Are sticks safe for dogs?


This article is written by Pet Circle veterinarian, Dr. Lacey Kelly BVSc (Hons)

We've all seen the quintessential image of a dog running through a field holding his favourite stick, or the viral videos of a dog trying to get through a doorway with his newly found but much too large stick. But is playing with sticks really all fun and games?

Is playing with sticks safe?

Unfortunately stick injuries and illness caused by sticks is seen far too commonly in veterinary clinics. There are numerous ways in which sticks can cause harm to your dog.

As dogs excitedly chase after the thrown stick they often come to a sudden stop before the bouncing stick does, resulting in high velocity punctures to the mouth, tongue and back of the throat. Even bumping into something while running with the stick in their mouth can cause serious injury. These injuries often require a full anaesthetic, CT, endoscopy and surgery to remove all the pieces of stick.

In some cases owners aren't even aware that their dog has had a stick injury. They might have made a small yelp and then continued playing or shown no obvious signs of injury. These dogs are later found drooling, pawing at their face, or showing reluctance to eat. If you consider how much pain and discomfort a splinter causes us, you can understand how painful this can be for your furry friend. The small stick fragments can migrate through tissue and muscle to dangerous locations, resulting in serious illness. The bacteria within the wood splinters can even lead to recurrent abscesses. As wood does not show up on Xray it can often be a long and difficult process to work out what has caused these clinical signs to then provide the appropriate treatment.

What about chewing sticks?

Unfortunately chewing sticks is no better. When chewed, the sticks break into sharp little shards that can easily stab into and get stuck in the mouth, oesophagus, stomach, and intestinal tract. These shards are often covered in bacteria resulting in serious infections. Consumption of these shards can also lead to obstruction of the gastrointestinal tract, requiring surgical or endoscopic removal.

Some branches and sticks can also come from poisonous plants, resulting in toxicities when chewed and licked.

Risks to your dog

Impaling injuries (commonly the mouth, face, chest, and abdomen)

Dental injuries and infections

Stick ingestion leading to perforation of the gastrointestinal tract, and sepsis

Gastrointestinal obstruction

Choking/obstruction of throat

Recurrent abscesses

Serious infections

But my dog loves sticks!

Just because sticks aren't safe, doesn't mean you have to stop playing fetch with your furry pal. There are plenty of safe, inexpensive, and longer-lasting alternatives that won't get you in a sticky situation.

Redirecting attention from sticks to safe toys is the best plan of action. Keeping some in your car and your walking coats is a great way to ensure you always have a toy to swap out when your dog finds a stick to play with.

Safe alternatives to sticks

These goodies satisfy that fetching and chewing instinct, without any of the risks.

Further Reading

Want to read more? Check out our other articles:

Tick paralysis in dogs and cats

Chocolate Toxicity in Dogs

Arthritis care in dogs

Are raw bones safe for dogs?

Caring for a blind dog

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