If there is one old doggie habit that makes vets curl their toes more than any other, it must be fetching sticks.
But why on earth would I say that? Surely people have thrown sticks for their dogs for centuries.
Fetching a stick might be one of your dog’s favourite pastimes and many people enjoy throwing a stick for their dog, seeing their faces as they run to retrieve it for you.
However, not infrequently, vets see major injuries as a result of dogs playing with sticks.
The most common stick injury is damage to the roof of the mouth. When dogs run at full speed back to their owners with their stick, all it takes is one little trip to propel the sharp splintery stick right into the soft tissues in the back of the mouth or throat.
If the dog is unlucky, these injuries may be fatal. If they are ‘lucky’ they escape with often major tears in the sensitive tissues of the mouth.
More than once I have had to repair a large hole in a dog’s soft palate (the soft bit at the back of the dog’s mouth).
These holes can affect their breathing and requires emergency surgery. Other mouth injuries that I have seen include sticks wedged across the back of the mouth – slightly more straightforward to repair as they are usually stuck between teeth and have to be prised out.
Sometimes, stick injuries can lead to more long term consequences than us stitching up a nasty hole. If a splinter manages to break off a stick inside the dogs mouth, it can track through the soft tissues of the neck. This will lead to large neck abscesses caused by a migrating splinter, and can happen even several months after the original stick injury. Cases like this need to be referred to a veterinary hospital for an MRI scan to locate the splinter, and also need major surgery performed to remove not only the splinter, but the trail of destruction that it has left behind it.
Apologies again for the doom and gloom. I’m very happy to say that these are not the most common injury we see, however it is something that is entirely preventable - dogs love playing with balls just as much as sticks. We have even started to sell a few varieties of synthetic stick. These next-gen dog toys are designed not to cause splinters. Enjoy the summer weather, and play safe.