Dogs cause their owners a lot of stress and worry by eating inedible items from time to time. Some of the things dogs frequently eat contain dangerous chemicals, but others primarily represent a physical danger.
Pencils are a good example of the latter.
Most modern pencils are completely non-toxic. But while they are made without any chemicals that would be harmful to your dog, the wood they’re made from can cause a variety of problems for your dog’s digestive system.
We’ll talk about the dangers pencils represent below and explain what you need to do if your dog eats one.
Key Takeaways: Help! My Dog Ate a Pencil!
- Most modern pencils are made from non-toxic ingredients, but the wood itself can cause serious harm to your pup’s insides. Pencil wood may lead to intestinal obstructions or cause lacerations and punctures to virtually any part of the digestive tract, from mouth to rectum.
- Given the dangers pencils can present, you’ll want to contact your vet immediately. Your vet will likely have you come in for an immediate examination, but in some cases, he or she may simply advise you to monitor your pet closely.
- Most pencil-like items, including crayons and artistic pencils, are non-toxic, but they can still represent an ingestion hazard. Accordingly, you’ll want to contact your vet if your pooch eats any of these things too.
First Thing’s First: Contact Your Vet
The first thing you’ll want to do upon discovering that your dog has eaten a pencil (or anything potentially dangerous) is to contact your vet.
Pencils often pass through dogs without issue, but they can also cause serious health problems. And your dog’s medical history may determine, in part, how your dog’s body will react. Your vet may be able to predict the likelihood of a problem, and he or she can tell you the symptoms you need to watch for.
Your vet may recommend that you just observe your dog and watch for symptoms that indicate a serious problem. Conversely, he or she may encourage you to bring your pet in immediately. Just be sure to defer to your vet’s judgment and heed the advice given.
Whether or not your vet instructs you to come in for a visit, do not try to induce vomiting, as the wood fibers may cause damage to your dog’s esophagus on the way back up.
Pencils Are Not Toxic For Dogs
Despite the fact that pencils are often colloquially called “lead pencils,” they aren’t made from lead. They’re made with graphite (a form of carbon), and they have been for at least 200 years or so. So, you don’t need to worry about your dog suffering from lead poisoning after he eats a pencil.
But there is one caveat to this: A small number of pencils may be made with lead-based or otherwise toxic paints. In fact, the yellow paint used on the outside of pencils used to be toxic, as it contained lead chromate paint.
These paints are no longer used in the pencil-making process, and the majority of U.S.-made pencils should be safe. However, if your pencils come from a country with poor safety standards, it is probably a good idea to mention this to your vet.
Are Charcoal, Colored, & Graphite Pencils Dangerous For Dogs?
So, we know that old-fashioned #2 pencils are non-toxic, but what about other types of pencils?
It turns out, most types of pencil are pretty safe:
- Charcoal Pencils: The charcoal used to make most charcoal pencils is made from charred vines or other woody materials, and it shouldn’t represent a toxic threat to your pet’s health (though the wood may still cause internal damage).
- Graphite Pencils: Graphite pencils are simply traditional pencils without a wood encasement, so they aren’t likely to sicken your pet.
- Colored Pencils: Colored pencils contain dyes to provide their color, but the amounts used are likely too small to represent a health threat.
The same is true for crayons too – your dog probably won’t get sick from eating the ingredients in a crayon, but he may still be in danger of stomach obstruction.
The Doggie Dangers of Eating Wood
A bit of graphite isn’t going to sicken your dog, but the wood surrounding the graphite may cause very serious problems. Wood is indigestible, so it will come out looking pretty much like it did going in.
If your dog eats wood, it can cause an obstruction, laceration, or puncture wound in your dog’s esophagus, stomach or intestines.
This is also true of many other materials — such as plastic. Even when dogs eat ant traps, poisoning isn’t so much the issue (the amounts of poison in ant traps is so small that it likely won’t affect your pooch) — the larger danger is potential obstruction.
Wood also tends to splinter when chewed up, and these sharp fibers can injure your dog’s digestive tract. Splinters may become embedded in your dog’s intestines and they may cause significant internal bleeding.
Serious Symptoms to Watch For
Along with anything your vet tells you to watch out for, there are a few important symptoms to take note of following a pencil-eating incident:
Obstructions – particularly those located high in the digestive tract – will prevent your dog’s food from passing through his body. This will typically cause your dog to vomit any food he eats following the pencil. Blood may or may not be present in the vomit.
Obstructions can also make it difficult or impossible for your dog to defecate normally. He may appear to strain, and he may also appear a bit panicked or anxious. He may or may not pass a small amount of waste, and blood may or may not be present.
Other, less common, signs of an obstruction may include signs of pain, lethargy, depression or anxiety. Your dog may also refuse to eat.
If you notice these (or any other unexplained or troubling) symptoms, contact your vet at once. He or she will likely recommend that you bring your dog in for an evaluation.
In addition to obstructions, pencil wood may cause lacerations or puncture wounds to your dog’s gastrointestinal tract. Such wounds are obviously quite serious, and your dog will likely need immediate veterinary care in these cases.
If your dog does suffer internal wounds from the pencil wood, he may produce bloody or blood-tinged stools. His stools may even look dark and tarry, which often occurs when the wound is located in the earlier portions of the digestive tract.
Abdominal pain can be another sign of an obstruction or internal wound. Admittedly, it can be tricky to recognize signs of pain in dogs, so just use your best judgement — you know your dog better than anyone else.
Nevertheless, some of the signs that may indicate your dog is in pain include vocalizations and withdrawal when you attempt to touch his abdomen.
Lethargy is another sign that may indicate your dog is suffering from an obstruction or internal wound. So, if your dog is laying around more than usual or seems disinterested in things he normally likes, consult your vet immediately.
What to Expect at the Vet
Your vet will likely begin by performing a physical examination and taking a detailed history. He or she will ask a number of questions, such as:
- How much of the pencil did your dog eat?
- Did your dog chew it up thoroughly or did he likely swallow large pieces?
- How long ago did your dog eat the pencil?
- Has your dog eaten since the incident?
- What symptoms has your dog exhibited?
If your vet suspects that an obstruction is present, X-rays will likely be ordered. Wood doesn’t show up on an X-ray, but there will be other signs of an obstruction that are visible via an X-ray.
If an obstruction is observed, surgical removal of the blockage may be necessary.
Food May Protect Your Dog’s Insides
In some cases, such as when your dog swallowed the pencil very recently, your vet may recommend feeding your dog to help protect his intestines. The idea is that the food will help surround the wood fibers, thereby reducing the chances that the wood will cause cuts or punctures. The bulk provided by the food may also help push the wood fibers through your dog’s intestines more effectively.
Some vets may recommend feeding your dog his typical food in these cases, but others may recommend providing your dog with a bit of white bread or some other absorbent food.
Nevertheless, you should never feed a dog who is exhibiting signs of an obstruction unless specifically advised to do so by your vet.
Don’t panic if you discover that your dog has eaten a pencil. Many dogs will pass the pencil without difficulty, and veterinary care can help remove any obstructions that do form.
But, like always, the very best way to deal with this problem is by preventing it from happening in the first place. So, make sure that you don’t leave pencils or other potentially dangerous items down where your dog can get his muzzle on them.
Has your dog ever eaten a pencil? What did you do? Share your stories in the comments!