The perils of throwing sticks for your dog

Posted on January 23, 2019 by Daniella Mccready

Misty SaltWhilst throwing sticks for your dog can appear like a great form of play, the dangers are all too well known by veterinary surgeons. Sticks can get impaled into a dog’s throat, and whilst this may just cause minor wounds, some dogs will suffer life threatening injuries such as lacerations of the vital structures within the neck as well as multi-resistant bacterial infections. Unfortunately, the veterinary surgeons at the referral practice in Chester where I work are seeing these types of injuries more and more commonly. A survey by the British Veterinary Association in 2017 revealed that 3 in 4 vets had seen dogs injured by stick throwing over the previous year.

Dogs with stick injuries can present acutely with blood tinged saliva, pain and reluctance to eat; or can be seen weeks/months following the initial injury with swelling and abscessation of the face and neck.

The case of Misty Salt

Stick injuryMisty Salt, a 9-year-old neutered female Border Collie, was recently referred to ChesterGates Veterinary Specialists after suffering a stick injury. Misty’s owners were aware of the risks of throwing sticks and had never encouraged this behaviour, but on one walk Misty’s owner accidentally kicked a stick off the pathway and Misty, thinking this was a game, immediately launched onto it. Unfortunately, the stick got lodged in her throat. Her owner rushed her to her local vets where she was given initial treatment with antibiotics and pain killers. However, Misty’s condition deteriorated despite appropriate treatment and she was referred to ChesterGates Veterinary Specialists as an emergency.

At the time she was referred to us, Misty was severely ill. She had significant swelling, bruising and infection of the tissues of the neck, forelimbs and chest. She was very anaemic. After stabilisation with a blood transfusion, intravenous antibiotics and pain relief, a CT scan of the neck and chest was performed. It confirmed marked cellulitis (infection), swelling and bleeding within the tissues of the neck and chest. In addition, a stick of approximately 15 cm in length and 1.5 cm in diameter was identified lodged within her neck.

Misty had immediate exploratory surgery of her neck. A significant amount of damage to the soft tissues and deep muscles was evident, but fortunately no vital structures were damaged. The stick was removed, and the damaged tissues repaired. Misty spent five days in hospital receiving intensive post-operative care, and thankfully she made a full recovery from her severe injuries.

Swap sticks for dog-safe toys

Playing with your dog is beneficial for both the dog and owner. However, as Misty’s case shows, the reason why vets recommend not to throw sticks for your dog is to avoid these life-threatening injuries. If you and your dog enjoy this type of activity, vets recommend using more safer alternatives such as dog-friendly frisbees and rubber sticks. Speak to your local vet if you would like information on alternative dog-friendly toys. In addition, if you suspect your dog may have incurred a stick injury, seeking veterinary attention as soon as possible can be life-saving.

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Daniella McCready

Written by Daniella McCready

Daniella McCready is an ECVS and RCVS Specialist in Small Animal Surgery. Daniella currently works at ChesterGates Veterinary Specialists and is involved in managing referral cases in all aspects of soft tissue surgery.