Last week The Times carried an article on its front page, no less, about the advice of a vet not to throw sticks for your dogs. While not convinced that this advice should be allowed to relegate the news that the world was falling apart to page 3, I do agree that this is important advice.
Having attended a lecture last year by an eminent American professor of veterinary surgery about the surgical approach to stick injuries, I needed very little persuading that sticks are dangerous. She showed us a myriad of cases, with photographic evidence, of the injuries that dogs could sustain. The most common, which we do see quite frequently in our practice, occur when a dog is running with a stick or catches one and manages to stab itself in the mouth or throat. Frequently the tip of the stick or a splinter is left behind – not always easy to find. Swelling in the neck region can cause breathing and swallowing difficulties, and pain.
All stick injuries will result in some infection as they are always dirty and this complicates the surgery. I have seen a few cases where the dog has crunched down onto a stick and caught it between the teeth on the hard palate or between the teeth. It usually requires a simple flick of an instrument to remove it. However, the dog has to be a bit compliant and they are usually quite stressed when this happens, so occassionally we need to anaesthetise them before being able to perform this simple procedure.
The professor works at a referral clinic of a university, so her cases were quite spectacular. From tiny splinters in armpits close to major blood vessels to large branches right through the torso of a dog. Needless to say, her surgery skills were incredible – not a matter of simply pulling out the stick! So the advice is to not throw sticks. Use balls, frisbees and toys. There are a number of very good rubber/plastic sticks available for dogs. I shall try to stick to this advice myself the next time Brian brings me a stick….or sticks..