When out in the yard or on a trail, a stick makes for a great makeshift dog toy. Versatile in their usefulness, sticks can be used as chew toys, for tug of war, and for playing fetch. However, veterinarians and canine professionals are encouraging dog owners to ditch the sticks and play with safer alternatives in order to avoid the risk of serious injury or even death.
Injuries to the mouth and throat are common among regular stick-playing dogs. As dogs gleefully run around the yard with a stick hanging out of their mouth, they are unaware of the dangers that can occur if the sticks were to hit another object (such as a tree). If a dog is running full force and the branch touches the ground or another stationary object, the piece of wood can easy cause abrasions or even implement to the dog’s mouth. Even worse, the force of the stick hitting an object may cause the branch to snap into multiple pieces, which poses a choking hazard.
Dogs are naturally drawn to chewing on sticks, yet these wooden toys are home to insects, dirt, and other foreign debris. Pieces of the stick can become lodged deep in the mouth and may go unnoticed for weeks or months, resulting in serious infection. The stick may also cause cuts or abrasions in the dog’s mouth, leaving the area prone to infection. If the stick is home to bugs, such as fire ants, your pet may suffer from painful bites or stings.
Sometimes dogs have a tendency to bite off more than they can chew (or digest). Every year veterinarians remove stick debris from the stomachs of dogs that was unable to be digested. Not only does stick-eating result in costly, unnecessary, and potentially dangerous surgery, but intestinal lacerations or blockages can also be life threatening if not caught in time.
When a human throws a stick there is no way of predicting how that stick will land, or the path that the dog will run while chasing this dangerous toy. Dogs have been seriously injured by sticks in one of two ways: either the stick landed in the ground like a javelin and the dog ran into the stick face (or neck, or chest) first; or, the dog was hit by the stick, causing an injury such as impalement.
There are numerous alternatives to throwing a stick that is much safer for your pet. Durable rubber toys, such as the bouncing rory or the toy sling ball are both safe for pets and encourage hours of fun play time. Although sticks are convenient and dogs appear naturally drawn to them, the safest objects for your pet are ones without sharp edges that cannot be easily destroyed. Teaching your dog the “drop it” or “leave it” command and carrying an extra toy or treats with you while hiking or in the yard are recommended.