Hunters across the state look forward to hunting season, and many are assisted by their dogs. Extreme weather conditions and rough, rocky, and wet terrain put hunting dogs at risk for body and eye injuries, but you can take steps to prevent these injuries and protect your pet. The Envision More Veterinary Ophthalmology team shares tips on keeping working dogs safe in the field and how to help your pet if they sustain an eye or other injury on the hunt.

#1: Invest in protective gear for your dog

Hunting dogs need the right gear to protect them from injury in the field. A chest-protector vest in high visibility orange will protect your dog from barbed wire and plant material and identify them so they aren’t mistaken for a deer or other animal. Buoyant life vests and boots are some additional options, depending on your dog’s work type. To protect your dog’s eyes, ears, and mouth from foxtails (i.e., a type of migrating and highly damaging plant material), you can purchase a mesh head protector that allows airflow while blocking out damaging materials.

#2: Build a canine first aid kit

Despite your best efforts, injuries are bound to happen. Be prepared by stocking a first aid kit, which should include absorbent gauze, bandaging materials, styptic powder for nail injuries, and saline wound and eye rinse. The kit allows you to clean up injuries quickly in the field and protect your dog from infection while you transport them to their veterinarian or emergency veterinary hospital. For larger dogs, you should also consider investing in an emergency carry sling that will help you transport your pet if they can’t walk after a serious injury. 

#3: Protect your dog from extreme weather

Extreme heat or cold can be dangerous for dogs. Heatstroke, burns, hypothermia, and frostbite, which can threaten your pet’s life or health, are the main concerns. Ensure you outfit your dog appropriately and provide them with raised, covered shelter to protect them from the elements. Wetting your dog’s fur will help them stay cool, and keeping them dry will help them stay warm.

#4: Keep your dog’s vaccines and parasite control up to date

Vaccines can prevent infectious diseases, including Lyme disease and leptospirosis, that are high-risk in hunting dogs. Strict monthly parasite preventive application is also crucial to limit exposure to disease-carrying fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes. Annual veterinary visits ensure your hunting dog remains in working shape and can perform without pain.

#5: Update your dog’s identification

Identifying your dog is important, in case they become separated from you or come across another person while out in the field. A collar with updated identification tags, as well as tags on your dog’s vest, will ensure anyone who finds your dog can quickly find contact information. A microchip, which provides permanent identification if your dog’s collar or tags are removed, as well as the rare requirement for indisputable proof of ownership, is also extremely valuable.

#6: Avoid common dog toxins

Hunting dogs can be exposed to toxins outdoors, but you can avoid toxins with these steps: 

  • Keep dogs away from lead shot and clay pigeons, which contain poisonous heavy metals that are damaging if ingested. 
  • Steer clear of water, especially water that looks greenish, scummy, or cloudy, which likely contains a toxic blue-green algae species. However, you can’t always differentiate between regular and toxic algae, so avoid any suspicious water.
  • Avoid wild mushrooms, which can be highly toxic if your dog scavenges them, so scope out the area beforehand.

Common hunting dog injuries

Hunting dogs in the field are prone to skin lacerations, torn nails, and eye injuries. Eye injuries commonly stem from plant material that abrades the cornea or embeds in eye tissues. You should suspect an ocular foreign body and schedule a visit to see our veterinary team if your hunting dog has an unexplained eye irritation that lasts for more than a few hours. If you can see plant material in your dog’s eyes, flush them well with commercially available eye wash, and contact our team or your primary veterinarian to check the eyes for scratches.

Doggles and RexSpecs are good options to protect your dog’s eyes during your next hunting adventure.

Hunting can be fraught with canine hazards, but you can keep your four-legged friend safe by implementing safety precautions and preparing thoroughly for your trip. Vision is important for your working dog, so protecting their eyes is vital. Contact Envision More Veterinary Ophthalmology if your dog sustains an eye injury during a hunting trip or for a general eye health check-up.