Given the amount of plastic in the average home, it’s not surprising that dogs occasionally choke some down.
Some dogs may eat plastic inadvertently while trying to get their teeth on something delicious, while others may simply find a random piece of plastic intriguing and decide to have a nibble.
This isn’t always a serious problem – very small pieces will often pass right through your dog’s system. But in other cases, it can cause very serious health problems. Some dogs may even die after eating plastic.
We’ll explain the dangers plastic poses below and explain what you’ll want to do if you discover your dog has eaten some.
Follow the steps listed below if you discover that your dog has eaten plastic. By acting quickly, you’ll be able to give your dog the best chance of escaping the ordeal without suffering serious injury.
Check to ensure that he is breathing normally and that he isn’t choking on any of the plastic.
Choking is the most acute danger to dogs who have eaten plastic. If he is coughing, gagging or exhibiting panicked behavior, call your vet and head over to the office (or the closest veterinary hospital) immediately.
Be sure to watch your dog’s body posture too. If he is lying in unusual ways, exhibits abdominal pain or appears to be bloated, contact your vet at once.
These types of symptoms may suggest an intestinal obstruction has occurred. This isn’t likely to happen if your dog ate a small piece of plastic when you turned your back for a moment, but it is a distinct possibility if your dog ate the plastic hours before you discovered him.
Regardless of how much plastic your dog has already eaten, you don’t want him to swallow any more. Make sure that none of the plastic is stuck between his teeth or stuck to the roof of his mouth.
If you don’t feel comfortable or safe putting your hands in your dog’s mouth, just hop in the car and head over to the vet.
It’s important to ensure that your dog’s mouth is plastic-free, but you don’t want to complicate matters by getting your fingers nipped.
Once you are reasonably confident that your dog isn’t in imminent danger (meaning that he can breathe and doesn’t appear to be in serious pain or distress), you’ll want to try to figure out how much plastic he’s eaten.
It’s also important to determine the type of plastic he swallowed – there’s a big difference between the hard plastic of your TV remote and the plastic used in sandwich bags.
So, examine the evidence available (there will often be small pieces of whatever he consumed on the ground) and try to determine what he ate, and how much of it he managed to choke down.
It is also important to determine what, if anything, could have been on the plastic, as this may represent an additional danger. Was the plastic he ate used to wrap up food? What kind of food was inside the container? Did he eat a plastic bottle containing household chemicals?
Now that you have determined that your dog isn’t in acute distress, and you’ve figured out what kind of plastic he’s eaten (as well as the quantity of plastic), you’ll want to call your vet.
Your vet will consider all of the relevant factors, determine the relative risk of serious problems, and recommend a prudent course of action.
Not able to get in touch with your own vet? Jump on JustAnswer and get in touch with one of their live, on-staff vets who will chat with you online. You can even share video or photos to the online vet so they can better diagnose your dog.
If your 150-pound Newfie gobbled down a bit of a sandwich bag (and, presumably, the sandwich contained therein), but is running around like his normal goofball self and eating normally, your vet may simply recommend keeping an eye on him. Chances are, a small bit of thin, flexible plastic will pass right through his intestines without difficulty.
On the other hand, if your 12-pound wiener dog chewed up a DVD case, you may need to bring your pup in. The hard plastic may damage his esophagus, stomach, or intestines, and because he’s a small pup, he is more likely to suffer from an obstruction and be unable to eliminate the plastic he consumed.
Plastic can cause a few different types of problems for dogs who eat it. Some of the most notable issues plastic can cause include:
Fortunately, you usually won’t have to worry about the plastic itself being toxic.
It’s difficult to make broad generalizations about plastic, as there are so many different forms it takes, but most are indigestible. This is part of the reason plastic is such an environmental nightmare – it lasts for years, as most types don’t readily break down.
The plan of action discussed earlier should help you determine the correct course of action for your plastic-eating dog, but if you notice any of the following signs, head to the vet’s office immediately:
Many pet parents wonder if it would be appropriate to induce vomiting in dogs who’ve eaten plastic.
This is normally a bad idea, as the plastic may not be able to pass back through the esophagus easily. The strong muscular contractions that accompany vomiting may cause the plastic pieces to damage your dog’s insides.
In general, it is never a good idea to induce vomiting unless your vet instructs you to do so.
Once you arrive at the vet’s office, the staff will likely check your dog’s vitals and take a history.
They’ll want to know about the plastic he consumed as well as any symptoms he’s exhibited since then (so keep any remaining plastic pieces with you and bring them in).
Your vet may then take X-rays to determine where the plastic is inside his body and whether or not it is likely to cause an obstruction.
If your vet thinks the plastic will pass on its own, he or she may discharge your pet and instruct you to observe him closely. In other cases, your vet may recommend admitting your dog, so he can be observed closely while trying to pass the plastic.
If the plastic needs to be removed, your vet has a few different options. In some cases, it may be possible to retrieve the plastic by using an endoscope (a thin, flexible camera with an attachment that’ll allow your vet to grab the plastic).
Endoscopes can be inserted into your dog’s body via his mouth or rectum, so this will help avoid the stress and expense of surgery.
However, surgical removal may be necessary in some cases. It is also possible that your vet will need to repair any damage the plastic has caused.
Once the plastic has been removed, your vet may prescribe antibiotics to help prevent any infection from developing. He or she will likely recommend that you keep your dog calm and quiet for several days afterward, to help allow his body to rest.
It may be necessary to adjust the way you provide food and water for a few days or weeks too – particularly if your dog has suffered damage to his intestines.
If your dog only eats a small piece of plastic, it may very well pass through his body like anything else he eats. Except that the plastic will likely look just like it did when your dog ate it.
However, that doesn’t mean you will necessarily see it once it comes out. It is quite possible that the plastic will be folded up inside some of your dog’s poop.
Dogs munch on plastic for a variety of reasons. By familiarizing yourself with the reasons they do so, you can likely take steps to prevent the problem from happening again in the future.
Some of the most common reasons dogs eat plastic include:
Dogs who don’t enjoy enough mental stimulation can become very bored. This can lead to a variety of destructive habits, including chewing or eating inappropriate things.
Prevent this by ensuring that your dog gets enough attention on a daily basis and you provide him with plenty of things to stimulate his brain.
Some dogs eat plastic inadvertently while trying to access the delicious things the plastic contains. This includes things like the packaging used in TV dinners and similar foods, plastic sandwich bags, and Tupperware-style containers.
The best way to prevent these types of problems is by simply keeping foods put away in places your dog can’t reach. If your dog has a habit of digging through the trash, opt for a dog-proof trash can that keeps him out!
Young puppies will chew on whatever they can find while they’re going through the teething process. Some will decide that shoes, sticks, or couch cushions make the perfect teething ring, but others may find plastic household items more enjoyable.
Just make sure that your young puppy has a safe teething chew toy that he likes to reduce the chances that he’ll chew on inappropriate things.
Some dogs suffer from severe separation anxiety anytime their people leave the home. Dogs will do a number of things to help soothe their frazzled nerves during these times, and for many, this means chewing on something.
Often times, dogs who are distressed about their owner’s departure will decide to chew on something that smells like their owner.
I had a Lab a while back who could not stand to be away from me. She destroyed a wide variety of items over time, but she seemed especially fond of TV remotes. I always wondered why she picked those until it occurred to me that they were coated in the scent of my hands.
Pica is a medical condition in which dogs eat inedible items. Some dogs with pica eat rocks and others eat fabrics, but some will find plastic items irresistible.
Pica can be challenging to treat, so be sure to work with your vet and an animal behaviorist to address the issue.
Many dogs who end up ingesting plastic do so after ripping one of their toys to shreds (most chew toys are made from plastic).
Accordingly, you’ll want to be sure that you only provide your dog with the safest and most durable dog toys available.
There aren’t any completely indestructible chew toys – even the most resilient models will fail to hold up to the jaws of power-chewing pups. But, by sticking to high-quality toys that are specifically designed for aggressive chewers, you can reduce the chances of problems.
It is also important to note that it is usually wise to provide your dog with the largest toy he can handle. This will help prevent him from tearing it apart and reduce the chances that he’ll swallow the entire thing.
Don’t panic if you discover that your dog ate some plastic. Many dogs will pass the plastic normally without suffering any harm.
Even if your dog suffers serious complications after eating the plastic, your vet will likely be able to address the issue and give your dog a good chance at a full recovery.
Has your dog ever eaten something plastic? How did it turn out? Did he need veterinary attention, or did he simply pass the plastic in his poop? Let us know about your experiences in the comments below!
Ben is a proud dog owner and lifelong environmental educator who writes about animals, outdoor recreation, science, and environmental issues. He lives with his beautiful wife and spoiled-rotten Rottweiler JB in Atlanta, Georgia. Read more by Ben at FootstepsInTheForest.com.