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208 Breeds, 422 Health Conditions  |  Find a Vet

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Gunshot Wounds View In Dogs




Condition Overview

Pets get shot more frequently in rural communities, particularly during hunting season. More often, dogs and cats injured by guns are shot intentionally, either because the pet trespassed and threatened livestock or simply out of malice.


A bullet that punches through the intestines can cause peritonitis within hours. This infection, caused by feces leaking into the abdomen, is deadly and requires intensive medical treatment. The sooner it is treated, the more likely your pet will survive. A lung injury causes strained breathing, while bullets can cause limping if they fracture a bone or sever a nerve. If the bullet damages your pet's major blood vessels, heart, liver, spleen, or kidneys, massive bleeding can occur.


Gunshots are either intentional or accidental, but either way, every gunshot is a serious injury that must be treated immediately by a veterinarian.

Shotgun wounds - Unless the gun is fired at close range or penetrates the eye, injury from a shotgun is probably one of the least dangerous gunshot wounds. Unlike bullets, most shotgun pellets, when fired from a distance, penetrate only the skin and the immediate underlying tissue. However, you should still take your pet to the vet immediately. Often, antibiotics are needed to ward off possible infection, but usually, the pellets won't need to be surgically removed. Even though shotgun pellets are made of lead, your pet won't be poisoned by the lead unless the metal is swallowed. The hydrochloric acid in the stomach changes lead to a form that can be absorbed through the intestines into the bloodstream and poison your pet.


In most cases, the entry wound is very small, and you may not notice it immediately due to the fur, which may hide the injury. The most dangerous gunshot wounds target the chest and the abdomen. In fact, a dog may be shot in the flank, but the bullet can travel and end up in the lung. Any time you suspect that you pet has been shot, get him medical attention immediately.


You can increase your pets chance of survival with first aid.

  1. Make a muzzle - Gunshot wounds are extremely painful, and your dog or cat will most likely object to being touched. As long as your pet is breathing normally, it is a good idea to muzzle him to avoid being bitten while administering first aid. For long-nosed dogs, use panty hose, a necktie, or even a standard leash Make a loop and slip it over the bridge of his nose, then snug down the single knot. Tie the ends a second time beneath the chin. Finally, bring both ends back behind his ears and tie them.

    For cats and short nosed breeds such as pugs, try slipping a pillowcase over their heads to give them something to bite before reaching you.
  2. Control bleeding - Apply direct pressure with a clean cloth, gauze pad, or sanitary napkin. Place it directly on top of the wound and use your fingers or hands to press down until the bleeding slows. If the compress soaks through, don't remove it, because that could disrupt the clot that is forming. just put a second pad on top of the first and continue the pressure.

    A swelling that keeps getting larger may be a torn blood vessel under the skin. Firm, direct pressure will often completely stop the bleeding and swelling until you get to the veterinarian.
  3. Elevate the injured area - Raise the injured part unless the wound is in the chest or abdomen. It can help slow down the bleeding.
  4. Treat shock - A gunshot wound often causes shock, a condition in which blood circulation and other both systems shut down in reaction to the injury. Pets in shock have pale gums, act weak, and can die within 10 - 20 minutes. When you dog or cat is in shock, you can delay its progression by wrapping him in a blanket to keep him warm. You can also put a drop or two of Karo syrup or honey on your pet's gums to help keep him conscious.
  5. Watch for stopped breathing - Pets who go into shock can stop breathing, so be prepared to perform artificial respiration. To breathe for your pet, close his mouth with one hand and place the other hand over his chest to monitor the rise and fall of his lungs. Cover his nose with your mouth and give 2 quick breaths. Watch for the chest to expand, then let the air escape. Give 15 - 20 breaths per minute until he begins breathing again on his own or until you reach veterinary help.
  6. Watch for a stopped heart - If your pet's heart stops beating, you will need to perform CPR. It is best to have someone drive you and your pet to the animal hospital while you are performing CPR.

    For cats and small dogs, cup a hand over the point of the chest just behind the elbows and squeeze firmly between your fingers and thumb, pressing in about 1/2 inch, 80 - 100 times per minute. Give a breath into the nose after every 5 compressions until your pet revives or until you reach medical help.

    Put a larger dog on his side on a firm, flat surface and use both hands on top of each other to compress the chest by 25 - 50%. Alternate breaths and compressions - one breath for every 5 compressions - until you reach medical help.

