Your dog may like fetching sticks, but he shouldn’t be allowed to chew on them indiscriminately. Wood is dangerous on a number of levels, and your dog can seriously injure himself with even a small piece. Prevent your dog from chewing on sticks you come across at the park or in the woods in order to avoid a potentially deadly hazard.
Mouth and Throat Injuries
The most common hazards associated with chewing on sticks are mouth and throat injuries. As the dog chews on the stick, it cracks and fragments, breaking into tiny, sharp splinters. These splinters lodge in the gums or the tongue, often requiring surgical removal. The dog may also jam the sharp, chewed end of the stick into his soft palate or esophagus, which can lead to life-threatening bleeding and irreparable tissue damage.
If the splinters make it past the tongue and gums, they will travel into the stomach and intestines. Small splinters sometimes dissolve in digestive acids, but larger ones can perforate the stomach and leak into the abdomen. Peritonitis is a very serious infection caused when the digestive tract is inflamed or perforated, and its contents spill into the abdominal cavity. Peritonitis is difficult to diagnose, but if your stick-chewer is lethargic, uninterested in food and has pale gums, call your vet.
Splinters aren’t the only danger to limb-chewing canines; some trees are poisonous and will lead to one very sick pooch. White cedar, also known as the bell tree, is a popular ornamental that is extremely toxic to your pup. Some varieties of pine, including Australian pine, are also hazardous to dogs. Apple trees are particularly toxic, and can produce deadly levels of cyanide when ingested in large quantities. Avocado trees are another common toxin, resulting in severe vomiting and diarrhea.
While your dog may enjoy chewing on sticks, there are plenty of safe, non-toxic alternatives. Pick up fallen limbs as soon as possible to reduce the temptation to chew, and offer your dog a variety of toys to keep her occupied. Vinyl or plastic chew toys are good choices for light chewers, but don't give them to enthusiastic chewers who may destroy and swallow them. Bully sticks and other natural, animal-based products are a safe and healthy way for dogs to chew, as are deer or elk antlers. Inspect chew toys frequently, and replace cracked, chipped or worn toys as soon as possible.
By Louise Lawson