The problem with getting into gundogs is that you start with one, but pretty soon you have several more. Most serious pickers-up will run a team of dogs on each shoot day and will have youngsters and retirees at home too, and someone with several days beating a week might need at least a couple of spaniels to make sure one is fit for every working day. 

Keeping multiple dogs has always been an expensive hobby, but as we face the cost-of-living crisis, saving money is more important than ever. How can gundog owners cut costs but still make sure their dogs are fit and well?

Gundog feeding

I will start with food because good nutrition will help prevent unnecessary vet bills! It is false economy to buy a poor-quality food just because it is cheap. Although dogs can survive off just about anything a working gundog needs a sufficient amount of quality protein and fat to support healthy skin, muscles, and tendons and to reduce the risk of injury. Look for foods which carry the UK Pet Food (formerly PMFA) logo as this shows they meet nutritional guidelines and are produced to a high safety standard. Choose a ‘complete’ diet rather than a ‘complementary’ one.

Complementary diets do not meet all your dogs’ needs. When choosing a new food check the feeding guidelines because sometimes a food which is cheap per kilogram will actually end up having a higher cost per meal than a seemingly more expensive food. If you need to make savings perhaps switch healthy adult dogs to a lower protein food for the summer, saving the higher quality foods for puppies and breeding dogs. 

Scraps can be used to bulk out the diet but over 10% will unbalance the levels of vitamins and minerals. If you stalk or have a freezer full of game trimmings these can be fed to your dogs but do seek advice on how to ensure the nutrients remain balanced. Any game birds should be fed cooked (and deboned) at the present time due to the ongoing bird flu situation. 

Preventative care

It is easy to put off vaccinations and parasite control if your dogs seem well and your pockets are light, but prevention is always cheaper than cure. Effective flea and worming treatments can be bought without prescription, but tick and lungworm prevention are only available on prescription. It can be cheaper to ask for a written prescription for your kennel of dogs than buying direct from the vet. For vaccinations ask if your vet will do a discount for multiple dogs. I do visits to multiple dog homes as it is often easier for me to see them all in one place which isn’t my small consulting room!

Make the most of the vaccination visit by asking about any health issues and to plan a cost-effective health care plan for your dogs. Many practices now offer monthly ‘care plans’ and although working dog owners often scoff at these, they can offer big savings and a way to budget. Most cover parasite control and vaccinations at a discount as well as free and discounted consultations and even savings on medicines and diagnostic tests.

Some preventative care costs nothing at all. Grooming helps keep the skin and coat healthy, brushing teeth reduces gum disease, and making coats from old jumpers and towels can reduce feed bills by keeping your dogs warm.

Accidents and illness

Big vet bills never come at a good time, but they will come. Insurance is often not practical for working gundog owners as most policies exclude working dogs and those that cover working dogs are the most expensive ones. Putting something aside from beating or picking-up payments in a savings account is a good idea, but the pot will be small to start with.

Credit cards can be useful if you need to pay a bill in a hurry and some practices offer credit, but it is vital to set a budget to avoid long-term debt. Make sure your vet knows what your budget is at the start so they can suggest a diagnostic and treatment plan to suit. In most cases, there will be a range of options, although the expected outcomes can be different. Again, ask about written prescriptions as online pharmacies can often buy in bulk and pass on the savings.

If you do find yourself really struggling to keep your dogs fed and cared for, please reach out for help. If rehoming dogs, be sure to communicate with their new owners thoroughly and unless you are sure you have sufficient homes on your waiting list, avoid breeding this year.