Throwing a stick for their dog to fetch is all part of the walk for some canine owners. However in 2016, the president of the British Veterinary Association in Scotland warned dog owners that doing so posed great risk of injury. In advising owners to stop throwing sticks for their pets to retrieve, Grace Webster’s comments seemed to divide dog owners in whether the practice was any great risk at all.
Some believe that having thrown sticks for their dogs for as long as they could remember without incident shows that the risk factor is very low. Others will have taken her comments far more seriously.
At Protectivity, over 70% of insurance claims from pet businesses relate to the cost of vet bills accrued after a dog in their care has suffered an injury. But what exactly are the health risks of throwing sticks for dogs?
There are three types of common canine injuries associated with sticks.
A dog’s natural reaction upon finding a stick that they like the look of is likely to be to bite down. And with the sheer power afforded in a dog’s bite, smaller sticks are likely to splinter. This can cause two problems for dogs.
Firstly, there is the obvious issue of wooden splinters getting stuck in dog’s mouth. The secondary problem of infection can often be a result of the first problem. Owners may not be aware their pet has a potentially dirty piece of wood embedded in their pet’s mouth. Other instances may see dogs swallow the aforementioned splinters. This too, could lead to rather nasty infections if the sticks were carrying unpleasant bugs and bacteria.
Imagine the speed at which a dog may attempt to pick up a stick from the ground; it’s easy to see how they can cause damage if they wedge into the ground or land at an unusual angle. A broken stick or log could have particularly sharp edges and cause some nasty cuts if they catch your dog’s mouth in the worst way.
However, it’s not just an issue of superficial cuts that could be caused. Those cuts could lead to infections, which, if not spotted early can be very dangerous to your dog’s health. Furthermore, running along the roof of your dog’s mouth is the Greater Palatine Artery. As a major blood vessel, any cuts to this part a canine’s mouth could lead to severe blood loss.
A potentially serious, but rather common stick-related injury is impalement. Exactly where a dog is impaled can often determine the seriousness of their injuries. While a cut to the mouth can be painful, if a dog was to fail to pick up a stick properly or runs onto the stick, there’s a risk that it could become lodged at the back of their throat. Not only does this sound unpleasant, but it can be extremely serious for the dog in question.
The soft tissue around the dog’s pharynx (where the nose and mouth meet at the back of the throat) is particularly vulnerable. Damage to this soft tissue can lead to infections, abscesses and even paralysis. Injuries to this area can also lead to the dog being unable to eat or swallow properly.
Aswell as impalement around the dog’s mouth, there’s a danger of thoracic impalement. Whether the dog pulls away from collecting the thrown stick, or they misjudge it altogether, there’s a chance the stick could lodge in their chest. While this doesn’t have quite the same risk of serious injury, penetration around the dogs ribs or abdomen can often be painful and require veterinary treatment.
Many dogs will enjoy playing fetch with their owners without injury, however why take the risk? The British Veterinary College reported that their colleagues are each seeing, on average, one stick-related injury a month.
There are a number of alternatives to throwing sticks, such as using rubber bones, balls and frisbees. These toys can come at reasonably low cost and could eliminate some of the risk of injury to your dog.
If you’re a professional dog walker and still plan to throw sticks for the dogs you walk, having protection in place in case of injury is important. Our Dog Walking Insurance could cover you for the vet bills incurred if an injury occurred to a dog in your care.