My Dog Has Eaten Plastic: What Should I Do?

Sometimes, a dog's curiosity takes its toll. If your dog has eaten plastic and you don't know what to do, read on.
My Dog Has Eaten Plastic: What Should I Do?
Samuel Sanchez

Written and verified by the biologist Samuel Sanchez.

Last update: 22 September, 2022

If you suspect that your dog has eaten plastic and you don’t know what to do, a visit to the veterinarian is the first step that every owner should take. However, it’s sometimes difficult to detect this type of irregularity in canines, as they hide their pain or discomfort until visible and very worrying symptoms appear.

The ingestion of foreign objects is something that almost every owner has to face at least once in their life, especially if they live with a puppy. Here’s what to do if your dog decides to snack on a piece of plastic. Don’t miss it!

Why did my dog eat plastic?

The term “plastic” refers to a material made up of organic or synthetic compounds that have the property of being malleable, and therefore, of being molded into solid objects in different ways. This material is present in every room of the house: water bottles, containers, tupperware, pipes, flower pots, and many other things.

Plastic isn’t digestible and can cause intestinal blockages after ingestion. Dogs that assiduously consume items that have no nutritional value are diagnosed with pica syndrome, and plastic may be among the items on their new menu. A canine usually develops this disorder for the following reasons:

  1. Nutritional deficiencies and other medical problems: Some animals eat inert matter (such as stones and soil) to overcome nutritional deficiencies. Sometimes, if the dog is extremely hungry, it will take the first thing it finds in its mouth.
  2. Boredom and lack of environmental enrichment: Dogs have very acute senses of hearing and smell, in addition to a body that requires large daily energy expenditure. If the dog is at home all day and isn’t stimulated, it may release its anxiety by chewing on solid things, including those made of plastics.
  3. Tooth growth: Dogs bite (almost) everything in their path as they develop their dentition. It’s important to redirect their attention to safe materials that they can bite, always designed for this phase of development.
  4. Anxiety: As studies show, up to 72.5% of dogs have anxiety-related traits. Anxiety can be channeled through the consumption of foreign objects.

You might be interested in: 10 Medications to Treat Anxiety in Dogs

Ultimately, if your dog has been eating plastic and does so constantly, they may be suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or a similar emotional disorder. This may be accompanied by other acts, such as repeatedly performing meaningless movements (stereotypies).

A dog with a plastic bottle.

The effects of plastic ingestion in dogs

If your dog has eaten plastic, it can cause a variety of different conditions (or more than one at the same time). Among the possible consequences of the ingestion of an unassimilable material, we highlight the following:

  1. If the piece of plastic is large, it can cause asphyxia in the dog, as it will get stuck in its mouth or esophageal duct. Sometimes, by coughing and regurgitating, the animal is able to solve the problem on its own.
  2. If the plastic manages to pass through the esophagus and stomach, it’s possible for it to become embedded in the intestines. This causes an intestinal blockage that prevents the passage of food and water through the dog’s digestive system.
  3. If the piece is sharp or has points, it can cause fissures and lesions in the animal’s mouth, esophagus, stomach, intestines, or rectum.
  4. The plastic may contain chemical residues of other substances, causing intoxication.

As you can see, all the effects that ingestion of plastic can have on your dog are gastrointestinal in nature. Although it may seem fine at first after ingesting a piece of plastic, it’s best to see a veterinarian in all cases to avoid future complications.

Types of plastic that a dog could consume

In our houses, it’s easy to find many different types of plastic, some more dangerous than others if consumed. Some of those that the dog could chew on, or ingest by accident, are:

1. Plastic bags

These are attractive because they usually contain food, which encourages the dog to eat them. Although they are apparently “soft” objects that could pass through the dog’s digestive system without a problem, it’s also possible for them to cause intestinal blockages.

2. Plastic pens

This object is made of a type of hard plastic, which could fragment and perforate the intestine. Moreover, the simple act of chewing the pen could cause the dog to ingest some dangerous fragments, so care should be taken with this object.

It should be noted that the ink in plastic pens doesn’t pose a risk unless consumed in excess. Nevertheless, it’s important to make sure that symptoms such as continuous retching, excessive salivation, or abdominal pain don’t appear. If they do, you should go to the veterinarian as soon as possible.

