Throwing a stick at your dog can cost him his life.

Throwing a stick at your dog can be a fun activity, but according to experts, the risk of your pet being seriously or fatally injured should make you think twice about it.

Grace Webster, president of the Scottish branch of the British Veterinary Association, told the Times this week that throwing sticks could be “dangerous and cause horrible injuries” to your dog after a collie caught a three-inch stick on the fly that got stuck in his throat and damaged his larynx.

“Veterinarians have seen very serious, life-threatening and, in some cases, fatal injuries that have occurred after a dog has caught a stick,” reports Sean Wensley, president of BVA. According to him, there are two types of problems.

“The first is that the stick is thrown and lands on the ground like a javelin. The dog trying to catch it can’t stop it in time and throws itself on the stick, causing horrible penetrating wounds to the mouth, neck and sometimes the spinal cord, resulting in paralysis. Sometimes this punctures a major blood vessel and leads to fatal blood loss. Then there are cases where stick fragments get lodged in the mouth and throat. Since the wood itself is dirty and the mouth is full of bacteria, this can cause a serious infection”. If exercise and play is extremely beneficial for dogs and their owners, dog toys such as rubber toys or frisbees should be used instead of wooden sticks.

Injuries that are difficult to spot

Runa Hanaghan, Deputy Veterinary Director of the Dog’s Trust charity, also noted some horrific injuries resulting from dogs catching a stick, not all of which were immediately detectable. One dog saw holes forming in his head after a piece of stick got stuck in his back molars and eroded his bony palate. Another dog, owned by a conscientious owner who was also a veterinary nurse, was found to have a splinter on the side of his tongue, which was only revealed after anesthesia. An examination conducted a few weeks earlier had failed to locate it, which shows how difficult it is to detect stick injuries. “I’ve seen injuries where it had been there for a long time and the dog had gotten used to it, but nobody had noticed,” observes Runa Hanaghan.

Also, dogs don’t necessarily see sticks as toys – we’re the ones who taught them to play with them. “We suggest that owners get their dogs used to enjoying other toys; there are lots of things you can throw at them that are safer than sticks”.

Stan Rawlinson, a canine behaviourist, has been warning people for the past twenty years about the dangers of stick throwing. He too has seen horrible things, such as a dog being stabbed in the head with a wooden stick! He says that training techniques can be used to make sure your dog never picks up a stick in his path again. The easiest is the positive reinforcement technique, which involves training a dog to recognize when you want him to stop doing something by giving him treats or not.