Following an action-packed Mississippi duck hunt and with black labs dozing contentedly at our feet, long-time friend and life-long waterfowler, Dr. Bill Sullivan, discusses the health and maintenance of our beloved duck dogs. Having practiced veterinarian medicine for decades covers a lot of need-to-know topics for ensuring our best friends’ peak performance, long-term health and longevity while doing what they were born to do.

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Discussing Duck Dogs

And they think about that next opportunity, that’s their thing, that’s their one thing to go hunting. And they think about that all day long, they study us, they watch us trying to figure out when is that next opportunity to get out there.

Ramsey Russell: Welcome back to Duck Season somewhere, today I am in Isola, Mississippi at the duck camp of today’s guest. But we’re not going to talk about duck hunting, we’re going to talk about something even more near and dear to our hearts and that is duck dogs. We’re going to talk about the health, the nutrition, the management, the human bonds. Joining me today is Dr. Bill Sullivan, who is my longtime friend and Char dog and Coop, the chicken dog and every other Russell dog, longtime veterinarian, we love him to death. Bill had a great time this morning.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: Yes, sir. That was beautiful hunt this morning. We got to see lots of dogs working and some ducks doing their things and we had a little foggy morning, not much sunlight. But dogs got to work good and made some good long retrieves and went across the levee and found a duck that we wouldn’t have found. I almost think it is probably some moral failure to hunt without one.

Ramsey Russell: I think you hit the net on head. There were two particular retrieves this morning, I sunk one, fell back over behind me about 100 yards and some thick buck brush, I don’t know how that dog, we just walked in, she smelt it from 50 yards away, ran right to it and Ellie made a spanked a heck of a retrieve out there, 200 or 300 yards on that gadwall that just fell out. And again, it’d been very difficult to recover each of those birds without a duck dog.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: Yeah. I mean, do you have a reasonable chance of recovering 100% of the game that you harvest when you have a good dog with you?

Ramsey Russell: And we were talking about it this morning, I know why I duck hunt, you know why you hunt, we know why we hunt. But you think about this, you’ve got a business, you’ve got a family, you’ve got church to go to, we’ve got a life, the only thing that matters, them 2 black dogs that was out there this morning was the next duck that hits the water, that’s exactly what they live for. That’s all they live for.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: That’s right. You saw how they were just shaking and they were about to explode the whole time, we would have them go out beginning of the season. Sometimes they’ll have a hard time honoring who’s the other dog sometimes and that’s not because they’re dishonored, that’s because they just want to go so bad, when you even start that small pattern that you’re going to go hunting, you can even just make just the right grab, just the thing at home that they key in on and they go, they stop and they start shaking and they start going around you in a circle and they’re going, we’re going hunting or we might go hunting and they get excited.

Ramsey Russell: They know us as well as we know them. I knew the way she threw her head and took off in that buck brush, I knew she had winded that bird, I don’t know how she did, but I knew she had. And the same way she knows I can get up and pull on my socks, brush my teeth, do this or that, she hears the rustle of wax canvas and she is up and ready to roll, they just know, they know us because of that relationship.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: Well, they study us, too. They don’t have a job, they don’t have the other things that make us really busy and I hate to anthropomorphize them and turn them into people, but that’s what I do. And they think about that next opportunity, that’s their thing, that’s their one thing to go hunting. And they think about that all day long, they study us, they watch us trying to figure out when is that next opportunity to get out there.

Cutting Teeth on Mississippi Duck Hunting

And through all of know, if you’re in Mississippi you’re going to go on some duck hunts here and there, too. 

Ramsey Russell: I want to start off this way, I know who you are, you’ve been our veterinarian for over a decade, long time. But you’re from Mississippi, where’d you grow up? When did you get into duck hunting? Because you’re a duck hunter, a real duck hunter.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: I grew up in Hinds County in the Jackson area and probably moved out to Rankin County in 1978 or so. But I grew up hunting around Thornton and around Pluto, I grew up in that area hunting and we hunted a lot of puddle ducks, we hunt a lot of diving ducks, when I started cutting my teeth on duck hunting in the 70s.

Ramsey Russell: Who got you into duck hunting?

Dr. Bill Sullivan: Oh, my father for sure.

Ramsey Russell: He was a duck hunter.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: Yeah, he was a duck hunter, he was a wing shooter. So we did a lot of dove hunting in Mississippi every weekend that you could dove hunt, we’d go dove hunting. And through all of know, if you’re in Mississippi you’re going to go on some duck hunts here and there, too. And when I was a young man, I just remember looking at the duck, looking at some of these ducks and when we kill them, I would just look at their bills, their nose openings, their feet, their feathers, their everything, they were just so neat, the colors. And then learning about science and about iridescence, the way light hits things and changes the colors on them, just all the saturation of colors that were in their plumage. I just said, that is just incredible. I just sit there and look at the ducks in the bottom of the boat, we were sitting old John boat in a break in the Mississippi Delta, all these ducks were coming in, I’m ready, I’m going to get my limit. But I was more worried about looking at them down in there. Something about those animals and the way god made them, how beautiful they were and he’s got to just either have a sense of humor or just like art, because they were so beautiful.

Ramsey Russell: Last night at dinner, you were describing, you’d gone out to scout and the gadwall were coming in and you described in great detail and I remember this, the golden eyes, so close you could see the golden eyes when they banked in the beam of sunlight. In the same way every time you talk about these ducks, I mean, very detailed, highly detailed about the ornate beauty of wildfowl. And it just had this question, how in the world did you get in the line of veterinary medicine instead of wildlife habitat. And riding around with you on your farm, I mean, man, you talk about your habitat like a biologist. How did you decide to go this direction instead of that?

Dr. Bill Sullivan: That’s all part of the same thing. I like the way it’s all interconnected, you can learn all about wildlife management when you learn about any part of biology and ecology. You can take livestock pest management and you learn about hornflies and face flies and all these other flies and you learn about how they transmit disease from animal to animal and you start to look at all those lice that come off some of those ducks in your little duck, and you start thinking about those and you think about how that lice might have been in South Dakota yesterday, he took a ride on a 747 and he’s in Mississippi today.

Ramsey Russell: I never thought about that, Bill.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: Think about how these insects go transcontinental.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: And I started thinking about that. Of course, you got all these different things you study and they’re all related from livestock management to botany and all the things that these animals require for their protein sources and their carbohydrates, their energy sources, their minerals and micronutrients and they’ve got to have it just like your dog does. And so veterinary medicine was just something I was exposed to, I worked for some veterinarians and I loved it and I loved the kind of relationship that they had with their clients and I loved the real world working knowledge they had to have to deal with the animal agriculture that they dealt with and with companion animal world. And then, selfishly, I loved all the thank you I saw in the companion animal world. And this human animal bond, people love their animals that they bond to so strongly with no logic, how strong the human animal bond was and it drew me to do companion animal medicine.

What Goes Into Getting a Good Waterfowl Dog?

 Getting a good dog has a lot to do with your own mindset and how well you’ve trained yourself to be ready to receive a good dog.

Ramsey Russell: Let’s kick off this way. Getting a dog, I’m a duck hunter or I’m a young duck hunter and I need a duck dog. There’s a lot of breeds to choose from, so we’re not going to get too far in the bushes on that. But there’s a lot that goes into just getting a dog. We don’t just go out and grab one. I’ve never been envious of somebody winning a duck dog at Ducks Unlimited banquet, maybe I ain’t ready for one right then. But seriously, what all goes into getting a good dog?

Dr. Bill Sullivan: Yeah. Getting a good dog has a lot to do with your own mindset and how well you’ve trained yourself to be ready to receive a good dog. And getting a good dog has a lot to do with research and hunting, maybe even with other dogs, getting to know the retriever dog community, whether you’re doing upland game, a pointer, a retriever, a flush dog, whether you’re hunting grouse, whether you’re hunting chuckers in the mountains, you need to go hunting with one of those dogs and with one of the guys or gals that are out there using these dogs every day and see what it takes and get in contact with people who bred, maybe even the dogs you were out hunting with that you know are good. And you need to check a lot of avenues and spend some time talking with people. And I think when you decide to do it, you probably want to spend about a year doing contacts and knowing it and learning it and doing it. But the last thing you want to do is decide you want a bird dog and get on the internet and go find one and buy one in 2 weeks.

