Should You Really Be Letting Your Dog Gnaw on Sticks?
Veterinarian Reviewed by Dr. Janice Huntingford, DVM on March 10, 2019
Posted in Parent Help
It’s practically a fact of nature: dogs love sticks. Pet owners are hardly surprised when they let their dogs out to pee and the dog returns with a branch—often one much larger than the dog can reasonably carry!
For most owners, sticks aren’t a huge cause for concern. They’re natural and similar to a bone, so they can’t be harmful, right? As it turns out, letting your dog chew on sticks might not be the safest move. There are many alternatives that will let your dog gnaw to its heart’s content without facing health hazards.
Why dogs love sticks so much
Before we address the issue of safety, you should understand the reason dogs are so drawn to sticks in the first place.
By nature, dogs love to hunt around outside and find things to investigate. Dogs are curious, and they tend to learn more about their world first by smelling, and then by putting the object in question in their mouths. Sticks are no exception to this—each one can smell and taste a little different, and probably also has the scent from other dogs or animals on it, making your dog go wild with curiosity. Plus, sticks are often super tasty to pups.
Additionally, as we all know, sticks are chewable, and dogs love to chew. It’s why chew toys are such a common item in pet stores. Your dog might easily mistake a stick outside for a rawhide or plastic toy it gets to play with inside and just want to munch away.
The dangers of sticks
Not all sticks are dangerous for your dog, and under proper supervision, your dog can probably chew on certain sticks as much as it wants. However, sticks do pose certain health risks because of their ability to break down and splinter.
Wood can easily break into pieces when your dog continuously gnaws on or eats it. After just a few minutes of chewing, your dog’s stick can splinter, leaving small, sharp pieces of wood behind. If your dog bites down wrong or tries to swallow the wood, these splinters could puncture its gums or scrape down its throat. These wounds can lead to dangerous infections, as well as trouble eating and swallowing.
If your dog isn’t satisfied with just chewing and likes to actually eat sticks, chunks of wood could also create blockages in the throat or intestines, leading to a host of potential health problems that will not only be extremely painful for your pooch, but also life-threatening.
Some sticks might even be toxic to dogs; black cherry, yew and walnut trees contain toxic compounds that can make your dog very sick.
If your dog is chewing on a stick and it begins to yelp, cough, choke or present other signs of pain or health trouble, don’t delay in taking it to a vet. Additionally, be mindful of symptoms of intestinal blockages such as difficulty defecating, vomiting, lack of appetite and lethargy. Always take your dog in for emergency medical treatment if you suspect it is ill due to chewing or swallowing sticks.
Keeping your dog safe
Every dog and every stick will be a little different—some dogs only like to pick sticks up and deliver them to their owners, while others are relentless chewers and eaters.
To keep your pooch safe, try to train it to avoid sticks by taking the fun out of finding and gnawing on them. Take sticks away when your dog finds one and give it a chew toy instead. Teaching your dog “drop it” and “leave it” commands can also help prevent its stick obsession from getting out of hand.
At home, try to remove sticks from your yard so your dog can’t find them. Without regular access to them, your dog will learn to use chew toys and bones to satisfy its chewing cravings, not wood. Avoid using sticks as toys during fetch or to entice your dog. Instead, bring your own ball or chew toy to use during games.
That being said, there’s no need to panic if your dog finds and picks up a stick. It’s a perfectly normal behavior that most dogs partake in. Simply taking it away or telling your dog to drop it calmly and presenting an alternative treat can teach your dogs to steer clear of sticks—and by extension, the potential health risks that come with them.
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Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan