There is nothing more iconic than the image of a dog enthusiastically chasing a stick. Dog owners have been using sticks to play fetch with their canine companions for hundreds of years, but this seemingly harmless game can actually be dangerous for dogs. Many dogs suffer from serious injuries and even death from chasing after sticks.
The Danger of Throwing Sticks
Sticks are an appealing toy. They are free and can be found just about anywhere. If a stick is broken or lost, another can be easily found to replace it. The problem is that sticks are hard and pointy and dog mouths and throats are soft.
If a dog catches a stick “on the full”, that is before it hits the ground, the sharp end can cut his mouth and tongue. There have been cases where dogs have had sticks penetrate all the way down their throat and esophagus, which has resulted in major surgery to repair the damage.
Even if your dog waits until it bounces, injury can occur. A fast running dog that grabs a stick that has become stuck in the ground may also suffer cuts and lacerations.
More conservative or slow moving canines may not be at risk of such severe injuries, but they can also get splinters or trauma to their gums from mouthing or chewing at the wood. This can result in infection, which can be persistent; some infections can only be cleared up by removing the fragments of wood from the tissues of the mouth.
One less dangerous consequence of using sticks as a toy is that your dog is likely to drop one in your lap all the time, inviting you for a game. If you don’t want to play and put the stick away, he’s very likely to find another one and give that to you. There are few things more annoying than a persistent dog with a pointy stick!
If stick throwing is out of the question, what alternatives are available to dog owners? Vets recommend throwing balls, toys or Frisbees instead of sticks. Specially designed soft rubber toys that resemble sticks are also great alternatives. It is important to still ensure that the toys and balls you choose to throw are an appropriate size for your dog, and are sturdy.
The only time you should consider throwing a stick is in water. If you throw a reasonable distance into a lake or the ocean, the stick will be floating gently on the water by the time your dog swims out to it. Even then, there are better options – floating toys such as the Kong are gentler on your dog’s mouth and will not sink.
Even if you have never had an issue with your dog fetching sticks, it is important to be aware of the dangers and the risks. With safer alternatives available, it only makes sense to put down the stick and trade it in for ball or a Frisbee.