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.
Whilst this isn’t always a serious problem as more often than not, very small pieces often pass right through your dog’s system. But in other severe cases, it can cause a serious health problems. Some dogs may even die after eating plastic. Plastic can cause a number of problems, including mouth injuries, choking, gastrointestinal perforations, and intestinal obstructions.
Why do dogs eat plastic?
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 everything the dog can get his paws on! 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. Sometimes they will also chew on plastics in the garbage that still have the taste or smell of food on them. The best way to prevent these types of problems is by simply keeping food and waste put away in places your dog can’t reach. Other examples of waste that may cause obstructions and potentially life-threatening problems are bones, mielie cobs and peach pips. These are all just examples of foreign bodies commonly removed during surgery at our hospital.
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 (which may be a risk in itself as some of these may also potentially cause obstructions), but others may find plastic household items more enjoyable. Make sure that your puppy has safe teething chew toys.
Symptoms for Concern:
Take your dog to the vet if they exhibit any of the following symptoms after eating plastic:
- Vomiting – especially if it occurs repeatedly and for more than just a few hours
- Diarrhoea – especially if it occurs repeatedly or contains blood
- Constipation – failure to produce stools at all due to obstruction of the intestinal tract or due to impaction of the rectum
- Inappetance – refusing to eat for more than a day or two after the incident
- Abdominal bloating
- Strange body postures
- Panicked behaviour
- Incessant crying or whining
What should I do if my dog has eaten plastic?
Dogs eat plastic for a variety of reasons. Some may do so out of boredom, frustration, or curiosity, while puppies may do so because they’re teething.
The best way to address plastic consumption is through prevention.
Don’t leave plastic items laying around if your dog may chew them up, and be sure to stick to high-quality chew toys.
What to do if your dog has ingested plastic:
By acting quickly, you’ll be able to give your dog the best chance of escaping the ordeal without suffering serious injury.
Assess your dog’s condition
Check to ensure that your dog is breathing normally and that he isn’t choking on any of the plastic. If he is coughing, gagging or exhibiting panicked behaviour, call your vet and head over to your nearest veterinary hospital immediately.
Watch your dog’s body posture
If he is lying in unusual ways, exhibits abdominal pain or appears to be bloated, these types of symptoms may suggest an intestinal obstruction has occurred.
Open your dog’s mouth and remove any plastic present without hurting the dog
Regardless of how much plastic your dog has already eaten, you don’t want him to swallow more.
Make sure that none of the plastic is stuck between his teeth or stuck to the roof of his mouth.
It’s important to ensure that your dog’s mouth is plastic-free. If the plastic is not easily removable or seems to be lodged at the back of the throat, this will need to be removed by the vet under sedation, as this may cause severe damage to the tissue in the area and poses a risk of severe swelling and infections.
Determine the type of plastic consumed
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 need to try to figure out how much plastic he’s eaten and determine the type of plastic he swallowed.
There will often be small pieces of whatever he consumed on the ground so 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?
If your dog consumes anything that contains batteries, you need to contact your vet immediately as batteries are corrosive, and can cause internal bleeding and life-threatening burns.
Check if any plastic that has gone in passes through and does indeed come out.
Longitudinal (lengthwise) obstructions, called linear foreign bodies, have the further risk of causing a “concertina” effect on the small intestines and when they start becoming chronic they can cause large sections of the intestine to get “sawn” through, leading to perforations.
Foreign bodies may also cause sections of the gut to become devitalised, requiring sections to be resected (cut out). If a perforation occurs, this may cause a serious and life-threatening infection that often results in patient death.