SHOTGUN INJURY IN THE DOG
My definition of accident is an unplanned and unfavorable incident that happens to someone else. But when an accident happens to one of our four-legged hunting partners, an enjoyable hunting trip can come to a very abrupt and emotional halt. Some of the most common injuries hunting dogs sustain during the course of their activities are cut pads, torn hide from barbed wire, tongue cuts, and porcupine quills. Fortunately, these types of accidents generally fall into the nuisance category.
Gunshot accidents … they are an entirely different matter. Let’s take a look at what happens to a dog that has been shot and what you should do if you’re faced with this type of hunting accident. We’ll limit the discussion to shogun pellet injury. If you’re taking your deer rifle with you on a pheasant hunt you’ll probably be hunting alone because even your gun dog won’t want to be around!
There are only a few major variables affecting the amount of damage a pellet can inflict. These variables relate to the mass of the pellet, velocity of the pellet at impact, and location of the point of contact with the victim. The severity of damage to the dog depends mostly upon location of the injury. Obviously, a pellet wound in the thigh muscle has a totally different consequence than a pellet wound to the eyeball.
Figure 1: This X-ray shows a single pellet in the dog’s head. Unfortunately this location was the dog’s eye and caused enough bleeding and scar damage to the internal eye structures that the dog lost his vision in this eye. This single pellet possessed enough energy to penetrate deeply into the eye. The same pellet with the same energy but impacting an entirely different location might have had very minimal consequences for the dog. As every hunter knows, a larger pellet, such as BB size, possesses more energy than a fine-shot pellet such as No. 7-1/2 if the velocities are equal.
This fact is dramatically shown if you look at Figure 2. In this X-ray a single bullet has shattered the humerus just below the shoulder, leaving fragments of lead and bone throughout the wound. The single large projectile possessed so much energy that it caused the bone to virtually explode upon passing through it. Obviously, a tiny pellet in this same location, even at the same velocity as the bullet, would not have had the energy to cause such destruction.
Since the velocity of each pellet will decrease with distance from the gun’s muzzle, the energy remaining in the pellet will be less the farther the dog is from the shotgun. Therefore, in general, the most serious shotgun wounds will be the ones occurring at close range because that is where the pellet energy will be highest. In addition, at close range more pellets will impact a given area and cause more tissue destruction.
A glance at Figure 3 reveals instantly by the number of pellets grouped so closely that this dog was shot at fairly close range. This would have been a much more serious injury if the dog was shot directly in the chest, skull or abdomen. Luckily, he was shot in the thick skin and muscles of the neck. Other than permanent damage to the base of one ear, he recovered quite uneventfully.
Here’s what to do if your dog is unlucky enough to be shot:
1. First of all, keep cool yourself! If the range at which the dog was shot was not close, the injury will probably be minor.
2. Pull the dog off the hunt immediately!
3. Give the dog a thorough inspection for location of injury. Get your hands on him and feel him all over. Squinting may indicate an eye injury; pain when pressing on the abdomen is very significant; chest wounds are potentially dangerous, especially if you detect crackling or air under the skin. Generally you will see only minimal bleeding (and sometimes none at all) and will see only very tiny pellet entry wounds in the skin.
If the dog displays no apparent discomfort, kennel or crate him and tell him he’s finished hunting for the day. However, keep in mind that this is the only command a good hunting dog cannot comprehend. “You’re done hunting for the day” simply has no receptor sites in a hunting dog’s brain. And even if the dog could understand, most of them would rather die anyway than miss a hunt.
Observe the dog closely until you can have it examined by a veterinarian. You may not need to rush in as an emergency unless you observe any of the following:
a. The dog is in obvious distress
b. The injury is in a vital location (eye, jugular vein, chest, etc.)
c. The shot was from close range with visible tissue damage
d. The dog stops and quits the hunt on his own (This is never a good sign. If this ever happens, give the dog a rest and look closely for any hints as to what is troubling the dog. Hypoglycemia, bloat, and insect stings come to mind.)
Unlike a bullet wound, most shotgun pellets penetrate only the skin and immediate subcutaneous tissues … and there they remain for the rest of the dog’s life. Antibiotic administration may be warranted to prevent infection, but in general, the pellets do not need to be removed surgically. (Lead poisoning only occurs if lead is ingested. Then the hydrochloric acid in the stomach changes the lead into a form that is absorbed through the small intestine and into the bloodstream.)
I would advise a 24-hour observation period in situations where you think the dog has only minimal injuries. Serious medical trouble may take hours to become obvious. For example, if even one pellet enters the abdomen and pierces the intestinal tract causing leakage of fecal material into the abdomen, peritonitis will result in a medical emergency. Peritonitis may take two or three days to become evident! And if it does occur, the dog will display pain or cramping in the abdomen, run a fever (normal temperature for a resting dog is 101 to 102 degrees), act depressed and probably stop eating. Get him to a veterinarian quickly; surgery is indicated!
If a pellet enters the chest cavity between a rib or penetrates the trachea, air could be forced into areas where it has no business being. This condition is termed pneumothorax and may result in a collapsed lung. If the dog seems to be taking short, rapid breaths or appears anxious and uncomfortable about breathing, or if you can feel crackling of air under the skin…get him to a veterinarian quickly, because again, surgery is indicated!
If during your own thorough examination (hands-on, feeling the dog all over), you notice a swelling that seems to be getting larger, there is probably a torn blood vessel that requires surgery to close up. Until you can get the dog to the animal hospital, place firm and direct pressure right against the lump (called a hematoma). Firm, direct pressure over a lacerated vessel often will completely stop the bleeding as long as the pressure remains.
If you observe any loss of coordination or a noticeable limp, have the dog examined right away. X-rays can reveal if any pellets have entered a joint cavity. A single pellet wound to a major nerve can cause permanent impairment of function, as well. A damaged radial or sciatic nerve can be very difficult to repair surgically. In these cases your veterinarian will want to quickly control bruising and scar tissue formation at the nerve damage site. Any nerve injury carries the potential for very troublesome and permanent disability.
Here’s a suggestion: Pay very careful attention to situations where there is an increased probability for an accident to happen. If you feel uneasy about the hunt, if there are too many hunters for the terrain, too many other dogs not paying attention, an anxious amateur pointing his gun all over the place … take your dog and yourself back to the truck, sip a little coffee, and watch the hunt. It is far better to pass up an occasional hunt if something doesn’t feel right than to be rushing your best gun dog (or your buddy) off to the doctor because of an accident that this time didn’t happen to somebody else.
Click on the link at the beginning of this article…
“The Internet Animal Hospital”