Sticks and stones not just a worry for bones

We all love to take our dogs for long walks in the summer. A gentle stroll in the sun with our favourite furry pal is hard to beat. Unfortunately, many dogs have a bad habit — chewing and carrying sticks or stones.

To dogs, sticks are brilliant. They can find them easily, they are fun to chew, they can carry or heave them along (I have seen Labradors proudly dragging what looks like a tree), and if they are dropped at owners’ feet it is hard to resist throwing them, to make them even more fun.

Your dog should not be given anything to chew that you cannot get your thumbnail into.

However, especially at this time of year, our practice sees many injuries caused by sticks.

Just chewing on sticks often causes small splinters to embed in the gum. Although not noticed at the time, a few weeks later the dog presents with pain, swelling and sometimes leaking sinuses around the throat or neck. This is due to small splinters migrating through the muscles and flesh, causing a large inflammatory reaction with accompanying infections.

These can be really challenging to treat. The term ‘needle in a haystack’ comes to mind as the splinter is normally small and very difficult to locate. Extensive surgery to track the sinuses and flush out infection is often necessary.

Throwing sticks is also unwise. They can bounce badly and the dog ends up running onto the end of them. This can cause really nasty wounds in the pharynx/soft palate area, which are not only painful and easily infected, but are very awkward to stitch due to the position at the back of the throat.

Again, they are often affected by splinters, so even after the initial wound has healed, you can get symptoms of splinters tracking through the tissues.

So what about stones? Although they won’t cause splinters or jagged injuries, they are still not good toys.

Carrying or chewing stones causes abnormal wear on the teeth, often causing them to be worn almost to the gums, and is the main cause of fractured teeth. Your dog should not be given anything to chew that you cannot get your thumbnail into.

If the stone is the wrong size, which happens often, it can be easily swallowed. Stones are unlikely to be vomited back and normally need to be removed surgically.

So beware of sticks and stones — try to have a ball with something else.

By Catriona Gibson, Vet.