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PostSubject: Stick to Toys!   Sun Nov 22, 2009 10:56 pm

by Rose Bate MRCVS, BVetMed, BSc(Hons), DAS:CABC

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 and damage.

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 removed.

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 tolerance.

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?

- Michael -

Full of Life ... and Herself - Visit Patchs' Website
My Best Friend & Faithful Companion - Visit Neka's Memorial Website
My Little Buddy for 15+ Years - Visit Chip's Memorial Website

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PostSubject: Re: Stick to Toys!   Mon Nov 23, 2009 2:30 pm

I totally agree with you! better safe than sorry!
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PostSubject: Re: Stick to Toys!   Mon Nov 23, 2009 4:46 pm

Yes I've heard of this time and time again, not to use sticks as fetch toys. As clearly stated by this article, these injuries can be really serious! Its always good to opt for safe toys that we know that wont splinter, break, or cause damage if the dog trips etc.

Thanks for the article!


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