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My Dog Ate Plastic: Here’s What to Do (Vet Answer)

Dr. Marti Dudley

By Dr. Marti Dudley

Dog eating garbage

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Written by

Dr. Marti Dudley

Veterinarian, DVM

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Dogs’ noses lead them to ingest all sorts of “treasures,” even the indigestible kind! So, what should you do if Fido has made a snack out of plastic? Well, plastic is not able to be digested, so it needs to come out. The question is: Can it come out on its own, and will it cause complications for your dog? In this article, we will explore the concerns with plastic ingestion and the steps to take to ensure the safety of your beloved pet.

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The Concern With Dogs Eating Plastic

The big concern with plastic ingestion is the possibility of choking and bowel obstruction. When non-food items are ingested, especially if the food items are large, sharp, or abnormally shaped, there is a chance that the item can become lodged somewhere in the gastrointestinal tract. This can lead to the item not being able to pass through, impaired blood flow within the intestines (leading to damage), and pain.

There is also the chance that the plastic item may not have reached the stomach before causing problems. In some cases, the foreign object may get lodged in the esophagus, causing compression of the trachea, or the object may have been inhaled and become lodged within the trachea itself.

Puppy Eat Plastic
Image Credit: Artikom jumpamoon, Shutterstock

The 4 Things to Do If Your Dog Ate Plastic

1. Remove It if You Still Can

If you find yourself observing Fido chewing on something, try to remove it from their mouth if it is safe to do so.


2. Evaluate Your Dog

Ensure that your dog is acting normally after ingesting the foreign object. If there is any indicator of discomfort or troubled breathing, a veterinarian needs to see your dog quickly.


3. Determine the Item Ingested

  1. What is the size of the object?
  2. What is the object used for?
  3. Is there a risk of toxin or drug exposure?
  4. Do you suspect the object was swallowed whole, or was it chewed?
  5. Is the object smooth or sharp?
  6. Is the material flexible or stiff?

4. Call Your Veterinarian

You should call your veterinarian to discuss the foreign body ingestion. Often, it can be difficult to predict which dogs may have secondary complications from plastic ingestion.

Your veterinarian will take several factors into consideration when determining the best next steps for your pet. Factors to be considered include:

  • The size of your dog
  • Item consumed
  • Concurrent medical condition
  • Current clinical signs
vet holding the dog in the clinic
Image Credit: Dmytro Zinkevych, Shutterstock

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Veterinary Involvement

Depending on the object ingested, there are several routes that you may need to take for your pet. In some cases, observation and supportive care at home may be sufficient. Your veterinarian may recommend an appointment to evaluate your pet, and they may induce vomiting to bring up whatever was swallowed if they feel it is safe to do so.

Alternatively, radiographs may be used to help confirm the foreign body and identify its position within the gastrointestinal tract. In some scenarios, immediate removal of the foreign object through endoscopy or surgery may be warranted.

Diagnostics

If your dog has ingested a foreign body and is asymptomatic, or if your dog has consumed a foreign body and is showing signs, diagnostics will be recommended. Your veterinarian will likely recommend a full blood panel looking at white blood cell levels and organ values. Additionally, radiographs will be recommended of the abdomen and the chest. Films of the thorax are important to rule our esophageal foreign bodies. In some situations, radiographs with contrast may be performed. Contrast can help illuminate foreign bodies.

Supportive Care

Some patients may do well with high-fiber diets that can help coat foreign objects. This helps to facilitate transit through the gastrointestinal tract and can help prevent sharp objects from causing injury to the intestinal mucosa. Fluid therapy may also be recommended, especially if the patient is dehydrated.

Monitoring

Close observation of your pet should be done while waiting for the object to pass. At the first sign of discomfort or behavior change, your dog should be evaluated by a veterinarian. If the object is allowed to pass on its own, screening the feces for the object is recommended.

Signs of Gastrointestinal Blockage:

  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Anorexia
  • Discomfort
  • Inability to defecate
vet examining dog's mouth or teeth
Image Credit: Kurit afshen, Shutterstock

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Foreign Body Removal

In the event that the foreign object is unlikely to pass through the gastrointestinal tract without causing problems or is already causing problems, further intervention will be necessary.

Endoscopic Removal

In some cases, if the object has not passed through the stomach, a non-invasive procedure called endoscopy may be done to retrieve the object. This involves passing a small camera down the esophagus. After the object has been identified, a separate tool attached to the camera can grab ahold and pull the object up and out through the oral cavity.

Exploratory Laparotomy

In the event of an obstruction, an abdominal incision is made which allows the veterinarian to evaluate all aspects of the gastrointestinal tract. The digestive tract will be palpated and examined for damage. If a foreign object is noted, a surgical incision will be made into the affected tissue to remove the object. The tissue and the abdomen will then be closed.

After an abdominal procedure, your dog will likely need to be observed for 24–48 hours after the procedure in a veterinary hospital to ensure appropriate recovery.

When it is time to discharge the patient, the veterinarian will go over at-home care instructions and dispense any necessary medications. Medications that will likely be needed include pain medications and antibiotics.

dog endoscopic vet
Image Credit: Lebedko Inna, Shutterstock

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Conclusion

As much as we may try to keep our dogs out of harm’s way, sometimes they find a way of getting themselves into trouble. Setting your pet up for success by leaving tempting items out of their reach is essential. Consumption of plastic can be life-threatening, and recognizing clinical signs suggestive of gastrointestinal problems is essential. Do not hesitate to reach out to your veterinary team if you are concerned about your pet.

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Featured Image Credit: Maximilian100, Shutterstock

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