Tips & Tricks for Pets

Veterinary Team Management

Chewing On Sticks

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Recently I was reading a post in a discussion list I subscribe to where the poster was referring to a lovely walk she’d had with her dogs where they’d been chewing their way through rather a lot of sticks.

This is probably something we’ve all seen our dogs do and not given so much as a second thought to.

But I want you to start thinking about it. And here’s why…

Years ago, when my very first dog was still a manic ‘teenager,’ one of his favourite games was ‘the stick game.’ While we were out for walks, any stick he spotted was fair game. He would pounce on it joyfully then race off with it as fast as he could. After 5-10 seconds, he would throw it high in the air then quickly scream round and round like a total loony for about 30 seconds or so.

Then, panting furiously, he would find the stick again and lie down to have a good old chew at it.

This process would be repeated several times throughout a walk.

I never thought anything of it. It all seemed perfectly harmless, and the dog was thoroughly enjoying himself. And it also helped to tire him out to boot.

However, one day it all went wrong. He’d been playing the usual games perfectly happily one minute, then the next he was yelping in agony and frantically pawing at his mouth.

I rushed over to him to discover that a piece of his stick about as thick as my thumb was stuck at the back of his mouth. One end was lodged into the side of his cheek. No wonder he was screaming – it looked painful.

Fortunately, he was an incredibly sensible dog, and right from an early age, he’d always seemed to be able to sense when I was trying to help him. He would stand stock still for me to pull thorns from his pads and carefully examine any injuries he’d sustained. This was no exception. He stood quiet as a lamb and allowed me to carefully ease the very sharp and very oversize splinter out of the inside of his cheek.

No permanent harm was done. I’m pleased to say.

A few weeks later, I was with a friend of mine who is a vet. I mentioned this incident to him, to which he replied that similar sorts of injuries were by no means uncommon. In more severe cases, the stick can be lodged out of sight down the throat, and in horrible instances, it was not unheard of for the dog to die.

I was quite shocked. Nobody had ever warned me of the dangers of sticks before, and it had just never crossed my mind that they might be dangerous.

From that day onwards, I have always been extremely wary of letting my dogs chew on sticks. It just isn’t worth the risk.

I don’t want to be accused of scaremongering, so I should also add that I think the chances of your dog sustaining an injury like this are probably not very high. But of course, it depends on a lot of things. Maybe your dog isn’t interested in sticks, in which case it will never be an issue.

And I’m sure the type of stick will affect. If it’s been lying on the forest floor for a few years already, it will have decayed internally and will quite possibly be very soft and crumbly, in which case I don’t suppose it would pose much of a risk at all.

But if it’s only recently fallen from the tree, it could still be harsh and brittle, in which case it’s far more likely to have sharp points that could become impaled on soft tissue.

And if your dog _was_ unfortunate enough to get a stick stuck in its mouth, I think the outcome would depend a lot on the dog’s temperament and the strength of your relationship with it.

I was fortunate that my dog was sensible enough to stand quietly while I fished about in his mouth. There are an awful lot of dogs that would _not_ behave so calmly. I know for a fact that my youngest bitch at the moment wouldn’t. She tends to panic at something that frightens her, in situations like that, her first reaction is to bolt. But even if I managed to calm her down enough to put her on the lead, I’m pretty sure she would still thrash about in fear every time I tried to look in her mouth. That’s just the way she is.

And what if something like that happened on a long walk when you were still some way away from home? If a stick is lodged out of sight down the throat, it’s going to have to be a vet job. And I would imagine you’ve only got a limited window within which to get the dog into the surgery before it’s too late.

Like I say, I don’t want to alarm you unnecessarily. I still think the chances of something like this happening are slim. But I also believe it is essential that you are aware of the potential danger involved in letting your dog play with sticks.

I’m sure you’ve got toys that your dog enjoys playing with. If yours shows a tendency to want to play ‘the stick game,’ then why not take some of those toys with you on your walks to use as a substitute?

Better safe than sorry…

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