olfactory nerves lie in the nasal mucosal lining in the posterior part of the nasal passage. The most common cause of reduced or lost scenting ability is any inflammatory process in this mucosal layer. A number of things can cause this inflammation including some of the viral diseases--e.g., distemper, Para influenza. Irritants such as common dust, weed pollens, aromatic wood shavings and strong disinfectants can inflame the mucosa and cause temporary loss of scenting ability.

There also have been reports of dogs losing their scenting ability following head injuries. The thought in these cases is that the nerve fibers are torn, thereby preventing transmission of scent stimuli to the brain for interpretation. This fact would make one wonder as to the practice of cracking the dog across the bridge of the nose to try and steady it up--not a method commonly in use today, but certainly something I've read about in some of the old training techniques.

I've found it interesting that when hunting in dry, dusty, warm conditions if birds are not scented readily, just stopping and flushing the dog's nose with canteen water has the effect of producing a find within a short time.

(Question) My uncle just gave me one of his pups, which is a mix between his German shorthair male and his pointer bitch. Do you have any idea what kind of dog this might become? --KS

(Answer) Some years ago there was a movement to cross pointers and setters. The resulting cross was called a "dropper." These crosses often turn out to be good gun dogs, kind of the ultimate outcross.

Certainly many of the other pointing breeds have benefited from the infusion of pointer blood and your dog has the pote

ntial to be a good bird dog. You only have two problems. Tail length is usually an issue. My thought is that if your dog looks like a pointer leave its tail long and vise versa. The other problem is that with this cross you have reached an end point--further breeding/crossbreeding isn't advised.

(Question) I just got my first puppy, a 13-week-old English setter. I have a four-year-old golden retriever as well; however, the golden was a two-year-old when I got him. The two dogs get along fine. However, the puppy is always "humping" my golden--why does this occur?

My second problem is, when I let the dog out to do its duty, it will always turn around and grab its poop and start eating it. Needless to say, this is rather unexpected!

Are these problems that will need to be corrected by training or will they resolve themselves with time? --MG

(Answer) You're right, you have two problems, and your dogs don't have any. Both of these issues are normal dog issues and are best handled by being understanding. The humping is a dog method of checking or asserting dominance. Leave them alone and the behavior will find its own comfort level. The stool eating does not bother the dogs. It is esthetically unpleasing for you so you need to deal with it.

Last fall a client dropped off an article from the Twin Cities Star Tribune. The headline was "Hunting Dogs Hit by Heat," and the subhead was "With temperatures in the 80s and some dogs out of shape, an estimated100 canines died in South Dakota." My client's dog was one of those that died.

I hope that as we approach hunting season each of you will reflect on the warm conditions of the early part of last year's hunting season and prepare your dog physically and yourself mentally to govern yourself and your dog according to the conditions nature serves up.

Contact Tom Holcomb, DVM, by email at

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