dog playing with stick in the water

A Sticky Situation

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It may be a difficult point to continue hammering home for your pup, but sticks do your dogs no favors. During the spring, summer, and fall, I see 1-2 dogs weekly who have accidentally impaled themselves while playing with sticks. We get the occasional stick foreign body in the external skin or intestines. They also get stuck between teeth causing extreme pain and panic or tear into the mouth or throat. Throw your dog a bone (not literally, they’re bad for their teeth), and don’t throw a stick. 

We commonly see owners come in because their dog was playing with a stick, and they think their knees or neck are hurt. Their dog may have cried out, won’t drink or eat, or sometimes they just seem in pain and “off.” As soon as you say the trigger word –stick– the first place I’m looking is the mouth and the back of the throat. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes sedation to see far enough back into the throat where the injury is.

Everybody always thinks it won’t happen to them. “Not my dog, I’m careful…”

Well, so was I. I have personally closed two wounds in the back of my own dog’s throat from stick injuries. I caused the first injury by allowing my dog to play with sticks. The second incident transpired when some very sweet kids were all too happy to throw the stick for him. Unfortunately, the cute encounter landed us back in the ER for a tear in his throat. 

Injuries from Dogs Playing with Sticks

Dogs will frequently catch up to the stick before it stops bouncing. Or, even if they’re carrying the stick is in their mouth as they run back to you, they may run into something and….pop. They will have tears under the tongue, in the soft palate, or the back of the throat, sometimes going all the way to the musculature in the back of the neck.

The wounds obviously cause pain, but sometimes stick fragments break off in the wound. The splintered wood harbors bacteria, causing a recurrent abscess. The stick fragments can also migrate through muscle and soft tissue until they end up somewhere really dangerous. Starting in the head and neck, I have seen them appear in the chest months later. If the dog is really lucky, they are found before they cause a life-threatening illness. Wood is not visible on x-rays, so these fragments can be difficult to identify if your dog is not examined immediately after a dangerous run-in with a stick.

No Sticks for Fido

“No sticks” is a command my dogs have become all too familiar with. It takes constant reinforcement on walks and any time we go outside. My boys love to play fetch, and sticks are an easily accessible toy. Especially with new people, my dogs will try to convince them to give a stick a good toss. I make a point of having lots of toys available in the yard and try to keep one or two in the car or jackets I tend to take on walks. Redirecting my dog’s attention to safe toys instead of sticks is effective, and I strongly recommend it. You may lose the occasional toy on a walk, but even the expensive dog toys are far less costly than a sedated wound repair, not to mention the cost to your animal of a painful injury. Don’t let your dog get stuck; let them have a ball instead.  

Tier 1 Veterinary Medical Center in Palmer is Alaska’s only comprehensive animal hospital. We are available by appointment, in addition to accepting emergencies and walk-ins. With CT, MRI, and Ultrasound available on-site, our facility provides advanced treatment options for your pet. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.

Dr. Paige Wallace

Dr. Paige Wallace is the Urgent Care Coordinator at Tier 1 Veterinary Medical Center. Born and raised right here in the Mat-Su Valley, Dr. Wallace received her education and veterinary training through her service in the United States Army. She served as a Captain with the 218th Medical Detachment Veterinary Service Support, under the 62nd Medical Brigade. Dr. Wallace has extensive experience treating trauma cases in remote areas and with limited resources, bringing a wealth of knowledge and think-on-your-feet experience to the Tier 1 VMC team.