Your dog is your best friend and constant companion. Always by your side whether sitting on the couch or driving to the store. But is it safe to take your dog into the welding shop with you? There is common awareness around the need for eye protection for humans when welding to avoid damage to the eye (due to the light produced by the arc) and potential permanent impact on one’s vision. Can dogs experience the same injuries and challenges if exposed to the welding process?
How the Human Eyes Function
In order to understand how light related welding injuries happen, it is important to understand how human eyes function. Your human eye is made up of ten parts, all of which work in conjunction to help you see the various beautiful colors, objects, and people of your life. In short, light passes through the cornea directly in the front of the eye and into the pupil, which is the small black circle in the center of your eye. Inside the eye, the light continues to progress through the lens to the retina. The light is then manipulated by other components of the eye (rods and cones) before traveling from the retina to the optic nerve and ending in the brain. The brain then turns the signals into the images you see. If any of these parts are damaged or not properly functioning the ability to see becomes compromised thus requiring glasses, contacts, medication or surgical intervention.
Your retina and cornea are vital parts of the vision process. The retina converts the light that enters the eye into signals that the brain can convert to a visual element. The retina is extremely light-sensitive and susceptible to damage. The retinas can be damaged in a variety of ways but one of the most common is through bright exposure to bright light. Bright light can damage the retina through thermal damage (burning the retina) and bleaching of the retina. Without a functioning retina the light images that enter the eye are not properly converted to signals which are “readable” by the brain. Similarly, the cornea can be damaged through physical injuries such as projectile damage, direct burns or other impact injuries. The cornea can also be damaged by light. Bright light can burn the cornea causing swelling, tearing, pain and light sensitivity.
How do Dogs’ Eyes Differ from Human Eyes?
One of the biggest myths about canine vision is that dogs are only able to see in black, white and shades of gray. It is true that dogs do not see as well as humans, but their vision is not limited to a monochromatic color. Dogs can identify between the fifty shades of black, or any other color, but perhaps not to the extent that humans are able to. The canine eye is composed of slightly different components that make their vision like the vision of a human with the ability to see a limited color palette or a human with color blindness. The eye of a dog is similar in anatomy and function to that of humans. They have a cornea, pupil, lens, and retina along with rods, cones and the optic nerve as found in the human eye. The process of how light enters the eye and is converted to a signal the brain can “see” is also assumed to be similar. Unlike humans which can detect three colors, dogs can only detect two as they have fewer cones than we do. Humans have three different types of cones in our retina which allows us to see a larger color spectrum. Dogs, on the other hand, have two types of cones that limit their ability to see all the colors in the color spectrum. It is thought that dogs can see primarily blue, greenish-yellow, yellow and various shades of gray but not the colors on the red side of the spectrum. Again, due to the makeup of the eye, dogs can see better at night than humans can. This is because they have more rods in their retina than we do. Rods are responsible for how low light vision is processed. Dogs are also thought to rely more on other senses such as hearing and smell to make up for lack of vision. Unfortunately, it is not easy to determine exactly what our canine companions can and cannot see as they cannot communicate responses in a scientific study setting.
Dogs’ eyes also have a reflective property that causes them to shine in the dark. This is due to an extra layer of tissue that reflects light onto the retina called the tapetum lucidum. This tissue helps to boost a dog’s night vision. Along with larger pupils and more rods (as mentioned above), this allows a dog to see roughly five times better than humans in the dark. The downfall to this is that the larger pupil and additional reflective property of the tapetum often make your dog’s eyes even more sensitive to light and could, in theory, increase the chance of injury from bright light as would be found in welding.
Dangers of Welding and the Potential Harmful Effects to Eyes
The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that approximately 10% of the manufacturing workforce performs some type of welding-related function daily; this accounts for over two million workers each day. Additionally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that nearly 1,400 of these workers each day become the victim of an eye-related injury. There are four primary causes of eye-related welding injury.
- Hot metal slag burns
- Slag related injuries often occur when the welder does not wear proper safety equipment or does not know how to wear the equipment in a manner that will provide protection.
- Injuries from flying particles
- As with slag injuries, particle injuries often occur due to a lack of personal protective equipment.
- Exposure to irritating fumes, vapors, and chemicals.
- The risk of exposure to fumes and chemicals depends largely on the type of material being welded and can be avoided with the use of hoods, exhaust systems, and respirators.
- Exposure to Ultraviolet Radiation/Light
- Ultraviolet radiation/light injuries are a major threat to the eyes. Unlike slag or flying particulate, Ultraviolet radiation is not visible and can result in a condition called photokeratitis. Commonly known as a Welder’s Flash or Arc Eye, this condition results from the flash and burns associated with overexposure or continued exposure to the Ultraviolet radiation or light arc produced when welding. This condition can occur even if the exposure is limited to a few seconds of looking directly into the arc without eye protection. This condition causes swelling in the cornea and potential burns to the retina. Repeated exposure can cause permanent damage, sensitivity to light and corneal tearing.
How Humans Guard Against Eye Injury
There are a variety of methods in place to guard against eye injury from molten slag, airborne particles, and light related injuries.
Welding helmets protect the head from burns associated with airborne particles and attachable shields also help reduce the potential injuries to the face and eyes. The filter lens on the helmet should be appropriate to the work being performed and meet the minimum protective shade requirements.
Safety goggles should be worn in addition to the helmet. The shield on a welding helmet is not adequate protection according to OSHA. Protective goggles with side shields that are properly fitted to the face under the helmet should be worn.
