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The dangers of throwing sticks

We all know that playing fetch with our dogs is super fun and rewarding. It is almost an innate response to playing with our pups. We throw their toys for them – balls, rope toys, or frisbee and dogs love to goof around and chase their toys.

But what if you forget your toy on a walk, maybe you think this stick will do – wait - did you know the humble stick is actually way more dangerous than you are lead to believe?

In fact, throwing sticks for your dog can lead to critical and sometimes fatal injuries if not spotted and treated quickly by a veterinarian.

What can happen that can be so dangerous?

Sticks can be of various shapes and sizes, they can be sharp and irregular on the edges, or thorny depending on the type of tree it has come from. These surfaces can cause small wounds and scrapes in the mouth.

Worse still the splinters from sticks can lead to recurrent infections and abscesses.

In the emergency setting, we see patients that have experienced implement of the stick, and this can happen when the dog goes to catch the stick in their mouths, and it can impale their throat which can cause, obstruction or choking, laceration of delicate structures like the oesophagus, trachea, or major blood vessels. In addition, if the stick is thrown and not caught directly but rebounds off the floor it can cause impalement into your dog's body or chest. All of these injuries are incredibly painful and can be distressing to witness.

Signs of stick injury

You may see your dog have a stick injury that quite obviously causes injury such as impalement, or more subtle signs such as they may cry, or yelp on catching the stick.

Your dog may appear fine after the initial trauma, but clinical signs can be delayed, seek veterinary care immediately after witnessing a trauma.

Severe trauma requires URGENT veterinary treatment due to:

  • difficulty breathing - due to severe pharyngeal (throat) swelling or mediastinal emphysema (air from impalement of the stick into the neck and chest)

  • Throat obstruction from the stick

Early phase of trauma clinical signs shown may include:

  • problems eating, or not eating

  • drooling

  • depression - lethargy

  • oral pain

  • pain on flexing of the neck

  • swollen neck/oral cavity

  • blood in the saliva

  • pain on opening of the mouth.

Chronic phase (days after ) clinical signs may include:

  • recurrent swelling or abscess of the head or neck, sometimes with a draining/pus-filled wound tract on the neck

  • inappetence

  • lethargy

  • pain over site of wound or abscess

What should I do if my dog gets a stick injury?

We recommend swiftly visiting a veterinary clinic if you have seen or suspect a stick injury.

Quick intervention is needed to avoid critical conditions worsening, or chronic injuries from developing if left untreated.

Playing with our pooches should not lead to the pain and distress of stick-induced injuries.

To prevent this from happening to your beloved dog, avoid throwing sticks – balls, frisbees, and rope toys are all safer alternatives to sticks and will not result in an emergency vet visit. If you forget their toys on the walk, simply enjoy the walk for a walk and allow your dog to enjoy a good amount of time sniffing around. They will find this just as stimulating as chasing a ball!

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