Ramsey Russell: That’s right.

How to Find a Healthy Performance Companion

There’s so many inherited disorders in dogs now and especially in the purebred dog world, if they have not been careful to watch how some of these genetic diseases are manifested in their physical world.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: It doesn’t usually turn out the way that you would want. Think about how long, let’s say if you’re a 30 year old man and you get a dog, you got 15 years of your life tied up there in that dog and that’s just a big chunk. It does not need to be on a whim. So spend some time getting ready, learn what it takes to have one, learn about nutrition, learn a little bit about care and about the biology of a dog and you will have a foundation to start on.

Ramsey Russell: How important are genetics and what are some of the – I’m thinking, in the lab world, the types of certifications or clears and things of that nature that I should really be looking forward to be sure that I’ve got a healthy performance companion.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: There’s so many inherited disorders in dogs now and especially in the purebred dog world, if they have not been careful to watch how some of these genetic diseases are manifested in their physical world. For example, hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, big deals. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals will give certification after, when a breeding dog reaches 24 months, they can get an OFA certificate. And it just says, man, these are good hips and if their mama had and their daddy had OFA certified hips and they have certified hips, then you’re probably going to have, doesn’t mean you’re not going to have problems in some of these retrieving breeds, but you’re very low likelihood that you’re going to experience problems. Elbow dysplasia, there are some retinal issues that you can have some certification for. There are other things that might be overkill, some of the different screenings you can do for some genetic markers for cancer and things like that that are out there.

Ramsey Russell: What about the eyes?

Dr. Bill Sullivan: Yeah, those eyes. Different registries, but the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, that’s not an orthopedic issue, they will offer some genetic retinal disease certifications and those are not as penetrated into the genetic prevention world as some of the orthopedic things are, but they are good to have. I would recommend having everything that you can. There are sets of dogs out there that I see now, probably in the last 5, 6 years, it’s become less of a less pattern to get some of these certifications. I’ve seen probably more problems in that group of animals, but it is still the percentage of animals that come back and have some of those juvenile bone and joint diseases and lifelong orthopedic problems from some of the genetic problems that they’ll inherit. It’s just slightly more in those dogs that are not selected carefully, maybe 10% more, probably.

Ramsey Russell: Does size have anything to do with it? Like big dogs? And I’ve always wondered if their hips are more prone to it.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: Absolutely. The big dogs have so many more problems.

Ramsey Russell: Just because they’re carrying that weight.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: It’s not that they genetically inherit more problems, they do, so I’ll say they do. Big dogs, big retrievers, and we’re going to talk a lot about Labrador retrievers, but the bigger dogs just have more problems. Life expectancy from lumbar spinal disease, which is real prevalent in these big dogs, to hip problems and elbow issues, they’re banging, they’re just always banging those front legs and 100lbs laboratory retriever trying to get in and out of a boat, they’ve got to do it all themselves. And it can be – when I say that, it’s easy to throw a 50lbs dog where you needed to go and help it, but it’s hard to help 100lbs dog, they’re going to help you right in the water, a lot of times. So there are some disadvantages to being big, there are some types that we like to see, there’s just some that are Fads. So it used to be years ago that they liked the bigger dogs and then they wanted some of these smaller English Labrador retrievers and then some of the more blocky headed ones and now we like to see some of these smooth, more feminine looking dogs that are smaller now and that’s maybe been a big trend forever, the smaller, sleeker, more feminine lines of Labrador retrievers, they just have much better upkeep and fewer orthopedic health problems.

Ramsey Russell: Back onto genetics, I just had this thought about color. Generally speaking, a Labrador retriever is likely to throw chocolate, yellow and black, is that right?

Dr. Bill Sullivan: That’s right.

Ramsey Russell: See, some of the issues I’ve seen in the past, we talk about genetics, talking about buying a good duck dog is my son had a dog one time and man, at 3, 4 months old, that dog wouldn’t come to you, wouldn’t fetch, wouldn’t do nothing and I later learned that it had been purposefully bred for color, they wanted a whiter lab and that’s where you start running into problems. I mean, to me, it’s really not – like one of my favorite dogs, old Cooper, the chicken dog, she was yellow and that’s the one question I didn’t ask for, when I was on the phone with the lady about her puppies, she showed up and she handed me this little marshmallow, I’m going, what is that? She goes, that’s your dog, I go, they’re not black? No, they’re yellow. And all those dogs, I think had come out yellow and maybe a couple of chocolates or something like that. But really it wasn’t bred for color, it just happened to throw that color and it really doesn’t matter, do you think?

Dr. Bill Sullivan: It doesn’t matter.

Ramsey Russell: Unless, it was bred for color instead for task, it really doesn’t matter?

Dr. Bill Sullivan: Yeah. When we start talking about all those things, we talk about genotype and phenotype and the genotype is what’s written on their genes, the phenotype is what you see when you look at them. And we’ve tried to change these dogs so much and create things and I’m a veterinarian, my kids all go to college multiple times on what we’ve tried to create in these dogs and there’s some changes that people see and say, I want a dog to look like that, have this shape head and this look to its face and I want a big muscular dog or I want a sleek and if we would not concentrate on all of that and concentrate on a dog’s intelligence, some of their health, the things that’s not concentrating on their health, when you’re looking at those, there’s not many of those things that are aimed toward their health. But if we worry about, does this dog have a lot of history of arthritis? Do we have a lot of history of some back issues? What’s our dental world like? Are they have healthy teeth? What are some of their skin issues, their inherited issues, like atopic skin, some of the skin diseases that they have. If we started to select for that and drive and intelligence, then that’s what you look for. These Labrador retrievers are going to throw yellows, chocolates and blacks and I could care less what color they are.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah. Find a good genetic litter and pick the color that’s available to you and go with it. Okay, that’s a good point.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: Absolutely.

Ramsey Russell: One more thing, we’re talking about just warming up into the podcast, we’re talking about getting a dog and some stuff like that and I just made a note about chips. That’s not something I grew up doing, but now that’s pretty common to chip a dog, isn’t it?

Dr. Bill Sullivan: It is. It’s common to chip a dog. The advantages are it’s an unmanipulatable identification that’s now down within this dog. The disadvantage is, let’s say if your dog has a microchip in it and he runs away from home, there’s really only a certain set of situations that’s going to help you in. But they’re really important, if the dog comes to me and they don’t know whose dog is this, well, unless I have about a $5,000 microchip reader, which most veterinarians are going to have, you’ve got to read, goes down to grandma Moses house and it doesn’t have a good identification collar on, it don’t do her a bit of good. She ain’t going to know it and go down to Bubba’s house and he’s not going to know there’s a microchip in there, if he does, he’s not going to have a reader. And there’s a lot of law enforcement agencies, rescue leagues, pounds that will scan them, they don’t all scan them for their microchip. If you’re in the Mississippi Delta, he gets out and he’s running up and down 49, ain’t many people, not many folks are going to have a microchip scanner, so don’t overthink it, it’s really good to permanently identify those dogs, but it’s more important to have a collar on them with your name, address and phone number.

Ramsey Russell: I want to say I went to Argentina, I want to say, I’m almost certain that they required that the dog have a chip.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: If you travel out of the United States, if you travel internationally like you do, you’re going to have to have a microchip.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah. I wonder why they mandate that.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: Because there’s different types of microchips and there’s different ways of putting more information on that. It’s also they’re going, what is a form of identification that can’t be manipulated? And so if you say, this is my dog and this is a microchip number, you’re not changing collars on the dog.

Ramsey Russell: Could you imprint her health records, updated health records into that chip?

