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Case Study: The Dangers of Allowing Your Dogs to Play with Sticks

Summer is here, which means great weather for you to play with your dog in the park. Regular readers of this blog will know VRC, your specialty veterinary healthcare hospital, recommends appropriate exercise for dogs of all ages, but today we’re talking about the dangers of one common activity for dogs—playing fetch with sticks you find on the ground. While playing fetch with a stick is an iconic image of dog ownership, it’s much safer to use a ball or other toy with your dog.

Dr. John Anastasio, our medical director and a board-certified criticalist at VRC, recommends dog owners never play fetch with sticks off the ground. A good example of why owners should avoid this practice is the case of “Sadie”..

Pet Health Situation and Challenge

Sadie came into the ER after a night of coughing and gagging. She was obviously experiencing neck discomfort, and gagging was triggered when the affected area was touched. Her owner had noticed her chewing on a stick, a favorite activity of Sadie’s, and because of all this Dr. Anastasio suspected a foreign body lodged in her esophagus.


The first step to treating Sadie was to run routine lab work. Afterward, Dr. Anastasio recommended putting her under general anesthesia so that an endoscopic evaluation of Sadie’s mouth and throat could be completed. During that procedure, VRC’s experts noticed a small puncture wound with a protrusion. It could not be removed with endoscopic instruments, so Sadie was operated on to remove a seven-inch stick lodged in her throat.

Results and Recovery

Sadie recovered well and seems in good health post-operation. VRC’s veterinarians recommended post-operative observation for a few months, as there was some concern she might experience scarring, narrowing of the esophagus, or infection. But, after three months, Sadie is doing fine.

What Pet Owners Need to Know

What’s the takeaway from this case study? Obviously, Sadie’s case is somewhat unusual, but she’s not the only dog we’ve seen here at VRC who has needed emergency care after picking up and playing with sticks outside. We have treated dogs who have had sticks lodged across the roof of the mouth, splinters, punctures, lacerations, eye injuries and even eye loss, internal blockages due to ingestion of wood, impalement of the heart and lungs, and obstruction of the respiratory tract.

Dogs love to pick up sticks, and the temptation for a pick-up game of fetch can be strong, but the best thing to do is limit your dog’s contact with sticks. Keep your yard as clear of sticks and twigs as you can, but also teach your dog the command “leave it” so that he or she will be able to resist the temptation to pick up sticks while on a walk. Only play fetch with a stick-shaped toy from the pet store, or something like a tennis balland allow your dog to satisfy his or her urge to chew with appropriate items in a supervised environment. Of course, we know dogs love to pick up items off the street, but it’s important to do your best to make sure what goes in their mouth isn’t going to harm or choke them, necessitating a trip to your veterinarian in the greater Philadelphia area.

Dr. Anastasio is a board-certified criticalist at VRC, a specialty veterinary healthcare hospital located in the greater Philadelphia area. If you’re in need of our emergency medicine and critical care services,  we are open 24/7, 365 days a year.

Rodenticides Warning

Rodenticides that use Bromethalin as the active ingredient are extremely dangerous and can be deadly for cats and dogs. Bromethalin is used in many rodent poisons and the challenge is, there is currently no known anecdote. Be sure to take a look at our warning flyer to learn the symptoms of Bromethalin poisoning, what to do if your pet exhibits these signs, and tips for prevention.

Click Here to view and download our flyer.

Hot Weather and Heat Stroke Warnings in Your Pets

Technically speaking it is still spring, but the temperature is already rising in the greater Philadelphia area. The warm weather means people are getting outside with their dogs more and letting their cats play in the garden, and that’s great. Exercise is wonderful for cats and dogs, especially outdoor exercise while supervised by their owner. With the nice weather and warmer temperatures comes increased risk of heat stroke in pets, a condition that could send you and your pet to an emergency care veterinarian in the Philadelphia area. Last summer, Philadelphia had a number of heat waves and heat wave warnings from the National Weather Service. After a warm winter and warm spring, this year is looking as if it will be just as hot if not hotter—and along with the humidity in our area, we’ll very likely have days with a heat index well over 100 degrees. Heat like that isn’t just uncomfortable—it’s dangerous, especially for your pets who can’t ask for water, and who rely on human assistance to get the shade and other heat relief they need.

