Stick injuries

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Sarah Probert looks at the damage sticks can cause to our four-legged friends.

On colder days or when time is short, it’s often tempting to play a game of fetch with our dogs rather than trudge across muddy fields for hours, which is fine… however, I would like to take a moment to look at what’s being thrown!

It can be unpleasant to carry a soggy ball home and frustrating spending much of the walk searching for a ‘lost’ ball, so it’s all too tempting to pick up a nearby stick. Perhaps your dog even brings one to you and lays it lovingly at your feet, looking up with pleading eyes?

Tempted by a stick?

Man has been throwing sticks and dogs have been chasing them since the two species formed their special bond, but, having seen so many stick injuries over the years I implore you not to throw sticks for your dog.

Picture this: you and your dog are out enjoying the interaction of throwing, chasing and retrieving. You throw – the stick goes high in the air and lands; one pointy end stuck fast in the ground, the other end sticking up; and your enthusiastic pet, unable to slow down fast enough, runs right onto it…

I’ve seen sticks penetrate the chest wall, causing damage to the major arteries of the chest and heart; the soft area of the palate; just behind the back teeth of an open mouth; under the tongue; an eye socket; up the nose – I’m sorry to be gruesome but there really are some horrific injuries.

I’ve known dogs die due to severe chest or throat injuries. With mouth and facial injuries, there’s a better chance of survival, but dogs can be disfigured and in pain for a long time.

Undetected injuries

Sometimes stick injuries can go undetected; as your dog is often far away when they injure themselves, they may come running back as if nothing happened, only to become progressively more out of sorts as the infection takes hold over the next few days. If they are really unlucky, the stick can break off internally, and it can take several operations to locate the end; we often don’t know this has even happened until the abscesses start forming weeks later.

What to throw?

Well, frisbees are a bit of a no-no due to the snatching action as the dog jumps for it which can cause vertebral damage to the neck and spine. Solid rubber balls without a rope can occasionally become lodged over the airway at the back of the throat and that can be fatal within minutes unless the ball is quickly removed. So I would recommend a ball on a rope, or a squidgy tennis ball – bowled along the ground as opposed to thrown high in the air. A rubber ‘stick’ is fine too providing it is not too heavy for the size of dog.

Playtime is fun and we all know our dogs love to run and fetch – just play safe!

– Sarah Probert, BVSc MRCVS, Bridgnorth Veterinary Centre

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