Many dog owners love to play fetch with their furry friends using a stick, but according to Canberra dog owner Helen Grinbergs, it's a policy that can be dangerous to your pet. Her "no stick-throwing" policy is one that she enforces because of the real risk of harm. Sadly, her dog Pip sustained horrific injuries while running off-lead in 2021. Pip impaled himself on a stick, and despite the very small wound in his skin, the damage underneath was extensive. The stick had gone through his chest wall and severed his carotid artery, and another artery as well. In critical condition, Pip was transported to the Animal Referral Hospital under general anaesthetic where a scan revealed damaged tissue as deep as Pip's second rib.
The incident, coupled with Grinbergs's existing attitude, makes her wary of the 'Stick Library' trend, which invites dogs to "take a stick, borrow a stick" from local "branches." Veterinarians have also long argued against throwing sticks, but the popularity of a stick library in Canberra's inner north has prompted a reminder. Stick-related injuries were not "hugely common" at the Canberra Vet Hospital, but when they did happen, the cases "tend to stay with you." Injuries can range anywhere from dogs having splinters in their mouths to having sticks stuck within their teeth or having sticks embedded in their chest or abdominal cavities, which happens if they jump to catch a stick and land on it.
Throwing the stick into the water for retrieval also does not eliminate the risk for dogs and neither does downsizing to a smaller stick, as Pip's case suggests. The stick had gone through Pip's chest wall and severed his carotid artery, and another artery as well. Pip has lasting nerve damage and Horner syndrome in one eye where one of his pupils no longer dilates properly. Vets suggest encouraging dogs to play with other toys, instead of sticks, when they are quite young. If your dog likes chasing sticks, there are many plastic or rubber alternatives that you can throw.
Dog owners should be cautious of sticks and branches during walks. Concerned owners should seek immediate veterinary care if their dog is salivating heavily, pawing at their face, experiencing significant discomfort, or bleeding. Although playing fetch with sticks is a beloved pastime for many dogs and their owners, Grinbergs warns that it can be dangerous to your pet. Dogs can experience serious injuries from playing with sticks, from splinters in their mouths and teeth to sticks stuck in their chest or abdominal cavities. Instead of throwing sticks, vets suggest encouraging dogs to play with other toys, such as tennis balls or frisbees, and offering plastic or rubber alternatives. Remember that it's always better to err on the side of caution and avoid stick-throwing altogether.