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Illnesses Faced by Gundogs

Gundogs can suffer from numerous injuries and illnesses as they take on a variety of work in the field, many of which are small and can be treated easily by their handlers or owners. As most illnesses require a veterinary’s assistance, it is essential your gundogs are given time to recover; though owners will want this to be reduced if diseases occur in the shooting season. When your dogs are healing, you will want them to stay in shape, within reason, and our gundog accessories can help you and your dog.

Springer spaniel gundog 

So, what are common illnesses that gundogs and working dogs face that you should keep an eye out for?


Arthritis occurs from the inflammation of a joint which can be caused by infection, autoimmune disease and trauma, amongst other things, though osteoarthritis is the biggest concern. Signs include stiffness, lameness and a reluctance to jump. Though osteoarthritis is associated more with older dogs, younger dogs can be affected, especially if they have inherited problems like hip dysplasia.

If you are worried about stiffness in your dog’s joints, with the most affected being elbows, they will need an examination by the vet, including x-rays, as this will help determine the cause. If you catch osteoarthritis early, it can be improved with exercise control, hydrotherapy and glucosamine and chondroitin supplements.

Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is the malformation of the hip joint which can affect all dogs when the hip socket is too shallow, and the bone doesn’t sit comfortably in it. This leads to a progressive damage to the joint as the dog gets older. Signs of hip dysplasia include stiffness, trouble standing, hesitation when exercising, reluctance to jump and limp motion. The gundog breeds which are severely affected are Labradors and spaniels.

Health tests can be done when your gundogs are a puppy; an x-ray will determine what the bones look like, and be given a score. Zero is a perfect hip, and the higher the score, the chance of hip dysplasia worsens. If you find your gundog has hip dysplasia, you should head to the vet to confirm it. Mild conditions can be helped by reducing the exercise your gundog does.


Also known as Weil’s disease, leptospirosis is caused by bacteria via the urine of infected animals such as rats. Dogs can become infected by contact with urine or contaminated water, and then become carriers themselves. Symptoms are not always visible and vary depending on the dog, but include raised temperature, loss of appetite, vomiting and diarrhoea, jaundice and a reluctance to move.

If you notice any symptoms, you need to get your gundog to the vet as soon as possible. You can get yearly vaccinations against leptospirosis, especially getting them checked before shooting season begins. L4 is the most widely used, though there are concerns about the vaccination due to reactions. Speak to your vet about any issues.

black Labrador sitting in wood

Alabama Rot

Alabama rot has seen a rise in cases in the UK again recently though the number of affected dogs is still very small, and the disease which causes damage to a dogs blood vessels and kidneys is sadly hard to spot and hard to treat. Cases are common in winter and spring and are often associated with dogs in muddy and woodland areas. There are no specific steps to prevent your gundog from contracting Alabama rot, but if your dog has been in mud, it is best to wash it off as soon as possible and monitor where they go.

The first signs to look for are skin sores not caused by injury which can look like lesions, swelling, ulcers or patches of red skin, found below the knee or elbow. Your dog will then begin licking the sore spot, which is then followed by symptoms of kidney failure. Catching it early is the best outcome and heading straight to the vet.


Cancers have many forms and different effects on the body. Lumps on the body can be painful and become ulcerated; those affecting organs will destroy normal tissue. Mammary cancers are common in gundogs, lymphomas in English springers and flat-coat retrievers are often more susceptible to several aggressive types.

Sadly, with cancer, there is little owners can do to reduce the risk, though neutering can reduce the risk of uterine, testicular and ovarian cancers and mammary tumours. Frequent hands-on examinations can help you spot lumps, and symptoms of lethargy and weight loss could indicate internal cancers. Some cancers can be treated with surgical removal, chemotherapy or radiotherapy.


Ringworm is one of the most common skin conditions gundogs can get. A fungal infection and an infection from a parasite, it is recognised by loss of hair in a circular shape, with dry, scaly skin at the centre and red ring on the edge. Affected spots gradually increase in size and show up most on the face, ears, legs, paws and tails.

If you have noticed your gundog has a persistent skin condition, you should take them to the vet. They will carry out the tests such as blood tests and skin scrapings. If the cause of the ringworm is fleas, the fleas need to be exterminated with a flea bath and washing areas where your dog sleeps. Preventing skin conditions can be done with regular grooming and cleaning of your dogs’ coat.

Setter standing in a field

Snake Bites

Though not a disease, snake bites from Britain’s only poisonous snake, adders, can be deadly to dogs. Though they hibernate for much of the shooting season, they are active in August and September, more so after a bout of hot weather like we have had this summer. If your dog has been bitten, keep it calm and get to the vet as quickly as possible.

As bites are done in self-defence, such as if the snake has been stepped on or disturbed by your dog, it is important to keep dogs aware and away from places where adders may be. Common habitats include sand dunes, rocky hillsides and moorland. Signs include pain and swelling around the bite and depression and lethargy when the poison gets to the bloodstream. 96-97% of dogs bitten by snakes make a full recovery.

Are there any other issues about gundogs you would like to know more about? Take a look at our gundog guide where we have information on various gundog breeds, help with training and much more. You might also be interested in our blog posts on shooting, especially with the season starting in just a few weeks!