My Dog Ate Plastic! Here’s What to Do (Our Vet Answers)

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Dogs are scavengers by nature and their strong teeth and jaws mean they can chew all sorts of things, including plastic! Sometimes the plastic will have contained something tasty like food, but often it’s just that your dog got a bit carried away with playing! Either way, if your dog has eaten plastic, you’re probably worried. We’re going to talk about the risks of eating plastic, when to worry, and what to do next.Divider 8

What happens if a dog eats plastic?

Plastic is not digestible, so it will not break down in your dog’s stomach. Regardless of whether your dog has swallowed a plastic toy whole or has chewed and swallowed bits of a plastic bag, as soon as the plastic hits the stomach it can start to cause problems. Most commonly, the plastic gets stuck and forms a blockage – this means that food and water are unable to pass through the stomach or small intestines.

But blockage isn’t the only concern. Chewed plastic can have sharp edges, which have the potential to become lodged in the wall of the stomach or intestines. This can cause inflammation or even a dangerous perforation (hole or tear in the lining of the intestines). Symptoms may not be apparent straight away and could take a couple of days to develop. Fragments of plastic could also cut your dog’s mouth and tongue, and choking is also another possible risk.Divider 1

My dog ate plastic – here’s what to do

If your dog has eaten plastic, don’t panic.

Follow our step-by-step guide for what to do next.

1. Stop them eating any more

Remove your dog from the area so that you can quickly clean up any remaining plastic. Try to work out how much is missing. If your dog has eaten plastic packaging, the contents could also be harmful (for example cleaning chemicals, chocolate, and medication) so you should try to find the ingredients list.

2. Assess your dog’s condition

Is your dog still bright and alert? Or are they choking or showing signs of discomfort? If possible, check that there is no plastic still in his mouth – but only if you feel safe to do so as dogs can bite if in pain or distress.

3. Call your veterinarian

Call your veterinary clinic as soon as possible if you think your dog has swallowed some of the plastic, even if they seem ok. Try and tell them how much your dog may have eaten, whether it was hard or sharp plastic, and whether it contained any harmful products. Tell them if your dog is showing any symptoms such as choking, pawing at the mouth, or vomiting. Your veterinarian may also want to know the approximate size or weight of your dog.

4. Follow your veterinarian’s advice

If your vet wants you to bring your dog into the clinic for an examination, then please do so. Early treatment is more likely to be successful. Your veterinarian may recommend that you monitor your pet for signs instead of going straight to the clinic – be sure to find out exactly what they want you to look for, and how long it would take for the plastic to pass. They may also recommend home treatment, such as inducing vomiting, but you should only do this if your veterinarian recommends it – there is a risk that the plastic could get stuck on the way back up, which is much harder to treat.

Related Read: My Dog Ate an Ant Trap! - Here’s What to Do (Our Vet Answers)

Treatment for a dog that has eaten plastic

Your vet’s advice will depend on your circumstances. Your vet may decide that the risk on this occasion is low and will get you to monitor your pet at home. Alternatively, they may recommend that you do tests such as X-rays to see what’s going on inside your dog – although not all plastics show up on X-ray. Other diagnostics can also be performed such as ultrasound – a non-invasive way of scanning your dog’s organs – or even endoscopy – a long, flexible camera is passed into your dog’s stomach. Sometimes a foreign object can be removed without surgery using the little forceps on the end of an endoscope – but this depends on your vet having access to this useful bit of equipment.

It may be possible to give your dog medication to induce vomiting if the item is still located in the stomach. However, large or sharp items may cause damage to the esophagus (gullet) if vomited up, so surgery may be required to retrieve them instead. Surgery may also be needed if the item has already moved down into the small intestine before becoming stuck.

Surgery allows the veterinarian to examine the organs for damage and obstruction and remove the plastic. The success of this procedure depends on how much damage has occurred. If caught early enough, your dog’s prognosis is good, but damage to your dog’s organs may be more severe if your dog’s blockage has been left untreated for a while.

How much does bowel obstruction surgery cost?

Bowel obstruction surgery is major medical procedure that requires an experienced veterinarian and several nurses, as well as a couple of hours of surgical time. Your dog will usually need to be hospitalized for several days following such a surgery and will need multiple types of pain relief. Costs vary between regions and clinics, often depending on your vet’s access to advances pieces of equipment to make the surgery safer. I would expect this surgery to cost at least $1500, usually more. If costs are a concern to you, you should discuss this with your veterinarian as soon as possible. They can provide estimates of costs as well as discuss where corners can be cut to keep the cost down. Remember, earlier treatment is easier – so it’s likely to be cheaper.

