It is hard to imagine that any animal could be such a shuffling, pigeon-toed disaster, but porcupines most assuredly are. In my experience, pointing dogs have the most run-ins with porkies, but in the West, where Labs are used for upland bird hunting as much or more than they're used for waterfowl, hundreds of retrievers get a face full of quills every year. Some dogs never learn. I recently saw an Associated Press photo of a boxer with 800 quills in his mug. Figure out the vet bill for that one.
The veterinarian is where you should end up, though, if your dog gets stuck with more than a couple dozen quills. So far, I've been able to yank quills out of my dogs by myself with forceps or a Leatherman tool, the dog wedged between or under my knees to minimize squirming. I've also begun carrying a dowel and tape in my first aid kit, so that I can insert the dowel and tape it in the dog's mouth in order to keep its mouth open when I am removing quills from its tongue or gums. Then, I simply get a good grip on a quill and pull it out, one quill at a time.
However, a dog that has taken a serious hit, or that has quills embedded in his throat or in or around his eyes, needs a vet. En route to the clinic, try not to let the dog paw at his face. The dog could break off quills and make extraction more difficult.
And do not count on your pup learning his lesson. Some do, but many do not.
Of all the plagues that can befall hunting dogs, snakes scare me the most. True, virtually every dog I know that has been bit by a rattler (including mine) survived, but it's not a fun experience — for the dog or for the owner.
The best way to avoid having your dog bitten by a snake is to avoid the places snakes live. Unlike skunks and porcupines, which can be almost anywhere, rattlesnakes, at least in the West, typically live on rocky, south- and west-facing hillsides — but not always.
If your dog gets bitten, take him straight to a vet. Some vets recommend applying a loose tourniquet above the wound; others recommend giving the dog antihistamines (Benadryl). My discussions with several vets on the subject do not give me much faith in the cut-and-suck or applied-ice treatments. Instead, the conservative approach is to limit your dog's movement (to keep from circulating the venom), and get him to a vet as quickly as possible.
But that calls for advance preparation on your part. It is not practical to carry antivenom in your truck — it is very expensive and must be kept on ice — but you can carry a list of local vets you can call on a moment's notice, which is particularly important if you are hunting in an unfamiliar area. As soon as you get to your truck and/or phone, call your vet and let him know you are coming in. The vet will take it from there. If you get to the vet quickly, most dogs seem to pull through without lasting damage.
Avoiding these scourges completely is probably impossible. But, with just a little preparation, diminishing the damage they inflict on your dog — not to mention your heart rate — becomes much easier.
by Dave Carty