Can Welding Harm your Dog?
Welding, when done in a safe manner with the appropriate protective equipment, is by inlarge a safe procedure. However, where your dog is concerned, this may not be the case. As noted above, dogs are not capable of the same level of communication.
Welding produces molten slag and other hot flying particulates which is only marginally controllable in terms of where it lands. This is likely not a safe environment for a dog who is covered in hair which by its very nature, is flammable. If a dog comes to close during the welding process, they can very easily become victims of burns, bruises and injuries associated with flying slag and other particles especially since they are unlikely to be wearing fire retardant protective equipment.
Additionally, dogs eat things. For better or worse, dogs are often known for licking the floor, walls, ground and almost anything else they can reach. They do not often seem aware that what they are consuming could be harmful to them. Should a dog happen to lick or swallow a ball of molten slag or particulate it could cause severe internal injury.
Can Welding Hurt a Dog’s Eyes?
A dog’s eyes are very similar to those of humans in structure and function. Welder’s Flash or Arc Eye causes damage to the cornea and inhibits the proper function of the eye. As with humans, the cornea of a dog’s eye receives light into the eye and is susceptible to the same risks for injury due to ultraviolet radiation.
It is highly unlikely that your pet will be wearing eye protection or a welding helmet while in the shop with you. Their eyes are also susceptible to injury from flying slag and flying particles which can cause injury, cuts, burns and other damage directly to the eye.
Repeated or continued damage to the eye through light exposure can lead to Uveitis in dogs as well. Uveitis is an inflammation of the front and back portions of the eye which includes the components of the eye required for producing fluid and helping the eye maintain shape. This condition can lead to adhesions (growths) on the cornea, prevent proper eye drainage and cause an increase in eye pressure. In severe cases, it can cause fluid buildup behind under the retina leading to detachment of the retina and blindness. This painful condition is characterized by reddening of the eye, squinting, aversion to light, pain, cloudiness in the eye and bleeding into the eye. There may also be swelling of the iris and in severe cases, lens detachment.
Exposure to the ultraviolet radiation associated with welding can also lead to cataracts in dogs as it can in humans. A cataract is a hazy, opaque appearance in the lens of the eye. Cataracts lead to blurry vision and over time can become thick and dense. If left untreated cataract can detach and move about the eye which impacts the ability of the eye to properly drain and can lead to glaucoma and blindness. Although cataracts can be treated surgically, there is no guarantee they will not return.
What are Protective Options for Dogs?
The first, and most logical option to minimize potential risks of harm would be to make sure your dog is not with you while you weld. Place them in a safe area outside the shop or keep them inside at home if you are going to be welding on that specific day. While your canine companion may not approve, this is the safest option for a variety of reasons. First, it will protect your dog from the risk of burns and injury associated with molten slag. Dogs are not likely to closely monitor potential flying hazards in the shop which increases their risk of injury. Welding not only creates molten slag but sparks and other flying particulates which can burn skin, paws, ears, and eyes. Paw burns on dogs are quite painful and are an increased infection risk. They are at risk for these burns not only due to flying particulate but also by stepping on or laying on remnants of the slag.
Another option for protecting your dog is to put them in a different room or behind a curtain of some type that protects them from flying matter but also shields their eyes. This may be a challenge in a home garage as they do not always have separate rooms available to temporarily place your dog. The backup to this option is to hang a curtain or fire-retardant barrier to create a safe space where the dog can go until you are done welding and the danger has passed.
Finally, there is the option of protective equipment for your canine pal. There are several companies out there who have begun to manufacture goggles for dogs; affectionately called “doggles”, who have sensitivities to light or whose “jobs” enhance the potential for eye injury. These goggles generally have shatterproof, anti-fog lenses that block ultraviolet rays and keep out debris. They are kept on the head by wrapping around the head so the frames completely enclose the eyes. This removes gapping which could allow stray light to enter behind the goggle or debris to get in through a space between the goggle and the face. They often come with adjustable straps and changeable lenses. The types of lenses vary depending on the use of the goggles.
There are also companies that manufacture flame-retardant coats and vests for dogs. Although these are often sold as tactical vests for working dogs who are exposed to the potential of flame or similar dangers, they could feasibly be used to protect a dog from molten slag, sparks and other flying hot debris that occurs when welding. The combination of goggles and the flame-retardant jacket or vest could feasibly allow your dog to remain with you in the garage while you weld. One key side note to this is to keep in mind that the goggles are not marketed for this purpose so there is no guarantee that the goggles will indeed provide enough protection from ultraviolet radiation or arc eye they are subject to when watching their owner weld.
The eyes of a dog are very similar to those of humans in terms of anatomy and function. A dog’s eye uses the same process to turn light images into a visual representation as the human eye does. If the human eye is susceptible to injury and damage from direct physical injury or light injury it seems only logical that a canine companion could be equally as susceptible to injury-perhaps more so. The anatomy of the canine eye does contain larger pupils and the additional reflective component of the tapetum which could impact the retina. Both increase a dog’s sensitivity to light and likely increases their chance of injury. If there is a human guest in the area where a fabricator is welding it is reasonable to ask them to turn in the other direction so as not to expose themselves to potential injury. It is unlikely if asked that a canine will understand what you are asking if you ask them to turn around or “go behind a curtain”. Without the use of protective equipment, a dog in the welding area is potentially exposed to significant eye injury and body injury as a result of flying particulate which they may or may not be able to avoid.