Does Your Dog Like Chewing Sticks? Hank's Story

by  Krista Magnifico, DVM

Hanks mom brought him in on a Sunday to promise me that she wasn't crazy.. "but he keeps licking his lips, won't eat his food like he normally does, and lately has very bad breath. He is normally very happy, playful and full of energy. Oh, and he loves to chew sticks!"

"Huh? Sticks you say?"

And there within two minutes was our answer to all of Hanks ills.

I know that most people would just stick their finger in his mouth and try to fix this problem quickly, but it is a Sunday, and I am only here for another hour,, and well, he doesn't like my fingers sticking in his mouth.

"Could you bring him back tomorrow morning so I could look in his mouth without a tongue in the way, or chomping teeth, and allow me to take care of him properly?" I bashfully inquired..

You see there is a fine line between rogue-vet style (my usual preference where I act like a MASH doctor, all MacGyver and cast caution to the wind) and performing a task with as few variables as possible. Medicine is all about managing worst cases scenarios, being prepared for them, and jumping in.. (see? That's I love that MacGyver stuff!).

Hank's mom was so happy that I had confirmed that she was an astute mom (and not crazy) that she afforded me the liberty of general anesthesia the following day.

That calm quiet Hank under anesthesia allowed me to see the culprit.
Looks so harmless, doesn't it?

Wedged very tightly and very deeply in the hard palate (OUCH!! can you imagine?) is a stick!

When it got there is hard to tell. I would guess about 2 weeks?

Within a few seconds that bothersome unwanted stick was out of Hanks mouth.

Are you wondering why I was asking for permission to remove this with Hank under anesthesia?

Here were my concerns initially;
  • That stick was wedged so deep that I was afraid the hard palate, or teeth, would bleed like crazy. The gums do this to wash away all that yucky bacteria our mouth is full of.  The advantage to having an excellent blood supply, and bleeding, is that the gums heal very quickly. The disadvantage is that you need to not let blood go down into the trachea. An animal under general anesthesia has an endotracheal tube that seals off the trachea so nothing can trickle down into the lungs. We can tilt the nose down to drain out the mouth, or suction it out of the mouth.
  • That stick was just as likely to go down the hatch (trachea) as it is to go out the way it came in. Swallowing a stick, or very worse yet, inhaling a stick, is very expensive to retrieve and potentially fatal. (Not worth my much beloved MacGyver gusto). And,,
  • What if I needed to suture the holes the stick left behind? Or,,
  • What if it was so wedged I needed that I needed to break  it up to get it out? Worst case,,
  • What if there was an open hole (we call it a fistula) between the oral and nasal cavity? (Did you know that you can pierce a hole between the roof of your mouth and your nasal cavity.. it would bleed and hurt and cause massive infection).
  • I was worried that there would be other hidden mysterious problems in the mouth. Being under general anesthesia allows us to take a calm, thorough look at them all.

Hank is a very good boy but a chewing mouth, a stick, bleeding, and a myriad of other possible complications isn't worth asking for trouble.

The stick left behind two puncture holes between the molars. We flushed the holes to remove any residual pieces of stick, all the plugged up debris, and clean the wounds. A few minutes of pressure and the bleeding stopped.

Lucky boy, no sutures needed!

But the tongue. Well, it had obviously been licking at a hard sharp object for awhile. Can you see the ulcerated area in the center of the tongue in the center of the photo?

Hank woke up quickly and calmly. He took a few licks of the roof of his mouth and went home with fresh breath and a smile of relief! is a resource for pet people to ask questions, share information and help pets find the help and resources their parents need. It is free to join, use, and open to everyone who loves pets. Please visit us and share your pet stories, experiences, and lend a hand to a pet in need.

If you need help from me you can find me at the clinic, Jarrettsville Vet, or on Twitter @FreePetAdvice.


Krista Magnifico, DVM owns a small animal hospital in northern Maryland, where she practices everyday. She wants to make quality veterinary care available to everyone, everywhere at any time; trying to save the world 1 wet nose @ a time.  Her blog is a diary of he day-to-day life & the animals and people she meets. 

Dr. Krista is also the founder of, free pet advice and assistance.

To contact her, you may leave a comment on her blog, email her or catch her on Twitter or Facebook.

Articles by Dr. Magnifico:
Don't Make This Mistake: Ruby's Death To Heat Stroke 
Parvo: Cora's Story 
Jake's Laryngeal Paralysis
The Tip Of The Iceberg: The Unexpected Dental Dilemma
The Ear Ache That Wasn't Going Away: Tottsie's Story
Cody's Eyelid Tumor
Ruger's Mysterious Illness
The Day The Heart Stood Still: Timber's Story 
Different Definition Of Comfort Food: Levi's Story 
Savannah's Pancreatitis  
Histiocytoma: Rio's Mysterious Bump
Von Willebrand's Disease: Greta's Story 
Alice's Heart Murmur  
Jekyll Loses His Tail Mo-Jo 
Pale Gums Are An Emergency: Bailey's Story 
To Amputate Or Not To Amputate: Heidi's Story
Lessons From A Real-Life Veterinarian 
Charlie's Life Saving Lipoma Surgery  
Understanding and Diagnosing The Limping Dog, Why To Probe The Paw 
Angus' Dog Fight And The Consequences
When To Induce Vomiting And When It's Not A Good Idea  
Abby's Survived Being Run Over By Car But Sucumbed To A Mammary Tumor 
Palmer's Hemoabdomen: Nearly An Unnecessary Death Sentence
A Puppy That Doesn't Want To Eat Or Play Is An Emergency: Aurora's Story 

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  1. One reason I hate to see dogs chewing on sticks. A similar thing happened to our Sally - she got a stick wedged behind her incisors - across her mouth...she got pretty frantic but luckily we were able to get it out ourselves. No more sticks.

    1. So sorry about Sally. I don't like it either but living in the bush it's hard to stop them. So I try to minimize it and pray for the best.

    2. That happened to Haley once too and we were able to remove it. I'm guessing she bit down on the stick and her back teeth sliced the stick at both ends and it got wedged between her rows of teeth.

      She was also really frantic and I was probably lucky I didn't get bit while trying to remove it. Kind of scary!

    3. Yes, it can get scary. Hope you got it out successfully.

  2. Ace loves to chew sticks :( Sometimes he swallows pieces and I do worry he will be hurt. So, I usually take sticks away from him and we rarely play fetch with sticks anymore. Hank's issue sounded so painful! I'm glad it was pretty easy to take care of.

    1. I hear you. Cookie is the same way. Taking sticks away from her living in the woods is pretty futile, though. And she does eat some of that too and I worry. But what can I do, there are sticks EVERYWHERE.

  3. I have a german shepherd who is trying to chew and bite on my hand as he is playing. This play biting is getting pretty hard even though he will stop when told, is there a way to correct this.


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