Dr. Bill Sullivan: I think there are some technologies that allow it now, but I’m not aware of any downloadable things. If it was something that was a commonly available technology, they would have it in there. And these countries, especially European ones, they would require it to be downloaded in there. And then that would do away with a lot of some of our health certificates that we had to write.

The Human-Dog Connection

A good duck dog is an extension of the hunter himself. 

Ramsey Russell: How important is the human connection when getting a dog and you want a duck dog, it’s going to become a family member a lot of times. How important is that bonding? Because some guys listening, a lot of people I know will buy a started dog or a finished dog and as convenient as that is, because puppies are a pain in the man. I’ve just always felt like if it’s going to be a Char dog, I’ve got to have that bond with that dog.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: Most folks, listening are going to know this, but it’s not in a piece of equipment, it is a live animal that has been – I just think God’s put something special in there that creates this bond, we call it the human animal bond that is just indescribable. I don’t really have any English words to describe the human animal bond, but it’s something that creates a relationship between that human and that dog. And it can be your dachshund and it can be your Labrador retriever, but that bond is stronger than you think. People don’t know how strong the bond is until they get on in with a dog and then maybe some bad health problem happens and they’re going, I just didn’t know, I love this little thing this much. And it doesn’t make a lot of sense that we invest our emotions in there, but there’s something about them that they become intertwined with us. And those dogs, when we start to do that, when that starts to happen, those dogs respond to us, they will walk through fire for you and that’s what makes them so different than anything else that we experience in sporting world, they’re just nothing like that. Someone that is, and I call them a person, you’re going to hear me anthropomorphize them all the time when I’m talking about –

Ramsey Russell: Well, it’s hard not to.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: They’re going to bond with you, you’re going to bond with them, they’re going to know what you’re thinking by the way you move, you’re going to look at their eyes and see the reflection of the ducks. There are just so many little things that bond them to us from the things that they do that are little movements, they say watch us, they watch everything that we do. And the way they respond to us in the field that adds so much to the experience that you have. They start to end your sentences as far as the things that you about to do in the field, they can get you mad, they can get you really happy and you learn them, they learn you. And so there’s no way that they can ever really be considered a piece of equipment.

Ramsey Russell: A good duck dog is an extension of the hunter himself. It’s like, you take this little puppy from his pack and you put him into yours, now you are his pack. When old Char dog with Double R, we’re a pack and that’s that relationship. And it’s hard to articulate that. You talk about humanizing, I think of her as a four legged human. I mean, she’s smart, a lot of them listening, I can tell you that. But anyway, to me it’s so important. I’ve never been as close to a pet and all my dogs are pets and I love them dearly, but I’ve never been as close to one as Char dog because I think it has something to do with picking her up at 8 weeks old in the middle of the United States, riding with her for 8 weeks and we just formed a bond. And in her world, I’ve never had a dog like this, at home, she’s the only lab I’ve ever raised in house, she’s got to be sitting right there looking at me. If I stand up, she stands up, it’s just something about that connection and I think it’s very important.

Training a Duck Dog

You got to spend time keeping them in shape, keeping them healthy, keeping them mentally healthy and part of that relationship that you form with them, that you’re around them all the time.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: There’s something about training the dog yourself. If you bring a dog to a trainer to be trained and I think there’s okay times to do that, but they’re going to have to spend more time training you than the dog.

Ramsey Russell: That’s right. That’s a good point.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: And that’s such a huge part of it. You can experience this and have a dog respond to you by just hitting some set button in their behavior patterns that someone trains into them. They’ll know what to do, but all of that that we just talked about is something that emanates from the relationship between you and your dog and you’re not going to get what I see the greatest situations that people glean that relationship out of and have just a good duck dog, unless you spent some time, you got to spend time. You got to spend time keeping them in shape, keeping them healthy, keeping them mentally healthy and part of that relationship that you form with them, that you’re around them all the time.

Ramsey Russell: I don’t know why I just thought of this, I had one of my first black labs ever had, the first black lab I ever had, first lab I ever had turned deaf at about 8 or 9 years old, actually about 7 years old, because she died at 9. Last two years of her life, she was deaf. And all that training and all that whistleblowing and all that stuff we did was just out the window. But we had worked together long enough, she’d take a line and I’d climb out, I didn’t carry a collar, she didn’t wear a collar, I didn’t carry a whistle, I sat there and watched her. A lot of times she’d work it out and find it, but if you couldn’t, boom, she’d just stop and square up to me and want to handle. We figured each other out at a different level, even though she’s stone cold deaf, I guess from hunting.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: Yeah, there’s some significant hearing loss, too. We can talk about that someday too in these dogs. So you do need to be careful about direction, your muzzle and things like that. Not just for safety, but for hearing.

Best Diets for Hunting Dogs

Ramsey Russell: Next subject I want to talk about, Bill, is nutrition and puppy, adult, older, off season, in season. Because like a puppy, I’ve always learned we’ve got premium foods now, there are good, premium options, good nutrition to feed these animals, but you don’t want to get it too hot because you want your puppy to grow and be healthy, but you don’t want them to grow too big. Is that right?

Dr. Bill Sullivan: Well, right here, what you’re talking about is, so Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, Labradoodle, any of these, I’m going to say large sporting breed dogs, you know how fast they grow? They grow really fast, they have a set of problems. They’re grouped into problems called juvenile bone and joint diseases. And there are things like osteochondritis dissecans, elbow dysplasia, those types of issues with osteochondritis dissecans affect the cartilage on elbows and shoulders and knees and there’s other sets, there’s other ones that associate with growth plates and things like that in other large breed of dogs. But we used to feed large breed of dogs when they were a puppy, they never saw puppy food, they ate adult food. And we knew that we could impact juvenile bone and joint diseases pretty significantly by doing that, we knew that we fed them a pretty hot puppy food and we pushed them to get to their adult size, when they were 10, 11 months of age instead of 13 or 14 months of age, we had a greater chance of having a problem with one of the juvenile bone and joint diseases. So they came out with large breed puppy foods and they came out with those for a reason and they work. None of those foods absolutely prevent that problem, but they surely make it less of a problem. So that’s why we feed juvenile some of these young dogs foods that aren’t quite as hot and don’t push them quite as fast, but they’re still a puppy food to give them certain things that they need to get there.

Ramsey Russell: And how do they transition and when do they transition into adult? Now I’m talking a sporting dog, I’m talking a dog that is being trained, probably being worked fetching and doing some stuff like that. How do their nutritional needs change?

Dr. Bill Sullivan: Yeah, especially as they reach a year and start to get one year old year, once they reach a year and get more, you’ll watch their muscle mass change and become more mature, whether they’re a neutered male dog or an intact male dog, you’ll see a muscle mass change as they get just that age and a little bit past that and you’ll just see some things where they’re not, they’ve reached their skeletal frame size and their metabolism is starting to change just a little bit. You can change the food that they’re eating, you go to an adult food at that point, even then, you need to be just absolutely mindful of how you feed them.

Ramsey Russell: Go into that a little bit.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: We love our animals, but we love them to death a lot of times. And if you walk into my clinic and sit in the front of my clinic, these animals are coming in, especially these retrievers, bigger dogs, most of them are overweight and I’d say most of them are significantly overweight.

Ramsey Russell: Like a lot of us, duck hunters.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: Yeah. And if that’s good, a little bit more is better. And so you just got to be really careful. Part of nutrition, there’s something called nutrigenomics and the way we feed can change the expression of genetics, translation of the genetic code we can change, it’s called nutrigenomics and feeding has a lot to do with that. Especially we start getting these dogs heavy when they’re young, so what’s a dog that is of good? How do you know? You don’t see me looking at the scale, I get them up on the scale and we look at how much they weigh –

Ramsey Russell: What are you looking at?

Dr. Bill Sullivan: But we’re looking at body condition score. And the easiest way to say that on a sporting dog, on any dog, if you’ve got a French bulldog or a dachshund or Irish wolf hound or a Great Dane, but if you got a Labrador retriever, any of our retriever breeds, if you go right behind the shoulders and fill the rib cage with the points of your fingers and run it down like you’re running your fingers along a picket fence, you should be able to feel ribs.

