Lemmings distract, sicken bird dogs

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It’s high season for bird hunting in the mountains, but the high scenic plateaus favoured by hunters are also full of the small, sometimes fierce critters called lemen (lemmings). Hunters’ dogs love to chase them, but it carries a risk.

This year's "rypejakt" (grouse hunt) is expected to be much better than last year's, with more birds in the mountains, larger flocks and fewer hunters after last year's poor season. The season in Norway started this week. PHOTO: Marianne Gaski

Setters and terriers can be distracted by lemmings in the mountains of Norway this year, and by lots of rodents at lower elevations. PHOTO: Marianne Gaski

“Dogs who get hold of a lemming risk getting worms and can be infected with harepest (a virus also spread by hares),” Martine Fossem Nygaard, animal expert for insurance company If.

That can be bad news for the hunters, many of whom have invested thousands of kroner in their canine hunting partners. Dogs’ interest in the lemmings can vary, but many are easily distracted by the scampering brown, white and black rodents. Nygaard said the dogs’ natural hunting instinct can overcome them when they spot lemmings.

“Setters and terriers are usually get very excited when they see a lemming,” she said, and there are many of them in the mountains this year. Just a few months ago, the lemmings were among small wildlife credited with boosting prospects for the hunting season this year, because they’ve provided a food source for the ryper (grouse) that hunters go after.

Now, though, Nygaard is warning hunters to keep their dogs from snaring the lemming, to in turn keep them from getting sick.

Most dogs infected can be cured with a deworming regime, but surgery to remove lemming fur and bones in the dog’s digestive tract may be necessary. Dogs contracting harepest will lose energy and appear sleepy, “and then a trip to the veterinarian will be necessary.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund