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I have heard from my dog groomer that sticks can be dangerous for dogs, but my 14-year-old Border Terrier has always played with sticks and has not had any problems. How dangerous can sticks really be for dogs?

Paul Manktelow advises…

Sticks are a very common source of injury for dogs, ranging from tongue splinters to piercing major organs. The hard and sharp edges can easily pierce through the body, which is not only very painful but can cause serious infections or long-lasting damage to vital organs. Most busy veterinary practices will see dogs with stick injuries weekly and the outcomes can vary from injury and infection, to death in the most severe cases.

If the end of the stick hits the top of your dog’s mouth or further back in the throat, this can damage the tongue, surrounding mouth cavity or windpipe. If your dog is prone to chewing sticks, this also increases the risk of splintering, and if sticks are particularly muddy, this raises the likelihood of infection.

On impact, splinters from a stick do not usually become localised in one area, but can migrate to multiple places throughout the body, often necessitating repeat general anaesthetics and surgeries to find them. Commonly, small splinters that have become hidden within tissues can only be located using advanced imaging, such as MRI and CT scans. This can significantly increase not only the time to recover but also the financial cost.

If the stick pierces through the windpipe or lungs, this can cause instant breathing difficulty and requires immediate veterinary attention to support and often assist breathing. Smaller splinters lodged within the mouth often show more subtle signs, such as your dog being quieter than usual or not wanting to eat as much, and can be more difficult to diagnose. If splinters are able to travel further, they can pierce through the stomach or intestines, causing gut breakdown, damage and infection within the abdomen.

If a stick has injured your dog, try to get them to a vet as soon as possible to minimise the damage. It is always best not to try to remove the stick, as this will prevent the disruption of any forming blood clots. If the stick has penetrated the chest or throat area, keep pressure around these points, using a T-shirt or blanket, to prevent too much air from entering the chest cavity and try to keep your dog as upright as possible during travel so that he can breathe most effectively.

Dogs can play with sticks for years and have no accidents at all, but it is best to view this as an accident waiting to happen, and the risk is not advised.

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