Learning the signs of heat stroke will help you protect your pets, but first it’s good to understand exactly what heat stroke really is. Heat stroke is a condition that can happen to both humans and their pets. It’s caused by the body overheating due to prolonged exposure to high temperatures and physical exertion. Dogs and cats are especially at risk as they can’t shed their furry coats when they start to feel warm.

That’s why when you’re outside with your pets—or when you let them back into the house—you should look for symptoms of heat stroke. Panting and excessive thirst, two of the most common symptoms, are difficult to isolate, so really be on the lookout for staggering, weakness, glazed eyes, lethargy, and signs of discomfort. More severe cases of heatstroke can cause vomiting or diarrhea, and animals may show signs of disorientation, lose consciousness, or have a seizure. These are all signs that your pet needs immediate care or even medical attention.

If you fear the worst, seek out an emergency care veterinarian in the Philadelphia area as quickly as possible. Heatstroke in pets can cause real and lasting damage to the heart, brain, and nervous system. There is also a risk of death.

If you feel your pet is just mildly overheated and it’s not an emergency situation, you can treat your pet in a few ways. The first step is, of course, to immediately get your pet out of the heat. Put them in a cool location, and then put on a fan to help them cool down their body. You can also help by placing cool (not cold) wet towels around the base of their neck, under their armpits, and under their body. Dogs can also be helped by bathing their earflaps and paws in cool water. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, of course—so please, contact a 24/7 vet for help if you think your pet needs it.

VRC is a specialty veterinary healthcare hospital that serves the Philadelphia area. Summer or winter, we are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

April is Prevention of Lyme Disease in Dogs Month

April is Prevention of Lyme Disease Month, and climate scientists are predicting a warm spring, which means that the northeast is likely going to experience a greater than average Lyme disease problem this year. Lyme disease is considered to be a serious ailment in dogs, so it’s important to do what you can to protect your pet from becoming infected, especially if you enjoy taking your dog for walks or hikes in wooded areas now that the weather is so nice.

Awareness is the better part of prevention, so let’s go through commonly (and not so commonly) known facts about Lyme disease:

  • Lyme disease is the result of being infected with the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria.
  • Typically, Lyme disease starts with a tick bite.
  • Ticks typically must be attached to your dog for a period of 24 hours before transmission can occur.
  • One way to prevent Lyme disease is to check your dog for ticks after walks in wooded areas. Comb through your dog’s fur, even around their ears and tail, to give them the most thorough examination possible.
  • Never remove a tick with your fingers. Always use gloves and tweezers when removing them.
  • Lyme disease cannot be transmitted from one pet to another, or from a pet to a person.
  • One good way to prevent your dog from getting into tall grass or densely wooded areas where ticks live is to always keep your dog on a leash, even if he or she is extremely obedient and comes when called.
  • Lyme disease, while serious, is not particularly common. Most dogs bitten by a tick that remains latched to the bite area for over 24 hours will not contract Lyme disease.
  • The most common tick that carries the bacteria that causes Lyme disease is the deer tick, also known as the black-legged tick.
  • Some of the hardest hit areas of the country for Lyme disease are in the northeast, and include Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.
  • If your dog is exposed to Lyme disease, it may be weeks or even more than a month before signs and symptoms begin to show.

Symptoms of Lyme disease include high fever, lethargy, swelling of the joints, and loss of appetite. You may also see limping in your dog, or lameness such as stiff-legged walking or an arched back. Swollen lymph nodes are also a sign of Lyme disease, as is sensitivity to touch. In some cases, infected dogs may experience difficulty breathing. If you’ve seen a tick on your dog, or have removed one and are worried that it might be a deer tick that carries Lyme disease, contact your veterinarian in Pennsylvania immediately to make an appointment. And if you remove that tick, your veterinarian might encourage you to safely bring it in for examination. Follow their instructions on how they’d like you to do this. But, as always, an ounce of protection is worth a pound of cure, so keep your dog leashed and out of tall grass until the weather cools off again.

VRC is a specialty veterinary healthcare hospital in the Philadelphia area. We are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.