Are sticks safe for dogs?

Are sticks safe for dogs?

What you should know before giving your dog a stick to chew or play with.

Chances are, your dog has chewed, and even eaten, a fair number of sticks. Whether you’re playing fetch with your pup or just out on a walk, if he comes across an attractive piece of wood, he might lie down and start chomping away. But is it okay for him to chew sticks?

The answer depends on what your dog does with the stick, and what kind of wood it is. While chewing wood can alleviate teething pain, eating or swallowing it can have dangerous consequences.

Chewing on a stick that splinters can result in sharp points lodging in your dog’s mouth or esophagus and causing tears or infections. Sticks that are too small or swallowed completely can get lodged in the throat and result in obstruction or infection of the respiratory tract. Sticks that make it past the respiratory tract into the stomach and bowels can result in irritation, bleeding or obstruction. Additionally, certain trees such as black walnut, black cherry, yew or red maple can be toxic to dogs.

Train him to leave sticks alone

As with any other behaviour issue, stopping your dog from chewing and eating sticks involves patience, vigilance and positive reinforcement.

  • Dog-proof the yard: Remove sticks and cut foliage from the yard. This is especially crucial if you have tree species that might make your dog sick.
  • Replace sticks with a toy: When you see your dog about to chomp down on a stick, use her favourite toy as a distraction.
  • Come prepared with proper fetch toys: When taking your dog out for a walk or some exercise, bring along a fetch-appropriate toy so you aren’t tempted to pick up a stick to throw.

Why dogs love sticks

1. Dogs are foragers

Given that most of us treat our dogs like family, it can be difficult to remember that they descended from wild animals. Their ancestral instincts, whether out in the wild or at the dog park, draw them to forage through different environments to find suitable food. With no other food around (even though he may have had a good meal at home an hour beforehand), your dog may decide that a stick is a good enough substitute.

2. Dogs are curious

Canines are naturally curious creatures and explore the world primarily with their noses and mouths. When your dog comes across a foreign object, particularly in his own backyard, it’s natural for him to smell the item — and if it smells safe, to explore further by chomping down on it. While this sort of exploration is more common in puppies, older dogs also often rely on this one-two punch of sniffing and biting.

3. Chewing alleviates teething in puppies

As puppies begin to sprout new teeth, they often turn to chewing to help alleviate the pain. Dogs are indiscriminate, however, so they’re likely to chew on anything that’s available, from your favourite pair of shoes to a couple of living room pillows — to a stick from the backyard.

4. Sticks are nature’s chew toy

It can be hard for a dog to differentiate a stick he found from a bone or chew toy you’ve given him. After all, sticks are similar in shape and size to many chew toys, and dogs are drawn to the earthy, natural taste of the stick. Even more confusing for your dog is when you play fetch with a ball or toy one day and then use a stick the next.

Why do dogs like to fetch sticks (or anything else)?

Studies have revealed that many breeds of dog, not just hunting breeds, enjoy fetching because it releases pleasure endorphins similar to those in a human athlete achieving a “runner’s high”.

Chewing is natural behaviour for dogs, and the occasional stick probably wouldn’t do him any harm. But it’s best to curb stick-chewing if you can, and replace sticks with appropriate toys or raw bones.


+ posts

Dr. Audrey Wystrach has spent over 18 years in companion animal private practice, and several years in corporate veterinary practice. She has developed, administrated and owned veterinary hospitals, and is currently co-founder of ZippiVet animal hospital in Austin, Texas.