Pointer

Teresa Kho-Pelfrey, DVM
Written by:
Published: September 23, 2022
Pointer

Pointers are known for their agility, speed, and endurance and are a well-loved dog ready for any outdoor activity. Pointers are also referred to as “gun dogs,“ or “bird dogs,” hunting breeds trained to find or retrieve game.

Unlike other gun dogs, Pointers signal to the hunter that they have picked up the scent of game. They do this by stopping in their tracks when they detect hidden game, stand with their nose pointing toward it, and wait for their signal to flush the animal out.

Male Pointers tend to grow about 1 inch taller than females, standing at 25-27 inches, and weigh on average 10 pounds more, at 55-75 pounds. Most have a primarily white coat with colored markings that include lemon, orange, reddish-brown, and black.

Pointers are social dogs that are especially happy when they are participating in physical activities with their families.

Caring for a Pointer

Pointers are bred as working dogs because they are fast, energetic, and have a lot of endurance. They require abundant physical activity to keep them physically and mentally stimulated. They thrive in homes with space for them to run and play or with very active families.

Aside from their high energy needs, Pointers are fairly low maintenance, with short-haired coats that shed moderately, and they are generally healthy dogs that live 10-12 years. They are loyal and affectionate toward their family members and do well with other pets and children. As with any young child, ensure that your dog is always supervised when playing with them.

Pointer Health Issues

Pointers are generally a healthy breed, with few health concerns. However, there are some inherited conditions that can affect their health.

Hip or Elbow Dysplasia

Hip or elbow dysplasia occurs when the bones in the joints do not align perfectly, often as a result of inherited growth abnormalities. This misalignment causes pain, lameness, and the eventual development of arthritis in the affected joint.

This condition is diagnosed by using x-rays to evaluate the alignment of the joints. When diagnosed in puppies, surgical correction can sometimes be helpful.

For many dogs, hip or elbow dysplasia is undiagnosed until they are fully mature and clinical signs of pain or lameness are noted. In these cases, there are limited options for corrective surgery. Palliative care, with or without physical therapy, is often the best way to manage pain.

Luxating Patella

Pointers can develop luxating patellas (kneecaps), an inherited condition where one or both patellas pop in and out of place. This is typically screened for by responsible breeders.

Although a luxating patella is not generally considered a painful condition, it may cause the dog to favor one leg and can also predispose them to knee injuries, such as a cranial cruciate ligament tear, or arthritis.

Depending on the severity of the luxating patella, surgical correction may be recommended to prevent further injury and improve quality of life.

Hereditary Sensory Neuropathy

Hereditary sensory neuropathy is a rare disease caused by a defect in the RETREG1 gene that can be diagnosed in the Pointer breed.

Clinical signs of hereditary sensory neuropathy are typically noticed in puppies as a dermatological issue, but they will progress to self-mutilation of the paws and limbs.

There is currently no treatment for this disease, and the prognosis is poor because of its effect on the dog’s quality of life. Keep in mind, however, that this disease is rare.

Spinal Muscle Atrophy

Spinal muscle atrophy (SMA) is another rare genetic disease found in Pointers. It resembles amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in humans and is typically seen in puppies.

SMA is first diagnosed in puppies based on severity, as follows:

  • Early or accelerated disease affects puppies younger than 8 weeks

  • Intermediate disease affects puppies around 4-6 months

  • Chronic disease affects older puppies, typically showing very mild signs

Signs of the disease vary, with the most severe cases showing marked weakness, difficulty eating or breathing, and incontinence.

Clinical signs of SMA start in the hind limbs and move forward affecting the rest of the body. SMA is diagnosed based on the breed predisposition and clinical signs. There are currently no treatments available.

X-Linked Cerebellar Ataxia

X-linked cerebellar ataxia is a genetic disease that is rarely seen in Pointers. It is typically noted in dogs 6 months to 4 years old; it starts as a sway or tremors but progresses to severe gait disturbances. It is diagnosed using an MRI, but there is no treatment for the disease aside from palliative care.

Deafness

Deafness can be inherited by Pointers as a genetic defect from their parents. This is screened for by responsible breeders, and a puppy that is deaf should not be used for future breeding.

There is no treatment for inherited deafness, and while deaf puppies can be difficult to train, in the right home they can live full, happy lives.

Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus

Gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV), a severe case of bloat, is a condition that can affect deep-chested breeds such as Pointers.

Gastric dilatation commonly occurs following a large meal, causing the stomach to dilate or swell. The mixture of gas and food in the stomach prevents anything from exiting, increasing the stomach’s pressure and size. In turn, this can block blood returning to the heart from the abdomen, cause loss of blood flow to the stomach and possible rupture, and increase pressure on the diaphragm preventing normal breathing.

To help prevent GDV, prophylactic stomach tacking (gastropexy) surgery is performed on Pointers as an at-risk breed, and feeding may be split into two or three smaller meals a day instead of one large meal.

