Some dogs love nothing more than playing with a stick. Not only is a game of fetch lots of fun, but apparently there’s nothing like having a good chew on a stick either. Unfortunately, I see a fair number of dogs coming into the clinic with stick injuries.

Just the week before filming our HIF segment on the topic, I had a dog come in with a large splinter embedded in its throat.

A lot of dog owners don’t realise how easily stick injuries can cause damage to a dog’s mouth or body. They can get stuck across the hard palate at the top of the mouth, or splinters can embed in the soft tissue of the mouth and throat. Sometimes stick injuries are subtle and may go unnoticed for sometime, allowing the splinter to migrate or abscess.

It isn’t uncommon for dogs to be impaled by sticks when playing fetch. I once saw a dog that had impaled himself with a thick stick. It went in through the dog’s flank and came out just next to its groin. As horrific as this looked, somehow the stick managed to miss every vital organ and the dog was fine after it was surgically removed, but many aren’t so lucky.

Signs that a dog has been injured by a stick

Dogs that sustain stick injuries might give a yelp or start whimpering, before becoming quiet and subdued.

They might gag, salivate, chew constantly or start pawing at their mouth. If a splinter is embedded elsewhere on their body, they may lick the area or even limp.

Any dog with a suspected stick injury should be examined as soon as possible by a vet regardless of whether you think it may just be a splinter or piece of stick caught in their mouth.

Why you need to see your veterinarian if you suspect stick injuries

Stick injuries are often associated with a splinter being left behind, either in the mouth or elsewhere on the body. If this occurs, the entry point may have healed but the splinter will migrate. The longer the splinter is left in the body, the more damage that can occur. Not to mention the pain that goes with it.

In many cases surgery is required to remove the offending splinter. This may involve X-rays and an endoscopy to help retrieve the foreign material and ensure no further damage has occurred. In mild cases, where there is a laceration but no remaining fragments, pain relief and antibiotics will be prescribed.

Having the right pet insurance can help cover many of the costs associated with treating accidents and injuries, so it’s well worth checking out the HIF pet insurance options for cats and dogs of all ages.

As a vet, I often see how having the right pet insurance cover can vastly assist an owner in providing their pet with optimum treatment when it may have otherwise been financially impossible. It allows any decision to be focused on the optimal care of the patient rather than the cost, which obviously has a large effect on the outcome and prognosis.

Of course, one way of avoiding an accident like stick injuries is to use safe alternatives when playing fetch and not allowing your dog to chew on sticks when you catch them. This is not always easy when you aren’t around, but obedience training and providing many other safe alternatives is a good place to start.

Dr Melissa Meehan is a highly experienced and respected veterinary surgeon with over 14 years experience. Dr Melissa obtained her Members in Small Animal Medicine through examination in 2008 and now runs her own veterinary ophthalmology service.