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Does Fetching Sticks Pose a Major Health Risk to Dogs?

March 18, 2009 11:20 AM
by Isabel Cowles
Paralysis, abscesses and death caused by dirt, splinters and sharp points are among the health risks to dogs that fetch sticks, according to some U.K. veterinarians.

Vets Say "Don't Fetch"

A recent report by British veterinarians suggests that throwing sticks is not as innocent a pastime as some dog owners might think: in fact, fetching can be dangerous, or even fatal, for Fido.

Dan Brockman, a professor of small animal surgery at the Royal Veterinary College, coauthored a report with colleague Zoe Halfacree that advises dog owners to avoid using sticks as toys for dogs, citing the practice as harmful and occasionally fatal.

According to Professor Brockman, British dog owners spend thousands of pounds per year on vet bills to treat dogs that have sustained spinal or internal injuries caused by chasing and chewing on sticks.
Sticks are a risk because they are sharp and dirty: “as the dog runs onto them or grabs them in its mouth, the end of the stick can easily pierce the skin, going through it to penetrate the esophagus, spinal cord, blood vessels or the dog’s neck," explaiend Professor Brockman.

Small parts of sticks can also embed themselves inside the dog’s neck and mouth, introducing bacteria, fungi and yeast into the dog’s system.

Michelle Shanson, another British veterinarian, adds that these splinters can migrate to various parts of the dog’s body, including the eyeball and the spine, causing infection, paralysis and potentially death.

In the blog Blissfully Domestic, a professional dog trainer writes that injuries caused by sticks are the top reason for dogs' emergency room visits at many veterinarian practices. The article provides advice for dog owners on preventing such injuries.

Reference: Pet safety

The Dumb Friends League (named for animal friends that are “unable to speak”) is a non-profit animal shelter located in Colorado. The league lists safety tips when playing with dogs, including several recommended toys and how to use them.

Related Topics: Dogs survive from serious stick injuries

In 2005, Millie, a two-year-old Staffordshire bull terrier, swallowed a stick just two inches shorter than her own body. Millie’s owner threw a long stick for the dog to retrieve, but it stuck straight into the ground and according to Agence France-Presse, Millie essentially “impaled herself” on the stick. Fortunately, a successful two-hour surgery left Millie with nothing more than a minor stomach scratch.
In July 2008, a 14-month old Lurcher collie in the Shropshire county of England was badly injured by a stick it had swallowed, unbeknowst to its owner until the dog collapsed and was taken to the emergency room. Local newspaper the Shropshire Star reported that the injury was "appalling, but unfortunately all too common." The dog recovered after intensive care and surgery to a torn esophagus.

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