All of the American Hounds are considered to be coonhounds, which means this is the primary game they have been developed to hunt. All of the dogs can also hunt virtually any other animal as well, with a history of hunting deer, rabbits and even predator animals such as bear and coyotes in many of the different breed histories. As such these dogs have been developed to be very healthy, athletic and strong animals and they are remarkable free from most of the major genetic issues that can be found in other purebred dog lines.
There are three health issues that are most common in all the American Hounds. These issues include ear infections, obesity and bloat. Although the first two are not typically life threatening and can be treated and managed, bloat is a very serious and potentially deadly condition in all hounds. Bloat is also not specific to the hound group, it actually occurs in almost all large sized dogs with deeper, narrower chests and longer bodies.
Bloat, also known as Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV), is a condition that can occur in any dog, regardless of age, weight or overall health and physical conditioning. Bloat is most commonly associated with dogs that gulp their food, ingesting a lot of air along with their food. This is then made more complicated as the dog drinks water with dry food, causing some swelling and expansion of the food, also producing other gas and digestive byproducts. In some cases dogs that are under stress may also be more prone to bloat and this can be made much worse when combined with the food gulping issue.
As the pressure in the stomach builds the stomach itself begins to shift and rotate. If just swelling occurs without any significant rotation the result is a pressure upwards on the chest. For some dogs with respiratory and heart conditions this additional pressure can cause life threatening situations, even without a full torsion of the stomach.
When the dog's stomach begins to twist or rotate significantly enough to start to prevent the fluid, froth, gas and stomach contents become trapped in the stomach and cannot escape. At this point the bloat is considered to be torsion and requires immediate veterinary attention in order to prevent death. This pressure continues to build, stretching the stomach and producing incredible amounts of pressure. If the blood vessels to the stomach are also cut off because of the twist or rotation the tissue in the stomach begins to die, all leading to potentially fatal conditions.
Dogs that are suffering from bloat will have mild to significant and severe symptoms. Typically the condition or symptoms can be displayed by limited to excessive agitation, pacing, salivating, dry heaves and panting. A bloated or swollen abdomen is sometimes also an obvious sign but not always present in all cases. At the first sign of any symptoms occurring one or more hours after eating immediately contact your vet and get the dog in for assistance. In mild cases the vet can alleviate the pressure or provide sedatives to keep the dog calm while in severe cases of torsion surgery will be required.
Feeding hounds two to three smaller meals, restricting water when feeding kibble or feeding slightly moistened food and eliminating low quality bulking types of food from the diet is essential. Many breeders recommend feeding hounds only a holistic type of diet that includes bones, raw meal and raw vegetables to avoid the excessive gas and froth in the stomach that prepared foods can generate. It is also critical to prevent any type of strenuous exercise for at least one hour after a meal.
The long, pendant ears of the hounds can also create a significant problem with ear infections. Since the ears are so close to the head they prevent any air from circulating around the inside of the ear, plus moisture is trapped inside the ear, a perfect growing location for bacteria and yeast. When the bacteria reaches a critical level an infection can occur which can reach into the tissue and lead to scarring and even hearing impairments over time.
Routine weekly examination of the ears and cleaning the ears with a soft cotton cloth is the best option to prevent the problem. For some hounds that have chronic problems with wax build up in the ears a drying solution can be used to help minimize the moisture levels in the ear, helping to control the bacteria. When infections occur that are deeper in the ear the vet can use special medicated solutions to actually flush out the wax, bacteria and debris and also treat the tissue that may be infected. Flushing the ears out should only be done by a vet or a person that has been trained in the correct way to clean and dry the ears. Never use any type of human ear cleaning tool such as a Q-Tip in a dog's ear as you can easily injure the delicate ear tissue.
Occasionally the somewhat loose skin around a hound's eyes may be a place where dirt, debris and bacteria can collect. This can lead to scratches on the cornea, eye infections and tearing. Any eye conditions or irritation of the eye should be checked for debris or material in the eye and flushed out using a sterile veterinary eyewash. If the eyes are extremely baggy there may be surgical options to tighten the lower lids to prevent them from collecting debris and dirt.
With some of the American hound lines that are being bred exclusively as show dogs there is a slight chance of hip dysplasia and luxating patellas, although this is definitely not as common in the hounds as in other larger breeds. It is still worth asking the breeder specifically about these issues when considering a puppy, particularly for show bred dogs. Field lines are rarely if ever affected with these conditions since dogs that are lame or have poor movement are culled from breeding programs due to poor performance.