Ramsey Russell: Really?

Dr. Bill Sullivan: You should be able to go, there’s a rib, there’s one. But you should not ever be able to see them or even a shadow of them, but you should be able to find them. If you ever are feeling those ribs with your fingertips and you’re going, I don’t know, I don’t think I can feel these and you kind of grab both sides of that dog and move him and his whole body kind of shakes a little bit, like jelly he is just overweight. And it’ll impact the way – it can actually change the way he expresses his genetic code later on down the line. So you want to keep them healthy, you want to keep them lean, you want to keep them in good physical shape in season and out of season, just like you need to keep yourself.

Ramsey Russell: I struggle with Char because she’s petite, like, Romanian ballerina petite, very athletic. And it’s like, today, I took a seat and kind of leaned back in the shade and was just looking at her and I could see muscles on her abdomen rippling like a snake. I mean, she’s solid sinew, but she’s so thin looking to me compared to a lab and I feed her all I can possibly feed her.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: That’s right. That’s because her metabolism is pretty high. And you know, people with personalities and body types and there’s some personality and metabolism and people types that they’re going and they can eat about anything they want to eat and there are certain types, you may not have to think over it as much as others that you do. But you know it when you go in a room with some of these younger, middle, these teenage, what I call teenage dogs, a few months old and you know when they’re going, this dog, you’re going to need to watch it on this dog or I’ll go, this dog will, you better pour the calories to this patient because he is so high strung, you’re going to have a hard time keeping up with it. And you got to know what kind of dog you got.

Ramsey Russell: There was a couple of years ago, I was actually hunting in Utah, it was cold, there was snow on the ground, it was cold and Char was so intense, she didn’t call, no joy, but she was acting very puny. And my buddy Chad Yamani says, how often do you feed your dog? I said, well, I feed her once a day, feed her at night before she go to bed. And he goes, try feed her twice. Cut her rations in half and it made a huge difference.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: I think it’s very important to feed them twice. As they get older and some of these bigger dogs, like Labrador retrievers, there’s a few things that are not good about huge evening meals, gastric dilatation and volvulus that kills them where they have axial rotation of their stomach and a lot of that’s associated with evening meal world. I really like dividing it up.

Ramsey Russell: During holidays, if I’m going to feed her, I’m just make two cups, which is about half a bowl is what she gets and I usually feed her twice. Sometimes if it were cold wintertime, cold here, I may feed her 3 times, she may get just a little bit more than normal because she needs it. I mean, we had a 7 year old black lab and a 4 year old black lab, man, there ain’t nothing slow about the way those dogs going out there after those ducks and coming back, it’s an enormous energy.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: We would be sore for days and I’m not in great shape, but the amount of energy that they burned to do what they did this morning, even though it wasn’t that long of a hunt and they had to make some few long retrieves, they burned a lot of energy.

Ramsey Russell: Somebody was asking me not too long ago, just looked at little old Char dog and said, how did she do with a big Canada goose? I said, it didn’t, faze her. But it’d be like me picking up a 50lbs sack of food and running as fast as I could for 300 yards, that’s an Olympian type expectation on an animal.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: Well, we don’t need to compare animals to us, they do incredible things from the insects –

Ramsey Russell: You said something about the muscles in their neck.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: They have huge muscles and their dorsal part of their neck, that this ligament that all these muscles are attached to that runs down their spine, they have a lot of ability and a lot of leverage to pick things up and use their mouth. We don’t do stuff with our mouth, other than have diarrhea of the mouth and talk a lot. But we don’t use it as a tool and as part of our survival world, we eat things, but we don’t have to kill stuff with our mouth we don’t have to grab stuff, it is not our major point of apprehending things. They have to apprehend things, masticate all their food, tear it off, whatever they’re eating on their master muscles are huge, they’re at the top of their head on either side, that’s what makes their head look good and strong and muscular, they’re master muscles. They’ve got a lot of ability, but in the animal kingdom, we don’t even need to compare us to the animal.

Ramsey Russell: But it’s a lot of energy output. When you get into these premium dog foods, these sport foods, 36, 25, do you have a ratio that you like? Do you recommend some for an athletic dog?

Dr. Bill Sullivan: I’ll absolutely go over my thought on that. So when you look at the back of a dog, these dry dog food bags give me trouble in the veterinary world, because here’s a few things. Well, how much I feed my dog, Dr. Sullivan? It says to feed them in the back of the bag this much. You don’t never need to read that on there. Number one, they’re selling dog food and if I look, even in the human world, if I look, my brother and my sister and me, if we all ate the same thing, one would be as big as the house, other than be dying from malnutrition, we all need, we have different metabolism, different needs and dogs do too. The Kjeldahl analysis on the back of a dog food bag that looks at crude fiber protein, carbohydrates, all those kind of things, I can take the sole of one of my dress shoes, I have an Allen Edmond dress shoe, I tear sole off of it and grind it up and carbonize it, put through a Kjeldahl analysis and it would look like a great dog food. But it’s not. So you can make about anything, have a great Kjeldahl analysis to it. You want to look at the ingredients and I’ve always done it like this, I look at those ingredients and I go, would I eat that? And what is its main constituency that it’s made out of? Is a dog a carnivore?

Ramsey Russell: I think so.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: They’re not, they’re omnivore. A dog eats anything that doesn’t eat him first.

Ramsey Russell: But what do you think about a dog food that reads corn first label?

Dr. Bill Sullivan: Yeah, I don’t think that, we call mill run feeds are great for dogs. This was a trend to have no grain feeds and lo and behold, there was a really important amino acid that we started pulling out of these foods and mistakes, you learn a lot from mistakes. We make sure we still probably – the only reason grains weren’t in there is for some allergies and things like that that we were worried about. And grains are not a bad thing in their foods and they make a good, that you can round some things out really well. But these meat based foods are good. And I would say that a good quality food, that’s a well rounded diet, even though it has some grains in it, is okay. But you want to look at the constituents of it. There’s something different between chicken meal and chicken thigh meat.

Ramsey Russell: What should I be looking for in a dog food?

Dr. Bill Sullivan: So one of the big deals is you’ve got so many dog foods out there now compared to 10 years ago, compared to 15 years ago, everybody and their uncle makes dog food now. And you can’t look at that Kjeldahl analysis and decide how good it is. You’ve actually got to know the thought processes and they’re in the business of selling things and they’re going to still sell almost – we’ll buy almost anything, we’ll buy poop on a stick on the internet. So we got all these dog foods out there and you probably need to call someone there and understand. Your veterinarian may know the quality of the constituents there, but you’re not going to know the quality of constituents, all you got is that dog food bag to read, that’s it. And you can look at that and you can get a lot of information on the constituents reading the ingredients on there. And you don’t want to have a grain carbohydrate as your first ingredient, you don’t want to have that. You don’t want to have a lot of offall or things that are visceral components, visceral meats and things like that. I’m just telling you, you want to look at that ingredient list and go, yeah, that’s good.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah, I need it myself.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: Yeah. When I was a student and went through a factory and I’m not going to plug Hill Science Diet, but a lot of veterinarians sell Hill Science Diet because they teach us a lot about what’s in there. And they have formed just a real foundation of our understanding of nutrition for decades. You go through their plant in Topeka, Kansas and we sat down and you know what we did at the end of the tour, we ate dog food.

Ramsey Russell: Are you serious?

Dr. Bill Sullivan: And we didn’t have any problem eating it. There’s this one food –

Ramsey Russell: What did it taste like?

Dr. Bill Sullivan: It’s good. You watch them steaming these chicken breasts to make this one specialty diet called an intestinal diet Id and there was a canned food, they opened that canned food, put on that paper plate and you just ate it with your Coca Cola, it was good. And it was a high quality food, you watched it made, I’m not plugging them, I’m saying that for a reason, you got to know what’s in there. I can just take something off of dollar general or something like that, take old canned food, I’m not a proponent of feeding canned foods, just for an example, just because you can see the constituents, open it up, put it on a plate and go through it with a fork, you’ll throw that thing away so quick, make your head spin. You’ll find veins and bone chips and everything else in it. If it don’t look good, it’s probably not good.

