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A study on working dogs has revealed they are vulnerable to developing musculoskeletal injury or illness.
Massey University partnered with Vetlife to conduct research with 126 owners and 641 working farm dogs based in Otago and Canterbury.
Lead study veterinarian Dr Lori Linney, of Alexandra, said an average working dog career lasted until age 7, but some would retire early due to injury.
The study collected data over four years on feeding, housing, general health practices, training and condition, disease and injury, and career duration.
No other study to date had included this information and it was hoped the findings would help to improve the health and wellbeing of working dogs.
The breed or gender did not make a major difference in the number of injuries.
Common issues included a reduced range of motion and swelling of the carpus or stifle bones of the leg, while the hip was the most common site of pain.
Some ways to help improve the health of working dogs were preventing them jumping from heights where possible, keeping them warm in winter, allowing time for warm-up and cool-down of muscles and giving them periods of rest and good nutrition.
"Even if they do show signs of musculoskeletal injury or disease, there are many things your veterinarian can do to make them more comfortable and keep working.
"We also recommend that owners take care when buying working dogs that they consider conformation and existing conditions that may limit their working future. A dog should be carefully examined before purchase." Dr Linney said.
Working dogs were an essential part of a sheep and beef farming operation, she said.
"We recommend working dog owners take steps to prevent the onset and severity of these injuries, to help prolong their working dog’s career.”