How can you tell if a dog has something stuck in his stomach?

If your dog has something stuck in his stomach or small intestine, then food and water might not be able to pass properly. This will cause food to be vomited back up again. Your dog may also stop being able to pass feces, or may have diarrhea or blood in his stool due to the inflammation in his gastrointestinal tract. You may notice small pieces of chewed plastic in the vomit or stools.

Dogs with blockages are usually off-color and don’t want to eat or drink much. They may become lethargic, or even collapse completely. Abdominal discomfort may be seen – your dog might be looking at his stomach more often than normal and may adopt a different way of positioning himself to try and get more comfortable. The most common position associated with abdominal pain is ‘prayer positioning’, or ‘downwards-facing dog’. He may also be whining, whimpering, or crying.

Other symptoms may include:
  • Vomiting, often repeatedly
  • A change in their stools
  • Eating less than usual
  • Lethargy
  • Abdominal discomfort

If your dog develops a puncture or tear in his gut lining, he may also start to get a high temperature due to infection. Vomiting is likely to get worse, and collapse is more likely.

Related Read: My Dog Ate a Sock! - Here's What to Do (Our Vet Answers)
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Can a dog pass plastic?

Dogs are sometimes able to pass small amounts of smooth plastic without any symptoms. Small plastic wrappers and tiny bits of plastic bags are generally more likely to pass than larger, harder, or sharper bits of plastic. Larger dogs are also generally able to pass things more easily than a smaller dog can. For example, a young puppy may not be able to pass a soda bottle cap but an adult German Shepherd Dog might – although other factors can come into play, like whether the cap was chewed, and whether the dog’s guts are otherwise healthy.

White puppy eats in plastic bags _artikom jumpamoon_shutterstock
Credit: Artikom jumpamoon, Shutterstock

If you are wondering ‘will it pass or not?’ the best thing you can do is call your veterinarian for advice. Calls are usually free, and you’ll get personalized advice for your size of dog, your dog’s risk factors, and exactly what your dog has eaten. Your veterinarian can give you options and discuss the risks of each option so that you can make an informed decision about what to do next.

Does plastic dissolve in a dog’s stomach?

Dogs are known for having ‘strong stomachs’, but while they have a large amount of stomach acid, it’s not enough to dissolve plastic. If your dog has eaten plastic, it will not dissolve in the stomach or be digested – it will either pass through relatively unchanged, or it will cause a blockage or perforation. Whether plastic will pass through a dog will depend on the type, size, and shape of the plastic eaten, and the size of your dog – as well as a bit of luck.

How can I help my dog pass plastic?

In this situation, it’s not a good idea to administer anything to your dog without checking with your veterinarian, as it could make it harder for your vet to treat your dog later on. Your vet will be able to give you advice on your options, and – if they advise that leaving it to pass might be suitable – you can discuss whether you can give your dog anything to help them pass the plastic.

Can eating plastic kill a dog?

Potentially, yes. If the plastic causes an obstruction that is left untreated, it can become fatal. This risk is increased if he becomes dehydrated through vomiting or if he develops life-threatening peritonitis. This is why you should call your veterinarian for advice as soon as you can – If treated promptly, most dogs do very well.  It is also worth noting that plastic itself is not toxic, but if it contained something poisonous to dogs – like chemical insecticides – then this could also cause your dog to become very unwell.

However, if the plastic is removed before symptoms develop, or if symptoms are treated promptly, the prognosis is usually excellent.

How can I stop my dog from eating plastic?

Some dogs are naturally more inquisitive and destructive than others. Keep any potentially harmful or tempting items well out of your dog’s reach and empty trash cans regularly. You could invest in one with a lockable lid.

Supervise your dog when they are playing with their plastic toys and throw away toys that show signs of wear or damage. Encourage your dog to play with appropriate treats and toys for his size rather than plastic bottles or wrappers and consider buying extra-tough toys for stronger dogs. Keeping your dog mentally stimulated and well-exercised can also stop them from getting bored and destroying things. Puppies can chew lots when they are teething so make sure they have access to appropriate toys for this.

If your dog is very prone to chewing and scavenging behavior, or if they suffer from anxiety that may be driving them to be destructive, then you may wish to consider getting professional advice on training techniques to help with this.Divider 5

Conclusion

If your dog eats plastic, seeking veterinary advice as soon as possible is the best thing you can do to help your dog. They’re best placed to help you make an informed decision, looking at all your options and all the possible risks.


Featured image credit: frank60, Shutterstock