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.