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How to Choose a Sporting Dog Veterinarian

To get your retriever the best care possible, you might have to audition a few vet clinics.

How to Choose a Sporting Dog Veterinarian

It’s important to locate a vet who understands the unique demands and specific challenges of sporting dogs. (Wildfowl photo)

I’m at the age now where I appreciate a good specialist. Any kind of professional who has devoted years to developing an expert-level of understanding on a topic that might arc into my life at some point. As you can imagine this can range from our personal health care to who we hire to fix our hunting truck, or more appropriately, train our dogs if we need some guidance.

While most of us intuitively understand what we want out of a professional in many facets of our lives, we often overlook this when it comes to our duck dogs’ health. We reckon that one veterinarian is as good as the next, but that’s not always the case with sporting dogs.

The four-legged buddies we bring into the blind with us each fall are athletes backed by specific, generational breeding that are asked to do specific tasks, often in wildly unforgiving environments. In the off-season, they are expected to work hard in wide ranging temperatures and conditions, and we need someone who understands that.

Vet Shopping

A good way to avoid taking your dog to a vet that might be more in tune to the needs of the average couch potato French bulldog, would be to simply ask before you commit yourself to a clinic. That’s not what I did at first, so I had to learn this lesson the hard way years ago when I had a middle-aged golden retriever that wasn’t doing so well.

The veterinarian who diagnosed my dog acted almost hostile to me, and I can only speculate on this, but I think she was an anti-hunter. Maybe she just had a bad day, and maybe I’m a slow learner, because when I got a Lab pup to replace my gone-too-soon golden, I went back to her.

She gave me a lecture on the first visit about how having one dog is bad for the animal’s mental health, and that I should get another puppy so they could be playmates. Not only was that a hard no for me for many reasons, but I also informed her that I had one-year old twin babies at home. In other words, I wasn’t in the market for more dependents.

That was the last straw, so I went looking for a new animal hospital for my duck dogs. When I found what I was looking for, it was a night and day difference.

Proper Treatment 

Routine checkups and vaccines, and much of our dog maintenance, isn’t overly dependent on a deep understanding of sporting dogs. When you get into diet, injuries, long-term care for older duck dogs, and any issues that stem from the lifestyle of a bird dog owner, then you start to realize why you want someone on your side who understands your dog’s needs.

This is what I’m dealing with now with one of my dogs, a nine-year old Lab with degenerative arthritis in her elbow. The veterinarian we are closely working with owns bird dogs, and has offered up a variety of potential treatment plans. She’s also extremely communicative on the costs of various treatments, the likelihood that they’ll work, and our options if they don’t.    

black lab swimming in a lake
Duck dogs are exposed to many more dangers and hazards than the average house pet. (Photo By: dezy/

In other words, I feel like I’ve got a medical professional on my side who is as invested in my dog’s health as I am. That’s not nothing, and possible for all of us to have even if it takes a few false starts with various clinics before you find a veterinarian or a clinic with which you truly mesh.

When it comes to your duck dog’s long-term health, don’t settle for the nearest clinic or the cheapest. Do a little bit of sleuthing to find someone who understands what we ask of our dogs, from heightened tick exposure to the dangers of late-season polar plunges once the greenheads start falling from the sky.

While this extra effort might not feel like it’s worth it for the routine stuff, it’ll eventually come into play as your dog ages or experiences an injury. When the inevitable happens, you’ll be happy that you went the extra mile to suss out a professional who truly understands sporting dogs and the issue at hand.


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