By Tony J. Peterson
Throughout my career, I’ve had the chance to film hunting dogs working in the pheasant sloughs, grouse woods, and on the water for ducks. One thing that always struck me after reviewing footage after a day’s work is how often my dogs would have their eyes closed while running or swimming full bore.
It stands to reason that if you’re two feet tall and charging through brush, you’d better protect your eyes at all costs. Not only is it a testament to their sheer tenacity to carry forward without being able to see half the time, but also a pretty interesting window into how much their noses must guide them when they temporarily shut down the sense most relied on to physically move.
But no matter what a dog does to keep its eyes safe and out of harm’s way, injuries occur. Some are devastating, while others don’t seem to slow a retriever down one bit, but probably should. No matter where the injuries fall on the severity spectrum, you should be aware of them and understand which ones need immediate attention.
If you’re sick of sleeping too well at night, google “blunt trauma eye injuries to dogs,” and take a look at the images that pop up. Duck dogs aren’t immune to making the list, and something as simple as a small stick or cattail stem can puncture your dog’s eyeball (or eyelid) in a matter of a half-second.
Obviously, anything that is clearly traumatic and threatens vision needs immediate veterinarian attention. This brings us to the advice that crops up often in this column—know where to get help if your dog needs it. We plan far-flung trips around the migration and how good the hunting will be, but often fail to plan for when something goes drastically wrong. Knowing where the nearest 24-hour emergency vet clinic is can save your dog’s ability to see out of both eyes.
Less Obvious Injuries
Squinting, eyelid twitching, or occasionally pawing at an eye are all indications of something wrong. The same goes for any discharge, ranging from clear in color, to yellow or green, which often points to infection. The danger with any of these symptoms is that a good dog will often hunt right through them, to the point where you might not be aware of them until well after the morning’s hunt has ended.
To further complicate things, some of these injuries—like a corneal abrasion—might not look like anything to us. We can write off the issue as a little irritation, or maybe allergies, but that might not be the case. And if it isn’t, it’s time to go to the vet to figure out what really is affecting your dog’s eyes.
With these less traumatic injuries, you might think that time or a DIY treatment like gentle eyeball flush will fix things up. They might, but it’s a better idea to lean on the professionals to truly assess what is going on, because they will thoroughly investigate the situation to figure out if there is something less obvious that requires medication or some other type of treatment.
Aside from opting for a set of dog goggles, like those used in military or for rescue applications, your retriever is simply at risk of eye injuries when he’s doing what he does. Whether that’s in training or while in a cut cornfield waiting on flocks of honkers to visit the buffet, the possibility of eye injury is real.
Preventing them from happening altogether is tough, so instead just be cautious. Pay attention to your dog’s body language, and make sure to give the eyes a good once-over after each hunt.
Later, take note of anything that seems to be bothering your retriever in relation to his eyes. If the symptoms are remotely concerning, it might be time to load up and get him checked out because ignoring eye issues and hunting through them can lead to bigger problems, including in some severe cases, vision loss.
That’s not worth the risk, no matter how compliant the greenheads are.