Ramsey Russell: So as a consumer, not a vet, do the best I can, talk to my vet, try to pick a good food and then go back to that hand test you were talking about, what’s that dog look like? How’s that dog reacting to this portion? One of the things I’ve learned to look at with this Char dog out here is how does it go through her digestive system? Because sometimes it’ll get too rich. I was feeding her like a sled dog formula and buddy, she thickened up and looked good and I mean, more energy than I’ve ever seen that dog have. But I had to really back off the back of the bag recommendations because it was really messing up her digestive system.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: So the better dog foods have high digestibility.

Ramsey Russell: Yes, exactly what it was.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: That means when you eat something, a lower quality food, you eat the food you have to eat a lot of it to get what you want out of it. And you defecate a pile of poop the size of an Egyptian pyramid, that’s because you got a lot going in and guess what, you got a lot coming out. And you didn’t realize the better quality dog foods, they produce scant feces and they don’t have to eat nearly as much of it to get what the energy, they’re energy dense. And once you start feeding a food, why they’re so connected to consistency in their food, because a lot of their digestion and the processing and there’s so many other things that the GI tract is tied into with the GI tract flora and all the bacteria that live in there, you start changing foods, helter skelter on dog, you screw up a lot of things that aren’t just their intestines. It can impact, we could spend a whole another time on what the GI tract flora does to impact dogs from psychologically to endurance to muscular to neuromuscular world, you need to find a good food and you need to feed a good quality, high quality, highly digestible food and stick with it and let that dog’s system maximize its use and they become real efficient with it. Here’s the other thing, one more thing, I know I’m going off on this, but here’s the deal, it’s called the Fritos chip theory. Let’s say you open up a bag of Fritos chips on your table, I’m opening up a bag of Fritos chips and it’s got some preservatives in it, it’s got some butylated hydroxytoluene, butylated hydroxy aniline, BHT, BHA, all these things that are in it and tocopherols, vitamin E’s and things like that, they put it in there to keep it tasting good. Well, some of these great dog foods, the better dog foods don’t have preservatives in them. So, they don’t have preservatives. Let’s say you open that bag of Fritos chip, family size bag and you go to eat a potato chip out of there and it’s good and you have some dip with it this evening it’s good and tomorrow you eat it and it’s pretty good. And then 4 days later, you open up, take the rubber band off of it and take your Fritos chip out of there, it’s okay, but you can tell it is not fresh. It has not quite right, just doesn’t have the right taste to it, it’s called rancidity, it’s called rancid oxidations, oxidation of the fat content.

Ramsey Russell: Because it doesn’t have any preservatives.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: Well, that one has preservatives. The Fritos chip does, but it still gets rancid, right. But you open it up two weeks later and you eat one or two of them, especially if you’ve got some humidity associated, 3 weeks later, you’re not going to be serving that to your guests coming over and you got to chunk the bag. And so you get a dog food bag, they eat that dog food and they love it. And then you go down there two weeks later and you’re still feeding that bag of dog food and they go over to it. We sometimes don’t store our dog food indoors like we should, sometimes we don’t seal it really well. I mean, it’s treated worse than a bag of Fritos chips, usually, right? Dr. Sullivan, Foo Foo doesn’t like his food anymore, he’s tired of it, I’ve got to make a change. He goes back and picks out a new dog food bag and he eats it like mad, he said, see, Dr. Sullivan, we needed a new type of dog food, it didn’t have anything to do with that new dog food it’s because he gave them some fresh food. So don’t be changing your food all around, take care of your dog food, seal it up. But if you buy a big, don’t buy a big bag, spend more and buy 3 little bags that are sealed up. If you buy a big bag, put it in Ziploc, seal it down, push the air on it, put in your refrigerator and it’s going to make a big difference and you won’t be switching dog food, that’s why people switch dog food a lot of times.

Ramsey Russell: All things equal, we’re talking about an athletic dog, adult nutrition, you don’t put any stock in like 36, 25 or nothing like that just a good food and look at the diametric on the dog.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: I take my shoe sole and it’ll be 22% protein, ain’t good food. So protein ain’t protein, one protein is not equal to another protein. It has to do with how digestible it is, you eat a protein, you got to eat it. What do you got to do? First you got to get it in your mouth, then you got to chew it up, masticate it, then you got to put it in your stomach, start to acid hydrolyze it and get all these break down the amino acid, break down the protein to its building blocks like a house with bricks and they’ve got to absorb all these amino acids, it’s got to be assimilated right, then it’s got to be utilized right, delaminated. Once those amino acids get into the bloodstream, got to be delaminated by the liver, these proteins have to go through a lot. You got to worry about quality of protein, so you got to look at that constituent list. Well, that’s a shoe sole, that’s really high quality protein. And I may be feeding – if that shoe sole is 26% but this chicken breast is 21%, it’s because it’s got more in it doesn’t make it any better. So percentages on food bags are highly misleading.

Ramsey Russell: Dubious.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: Yeah.

Ramsey Russell: Let’s talk about, I don’t want to swap my food now, but my dog’s getting older, she’s not expected at some point in time. I got a yellow dog sitting at home right now that sleeps all day, every day till mealtime, she’s 11 years old, her nutritional needs are not what Char dog’s are.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: They’re not, that’s right. They have to deal with a lot as they get older.

Ramsey Russell: Feed her less, feed her a different food?

Dr. Bill Sullivan: No, you feed her exactly what she needs and the way you figure out how, what. First and foremost, don’t let her get old and heavy, she will be shorter for this world and be in my clinic a lot more. Her expenses go up, her health level goes down, keep her walking, get her on a leash, walk her outside, 2 dimes a day, it’s good for you too. But if she’s a bird dog or if she’s a retriever dog, work her with her dummy, let her move around some, let her feel like she got a job, she’s an older dog, but make sure you can find her ribs. When you see a dog that doesn’t have a waist and it’s straight across the bottom and they’re old, you just got to be careful, it’s harder. Their metabolism goes way down. Oh, you’re over, Miss Smith, your dog’s overweight, but Dr. Sullivan, I’m only feeding her 4 kibbles a day, I don’t care if you’re feeding her one kibble a day, if she’s overweight, you need to be feeding her less.

Keeping Waterfowl Retrievers in Shape During the Off Season

A couch potato can’t charge across the water like those dogs did today.

Ramsey Russell: You bring up a good point. The next question I want to talk about is the old saying, bodies in motion, stay in motion. Now, Char dog lives a charm life, we hunt a lot and I take her everywhere humanly possible that I can. But if I’m going to be gone a month, I send her down to the trainer, let Adam run her. Adam, don’t put no pressure on her, she don’t need no, just run her. I want to keep this dog fit because I don’t want her to become a couch potato like a lot of us do during the offseason because come duck season, she’s got expectations. A couch potato can’t charge across the water like those dogs did today.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: And when she does, she’ll be back in my clinic because she blew out a cranial cruise cruciate ligament.

Ramsey Russell: Is that a good strategy, is just to keep that dog in shape to run it? If I’m not going to send it to a trainer, just go out 2 or 3 times a day and run this dog and just keep it fit and trim?

Dr. Bill Sullivan: Absolutely.

Ramsey Russell: Take it to the gym, so to speak.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: You got to push them a little bit to the edge of what they’re capable of doing 2 or 3 times a week at least, they will age out on you really quick if you don’t.

Ramsey Russell: That’s the saddest thing about a dog is they’re going to age out anyway, too short. And I feel like every day or every week or every month that a dog’s missed because of a blown out knee or something like that, that’s taken years in dog years.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: Their lifetime is compressed. Dr. Sullivan, we’ve gone downhill in this last month in my dog’s life, I can tell that Dr. Sullivan, I said, well, this last month wasn’t a month, it was a year in your dog’s life, probably. As far as human equivalency goes, a year is 7 or 8 years as they start to get older. So it all happens really quickly.

