The overall health of our gun dogs – including the genetic health, physical fitness and psychological balance – all play a role in their ability to train and hunt. This is something we all know to one degree or another, and it’s something that’s moved to the forefront of my thoughts after Kona’s scare with bone cancer and my involvement with a Paw Print Genetics, a new canine diagnostic and carrier-screening genetic laboratory, here in Spokane, Wash.

If you’ve ever lost a pet due to a disease, a gun dog or any other critter, you know the pain and sense of loss it brings, and the wish continually coming to mind that a cure existed. Put simply, the feeling sucks.

To that end, the AKC Canine Health Foundation oversees the research of many canine health issues; supporting them in several ways is an important step to finding cures for many of the issues that plague gun dogs.

You can support them with donations, of course, but many of the laboratories that they work with need samples from healthy dogs of various breeds, as well as dogs affected with disorders. Currently, the organization is helping to further research into some of the following conditions that impact hunting and trial dogs:

Bloat: A brutal gastric disorder that causes a horrible death. Many breeds of hunting dogs are susceptible to bloat, which takes place when air enters the stomach and the organ twists on itself, preventing air, food and liquid from exiting. Many hunting-dog owners have left a seemingly healthy and happy dog in their kennel at bedtime only to find a dead, bloated dog in the morning.

Leptospirosis: This disease is a common concern for hunting dogs, especially in areas with high deer populations. The dog (or human) contracts it from water contaminated with the urine or feces of wildlife – especially deer. A vaccine has been around for decades, but recently resistant forms of the bacteria have started to emerge. Scientists are looking for serum samples from dogs diagnosed with lepto.

American Gut Project: This is a multi-institutional project studying the gut track of both dogs and cats. This research helps lead to better information on diets, as well as better foods and supplements like pro- and prebiotics.

Hip dysplasia: Aimed at golden and Labrador retrievers, this study is seeking cheek and saliva swabs from dogs that have undergone THR, TPO, or FHO surgery due to hip dysplasia or any golden or Labrador retriever that has been diagnosed with severe hip dysplasia. It’s literally a crippling disease for dogs and one that affects these breeds especially, which is why it’s important to always buy from a breeder that has had the hips of both the sire and dam evaluated.

Hemangioscarcoma: This cancer hits pointers, Labs and golden retrievers, as well as several other breeds. Hemangiosarcoma is a type of cancer that begins in the cells that line blood vessels. Tumors usually develop in the spleen, heart, or liver, although they can also been found in the skin, bone, kidney, brain, and other locations. Hemangiosarcoma is almost always malignant, and tends to develop slowly, but spread rapidly, so that clinical signs are often not noticeable until the tumors have metastasized and/or ruptured, causing acute shock and collapse. Researchers are seeking blood samples from affected dogs, as well as blood samples from healthy dogs older than eight years of age.

Those are just a few of the trials and requests for cheek swabs and blood samples that you can provide that will help further research into canine health issues; something that doesn’t cost you much, if anything, but could assist in indentifying genetic mutations, treatments and cures. For a full list of diseases, searchable by breed, click here.

The page even has information on participating in clinical trials for dogs that have been diagnosed with a disorder. It might be something you’re interested in if your dog has fallen ill with a disease; I know that I would seriously have considered the option if Kona’s initial diagnosis had indeed been cancer.

While you’re there, check out research funded by the Health Foundation on early spay and neuter effects, which touches on cancer, hip dysplasia and canine cruciate ligament ruptures. Interesting stuff.