It?s never cheap buying your first gundog, or replacing an old one, and with Labradors and spaniels currently in the £300 to £400 price bracket, the cost of your dog is something to be considered. If you fancy a rarer breed than these, you can pay up to £1,000, and possibly more, for a potential shooting companion. It?s the ongoing costs of keeping a dog that worry me, though, and if you have two or more dogs, over the animals? lifetimes of 10 to 15 years, these costs can mount up.

As cheap as tripe

It used to be possible to feed a working dog quite cheaply. Twenty years ago, we used to purchase as much tripe as we wanted each week from our local butcher. He had his own small abattoir at the back of his shop and was only too keen to dispose of both sheep and cattle stomachs (the tripe) in this way. This was not rubbery white stuff ? it was real tripe, black or grey, and washed clean of half-digested grass with a hosepipe. It was cheap, nutritious and the dogs loved it. We added a bit of terrier biscuit to it, which was a cheaper option than dried dog food, or boiled waste potatoes from the garden. We kept countless dogs on this ration and they looked well on it. Today, I doubt you could get tripe, and with more and more traditional small abattoirs closing their doors for good, we are all being forced down the route of ready-made, bagged, dried dog food. It might be a correctly balanced diet, but the dogs don?t relish it in quite the same way and it isn?t a cheap option, either.

Feeding several dogs at home, we have to watch the pennies, so we go for a reasonably priced dog food. At around £9 for a 20kg bag, it?s not too badly priced. Higher up the scale, similar products weigh in at up to £30 a bag, with something in the region of £18 being an average price. That?s not cheap in my opinion, and over a 10-year period that cost is going to add up. However, a greater cost awaits the dog lover ? and in particular the gundog owner ? around the corner.

Vetting your vet

It is in the nature of gundogs to get into scrapes. Their working lives are bound to be tougher than an average pet?s. Gundogs are expected to run and jump into and over things, and often unseen obstacles will maim or mar them. They are at more risk than other dogs of having limbs or tails shut in 4×4 tailgates and doors, and are often soaking wet, tired and far from home. With the best care in the world, they will at some point need a vet and then the cost of owning, keeping and running a gundog starts to stack up.

Depending on where you live in the country, or where you might be working your dog, costs vary from veterinary practice to veterinary practice. In some cases, the difference can be as much as £200 for the same treatment, and the average road accident to a dog in the UK now costs in the region of £600 to put right. This is quite a lot if you are not insured for such costs, and many owners aren?t.

In talking to dog owners in general, and gundog owners in particular, one or two points continually crop up. Nearly all gundog owners could quote a vet who, less than 10 years ago, would put themselves out for the welfare of an injured dog. Today, the same doesn?t seem to be true. I can?t recall a time in the past 10 years when a vet would waive a minor cost or add a few more tablets to the packet for nothing, yet 10 or 20 years ago, such a thing was commonplace. This was never forgotten and you?d recommend that vet to a friend or shooting companion, speak highly of him and hold his word in high regard. How things have changed.

Most gundog owners only want the best for their dogs. At the point when you are looking for veterinary care for your dog, particularly when it?s an emergency, the last thing you are thinking about is the cost. You certainly aren?t going to start asking for quotes, especially if it?s dark, raining and you are in an area unfamiliar to you.

Moreover, if it?s routine care you are looking for, such as vaccination or castration, there?s no reason why you can?t ring a few practices to find out what this will cost, and the difference in prices may well surprise you. You are also able to use a vet other than your normal one, but your usual vet may not like it and can take you to task if they don?t.

No-one regulates fees charged by vets, and that may be the problem. Most of us are afraid to confront a vet over what we may think of as high or unfair charges, feeling that it?s better simply to pay up in case we are somehow blacklisted. I know people who have chosen not to replace a well-loved animal when it died, simply because of the rising cost of veterinary treatment. Surely, that?s not right.