Ramsey Russell: Too quick.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: Yeah, that’s right.

Ramsey Russell: Too dang quick. I want to talk about some real common elements that you see. I’m going to start with this one, even though it’s not an obvious one. I’m down in Argentina, Char dog tears a nail, big deal, I’ve torn nails before, it ain’t the end of the world, holy cow, I had no idea. I mean, I was like, well, dogs tear nails in the wild all the time, if she was a wild dog, what are they going to do? She’d have died. Holy cow, I had no idea that a torn nail could result in something like that.

Treating Common Duck Dog Ailments

Dr. Bill Sullivan: And I don’t know if Char would have died when she did that. She received some type of puncture wound up through into her foot at her nail bed and there’s all kinds of things. When you’re in that environment in Argentina, you can be in the Mississippi Delta, there are some microbes that are absolutely wicked that are in those situations. Wounds that is called the most unclean puncture wound that you could even imagine. There’s bacteria, all kinds of gram negative, gram positive bacteria, there’s funguses, there’s things that are related to algae. There’s some things that are a type of soil saprophyte from blastomycosis to histoplasmosis, there’s some really bad ones, we call them swamp rot, they call pythium insidiosum and ligandium, they will kill dogs, kill them. So take puncture wounds to an animal that frequents the swamp and their feet, you need to get them clean and take care of them pretty quick, for sure.

Ramsey Russell: How often do you treat hypothermia? Cold.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: Not very often. So they do really good, really good with cold. Compared to the other end of the extreme, they just have very few issues and I treat lots and lots of maybe 10,000 to 14,000 dogs in a year and you just don’t see – of course, we’re in the southeast, it’s December and it’s 70° and we got mosquitoes and we’ll talk about mosquitoes later because they are our number one enemy in some of the things in dog health, but they just don’t have it. I see some times where I’m going, boy, this dog, it’ll be cold down here, say, freezing in the 20s, it’s probably not – you lose so much evaporative heat loss on these patients because they stay down in the water, you don’t get evaporation down there, but you get heat loss through the water, direct transfer up on a stand on a tree and they get cold and they vibrate and they shiver really hard to try to get cold, but to get warm, they withstand that so much more than they do when we deal with them in the heat. I just rarely see muscle damage from hypothermia. I do see it occasionally.

Ramsey Russell: Well, I was up in Illinois not too long ago and it snowed and it was cold, it was in the teens cold. And somebody said, you don’t put a vest on her, I said, well, I don’t have my vest, I did not bring a vest. But the vest I use is a 3 part system, I think Higdon makes and I’m just saying, I can customize it to fit her like a glove. So it fits, there’s no flappyness, it fits her good and tight, but if I don’t have it, I just assume her shake off and get her in a dry spot, have a loose fit and or ill fit and vest on her.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: That’s right. I’ve never believed that the vests improve their world at all. The type of fat they have on them is different than our fat, even though I’m telling you to keep them lean, they still have fat on them. Their skin structure from their different layers, from their live skin cells up to their dead skin cells and then they have a completely different sebum they secrete on their skin. And on top of that, they got a coat from out of this world. And so we relate what we’re feeling, but we’re not feeling what they’re feeling.

Ramsey Russell: But a lab skin has got, like some dense undercoat, like an otter.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: It’s got two. He’s got primary, he’s got 2 or 3 primary hairs, then he’s got all those secondary hairs and he produces a lot of – I’m not going to say he produces oils, like coming from the preen gland on a duck, but he produces some pretty good sebum. So there’s a reason why they’re called a water dog, they’re really set up for that. So no, hypothermia, getting cold, you need to protect them and not be stupid with things. And if you know they’re really struggling with shivering, they’re going to shiver to try to regain their heat, if it is just remarkable – they get slow, they get some of the responses, the way they move their head, if you watch them move their head, kind of a slow move, they don’t make a good eye contact with you, stop. But that has to get mighty cold.

Ramsey Russell: But here in the Deep South, it’s a big deal. I just leave Char Dog at the house on opening day of dove season.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: Yeah, I think every dog should be staying home.

Ramsey Russell: I’ve had dogs overheat before and it’s scary when a dog overheats.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: I don’t know what percentage of the Labrador retrievers will you lose each year and from Labradoodles to golden retrievers and the older they get, the worse they deal with the heat, kind of like people do. But it kills them, it kills them. We can deal with the heat a lot better than a dog can, we can. We have sweat glands, we sweat. We sweat on our neck, our arms, our legs, our chest, I mean, we’re just sweating all over and we’re evaporating it off from the top of our head to everywhere. It’s evaporating. The wind’s hitting it, even the wind’s hitting it, we’re moving and it’s evaporating and we get evaporative dissipation of heat.

Ramsey Russell: And black dogs are soaking up that heat.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: Well, they have no ability to do that, they can’t sweat. Some of them are black and it’s a big deal to have black pigmentation in your hair and be sitting in the summer sun. I can take anything. I can take a black cell phone and a white cell phone, sit it out there and one’s going to go tilt and the other one won’t, okay. It’s a big deal. So black dogs get really hot, all the other ones get hot, too. But they lose heat one way. They have evaporative heat loss in their mouth and in their respiratory tract. So they have to pant and move air. And what if you’re moving 100° air in and out of you and you’re trying to have evaporative heat loss and it’s humid, you can’t do it, it just doesn’t work that way. And then they get to a certain point and you get heat rhabdomylysis, it’s kind of like exertional rhabdomylysis, when you over exercise a dog and they release myoglobin from their muscles, they’re basically getting cooked into their bloodstream, it damages their kidney, it just kills them and it damages their brain.

Ramsey Russell: I took Forrest’s dog out, I was cycling at camp one time and it was fall day, it was just kind of hot, 85° or something like that and his black lab overheated. And I just happened to be at the skinning rack when his dog fell out and I’m like, lord, don’t let my son’s dog die on my watch. And we filled up half a barrel with ice and started putting the water and held her in there and it took a while, 15 minutes, boom, she jumped out, shook off and she was down the road gone. And I’ve heard of people saying, you can stick, I just can’t imagine doing this, but I’ve heard that in dire situation, you can stick a hose up its rectum just to cool off the inside.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: I probably wouldn’t recommend it because of damage you could do doing that. But it does make sense. I would use cool water, immersion and cool water.

Ramsey Russell: If you got it handy, but you’re not going to have that in the middle of a duck field or a dove field.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: That’s right. That’s why you just don’t bring them when it’s really hot outside, just don’t bring them with you.

Ramsey Russell: Real common stuff. What about their joints? Especially on these athletic animals or big animals, what about their joints? Is there anything I can do to offset that?

Dr. Bill Sullivan: Absolutely, there’s things you can do. Some of that is in their genetics with joint health that some of that, it’s not what you’ve done or haven’t done. Some of that’s there, but the things you can do to protect it, I’ll go back to great nutrition, it’s probably one of the greatest things. High quality food, make it be fresh, make it be the best food you can get. But then a few things, feeding essential fatty acids like omega 5, omega 6 fatty acids, EHA and DHA fatty acids every day helps their joints in these younger and all dogs. There is some subjective anecdotal evidence that glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate especially, I would be worrying about both of them, especially high quality chondroitin sulfate. There’s some companies like Neutromax have been making it from the 70s that they probably lead the industry and you can give that daily to them and it is absolutely one of the most protective things to do. The whole story changes once they start to slow their metabolism down as they get older and you start to see the aging process take in and then some of the ways we deal with all of that changes.

Ramsey Russell: I know, a big thing I’ve talked to you about or that you threw up on my radar coming back from Mexico, of all places, was ticks, that’s a big deal, isn’t it?

