Ready? On the mark, get set, go fetch! Throwing a stick to your dog may appear like an innocent, quite innocuous activity, but there are cases where a fun, fetch-the-stick game may turn into dangerous situation, especially when special precautions aren’t taken. Yet, who can resist the pleading eyes of a dog asking his master to engage in a fun game of retrieve? Sticks are almost always readily available, they are easy to toss, and best of all, they are free and fun to chew on. Breeds selectively bred for retrieving such as the Labrador retriever or Golden retriever may be particularly fond of this game, and so many other dogs love the game too, but unfortunately, when it comes to safety, sticks aren’t the safest retrieving items around.
Five Dangers of Tossing Sticks to Your Dog
While you may have been playing fetch with a stick for many years uneventfully, veterinary clinics may know a whole different story. It’s not that rare for a vet to see a dog that has been injured by a stick after an enthusiastic game of fetch. Robin Hangreaves, president of the British Veterinary Association, claims to perform a surgery about once a month on a dog that got injured by a stick. The worst injuries were mostly seen in retrievers, Labradors and collies. Following are some examples of a toss-the-stick game gone wrong.
A good amount of sticks are quite sharp. Even if they are not, they may turn sharp after repeated tossing and catching. When a dog retrieves a sharp stick, he’s at risk of injuring his mouth. Add to that the force derived from the stick being thrown, and you have the recipe for a potentially serious injury. In some cases, wood splinters may embed in the dog’s tongue, under the gums, in the roof of the dog’s mouth or esophagus.
When a dog retrieves a stick, there are chances he may get cuts in his mouth or other body part that may not be readily noticed. Because sticks are often contaminated with dirt, there are chances those cuts get infected from the presence of bacteria. The infected area may not be noticeable until it aggravates, sometimes to the point of the infection entering the bloodstream and causing a life threatening systemic infection.
At times, dogs may retrieve the stick and then decide to go lie down and chew on it. The wood particles may not only cause a dog to choke, but if large parts are swallowed, they may cause an intestinal obstruction which often requires extensive surgery to remove. If your dog is the type that tends to swallow stuff, play it safe and keep sticks out of reach.
According to data collected from the surgery logs collected from January 1996 to May 2003 at the Foster Hospital for Small Animals at Tufts University and Angell Memorial Animal Hospital in Boston, out of 9 cases of thoracic impalement, 7 were caused by sticks. In the majority of cases, the dogs affected were running into a stick, according to DVM360. Should your dog suffer from impalement, it’s best to leave the stick in place and immediately see the vet, suggests former ER and general practice veterinarian, Jason Nicholas. There are chances the stick may be preventing major blood less or a collapsed lung.
Even though not that common, the sticks of some trees or shrubs may be toxic. If you are not sure what plant the stick belongs to, best to play it safe and find safer alternatives. Have your dog see a vet immediately if he starts drooling, shows signs of GI upset of nervous system disorders after fetching or chewing on a stick.
On top of all these dangers, consider that sometimes dog owners get injured as well from playing with a stick with their dog. This can happen when the dog enthusiastically returns the stick and injures the owner with the part protruding from the mouth.
The Bottom Line
So what can be done to improve safety? An option would be to do “dead retrieves” only, suggests dog trainer Grisha Stewart. Basically, put your dog in a sit stay, toss the stick and then send him out to retrieve. However, consider that dogs may still get injured when they carry or chew on the stick. Better off to play it safe and “stick” to the many safer toys such as rubber balls and Frisbees. And if your dog cannot resist the shape and size of sticks, consider that several companies now sell sticks made of rubber for happy play sessions without running all these major risks.