Vets advise dog owners not to throw sticks for their pets due to injury risk
Leading vets are warning dog owners against the dangers of throwing sticks for their pets, estimating that more than 60,000 are treated every year in the UK for what are often "terrible" injuries.
Sean Wensley, president of the British Veterinary Association (BVA), said on average one dog a month is treated for an injury from a piece of wood at each of the more than 5,000 veterinary practices in the UK.
Mr Wensley said animals are being impaled by sticks and picking up infections from fragments of wood they ingest, but added that many injuries are preventable.
The warning comes after a collie in Scotland named Maya suffered a punctured tongue and damaged larynx after getting a 10cm stick stuck in her throat.
Sarah Stevenson, of Bishopbriggs Veterinary Centre in Glasgow, who treated Maya, said she had seen an increase in dogs suffering stick injuries.
She told The Times: "Stick injuries may not be initially obvious and may cause long-term problems. For these reasons we are warning pet owners against throwing or encouraging their dog to play with or chase sticks."
Mr Wensley, a veterinary surgeon and senior vet for the PDSA, urged owners to use safe alternatives such as balls, Frisbees or rubber toys, saying: "Our message is that these injuries are severe and are preventable simply by using dog-safe toys as alternatives to sticks."
Dogs suffer two main types of injuries when sticks are thrown, Mr Wensley said.
"One is when a stick is thrown and lands in the ground like a javelin and a dog running at pace after it is not able to stop in time and runs on to the stick and impales itself.
"We see terrible penetrative wounds to the mouth, neck and sometimes the chest, which can damage major blood vessels or in some cases the spinal cord, which can cause paralysis. These can be really serious, life-threatening injuries."
The other type involves fragments of wood from chewed sticks penetrating the mouth and throat, causing infections which can be chronic and potentially fatal.
Mr Wensley said the advice was not about stopping dog owners having fun with their pets, but improving safety.
He said: "What we absolutely don't want is to stop dogs enjoying exercise and play, as the benefits from those are really important for physical health and mental well-being, for both dogs and owners.
"We don't want to stop any of that, just to highlight the problems we see when sticks are used to chase after, and to urge that alternative dog-safe toys are used instead."
Grace Webster, president of the BVA in Scotland, echoed the concerns, telling The Times: "Throwing sticks for your dog can be dangerous and lead to horrific injuries that can be very distressing for both you and your dog, such as causing cuts to their mouths and tongues or, as in this (Maya's) case, getting the stick lodged in their throat."
A spokeswoman for the RSPCA said: "To be safe, the RSPCA recommends dog owners throw and play with toys specifically designed for dogs as these can better safeguard dogs and lower the risk of injury that a sharp stick may cause."