Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Stick Injuries In Dogs

When I walk my dog I’m often astounded at the number of people I see allowing their dogs to carry sticks, play with sticks and fetch sticks that they have thrown. As a vet I see the potential disasters that can occur from this practice and wonder why people think that sticks are safe toys for dogs. I suppose that the main reason is that sticks are natural, abundant and can be left in the park at the end of the walk. Unfortunately sticks can cause a variety of injuries of varying severity, are relatively common in dogs and can in fact actually cause death.

The simple act of carrying a stick in the mouth can cause small splinters to become embedded in the soft tissues of the mouth- the lips, cheeks, tongue and oropharynx which is the area at the back of the mouth where the larynx and oesophagus start. The small splinters can create a problem because they drag bacteria into the tissues and create inflammation as the body tries to expel them, what is known as a ‘foreign body’ reaction. Often the dog does not show any signs of a problem until eventually an abscess forms. Then they experience pain in the mouth, go off their food and can start drooling.

The only way to correct the problem is to surgically excise the offending splinter. This is often easier said then done. Wood does not show up on x-ray at all and even with advanced imaging techniques such as MRI they can still be difficult to find.

If the veterinary surgeon can see the abscess itself then the whole area can be excised. This is often difficult because there are many important blood vessels and nerves in the face which can be damaged during surgery. If any abscess or splinter is left behind then the whole problem will re-flare at a later date.

Splinters can also migrate through the tissues of the mouth into the area behind the eye, into the neck and all the important structures there and even down into the chest. There is one report of splinter migration causing an abscess in the spine of the dog’s neck resulting in quadriparesis so the dog was unable to move any legs.

Abscesses forming behind the eyeball cause severe pain and often result in the whole eye being removed. Migrating splinters can cause intermittent symptoms of fever and pain as well as potentially resulting in release of bacteria from the abscesses into the blood causing septicaemia and death. Splinters reaching the chest cavity can cause abscess in the lungs which can be practically impossible to locate and excise This can mean that long term medication with antibiotics is required in a dog that has become chronically debilitated. Long term infection can even lead to immune mediated diseases such as diabetes occurring. All this is possible from a small wood splinter.

Catching a moving stick can be very dangerous for a dog. If the stick splinters on impact, then splinters can be sent deep into the tissues of the mouth and neck, lacerating important structures such as blood vessels, nerves and the oesophagus. Sometimes the whole stick can become impaled in the eye, mouth, neck or even chest if the dog catches it at the wrong angle.

Fatal injuries occur if the stick lacerates the carotid arteries in the neck or causes a ruptured oesophagus.

Please don’t take a chance with your dog.

It is natural for dogs to want to carry things, catch and fetch. If your dog likes these games please buy him or her an appropriate sized ball, Frisbee or rope toy- these toys are much cheaper financially then the vet bills associated with treating stick injuries and will avoid the emotional risk of having an ill dog or even a fatal accident from a stick injury.

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Zako Media said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Zako Media said...

It also amazes me how many dogs are allowed to cross the road considering the number of animal related road accidents, chew on plastic toys despite the chemicals and sharp parts. Chew on rawhide bones which have been left on the bacteria filled floor for weeks on end.

A dog can be injured by anything at any time. Why be paranoid?

As a vet what percentage of stick chasing dogs get an injury in their lifetimes? What about the benefits of chewing sticks for the teeth?

(apologies for the 'removed comment' I wanted to edit it but could only delete and rewrite)

Michelle Shanson- The Veterinary Blonde said...

I don't know what percentage of stick chasing dogs get injured because I don't know how many dogs chase sticks. What I do know is that I have seen three very badly affected dogs made unwell from wood splinters in their mouths after chewing on sticks that have been treated in the last few months. STICKS ARE BAD FOR DOGS to chew on. There are loads of alternatives, especially Kongs and Safestix which will keep your dogs entertained. As for teeth cleaning you can't beat teeth brushing.....