  7. Seal sucking chest wounds - A bullet that goes in one side of the chest and out the other creates a large exit hole that can turn into a sucking chest wound. You will see bubbling and hear the air rushing into the body through the hole as your pet strains to breathe. This is due to the hole allowing air to leak into the chest cavity, which collapses the lung. Wrap plastic wrap (Saran Wrap) over the wound and around your pet's body to seal the wound. Wrap lightly to seal the area, but not tightly enough to restrict breathing, and transport your pet with the injured side down.

    If your pet has a small sucking wound on his chest wall, put a glob of K-Y Jelly or petroleum jelly on the hole to try to seal it. This helps keep any more bacteria from contaminating the wound.
  8. Use padding for broken ribs - If you suspect that your pet's ribs are broken, gently pad the damaged side with a thick clean towel and carefully transport your pet with his injured side down. This will give the ribs some rigidity so that your pet can continue to breathe (broken ribs can interfere with respiration). This not only helps control the bleeding and keeps the wound clean, it also helps seal the hole and reduce the chance that the lung will collapse. If your pet is struggling to breathe and fights to remain sitting, don't struggle with him. Just seal the wound as well as you can and get him to a vet as quickly as possible.
  9. Clean and wrap abdominal wounds - Bullet wounds in the abdomen need to be kept clean, especially if the organs are exposed. A towel or lint free cloth like a pillowcase will work well to help contain the injury so that the intestines or other organs don't spill out of the hole. Wt the towel with water or sterile saline solution to keep the organs from drying out and being further damaged. Make a band from plastic wrap or a clean plastic garbage bag. Place the band over the moist padding, wrap it around your pet's body, and tape it in place. Make sure that the band is not wrapped too tightly - it just needs to hold the organs in place.
  10. Stabilize broken bones - A bullet often breaks a bone, and you will need to stabilize the limb. Wrap the leg in a thick towel or bubble wrap. This will help keep your pet from moving the injured leg, which can make the fracture worse.
  11. Transport your pet carefully, especially when you suspect a back injury - You can place a cat or small dog in a box or pet carrier. Even a cookie sheet, breadboard, or a sturdy lid from a trash can keep a small pet immobile until he can be examined. Set the intended carrier directly beside your pet. Gently slide a sheet or towel under him, then use the fabric to gently pull him onto the rigid surface. The goal is to get your pet on or into the carrier with minimal movements. You may need to wrap a towel or elastic bandage around your pet and the board to keep him secure on its surface.

    For larger dogs, an ironing board can work well. You can also use a towel or blanket to fashion a stretcher. You will need 2 people to grasp the corners of the fabric and carry your pet to the car. Its best to have someone watch over your pet during the ride to the hospital to calm and quiet him and to keep an eye out for him in the event he stops breathing.


Keeping your pet on your property at all times will completely remove the possibility of intentional gunshot wounds. Never let your cats free-roam outside. If your dog is in active field use, take precautions such as a high visibility reflective collar and proper training prior to using live ammunition in real world hunting situations.


For digestive tract injuries - If the bullet injures the digestive tract, a soft diet may be necessary for several days to a week or more, until the intestines and stomach heal. In many cases, you can use your pet's regular food and mix it in the blender with an equal amount of water or low fat, no-salt chicken broth. Feed this gruel for 5 days and gradually use less liquid until your pet is eating his regular diet.

Gunshot wounds are one of the dirtiest types of injuries because as the bullet penetrates the body, it drags skin, fur, and dirt the length of the wound. For that reason, most of the time, your vet will leave the hole open to drain rather than stitch it. You will need to keep the wound clean. Use a gauze pad dampened with warm water or sterile saline solution to gently clean away any discharge.

Most pets will receive intravenous antibiotics to fight infection while they are in the hospital, and they will go home with antibiotic pills as well. You can hide pills in tasty treats - most dogs are happy to take medicine this way, but cats tend to be a bit more picky. A pill syringe, available from most pet supply stores, is a great way to give medication to cats. Load the syringe with the pill or capsule, then place one hand on top of your cat's head and circle his muzzle with your thumb and middle fingers so that the finger tips press against his teeth just behind the canine teeth. This will prompt your pet to open his mouth. When he does, lay the pill syringe on his tongue so that the exit end points at the back of his throat but doesn't quite touch the tongue. Quickly depress the plunger to deposit the pill on the back of his tongue, then remove the syringe and close the mouth. Stroke his throat until you see him swallow, and have a treat ready to give hi so that he will swallow the treat and forget about trying to spit out the pill.

Show Sources & Contributors +


The First Aid Companion for Dogs And Cats

Publisher: Rodale Inc, 2001

Website: http://www.rodalebooks.com/

Authors: Amy D. Shojai, Shane Bateman DVM

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