The Real Reason You Shouldn’t Play Fetch With Sticks With Your Dog

Updated: Jul. 11, 2023

You might want to pick up something else next time you want to play with man's best friend…

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With the weather outside getting warmer and warmer, who wouldn’t want to go for a long walk outside with their dog? Especially if it’s in a park or on a long hike, enjoying the blooming flowers and budding trees. Of course, if you’re taking your dog for a walk, you may be tempted to pick up a stick or piece of debris from the ground and throw it a distance, to entice your dog to run and play fetch. While this little act of playfulness may seem wholesome, that little stick could cause your dog a major injury.

Yes, it’s true—an innocent stick can cause a lot of damage to your dog’s mouth. Even if it’s not visible at first, there are a myriad of injuries from splinters and debris stuck in the mouth, to injuries and pain that are much, much worse. We spoke with Dr. Elizabeth Moses, DVM, from the Veterinary Emergency Group, about the types of injuries a dog could experience, and why you should second guess picking up that stick.

Is it safe to play fetch with sticks?

Unfortunately, no. While picking up a stick and throwing it at your dog may seem perfectly innocent, playing fetch with a stick can actually cause major damage to your pet’s mouth.

“Sticks are one of the more dangerous items to use while playing fetch,” says Dr. Moses. “Not only could they harbor dirt and debris that your pet could choke on but they pose a much more serious threat—the threat of severe injury.”

What do stick injuries in dogs look like?

Woman Playing With Dogs At RiverRyanJLane/Getty Images

While the injuries could vary, stick injuries in dogs can be as simple as a cut in the mouth to a serious injury in the throat.

“In my time as an ER veterinarian, I have seen injuries ranging from small minor cuts to large wounds needing serious surgery,” says Dr. Moses. “My most recent wound—this past month—was a dog that caught a stick wrong and it ended up in the back of his throat causing serious damage to the left side of his jaw and gums. This pet needed emergency treatment and surgery due to the pain, tissue damage and possible splintering.”

Cuts aren’t the only damage that Dr. Moses sees when dogs play fetch with a stick. Tooth damage, sticks getting lodged in the roof of the mouth, as well as choking or swallowing sticks can be a hazard for man’s best friend as well.

So how do you know if your dog is in pain and has a stick injury? If your best friend is yelping suddenly while playing, drooling excessively, having a hard time eating, unusually quiet, experiencing pain or swelling, or having any difficulty breathing, these could all be ways your dog is asking for help.

“It is recommended to keep the sticks on the trees and not in your pet’s mouth.”

What should you use to play fetch with your dog instead?

Instead of throwing a stick from the ground that could damage the inside of your pet’s mouth, look for a softer dog toy you can throw instead. A ball or a frisbee always works, but if you’re looking for something that has the shape of a stick, you could invest in a Safetstix or a Squeezz Stick Dog Toy that will give the game of fetch the same feel, without the risk of harm.