How to Treat a Shotgun Wound in the Dog | Important Information

Shotgun wounds can be very dangerous to both the dog and the owner, so it is important to know how to treat them. This article will provide important information on what to do if your dog is shot with a shotgun, and how to prevent such injuries in the future.

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.

Shotgun Wound in Dog

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.)

Peritonitis -Medical Emergency

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!  

Pneumothorax-Collapsed Lung

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.

In the event that you come across a shotgun wound in your dog, you need to know how to treat it. This article provides important information on the subject, including the types of shotgun wounds a dog can suffer and the steps you need to take to treat them. By reading this article, you’ll be well on your way to helping your beloved pet recover from this traumatic experience. Let us know in the comments if you have any additional questions about shotgun wounds in dogs!

Frequently Asked Questions

Should you cover an open wound on a dog?

To prevent contamination and stop your dog from licking or biting at the incision, apply a coating and then cover it with a bandage. A square bandage can be used on almost any part of the body.

Should I wrap my dog’s open wound?

A safe, clean, and correctly applied bandage can aid with the healing process and can even assist your pet avoid infection. Bandaging your dog’s paw properly will help avoid bleeding and further injury, as well as reduce pain.

How do you treat a gunshot wound without going to the doctor?

Clean and dry the dressing and the area around it. As advised, take any antibiotics or pain medicines. Because the bullet can suck material and debris into the wound, gunshot wounds can get infected. Attempt to raise the wound above your heart.

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