Dogs Should Step Away From Sticks

News headlines this week are again warning us not to throw sticks for dogs to fetch. With these fresh warnings we discuss the dangers of dogs and sticks.

sticks are dangerous to dogsReports of a collie getting a stick stuck in her throat was the reason behind the latest headlines. Maya was playing fetch when a piece of wood punctured her tongue and displaced her voicebox. But this is not an isolated or unusual case. Fetching sticks can cause horrific and sometimes life-threatening injuries.

Sarah Stevenson, from the veterinary practice that treated Maya, said more and more dogs are being brought in with stick injuries.

"Stick injuries may not be initially obvious and may cause long term problems. For these reasons, we are warning pet owners against throwing or encouraging their dog to play with or chase sticks."

Maya's owners said they were unaware of the dangers and agree that people need to warned. "I’m absolutely devastated by what happened. How many people throw a stick for their dog to chase? It could happen to anyone" said Maya's owner.

Do we really need to be worried?

For a while now we have been warned about the dangers of letting our dogs play with sticks. I have seen photos of some dreadful injuries caused by dogs accidentally impaling themselves on sticks during play.

In 2013 a Daily Mail headline read “Bad news for the dog as vets tell owners not to throw sticks in a bizarre health warning”. I found that a little odd. What is so bizarre about it? If vets deem something to be dangerous to your dog, wouldn’t you like to know? They are not asking for sticks to be outlawed or for owners to be fined if their dog chases a stick. What they are doing is simply trying to warn dog owners about the dangers.

In the above mentioned Daily Mail article the subheadings were as follows:

- Leading vets say owners are unwittingly putting their dogs in grave danger
- Throwing sticks can cause dogs to choke or get infections from splinters
- Operations to remove splinters from dogs' throats can cost up to £5,000

As a dog owner, that is information I would like to know, so thank you "leading vets" for bringing this issue to our attention.

Sticks are sharp and dirty. Splinters, open wounds and scratches, spear-type wounds and infections are all dangers associated with playing with sticks. I have seen numerous photos of these type of injuries, so it is real and can happen.

This is not a new message. In 2008 Dan Brockman, professor of small animal surgery at the Royal Veterinary College, made news headlines when he led a study of both acute and chronic stick injuries in dogs. He explained that he had treated dozens of serious injuries and infections caused by dogs stabbed while chasing sticks and warned that owners risk thousands of pounds’ worth of vet bills by throwing sticks.

He said: "For vets it is one of the most frustrating kinds of injuries. Many injuries are minor but some are horrific. They range from minor scratches to the skin or lining of the mouth, to paralysis of limbs, life-threatening blood loss, and acute and chronic infections. The problem is that sticks are sharp and very dirty. That means that, as the dog runs onto them or grabs them in its mouth, the end of the stick can easily pierce the skin, going through it to penetrate the oesophagus, spinal cord, blood vessels or the dog’s neck."

Prof Brockman added: "Several dogs involved in the study died as a result of their stick injury and these deaths almost always involved resistant bacteria and infection that spread from the neck to the chest. What this research shows is that dogs that are allowed and encouraged to play with sticks can sustain serious injuries that result in bleeding to death, paralysis or acquiring infections that will kill them days or weeks later."

Vet and columnist Pete Wedderburn wrote an article in 2009 on "The dangers of throwing sticks for dogs".

“Unfortunately, stick-chasing can be a very hazardous activity” said Pete. He explained what happened to Whoopie, a five year old Golden Labrador. Whoopie was an ardent stick chaser. After selecting a stick, her owners would throw it for her, until one day when the stick was thrown and landed one end stuck into the ground and the other end pointing up. The dog ran towards it full pelt with mouth open. You can guess what happened next. The free end of the stick impaled itself inside Whoopie's mouth. Her recovery took 2 weeks. Sounds horrific? Actually, she was one of the lucky ones. Pete explains “If the stick injury had been just an inch in the other direction, it would have damaged the main blood vessel to her head, and she could have bled to death”.

throw dog toys not sticks

Vets Now explain why sticks can be so dangerous: “Sticks are often sharp and dirty, carrying a lot of bacteria and the main problems tend to arise when dogs run at high speed onto a falling stick, resulting in all sorts of complications including damage to the tongue and lips, mouth (soft palate), eyes, legs or more serious penetrating deep injuries to the soft tissues of the neck and chest, requiring very complicated surgery and in most cases referral to a specialist.”

So before you dismiss this warning, a quick look online will confirm what the vets are trying to tell us. Playing with sticks is a danger to your dog. There are so many great alternatives you dog will love (or could learn to love) so why take the risk?

Stick to dog toys

If your dog loves chasing and fetching sticks, encourage them to play with safe dog toys instead such as frisbees, appropriately-sized dog balls or other floating and flying toys made especially for dogs. If your dog is a lifelong stick lover this may take some time but persevere and you will succeed. It will be worth it.

safe dog fetch stick

For a superb game of fetch with your dog, please see our range of highly recommended dog balls and dog ball launchers. Many of the dog balls in the range come in 3 sizes so you can choose a size to suit your dog. It is important not to buy one that is too small as that can be a chocking hazard. We are confident you will find something your dog will love.

The Chuckit Breathe Right Fetch Stick - the ultimate floating and flying dog toy stick that is perfect for games of fetch on land or in water. Made from a durable and bouyant material, it is safe for your dog and great fun. Or try KONG Safestix dog stick toy - the perfect long and rubbery throw and fetch toy and a safe alternative to wooden sticks.

See our range of dog toys that Float, Fly & Tug - all safe alternatives to sticks.

By Jenny Prevel

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