Farm dogs are often an integral part of the farm team and good health is imperative, not only for the welfare of these animals but for their working ability.
The first point of contact regarding canine health should be a trusted vet but, while your regular on-farm vet may be your first port of call, they may need to refer back to a colleague.
Kaz Strycharczyk, a vet at Black Sheep Farm Health, based at Rothbury, Northumberland, explains that while in some parts of the UK mixed vets still thrive, many practices are becoming increasingly ‘departmentalised’.
He also says if you want your on-farm vet to examine a dog, it is always worth letting them know beforehand.
“This means they will be better prepared, rather than springing it on them as a ‘while you are here’ query.”
Mr Strycharczyk explains that the principles of keeping farm dogs in good shape hold as true as they do for pets. What differs is their environment and working duties.
He says: “Welfare aside, a good sheepdog is a valuable piece of working kit. Few farm dogs are insured but, in my opinion, this is a prudent option. For the same reason, adopting a ‘wait-and-see’ approach can easily lead to disaster.
“If insurance premiums do not add up, consider saving a monthly sum into an account set aside for veterinary costs.”
Some aspects of the farm environment predispose to infectious disease. For example kennel housing them in groups means disease can easily spread dog-to-dog.
“And access to wildlife is a key risk factor for several diseases, notably leptospirosis or Weil’s disease.
“As a result, farm dogs are particularly deserving of protection from infectious disease.
“The routine annual vaccines cover several infections, including leptospirosis. Consider the kennel cough vaccine if your dogs – including pets or gun dogs – move between farms.”
Mr Strycharczyk adds that parasite treatment, including for worms, fleas and ticks, should also be regular.
“These treatments not only benefit the dogs but are important for protecting sheep from tapeworm. Many products are available – your veterinary surgeon is the best person to ask about which you should use.
“These treatments should be noted in your farm medicines book for assurance purposes.”
Due to the demanding physicality of their work, sheepdogs often suffer orthopaedic injury.
Mr Strycharczyk says dogs should be treated ‘like athletes’.
“Do not compromise their long-term working ability for shortterm convenience; use another dog instead. Actively lame dogs require veterinary attention; milder injuries may be managed simply with strict rest and anti-inflammatories.
“Take care to ensure a full recovery; a bored dog that is halfway healed can do itself a lot of damage through overexertion.”
Farm dogs have unsupervised access to many types of interesting materials that are either toxic or can block or perforate the gut.
These include animal carcases, farm drugs, rat poison and more. For this reason, lack of appetite, vomiting and diarrhoea should never be taken lightly in farm dogs.
Mr Strycharczyk adds: “Sheep sponges are particularly enticing; count these out into a bucket when pulling and ensure all bins are secure from dogs.”
Mr Strycharczyk says one of the most important responsibilities of a dog owner is knowing when the time is right for euthanasia.
“Quality of life is paramount and any condition that is causing severe consistent discomfort or distress requires urgent action.
“While euthanasia is often a sensible choice, avoid fatalism – do not write off a dog without talking to your vet first.
“Your vet can come to the farm to put your dog to sleep if they do not travel well.”
Avoiding problems with parasites
■ Tapeworms, saracocystosis, and neosporosis rely on the dog-sheep, or dog-cattle, cycle so, to control these issues, it is vital to break the cycle
■ Access to carcases, placenta or contaminated bedding should be prevented
■ Dogs should not be fed raw sheep offal
■ Opportunity for faecal contamination of pasture and feed should be minimised, although public rights of way can be a hindrance
■ For tapeworms, each dog on the farm should receive regular treatment for tapeworm and this should be noted in the farm health plan and medicine records
ISSUES THAT IMPACT ON LIVESTOCK
SEVERAL parasites require a canine host as part of a complex life cycle; two of these affect sheep, one affects cattle.
Mr Strycharczyk explains: “Tapeworms are commonly transmitted between sheep and dogs.
“When sheep host the adult stage of tapeworm, they do not typically cause an issue so segments of tapeworm in sheep dung should not be a cause for concern.
“Conversely, when sheep host the cystic stage of tapeworms, they commonly cause issues. ‘Gid’ presents with unsteadiness following cyst formation in the brain or spine by the larval stage of Taenia multiceps.
“Two other species; T.ovis and T.hydatigena, lead to cyst formation in the liver or heart and are a common cause of by-product condemnation – check your kill sheets for details of tapeworm cysts or ‘cysticercus’. In severe cases the entire carcase may be condemned.”
Sarcocystosis is another protozoan infection which also cycles through dogs and livestock.
“Although infected sheep are often unaffected, sarcocystosis can cause abortion and neurological signs that resemble spinal abscesses, which may lead to missed diagnosis. Getting a diagnosis requires tissue samples and treatment is unlikely to be effective”, says Mr Strycharczyk.
And, finally, neosporosis is another protozoan condition caused by Neospora caninum. It is one of the most commonly diagnosed causes of abortion in cattle.
Mr Strycharczyk says: “Dogs become infected after eating placenta or calving discharge of an infected cow. They then shed eggs faecally for two weeks, although these eggs are infectious for six months. If a pregnant bitch is infected, neosporosis can cause severe disease and death in puppies.”