Dogs are dogs. They all have the same basic genes, whether they are Great Danes or Dachshunds. They also have relatively similar anatomy, immune systems and metabolism.
All dogs are susceptible to certain infections and conditions. But due to their lifestyle, farm dogs have some unique health and wellness considerations that differ from pampered city pooches.
A farmer’s best friend spends a great deal of its time outdoors. These long periods outdoors probably have a massive benefit to the dog’s welfare, in terms of exercise and mental stimulation.
But time outdoors also brings the potential for hazards such as wildlife and weather. Farm life usually comes with a plethora of physical hazards to dogs.
Accidental encounters with machinery and wayward livestock can break bones or worse. Fractured bones are expensive to treat, but can heal well, so it is worth considering a pet insurance package or a rainy-day fund in case something like this occurs.
Parasite control is an important factor to include in your dog’s health management. Farm dogs have ample access to rodents, which carry immature forms of tapeworm parasites.
Standard dewormers do not kill tapeworms, so you need to use a specific medication to target these. Adult dogs rarely have any outward signs of worm infections so be sure to discuss deworming protocols with your veterinarian.
Besides rodents, other wild animals can pose a threat to dogs. Porcupines are probably the most notorious — their slow waddle is especially attractive to curious dogs. While the quills are often a painful inconvenience, in severe cases, the quills can lodge deep in the dog’s throat and even migrate into vital structures like the heart and lungs with fatal results.
Wildlife including coyotes and foxes are also an issue for dogs because they are closely related and therefore share many infectious agents.
Fleas are usually not a problem in Western Canada with the exception of dogs that travel or are exposed to their wild cousins.
Coyotes and foxes may also be a source of important dog viruses including rabies, canine distemper and parvovirus. For this reason, it is imperative that farm dogs are routinely vaccinated against these diseases.
Many working farm dogs I’ve known tended to be on the lean side or even skinny because of their high levels of activity.
This group is really the opposite of most pets these days, which tend to be overweight or obese. Because of this overall trend, many dog foods are formulated to limit calories, which is the opposite of what working dogs need.
If your farm dog is hard to keep weight on, look for active or high-performance dog food formulations to supply those needed calories.
The occasional human food snack probably won’t hurt underweight dogs and are really tasty for them. During hard work days like sorting and moving cattle, try to feed during breaks. A trick used by sled dog racers is to feed hard-boiled eggs.
While the average farm dog may never leave the property, some basic training is always a good idea. This includes basic commands (sit, lie down, stay), kennel training, basic walking on a leash, travel in a vehicle, handling face, paws and mouth and experience with different flooring types.
The time spent working on these would pay off if the dog had a medical issue like a broken leg or if there was an emergency evacuation situation.
These are some ways the health of farm dogs may differ from the average household pet. Make sure your veterinarian is clear about this lifestyle to adequately assess their wellness requirements including specialized parasite and vaccine needs.
Dr. Jamie Rothenburger, DVM, MVetSc, PhD, DACVP, is a veterinarian who practices pathology and is an assistant professor at the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. Twitter: @JRothenburger