It is important to know when your Pointer is showing signs of GDV, and to seek immediate veterinary care if any are noted. These signs may include:

  • Standing and stretching

  • Drooling

  • Distended abdomen

  • Retching without producing any vomit

  • General signs of abdominal pain

What to Feed a Pointer

Selecting the best diet for a Pointer is based on the individual needs of the dog. It is important to choose dog food that contains high-quality ingredients. Ask your veterinarian what to feed your Pointer, based on their specific medical history.

If your dog does not engage in extensive physical activity, they will be prone to obesity. It is vital to avoid overfeeding your Pointer, maintaining their proper body conditioning and weight.

How to Feed a Pointer

Due to their active lifestyle, Pointers should be fed a diet that contains higher fat/protein ratio.

If a Pointer lives in a cold climate or is primarily outdoors, they may require more food in each meal to help maintain their body heat.

Pointers typically eat two meals a day, morning and evening, with the evening meal taking place after the day’s activities to help prevent GDV.

How Much You Should Feed a Pointer

It is important to follow the feeding guide on the food bag to ensure that your dog is receiving the appropriate essential daily nutrients.

Because the weight of an adult Pointer can range from 45 to 75 pounds, the amount of food they require varies depending on their activity level. It can be anywhere from 2 to 5 cups of dry food a day, given over two meals.

Nutritional Tips for Pointer

For Pointers that have hip or elbow dysplasia or luxating patellas, it is beneficial to give them nutritional supplements with glucosamine and chondroitin to help keep their joints healthy.

Also, omega-3 supplements aid in protecting joint health as well as keeping their skin and coat healthy.

Behavior and Training Tips for Pointer

Pointer Personality and Temperament

Pointers have been bred as hunting dogs because of their speed and endurance, and they need a lot of exercise to keep them engaged.

If they are not used as sporting dogs, they require at least one to two hours of exercise a day, which should not be limited to walking. Running, fetching, or agility games are great ways to spend time with a Pointer and to exercise their mind and body.

A tired Pointer is a happy Pointer. As long as their energy needs are met, they love to snuggle up with their family members. A Pointer that is not given the exercise they need will become troublesome and often destructive.

Pointer Behavior

Pointers have been bred to literally “follow their nose,” which can sometimes get them in trouble when they are not working. Once they pick up on a scent, they will follow it. This means that it is important that they are kept in an enclosed yard so that they do not wander off and become lost.

Pointer Training

Bred to work with hunters, Pointers train well with their handlers. Their independent nature, however, can sometimes make training a bit challenging. This is best overcome with consistency and positive training methods.

In non-hunting homes, Pointers enjoy playing outside with their human family and do particularly well with obedience and agility training. 

Fun Activities for Pointers

Fun activities that Pointers might enjoy include:

  • Hunting

  • Running, including alongside a bicycle

  • Playing fetch or frisbee

  • Hiking

  • Swimming

  • Obedience

  • Agility games

Pointer Grooming Guide

Pointers don’t require a lot of grooming because they have short and shiny coats. They are average shedders, but this can be minimized with weekly brushing.

Skin Care

Skin care for a Pointer varies depending on their individual needs; however, this breed does not typically have sensitive skin.

Coat Care

Pointers have a short, smooth coat but are average shedders. Weekly brushing reduces shedding, and bathing is only necessary every few months (or more frequently if desired) to help keep their skin healthy and coat shiny.

Eye Care

Routine cleaning with a soft, damp cloth will help prevent normal tearing from building up around the eyes.

Ear Care

Routine cleaning with a veterinary-approved ear cleanser is vital in maintaining your Pointer’s healthy ear canals. This should also be done any time a Pointer is in water, such as after swimming or bathing.

Considerations for Pet Parents

The Pointer is a very intelligent and loving dog. However, their high-energy requirements are best met with an active family, to avoid unwanted and destructive behavior.

Their energy, size, and playful temperament make them a good match for families with children. They are willing and eager companions for any outdoor adventures, and when tired they love nothing more than to lie around with their people.

Pointers are not a great match for first-time dog parents due to their high energy. Pet parents need to fully understand a Pointer’s physical and mental needs before bringing them into their home.

Pointer FAQs

Is a Pointer a good family dog?

Pointers make a great family dog because they have the energy and happy personalities to match those of children. However, because of their big size and high energy, young children may accidentally be bumped or injured by a Pointer, especially puppies. Always supervise children and pets together. Pointers generally do well in homes with other dogs and cats, but they may be a threat to the safety of pet birds because of their history as bird dogs.

Are Pointers smart dogs?

Pointers are very smart and tend to be independent thinkers, which allows them to thrive in the hunt. This can sometimes make training for home activities more challenging, but they tend to respond well to positive reinforcement and consistency.

How much does a Pointer cost?

A Pointer with a good pedigree can cost between $600-$1,500 when purchased from a reputable breeder.

Featured Image: iStock.com/vik898


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