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The Ruff Report: Favorite dog pastime a leading cause of illness

Millions of dogs regularly play this seeming innocent and harmless game with their pet parents, but this favorite pastime is actually a leading cause of serious illness and injury, two leading veterinarians warn.

This time-honored tradition frequently results in dogs contracting serious infections, getting nasty puncture wounds and even becoming paralyzed or dying, they say in a report. This favorite pastime that puts your dog in harm's way is playing fetch with a stick.

"Every year my colleagues and I treat dozens of dogs injured while running to fetch sticks thrown by their owners," Dan Brockman, a professor of small animal surgery at the Royal Veterinary College, University of London, states in a report that he co-authored with colleague Zoe Halfacree. "When I see people throwing sticks for their dogs in the park, I just get so frustrated. I want to go and tell them to stop."

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Dr. Brockman says health problems result because the sticks are sharp and dirty. "As the dog runs onto them or grabs them in its mouth, the end of the stick can easily pierce the skin, going through it to penetrate the oesophagus, spinal cord, blood vessels or the dog's neck," he states.

Infection caused by splintered sticks spreading around the body is a lethal problem, the report states.

Small or sometimes large pieces of a bacteria-laden stick will break in a dog's month and lodge inside the neck, Dr. Brockman said. "Unless the pieces of stick are all found and removed, infection develops. Sometimes these bacteria can become very resistant to antibiotics - so-called superbugs - that eventually kill the animal."

The report advises dog parents to use toys - such as a rubber ball, tennis ball or Frisbee - for playing fetch.

"Rubber throwing toys ... all will keep a dog just as entertained as a stick - and a lot more safely, too," Dr. Brockman said.

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But dog parents should also exercise caution when choosing a toy, the report states. "You must make sure the size of ball is right for the dog," Dr. Brockman said. "I have had to operate on dogs that have swallowed tennis balls, too."


The Ruff Report is a column that appears on, a blog written by Joseph A. Reppucci, a retired editor from The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, Massachusetts. Mr. Reppucci worked as a reporter and editor on major daily newspapers in the Boston area for more than 30 years. He is the author of the book, The Hunt of Her Life, a heartwarming story about his once-in-a-lifetime rescue dog. Find it on and


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