From the time they’re puppies, most dogs are attracted to sticks more than most objects they come across. This is partly because wood is easy to chew, but it’s also because of the shape – sticks look more or less like bones. Bones are what dogs would be eating if we didn’t pour their food into ceramic dishes. They like the meaty flavors of bones, and the marrow inside is an excellent source of nutrients.
Sticks don’t taste at all like bones, of course, and dogs do know the difference. But sticks have their own appeal. They have a musky, earthy taste that seems to appeal to dogs. And of course, they can find them just about anywhere. The dog-logic seems to be: “If l had a bone, I’d chew that. But since I don’t, this will do”.
Veterinarians worry about stick chewing because dogs will occasionally swallow what they chew. A mouthful of splinters isn’t likely to cause problems, but swallowing a large hunk of stick may. While some dogs do get overeager and gulp sticks as soon as they’re small enough to swallow, most just chew and spit, so to speak. Still, you’ll want to be safe. Here are a few things to watch for.
Clear the yard of fruit branches: Dogs aren’t very selective about the types of sticks they chew. This can be a problem if you have apple, pear, or other fruit trees. The wood has a rich, aromatic taste that dogs like, but it also contains small amounts of toxins that can upset dogs’ stomachs.
Other types of wood can also make dogs sick – in some cases, seriously so. Branches from azaleas and trees such as black walnut, black cherry, red oak, black locust, yew, and red maple contain substantial amounts of poison. Dogs who chew enough of the wood can get very ill. If you’re not sure what type of wood your dog is chewing, keep it out of reach until you can make sure it’s not one of the hazardous varieties.
Limit the size: If your dog is going to chew sticks, make sure they’re too big to fit all the way in his mouth. Smaller sticks have a way of getting stuck, and more than a few dogs have found themselves with their jaws locked open because a stick got wedged inside. Big sticks have a way of turning into lots of little sticks, however. Once piles of debris begin accumulating, you’ll want to clean them up before your dog has a chance to take them back into his mouth.
Make sure he’s not a swallower: Most dogs just chomp and shred their sticks, leaving the wreckage on the ground around them. They don’t actually ingest much. Some dogs, however, swallow what they chew. Besides the risk of choking or intestinal blockages, dogs who actually eat sticks sometimes use them in place of regular food.