Keep your dogs clear, says David Tomlinson

If you’ve ever wondered if stinging nettles hurt dogs then the answer is yes.

The unfortunate Labrador in my photograph above had been badly stung by nettles. I took the picture during a day’s shooting almost exactly a year ago.

Most of the beating was in fields of sugar beet, which is hard work for both dogs and man, but there were also several small deciduous woods or coverts carpeted with a luxuriant growth of stinging nettles. By this stage of the season you might expect the nettles to have lost their venom but not a bit of it. They might not have been as potent as they would have been in August, but 
they still packed a noteworthy punch.

English spaniels

Labradors and spaniels suffer badly from nettle stings

Labradors and spaniels suffer badly from stinging nettles

Stinging nettles are a menace and most thin-skinned dogs, such as spaniels and Labradors, suffer badly from stings. 
I imagine that breeds such as German wirehaired pointers have some protection but their pads, noses and bellies are still vulnerable. I don’t think that it is fair to ask a dog to hunt nettle beds, while I’m always surprised that dogs are prepared to plunge into beds of stingers.

Stinging nettles hurt dogs

Stinging nettles hurt dogs

Don’t throw dummies around nettles

Many years ago I was handling my spaniel on a training day in early April when the trainer insisted on throwing dummies into a nettle bed, expecting the young dogs 
to retrieve them. At the risk of being called a wimp, I told him that I wasn’t going to send my dog. You want young dogs to enjoy retrieving, not put them off by getting stung, especially when they are learning their trade.

It is always best to understand the enemy. Stinging nettles are native to much of the northern hemisphere, including the US, Europe, Asia and 
north Africa, making them one of the world’s most successful plants. The hollow stings, called trichomes, are 
on the leaves and stems, and work 
like miniature hypodermic syringes, injecting nasty chemicals that cause 
the stinging sensation.

You can get stung by nettles in every month of the year, and it is not until after the first frosts that they really start to 
die off. They are one of the first plants 
to show green leaf in the spring, which 
is when their sting feels particularly vicious. You can eat them, as they are 
full of vitamins A and C, but I must say 
that I’ve never fancied them.

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Sore pads

Q:  My gundog hurts its pads when working. She seems to be footsore after we have been out beating, even after cleaning her feet and checking for thorns.

A: It was only recently that I came across this again in one of my own dogs and it turned out that stinging nettles were to blame for making her feet sore.

Young dogs whose pads have yet to harden are more susceptible to stings and sore feet than older individuals. The usual reaction of a dog that has been nettled is to lick and nibble their feet, something that can make matters worse.

I usually walk youngsters on a hard surface like a pavement every day to harden off their pads but as with all these things, if your dog has unusually sensitive pads it is a good idea to take it along to the vet to rule out any underlying health condition first. The vet might also be able to prescribe something to apply to your dog’s pads to help them along.