A good, old-fashioned romp in the park for a game of fetch is harmless fun, right? Well, vets worldwide are urging dog owners to think again, saying that serious and even deadly injuries can result from playing fetch with sticks.
In recent days, a veterinarian from the U.K, Dr. Dan Brockman, went public about the dangers of encouraging dogs to fetch with sticks. A professor of small animal surgery at the Royal Veterinary College at the University of London, Dr. Brockman’s advice has traveled overseas to Canada and the United States, where other vets agree about the dangers of fetching sticks.
I spoke with my own veterinarian, Dr. Michael Levine, DVM, for an article on the topic and he shared information on some of the more common injuries that he sees in dogs who have an accident while fetching a stick.
Mouth Injuries Occur When Playing Fetch With Sticks
According to Dr. Levine, mouth injuries are among the most common injuries that occur while fetching sticks.
Many dogs bite down very hard on the sticks, causing splintering of the wood. As the dog retrieves the stick, wood splinters can enter the mouth, becoming embedded in the cheeks, tongue, gums and in between the teeth. This can lead to serious infection and pain that’s often not detected until several days after the fact. This means that an infection has had plenty of time to get established.
Sticks also carry lots of bacteria and germs, which can infect a wound that’s already present inside the mouth.
Eye Injuries Can Occur During a Game of Fetch With a Stick
Some very serious eye injuries can occur when a dog is fetching a stick. An enthusiastic dog will hastily retrieve a stick and in his haste, the dog may strike his eye on a random branch or twig, particularly while running through the woods.
Some owners play fetch with sticks that have small twigs attached, and as the dog goes to pick up the stick in his mouth, one of the twigs and poke the dog’s eye, causing potentially serious injuries, ranging from blindness to a corneal abrasion that can turn into an ocular ulceration.
Nose Injuries Can Occur a Dog is Retrieving a Stick
Similar to the way in which eye injuries occur, a dog can suffer serious nose injuries as he’s excitedly retrieving a stick.
The enthusiastic dog will try to pick up the stick with his mouth, and a splinter or twig can enter the nose. In some cases, the splinter or twig may break off inside the dog’s nose, becoming lodged and causing him serious pain and infection. And unfortunately, many dog owners may not realize that there’s an object embedded in the dog’s nose until the infection is well established, making the infection much more difficult and more expensive to treat.
Stick Fetching Can Lead to Internal Injuries and Infections
Dr. Levine recalls several serious cases of internal injuries caused by a game of fetch with a stick. He has treated several dogs who were stabbed in the neck or chest by the wood as the dog played fetch with a well-intentioned owner.
In another case, Dr. Levine treated a dog who developed a chronic, serious lung infection as a result of wood that became embedded in the dog’s throat, unbeknownst to the owner. Dogs also may inhale splinters and bark fragments as they breathe heavily while running with a stick in their mouth,
Safe Alternatives to Playing Fetch With Sticks
Clearly, playing fetch with sticks is extremely dangerous. But fortunately, there are other options.
Dr. Levine recommends playing fetch or catch with a large rubber ball (large enough that it cannot be swallowed) or a soft mesh or fabric Frisbee.
Notably, hard Frisbees should always be avoided as they can cause tooth and gum injuries. Tennis balls should also be avoided for frequent games of fetch or catch, as frequent use of tennis balls can damage tooth enamel, though occasional use of a tennis ball is relatively safe, providing the ball is large enough so that it cannot be swallowed.
There’s lots of things that pet owners can do to be sure they’re prepared if a pet injury or illness does arise. Check out How to Handle Pet Emergencies for tips on how to be sure you know what to do if an injury or illness strikes your furry, feathered or four-legged friend.