Stick Injuries in Dogs: Watson’s Story

You’re out with your dog, having fun. You bend over, pick up a stick, and throw it for your dog to fetch. Your dog happily retrieves it. Live couldn’t be better. What could go wrong?

Stick Injuries in Dogs: Watson's Story

I used to throw sticks for my dogs. Until I watched JD nearly impale himself on one. He missed a chest-penetrating injury and emergency surgery by millimeters. I did still throw a stick for him from time to time, but I made sure it is short, dull, and smooth. And I did my best to make sure I had something else on hand.

Jasmine’s vet used to say, “There is never a problem until there is one.”

You may have your dog fetch sticks their entire lives, and nothing ever go wrong. Or you might not be so lucky.

Stick injuries in dogs do happen and can be life-threatening.

Throwing a stick for your dog is so natural, so convenient. You can always find one, no need to drag any fetch toys with you. But maybe you ought to bring a safe toy for your dog to chase after all.


Watson is a playful, energetic Labrador Retriever. Naturally, Watson loves to play fetch, and sticks were his favorite. He preferred sticks to food; that’s how much he loved them. He would fetch them, and he would collect them. Have you ever seen a dog trying to cram as many tennis balls in their mouth as there would fit? Watson would do this with sticks.

That is what Watson did on that fateful day.

While out on a walk, he found a stick and ran off with it. Then he found more.

As he was trying to gather them all up in his mouth, he yelped and started to shake.

His concerned dad rushed over, trying to see what happened. He couldn’t see much other than a bit of blood on Watson’s tongue. Perhaps Watson poked or bit his tongue?

Watson seemed to calm down, and they returned home. But then Watson started drooling and shaking again. What could be wrong? There was nothing visibly wrong with Watson’s mouth other than the bit of bleeding earlier.

If Watson was just drooling, perhaps his dad wouldn’t be so concerned. It was the shaking what prompted an immediate veterinary visit.

The veterinarian was concerned with Watson’s breathing.

Suddenly, things looked really serious. The veterinarian feared the stick might have penetrated into Watson’s airway.

A thorough exploration under anesthesia revealed that the stick pierced the tissues under Watson’s tongue, just short of the airway.

Watson was lucky.

However painful his stick injury was, he escaped life-threatening consequences by a hair. Watson got away with stitches and medication.

It must have still hurt like hell, though. Did you ever accidentally bite your tongue? Now imagine a stick piercing through your tissues. That’s why Watson was shaking–from pain.


Not all dogs are so fortunate.

Stick injuries in dogs are more common than you’d think.

If you work at an emergency veterinary clinic, treating stick injuries for living, you look at sticks differently. If your dog suffers a serious injury from a stick, you will never look at sticks the same.

Are stick injuries more common than other potential medical disasters? Perhaps not. It is one of the things that are relatively easy to prevent, though.

There are dogs who did not survive their stick mishap.

It might not be easy to convince your dog to give up the love of their lives–sticks. But with some creativity, you might be able to find a suitable replacement your dog will love just as much.

JD was easy. He was happy to fetch anything we threw. So it was just a question of having something on hand.

Jasmine fell in love with the Chuckit Flying Squirrel the moment she saw it.

There is a safe replacement out there for your dog too. Or, at least, be thoughtful about the size and type of stick you throw.

Original story:
Labrador needed emergency surgery after suffering mouth wound

Related articles:
Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog: Excessive Drooling
Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog: Shaking

Further reading:
Why Sticks Are Not ‘Free’ Toys For Dogs

Categories: ConditionsDog health advocacyInjuriesReal-life StoriesStick injuries

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Jana Rade

I am a graphic designer, dog health advocate, writer, and author. Jasmine, the Rottweiler of my life, was the largest female from her litter. We thought we were getting a healthy dog. Getting a puppy from a backyard breeder was our first mistake. Countless veterinary visits without a diagnosis or useful treatment later, I realized that I had to take Jasmine's health care in my own hands. I learned the hard way that merely seeing a vet is not always enough. There is more to finding a good vet than finding the closest clinic down the street. And, sadly, there is more to advocating for your dog's health than visiting a veterinarian. It should be enough, but it often is not. With Jasmine, it took five years to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, other problems had snowballed for that in the meantime. Jasmine's health challenges became a crash course in understanding dog health issues and how to go about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. Helping others through my challenges and experience has become my mission and Jasmine's legacy. I now try to help people how to recognize and understand signs of illness in their dogs, how to work with their veterinarian, and when to seek a second opinion. My goal is to save others the steep curve of having to learn things the hard way as I did. That is the mission behind my blog and behind my writing. That is why I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, which has turned out being an award-winning guide to dog owners. What I'm trying to share encompasses 20 years of experience.

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