Fishing gear can cause fatal injuries in pets

CAUGHT: A fish hook Dr Anne Quain removed from a dog's lip. Picture: Supplied
CAUGHT: A fish hook Dr Anne Quain removed from a dog's lip. Picture: Supplied

Failure to properly dispose of fishing gear can present hazards to animals - wildlife and domestic animals alike.

Some animals become caught in fishing line, while others - attracted to a fishy smell - ingest hooks, lures, sinkers, lines, or all of the above.

Animal encounters with fishing gear can lead to injuries ranging from minor to life threatening.

Animal encounters with fishing gear can lead to injuries ranging from minor to life threatening.

I recently treated Maple, a two-year-old cocker spaniel, for a fish hook-related injury.

Earlier that day, her owners had taken her for a stroll along the waterfront, where they noticed a few people fishing but didn't think much of it.

Maple, however, was intrigued. She could smell the bait and the fish.

Her owners kept her away from the people who were fishing, but Maple explored the surrounding waterfront.

It was only after they returned home that Maple's owner's noticed a piece of metal protruding from her lip.

Maple kept trying to dislodge it with her tongue, without success.

She presented to us shortly before the clinic closed on a Sunday night, and it didn't take long to achieve a diagnosis: Maple had a 4.5 centimetre long, barbed fishing hook lodged in her upper lip.

The barb itself was firmly lodged in her flesh. Because hooks are usually barbed, they cannot simply be pulled through.

Fortunately, her owners had not attempted to remove it themselves.

Maple required a general anaesthetic and minor surgery to remove the hook.

Once I had been able to remove the rusty hook, I flushed the wound with saline. I administered antibiotics and pain relief.

Maple is fortunate to have made a full recovery with relatively minor surgery.

Had she swallowed the hook, she may have required endoscopy, or even major surgery, to remove it from her oesophagus, stomach or intestines.

Fish hooks have been known to penetrate vital internal structures, like major blood vessels.

This can be life threatening for animals that swallow them.

This includes wildlife.

Opportunistic scavengers like turtles commonly ingest fish hooks from the environment.

They may also ingest hooks from fish that have been caught and released.

This is not a rare event.

In some studies, about one third of turtles randomly sampled had swallowed fish hooks (as found on x-rays).

This is bad for the welfare of individual animals, but also very concerning when it impacts vulnerable populations.

Many wild animals die following ingestion of items that humans carelessly discard.

If you see an animal with a hook caught in its mouth, don't try to remove it.

Seek veterinary attention immediately.

Similarly, if you see an animal swallowing any fishing gear, or fish likely to contain a hook, seek veterinary attention immediately.

If you are concerned about the welfare of wildlife, contact your local wildlife rescue organisation, such as WIRES.

Owners who walk their dogs in areas where fishing occurs need to be very mindful of the risk of improperly disposed fishing tackle.

If you do fish, do not leave fishing gear unattended.

Place used hooks in a sturdy, sealed container and dispose of them appropriately.

Never leave hooks, lures, bait or fishing line behind.

Fish with hooks in them should not be released. For catch and release, use barbless hooks.

  • Dr Anne Quain BVSc (Hons), MANZCVS (Animal Welfare), Dip ECAWBM (AWSEL) is a lecturer at the Sydney School of Veterinary Science and a practising veterinarian.
This story Discarded fishing gear poses serious threat to pets, wildlife first appeared on The Canberra Times.