3. Hard plastics (toys, lego, or plastic figures)

Some hard plastic figures are small enough for a dog to swallow by accident. In these cases, the severity will depend a lot on the shape and texture of the objects, as, if they have a tip, they could perforate the intestine.

While it’s true that small figures could be excreted from a dog’s body without any problem, it isn’t always possible to predict the results. So, just to be safe, go to a specialist to check your pet’s situation.

What symptoms could your dog show if it eats plastic?

As you may have noticed, there are several medical conditions that could result from plastic ingestion in dogs. If the plastic gets stuck in the mouth or esophagus, the symptoms will be mainly respiratory: difficulty in closing their mouths, clinical signs of suffocation, stretching of the neck, coughing and, ultimately, loss of consciousness.

If the plastic reaches the stomach or intestine, the expected symptoms are as follows:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal distension
  • Loss of appetite
  • Constipation
  • Lethargy
  • Behavioral changes
  • Generalized discomfort
  • Constant tearing

If the dog’s stools and vomit show blood, the plastic has most likely caused some damage to internal tissues. In this case, it’s best to take your pet to a veterinarian immediately.

See also: What To Do If Your Dog Coughs Up Blood

Sometimes, dogs will spit out the piece of plastic or excrete it with their feces if it’s very small. Always monitor the dog to make sure this is the case.

Is it possible for a dog to excrete plastic without a problem?

As mentioned above, in some cases it’s possible for the plastic object to come out of the dog’s body without causing any problems. However, it may take several days for the body to remove the debris through the feces. Since you can’t foretell the outcome of this situation, it’s always recommended to see a veterinarian to check the situation.

Should I induce vomiting in my dog?

In general, it’s never a good idea to try to induce vomiting in your dog if it has eaten plastic (or any other foreign object). If the plastic is stuck in the esophagus, the muscle contractions induced by this action could cause the object to further tear the esophageal tissue. In addition, there’s also a risk of aspiration pneumonia.

If the vomit travels to the lungs, the situation will worsen dramatically.

Are there any home remedies for these cases?

It’s important to emphasize that if your dog eats any kind of plastic, you should never use home remedies. Keep in mind that the object could get stuck or perforate part of the digestive system, and the ingestion of any food could worsen the situation.

Of course, in some cases, you may not know if the pet has eaten plastic. However, at the slightest suspicion, it’s best to visit a veterinarian to rule out or confirm this situation. Your pet’s life could be at risk, so don’t skimp on expenses.

The only possible solution: go to the vet

If your dog has eaten plastic and hasn’t been able to spit it out immediately, the best thing to do is to go to the vet. Once you arrive at the clinic, tell the professional what type of material the dog has eaten (shape and composition if possible) and the symptoms they’ve had so far.

To understand how serious the case is, it’ll be necessary to perform tests to detect where the plastic object is, such as:

  • X-rays
  • Ultrasound of the abdomen
  • X-rays with contrast
  • Endoscopies
  • Computed tomography (CT)

Once the foreign object is detected, it may be possible to remove it from the dog’s body through the use of an endoscope, either orally or rectally. If the situation is particularly delicate, full surgical removal is required, with general anesthesia and opening of the affected tissues.

After the procedure, it’s usually necessary to prescribe antibiotics to avoid infections.

A dog in surgery.

Prognosis

In the best case scenario, your dog won’t need any type of extraction and will expel the piece of plastic it ate through its feces. However, this will only happen if the object isn’t sharp, and if it’s small enough. Your pet’s life won’t be at risk and they’ll recover completely.

However, the most serious cases are those in which the plastic perforates or damages any part of the digestive system. This can have different levels of risk depending on the affected area and any delays before the dog was treated, and so the vet will take the appropriate action.

The best treatment is prevention

If your dog has eaten plastic and you have already gone through the whole procedure to deal with it, you’ll have learned a valuable lesson. Watch your dog very carefully, and keep them away from any objects they could gobble up in one bite. This is especially true for puppies, as they’re more likely to eat things that aren’t digestible.

If your dog exhibits behavior of this type that can’t be explained from a nutritional point of view, then you may need the help of a dog trainer. Fortunately, pica and compulsive disorders can be solved with the correct treatment.

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