Dr. Bill Sullivan: That’s a huge deal in the Southeast as you get a little bit west in Oklahoma and the different species of ticks change. So ticks carry some of the absolute worst diseases that dogs experience as far as infectious disease world. There’s something called babesiosis here in Mississippi, there’s ehrlichiosis in Mississippi, there is hepatozoonosis in Mississippi, all of these things spread by ticks. Not to mention something super common that kills them and that’s tick paralysis. Some of the myeloma and brown dog ticks, some of the lone star tick, they have female tick here is a neurotoxin that causes, reversible if you can get them off in time, but it causes a descending lower motor neuron paralysis and eventually stops them from being able to breathe and they die. And it is called tick paralysis. I can just keep going on the tick issues.

Ramsey Russell: What do I do to prevent ticks?

Dr. Bill Sullivan: Yeah. Now the whole world is, we’re always trying to build a better mousetrap. And this kind of goes in with your heartworm preventative, which would be another discussion. But now they have things to do, there are things to give and administer to our pets that are multi parasite preventatives. We talk about heartworms probably, which is our number one thing that we would ever discuss that is huge thing here that you can never quit thinking about. You have intestinal parasites like roundworms, whipworms, tapeworms, you have external parasites like fleas, mites and lice and ticks. And so historically you’ve never had a heartworm or something you do each month that was combined with your foundational heartworm preventative. There was never anything that was combined that got ticks too. If you want to do ticks, you had to do something separately. And it’s still something we do a lot just separately this year, within the last year we’ve had a product come out that you give and it gets every, including ticks, heartworms, fleas, mites, lice, ticks, roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, tapeworms and it does an incredible job on all of it.

Ramsey Russell: Is that like that shot you’re giving?

Dr. Bill Sullivan: Well, no. For some reason we decided the shot would be better for you and so there is a shot for heartworms that lasts for 6 months or 12 months depending on what – I’m more of a fan of the 6 month because it fits with some of their schedules well and it gets heartworms primarily. And so I don’t care what you forget, how busy you get, where you’re going, if you forget to give something and you’re not compliant with something and you’ve got this heartworm shot on board, the pro heart shot, you’re just not going to fail because your compliance is not based on your compliance. It’s in the dog, it’s in there for months. And when you do that, you have to do something separate for fleas and we probably have half of our clients, they use that shot and it’s very good because it eliminates the human error in compliance. And so we’ve got monthly NexGard, some of these fluralaner and sarolaner type preventatives that are extremely good for ticks. There’s a monthly NexGard, there’s every 3 month bravecto, the monthly ones offer more comprehensive control of the ticks. We’ve got topicals that last monthly that are awesome for ticks and then they also have some synthetic pyrethrins that are applied as a collar that can work really well, but there’s some variabilities and they’re absorbed.

Ramsey Russell: Those topical things, I used to put a tube or something right between her shoulder blades and it was flea and tick free.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: Yeah.

Ramsey Russell: And mosquitoes, I guess.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: Yeah. Now, the one you’re talking about that prevents mosquitoes, too, which is important because mosquitoes carry heartworms is called Vectra. And Vectra is awesome. If you want to have something, if you’re in eastern Oklahoma or somewhere with these people, these dogs dive ticks all the time of exanguination from just lots of ticks, that product, Vectra, is applied topically Once a month and it is one of the Mac daddies of tick control. It might be overkill for Foo Foo.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah, but for outside dogs, yeah.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: But not for outside dogs. But the orals that you use monthly still work very good. But that one also has the benefit of repelling mosquitoes. So you kind of have double duty defense for heartworms because heartworms are spread by mosquitoes. But we’re still needing to use heartworm preventative to kill any of the migrating microfilaria in the system with your heartworm preventative. But it’s an awesome one, too. So you got a lot of options, you talk to your veterinarian always about those, what’s best for your dog and about the system that you’re using.

Ramsey Russell: That old yellow dog of mine, 11 years old, she has never in her life and let me tell you what, she has fetched some ducks and geese in her life, but she has never – as a matter of fact, I’ll tell you, she’s been to Netherlands, Canada, throughout the United States, Mexico, she’s been around, that dog’s not one time in her life had an ear infection. Her ears must clamp down like manhole covers. Char dog, you were telling me last time we met, hey, here’s some solution, you need to get in the habit of doing this, especially with her left ear, she’s just predisposed to that.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: Some people really drag themselves over the coals with certain types of ear issues that they have in their dog and they’re going, Dr. Sullivan, what am I doing wrong? Why does this dog have this ear problem? And Junior over here, he just has never had an ear problem and they do the same thing all the time. Well, there’s multiple reasons, it’s a multilayered issue that occurs. But here’s a common scenario and here’s some things you have to think about more than things you have to do, because they have different type of skin issues, one common one is an inherited, lifelong problem called Atopy. Atopy is a barrier problem, not really, we call it an allergy world, but it’s really a barrier problem and they have all these live skin cells and dead skin cells and then an oil that impregnates all these dead skin cells and you can’t get anything down in that skin, we got the same thing on our skin. I mean, we got a great barrier, they inherit some defects and things called the tight junctions in some of their epithelial cells, their skin cells and especially as they age, some of the sebum changes. And you got to remember, you’ve got all this oil and earwax in your ears and the tight junctions become defective in their skin and they’ve inherited this. So they get stuff and this can be happening all on their body, the immune system shouldn’t see some of these bacteria and get to the bacteria get down to the level that they get to, different allergens get down to the same level that they get to into the skin. The body shouldn’t look up and go, oh, there’s pollen, they should never see it, it should be out on the skin. There’s different allergens they get exposed to and infectious agents and it just wreaks havoc on their skin’s immune system and they get extremely reactive to lots of things. Their skin is in bad shape, they’re reacting all over their body trying to fight the thing. You’ve got some of these bacteria that penetrate down through the epithelial layers and it can just be a disaster and people feel bad, they don’t think they’re taking care of their dog, but their dog’s inherited a skin problem and is super common and super common in that breed. If a retriever is not the king of that, it’s either the queen or the prince of atopic skin disease. And that translates to ear problems, too. The sebum changes in there, the wax changes in there, there’s some ability of host defenses for them to be able to battle some of the yeast that proliferate in there. And so they secrete an abnormal ear secretion. Yeast need essential fatty acids, and that’s what the ear secretions have all in it. And it creates Las Vegas for yeast and bacteria and they proliferate. It creates all kinds of problems and so there’s different ways to treat Atopy and your veterinarian will know, they’re not too complicated, they’re not too expensive, there’s a new monoclonal antibody that we give injectably called cytopoint that keeps it kind of under control. There’s an oral one that helps it keep under control. But in the bottom line, if your ears stayed clean and did not have this substrate for all these microbes to proliferate to go to town in, and you really kept the ears clean as you can, you would have less problems. So what can you do if you have a dog like that, you need to be cleaning their ears out. I mean, that sounds over simplified.

Ramsey Russell: That’s why you gave me that stuff.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: That’s right. You can use alcohol. But also think about if you get a commercial ear cleaner and you go to clean a dog’s ears out, what temperature is the inside of that ear? That ear is at 102° body temperature for a dog, somewhere 100° and 102°, their body temperature varies a lot more than ours and you got ear wax. You got wax, a sebaceous, oily lipid, that’s all down in there. Then I take a 72° bottle on this counter right here and I pour into that ear, I’m going to clean that ear out with this ear cleaner. Can you imagine warm candle wax and dipping it in cold water? It just turns hard and you can’t get some of that stuff out. So I like having a warm, you don’t burn the ear canal now, don’t put in that ear cleaner in a –

Ramsey Russell: If I turn the sink on hot and run it under and get it warm –

Dr. Bill Sullivan: That’s right. Don’t put it in a microwave, get it warm, fill that ear canal up and you’ve got to fill it up and work it around in there, let them shake their head, fill it up, work it around there, let them shake their head, fill it up, work around it. If you do it two times, you haven’t cleaned the ears out. After about the 4th little cycle there of working around those, squeezing those ear canals, him centrifugally shaking his head, blowing that stuff out of there, he’s got to shake that head, you’ve got to dissolve it. That’s an L shaped ear canal, you don’t have access, you’re not going to be putting a tip, anything like that down there unless you want to pack it like a muzzle loader. So don’t be putting anything down in there to try to get it out because you’re going to pack this big L shaped with the eardrum at the end of it, you’re using that to warm it up, break it down, it’s got a surfactant in, it’s got a cleaner in, it’s safe for their ears and eardrum. And you got to go about 6 or 7 cycles, they’ll shake it out and it’ll be crystal clear and clean and beautiful.

