I have seen many injuries, over
the years, to animals caused by objects they have played with. One
of the more common, but most difficult to treat are those caused by sticks,
especially those thrown by owners. It is not uncommon for death to
result, but usually it causes pain, discomfort, and often long term infection
Sticks can cause damage in two ways. Firstly by the traumatic damage at
the time of injury and secondly by the splinters and fragments which may migrate
through the body causing abscessing and infection.
At the time of injury the stick may penetrate into the head, the mouth,
neck or associated structures. Unfortunately the head and neck are full of
important structures. The most vulnerable parts of the head are the
eyes. I have seen dogs that have run onto a stick which has wedged in
the ground, puncture the eye and damage it so badly the eye has had to be
There are also many nerves and blood vessels in the face, which can be
perforated by wedged sticks. The mouth is most commonly damaged in
the tongue or palate especially the deeper soft palate. The tongue
is a very large muscle so has a very good blood supply so damage can not
only rip the muscle, but can also cause extensive bleeding. When the
palate is damaged there can be holes into the nasal cavity, causing nose
bleeds. Damage to the palate and tongue will also cause difficulty
in eating. A stick can be lodge between the teeth or between the back
teeth across the palate. This will cause salivation and rubbing of
the mouth. However this may pass off leaving the wedged stick.
I have seen a stick that had been wedged between the teeth for at least
3 months. The dog had become used to this and it was only the smell
caused by infection that caused investigation. By this time wear damage
to the palate had caused a hole into the nasal cavity, visible once the
stick was removed.
At the back of the mouth there are extensive nerves and blood vessels.
Penetrating wounds here can cause bleeding and damage to the nerves to swallowing.
The back of the throat has also structures such as the tonsils and the bones
of the larynx. These can be damaged causing bleeding and swallowing
problems. Another difficulty with damage at this level or deeper is
that it may be invisible. The tears can not be seen, even with the
dogs mouth fully open. The blood may be swallowed and nothing seen
from the mouth. In this case the major signs are gulping and can be
as little as becoming weak. When blood is swallowed the only sign may
be digested blood in the faeces which makes them appear black.
When sticks are swallowed or chewed they may have very sharp edges or splinters.
These may penetrate
the oesophagus (gullet) or stomach. If they penetrate the oesophagus
they can go straight into a major blood vessel, such as the carotid artery
and cause death very fast. I have seen a Labrador which grabbed a
stick so hard that it went down its throat and into the carotid. This
happened in a park across the road from the surgery in which I worked.
The dog was dead before the owner managed to carry it to the surgery.
If the stick penetrates without hitting a major blood vessel it can still
cause damage to the nerves of swallowing and the neck apart from the damage
to the oesophagus itself. This is difficult to repair without damage
and stricture, so the dog may have difficulty in passing food down the gullet.
The oesophagus goes through the chest so any penetrating splinters can cause
damage to the lungs and heart. This will cause breathing difficulties
or symptoms of heart insufficiency, such as heavy increased breathing ,
difficulty in breathing, coughing, blue mucous membranes and reduced exercise
The stick can pass through the throat and into any structure beyond.
One dog, a Whippet, chased a stick which went down it’s throat and penetrated
through the neck. It was removed by the owner, but some small fragments
had penetrated the spine and rendered the dog quadriplegic.
This dog was lucky it was referred to a specialist for spinal surgery and
was back to normal 3 months after serious surgery.
Unfortunately the complications after stick injury are not always obvious
at the time. The splinters or fragments can migrate deeper into the
body. As sticks are not clean the always carry infective organisms.
This will usually cause the formation of an abscess. This often discharges
to the outside by a tract. However if the penetrating wound closes
over there may just be an internal abscess. Abscesses have been caused
in muscle, bone, the brain and in the chest. In fact abscesses can
form anywhere the stick could have reached or the fragments migrated.
In the case of superficial wounds the tract can be traced to find the fragments.
However this is easier said than done as the area may be impossible to see
clearly, especially if only a splinter is involved. The only way to
be sure of removing all the infection and debris is to excise the whole
tract and affected tissue and this is very rarely possible without damaging
the dog. If there is no tract it is even more difficult as wood shows
up very poorly on X-Ray. The only signs may be slight soft tissue
swelling and small gas pockets from the infective bacteria. Ultrasound and
MRI scans may be helpful in localising the damage. The difficulty
is then actually finding and removing all infection and fragments. A friend
of mine has a dog who we know has fragments in his chest from chewing a stick.
However it has proved impossible to locate the small splinters precisely.
It is obviously impossible to search his whole chest without damage so we
will have to manage the problem medically for the rest of his life.
This dog also illustrates well one of the other problems. Sticks
cause infection and if all the fragments can
not be found and removed there is a permanent focus of infection.
In his case he has to have antibiotics frequently. Frequent abcessation
of the fragments obviously pulls the dog down in health at the best. At
worst it can kill. If bacteria are released in large numbers into
the blood stream the dog will have septicaemia and will become toxic.
This is life threatening and can be impossible to treat. Even if treatable
it may affect the organs of the body, such as the kidneys or heart.
In this dog's case he has developed serious diabetes and will be on daily
insulin injections for the rest of his life.
As you can see from the above photo he enjoyed playing with sticks, but
now he is on permanent medication, he has frequent bouts of ill health and
there is the ever present worry that he may not recover from his next attack.
Please learn from his and other examples. Sticks can kill, not only
at the time but years later. They can also lead to permanent disablement.
Is this worth a few minutes pleasure when there are safer toys?
reprinted with kind permission from Sharon Webley
For Dogs Sake Stick
Border Collie was killed when she dived onto a stick that was being thrown
for her. The stick went longways into her throat, ripping her oesophagus
and breaking her collarbone.
Border Collie “Hobby” needed emergency surgery when a stick he picked up
in the park went down his throat, shearing off one of his tonsils.
“Danny” the Weimaraner dived onto a stick that was being thrown for him.
The stick went straight through his tongue, leaving a hole the size of a
man’s index finger.
“Zany”, the German Shepherd cross, came to grief when a tiny stick went
up through the roof of her mouth and travelled upwards, looking for an exit.
The exit happened to be her left eye. Zany was in great pain and the
vet thought she had a tumour behind the eye. It was only during the operation
to remove Zany’s eye, that the vet discovered the stick.
“Lester” the Border Collie, suffered a nasty injury when a stick that was
being thrown for him went down into his throat. He did survive but the shock
of the ordeal brought on epilepsy. Now, whenever he has a fit, his owner
feels so guilty for throwing a stick when she could easily have thrown a
“Tammy”, the Collie Cross, was on a walk in the forest with her owner and
her Rottweiller friend “Ben”, who was proudly carrying a long stick. As
Tammy ran up behind him, Ben suddenly turned away. The end of the stick
swung around, piercing Tammy’s eye. Tammy’s owner had to carry her
several miles back to the car and then rush her to a vet for emergency surgery
to remove the eye, but sadly she developed septicaemia and subsequently died
of toxic shock.
Click the "next" button to read the full versions of these horrific stories
and just think .......
if you can’t afford a toy,
Incidents like these happen all
the time and results in very large vet bills. Please check your insurance
policies as most limit the amount you can claim back. In some policies
the limit is as little as £500.00. Never let your dog play with sticks
and check your insurance small print.
how will you afford the vet’s bill ?