The AKC Detection Dog Task Force was pleased to welcome Cynthia Otto, DVM, PhD, Executive Director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine on June 22nd for a discussion on working dog veterinary care, the risks involved and health care resources for handlers and their K9s.
Discussion highlights included:
Fitness and the value of a cooperative care or low stress handling approach have become important and useful tools while medically evaluating working dogs. “It’s important to recognize that these working dogs are professional athletes; their physical and behavioral needs should be taken into consideration,” Otto said.
Canine body condition scoring is another important factor in evaluating working dog health. Body condition scoring is ranked between 1-9. Canine athletes and working dogs should have a score of 4-5. Core strength is also important. Appropriate posture in the sit, keeping the head in alignment with the shoulders, and creating a straight line from the top of the head down to the tip of the tail will engage the dogs’ muscles and core. In the Posture Down position, you want to create a nice square, Sphinx pose, she noted.
Proprioception, awareness of where your body is in space, is another important factor for working canines. Working dogs may encounter a myriad of obstacles as they work in the field. One exercise to develop proprioception is to have a dog climb a ladder. This is an exercise that has many steps, the first of which is very simple steps for the dogs to learn where their back feet are, can they actually put their back feet on a target like a step or disc.
Temperature: Working dogs typically have a temperature of less than 102.5 F, but with activity it commonly increases to 105 and up to 108. Common signs of heat exertion include squinty eyes, mouth pulled back exposing the back teeth, and tongue hanging out and flat. These are signs that you should cease the exercise and begin cooling.
Opioid exposure, unfortunately, is increasingly a concern for law enforcement and detection dogs. Signs of exposure include:
- Slow breathing
- Slow heart rate
- Sensitive to noise
Dr. Otto advised that dogs are much less sensitive to opioid exposure than humans: It can take up to 10x more Fentanyl to sedate a dog than a human. The only way dogs may become exposed are across their mucus membranes. If a dog is showing signs of exposure, then there is a high risk of human exposure for anyone around them. Naloxone (4mg) an opioid reversal agent, is safe and can be given to dogs via intranasal or intramuscular administration. Naloxone has been found to have no effect on olfaction.
Gastrointestinal issues are among the most common ailments encountered by working dogs. Treatment with the antibiotic metronidazole has been found to have a negative effect on olfaction for some explosives detection dogs. Overuse of antibiotics is not recommended and may not be effective in addressing the underlying issue. Use of probiotics is promoted and utilized as an alternative treatment.
However, the oral and intranasal Bordetella vaccination has not been found to effect odor detection and is encouraged to deter the spread of the upper respiratory infection.
Dr. Otto answered a number of participant questions and provided additional recommended resources for optimizing care of working dogs:
- Working Dog Practitioner Program
- American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation
- 2021 AAHA Working, Assistance and Therapy Dog Guidelines
“Veterinary care for our working dogs is a team effort, and incorporating your veterinarian is an important piece of their health. Maintaining peak physical fitness in your canine athlete will increase their working career and ensure our nation’s communities are safer,” said Dr. Otto.”
The AKC Detection Dog Task Force thanks Dr. Otto for sharing her expertise on veterinary care for working dogs. A recording of this program is available https://register.gotowebinar.com/recording/7171072442953731755 .
For more information about the AKC Detection Dog Task Force, visit www.akc.org/edc .