Dog games – how throwing sticks can put your dog at risk

Dog games can be so much fun – it’s one of the many perks of having a pet! However, a harmless game of playing fetch with a stick can be dangerous for your pooch – Veterinary Professor Dick White explains why.

dog games

We all love to play with our dogs by throwing things for them to retrieve – but did you know that something as simple as throwing a stick can result in a very serious, possibly fatal, injury to your dog?

stick injury 2

What is a stick injury?

Every summer many dogs can sustain very serious injuries to the mouth and throat as the result of running onto sticks when their mouth is open; the injury happens on one of two main ways:

1. Most commonly, owners play with and exercise their dogs by throwing sticks for them. Dogs chase the stick with their mouths open in order to collect the stick but instead run onto it as it lodges in the ground.

2. Less commonly, hunting dogs can run onto sticks and stakes in the undergrowth as they open their mouth to retrieve wounded birds.

border collie

What type of dogs get stick injuries?

Stick injuries happen mostly in young dogs (under 4 years) and medium-sized breeds (20 – 30kg).

Collies are by far the most common breed to suffer this injury as the result of sticks thrown by their owners; Labradors and spaniels are the most common of the hunting breeds to sustain this injury.

This type of injury is very rare in toy and miniature breeds and almost never seen in giant dogs.

dog games

How serious can the injury be?

As the dog runs onto the stick with its mouth open, the back of the throat is penetrated and torn; several factors determine how serious the injury will be:

–       the size of dog

–       the speed at which the dog is running

–       the angle at which the stick enters the dog’s mouth.

By far the most serious injuries are seen in larger dogs that run at high speed directly onto the stick. The stick penetrates the back of the throat and can tear the gullet (oesophagus).

dog games

What should I do if my dog runs onto a stick?

Stick injuries are potentially very, very serious injuries. You must get your dog to your vet as soon as possible. Never be tempted to ‘wait and see’ if the dog recovers.

dog with toy

How can I prevent my dog getting a stick injury?

There is only one way to prevent dogs being injured by sticks: Don’t ever be tempted to throw a stick for your dog!

Dogs love to retrieve things for us but be safe – choose a ball, tug toy or something without any sharp edges.


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