Ramsey Russell: That’s probably a pretty good habit for us duck hunters to do with our dogs, isn’t it?

Dr. Bill Sullivan: That’s right. Do that. Some dogs need it weekly, some dogs need it every two weeks. But you need to keep the ear clean you be aware of it. If he look in that ear canal and it doesn’t look clean, if there’s some odor coming from it, if there’s some, if he’s scratching it, there’s something wrong.

Best First Aid Kits for Waterfowl Retrievers

 For us regular guys, non-doctor bills, non-veterinarians, what kind of first aid kit might we keep in our truck for?

Ramsey Russell: Yeah. For us regular guys, non-doctor bills, non-veterinarians, what kind of first aid kit might we keep in our truck for? And I can’t do stitches, for example. That black dog has run through ball wire fences so quick, I mean, just hit it. And I’ve had to have people staple this and staple that.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: The first thing with a wound, you clean it. I know that sounds oversimplified, but don’t just go slap some Neosporin ointment on it or something, those are good things. But you want to clean, dogs are nasty, you got a significant skin wound, you might want to clean the whole dog off. You might want to use some antibacterial soap and water around the skin, skin wounds are super common in them. And then after you’ve cleaned it up really well, you can put a protectant coat of copious amounts of Neosporin ointment on it. Elizabethan collars, collars that keep them from licking, they’re getting oral bacteria. People tell you, oh, the mouth of a dog’s a clean thing, they’re not a clean thing. And they create a lot of their own issues when they start to lick and lick. They get salivary granulomas all down there, oral bacteria. You look at some of the dental disease these dogs have, they are pumping some nasty junk into these wounds. So you got to clean it out, put copious amounts of a triple antibody ointment on it and call your veterinarian, maybe get in there, you may have to close something with a stitch or something like that. You can have some bandage material, some conforming bandage material that sticks to itself but not to the dog and you have some sterile gauze and you can put over it to protect it. Remember what’s going to happen when you put a bandage on a dog’s leg? He’s going to take it off in 7 seconds. So for any of that to work, you probably have to have you an Elizabethan collar, they’re a cone, they look like a lamp shape. You keep those with you and you keep them from destroying some of your wounds that you’re trying to get into.

Ramsey Russell: The only way we were able to clear up Char dog’s toenails, just keep her from licking it. Just put that collar on her and boy, she looked pitiful wearing it.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: But there’s no shortcut to that usually.

Ramsey Russell: Any other things I could keep in my truck, I got my ear cleaner, I’ve got some disinfectant for cuts and if it’s bad enough, I’m going to take them to a vet nearby.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: Yeah, of course. This is just the way my brain thinks. The most common things that kill a dog or a health issue to a dog when you’re out in the field with them ain’t no doubt is heat. We kill our dogs, especially these older dogs are out of shape. You have blue ice, whatever you need in your ice chest with you, you keep it with you, where you can go to a pond, get some water in there, get that blue ice, cool it down, start pouring it on them. One of the key things is trying to cool a dog off. I would bring a big ice chest anytime you go, if it’s going to be during dove season, which you want to try to just those open in hot days of dove season, either be by a pond or something where they can have evaporative heat loss by getting wet. But you need to bring a bag of ice, you’re going to be using ice anyway to put it on your drinks and things. So be prepared. I know that’s not what you’d expect a veterinarian to say as far as what you need in your first aid kit, but that’s one of the things that gets them out there and they’re not prepared for.

Ramsey Russell: Bill, I sure do appreciate you. The human animal bond is unbelievable. And I mean, countless are the duck hunters I know that really, the older you get, the more you’re out there just for your dog. I mean, that’s such a big part of it. Their life is so short relative to our own and their health and their performance and their care, it’s a lot to it. It’s like raising a kid forever.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: It is.

Ramsey Russell: But I appreciate your time, I sure appreciate the duck hunt this morning, but I appreciate your time walking us through all this stuff. Is there any parting shots?

Dr. Bill Sullivan: Parting shots, there are just some basic things, too, that we’ll go over at some point, that we’ll go over as far as health care, things that you need to not miss. And so there are some errors that you don’t drop the ball. Probably one thing we’ll go over is making sure you know and feel comfortable and if someone asks you what heartworm preventative your dogs own, you can answer them, you know what you’re given and you know why you’re given it. Because we’re in the Southeast here, people are going to be hearing this in Canada and all over the world. But if you’re in the subtropical world, especially, we are a parasite ridden world and we have from heartworms, we’re the number one area in the world for heartworms right here, lower Mississippi River Valley to other intestinal parasite. You need to be knowledgeable about what you’re using, how you’re preventing parasites in your dog. So that’s why I leave you with them and that’s what we’ll probably talk about some point.

Ramsey Russell: Thank you, Bill.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: Yeah.

Ramsey Russell: Folks, you all been listening to my friend Dr. Bill Sullivan, Oakdale Animal Hospital, Brandon, Mississippi. He and I are good buddies, but you can tell I entrust Char dog to him. And I didn’t ask you about table scraps, Bill. And what are your thoughts on table scraps?

Dr. Bill Sullivan: Well, I’d be a hypocrite if I talked too much about table scraps. Let’s just not call them scraps, let’s just say well thought out morsels of good food. And so a dog’s high quality food that they consume, their dry food, that forms the basis of their nutrition, needs to be the vast majority of what they eat. Table food and scraps, I don’t want you to feed them, there’s some things you can feed them, they’ll kill them, right? You don’t know. Ignorance can be bliss and you’ll get blistered if you feed them some chocolate or some raisins or some things like that, things that kill them, grapes. There’s some stuff out there that can create some significant issues on board and when I say chocolate, I mean real Ecuadorian, 70% chocolate and things like that, that will cause them. But if you have a great lean, especially a muscle meat, great lean piece of chicken, things like that, they’re easy to digest, maybe a component of the diet that they’re already owns, remember we talked about how not make big changes, sure don’t want to give them a load of carbohydrates. You give them a half a sheet of cornbread, like my dog will eat off, he’ll reach up, he’s so big, get up off the counter, eat whole thing of wonder bread, he’s going to have rocket ship diarrhea for about 2 or 3 days. And so those accidental things occur, but if you’ll feed them, you can feed them treats that are matched with your food, you can feed them a little bit of chicken breast meat, chicken hind quarter meat, all those things are pretty good. But again, they’re a vast minority, they’re a treat, maybe not every day.

Ramsey Russell: I don’t know. I don’t feed Char that stuff, but what made me think to ask you that forgotten question was the fact that she likes coming to your office. She is happy to be at that vet.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: And there’s a lean treat we feed them – it’s like crack.

Ramsey Russell: Exactly. I walk up to the dent to check in, her tail start wagging. She knows I’m going to reach that cookie jar and give her one.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: That’s right. That’s chicken meat.

Ramsey Russell: That’s what made me think to ask that question.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: And overload of fat causes pancreatitis. So that’s where that bacon grease is, I hear.

Ramsey Russell: That’s great.

Dr. Bill Sullivan: My kids appreciate that you feed them some bacon grease because he’s going to be in my clinic being treated for pancreatitis for a really bad, life threatening issue, when you just don’t think through it. No high lipids.

Ramsey Russell: All right, folks, you all been listening to Dr. Bill Sullivan, Oakdale Animal Hospital in Branham, Mississippi. Char dog’s vet, my good friend, fellow duck hunter. Thank you all for listening to this episode of Duck Season Somewhere, but as he indicated, he will be back on at some point in time in the future to talk more about duck dog care and maintenance. Shoot me a text, shoot me an inbox, shoot me an email, if you got any questions for Dr. Bill, we’ll ask him next time. Thank you all for listening to this episode of Duck Season Somewhere, we’ll see you next time.

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