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My Dog Swallowed a Bully Stick: Our Vet Explains What to Do

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By Dr. Iulia Mihai

bully sticks

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Written by

Dr. Iulia Mihai

DVM MSc (Veterinarian)

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

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If your dog has swallowed a bully stick, it is best to contact your veterinarian immediately. They can give you recommendations on what to do next, depending on the situation and the size of your pet.

Even though these sticks are specially designed for dogs and are digestible, they should be consumed in small bites and not whole. The most severe problems that can occur if your dog swallows a whole bully stick are choking, gastro-intestinal blockage or damage, which can put your pet’s life in danger.

We cover what may happen if your dog swallows a bully stick and what to do next.
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Is It Bad for Dogs to Swallow Bully Sticks?

Bully sticks are special products for dogs that help keep their teeth clean. They are a single source of beef protein (being made exclusively from the pizzle-penis, of a bull) and are suitable for dogs of most ages, sizes, and breeds. These products are digestible as they are made of beef protein, so it is not bad for dogs to swallow small pieces of them. For most dogs swallowing a small to moderate size of a bully stick, there will be no severe consequences. The bully stick will be digested along with any food and pass out in the feces.

However, problems can occur when large pieces or the whole stick are swallowed in one go. Bully sticks are dried protein and as such tougher than fresh meat, this makes them a satisfying chew for dogs but can lead to complications. Ingesting large pieces of a bully stick can be dangerous, it can lead to choking or gastro-intestinal blockage if they get lodged in the throat, esophagus, or elsewhere in the gastrointestinal tract. It is recommended to keep these treats out of reach of your dog, and always supervise them when they are chewing on one.

Chewing-bully-stick_Iryna-Imago_shutterstock
Credit: Iryna Imago, Shutterstock

What Can Happen If Your Dog Swallows a Bully Stick?

In general, if your dog swallows a large piece of bully stick, they will probably be fine. The bully stick will be digested and your dog none the worse for it. On occasion, perhaps some mild gastrointestinal upset if your dog has a more sensitive digestion.

But there are cases where it can have severe consequences.

Choking

Choking represents an emergency, and it is essential to act immediately before your dog loses consciousness. The item stuck in the throat or esophagus can block the windpipe (trachea), depriving your pet of oxygen.

If your dog is choking, you will notice the following signs:
  • Gagging/retching
  • Coughing
  • Drooling
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Pale or blue-tinged gums (cyanosis)
  • Panicking

What to Do If Your Dog Is Choking

  • Try to stay calm. Give your dog a short moment to see if they cough up the bully stick on their own.
  • If they can’t cough it out, gently open their mouth (be careful not to get bitten), and look into their mouth to see if you can reach and retrieve the bully stick. Do not blindly insert your hand in your dog’s mouth because you risk pushing the object deeper into their throat and causing other injuries. If you cannot safely check in their mouth move to the next method.
Here's what else you can try:
  • When they’re standing on all fours, lift their back legs like a wheelbarrow so that their head is lower than their back end. This can help use gravity to dislodge the item.

If you still can’t get it out of your dog’s throat and you are sure they are choking, you can try the Heimlich maneuver but this does carry risks and should only be used in a genuine emergency. The Heimlich maneuver is not thought to be as effective in dogs as in humans so heading straight to your emergency vet clinic is recommended.

Heimlich Maneuver for Dogs:

  • Kneel next to your dog and position yourself behind them.
  • Put your arms around their waist as in a hug.
  • Make a fist with your dominant hand under the last ribs, where the soft abdomen begins.
  • With your other hand, take hold of your fist, and using both together press firmly upwards and forwards five times in a thrusting motion.
  • If your dog is very small you may need to use one hand on their back to help brace them and the other as a fist to perform the thrusts.
  • Check your dog’s mouth, and remove any objects that have been dislodged using this maneuver.

If this has not dislodged the blockage then you need to head quickly and safely to your veterinarian. If this distance is too great and your dog has collapsed you can try this next method if they are lying on their sides.

  • With your dog on their side, kneel beside them and note where the chest is widest. Interlink your hands and make one firm thrust downwards on the ribcage at the widest point. Check the mouth to see if the bully stick has been dislodged. You can repeat this up to 5 times.

Always take your dog to the veterinarian for an examination if they have had a choking episode.

vet checking a dog's stomach at his clinic
Image Credit: Dragon Images, Shutterstock

Intestinal Blockage

Although an intestinal obstruction does not usually immediately put your pet’s life in danger, as happens in the case of choking, it can lead to the death of your dog from complications. You should always get advice from your veterinarian about what to do if your dog swallows a bully stick.

A gastrointestinal blockage can result in the following signs:
  • Vomiting
  • Not wanting to eat
  • Diarrhea/constipation
  • Pale or dry gums
  • Weight loss
  • Bloating
  • Abdominal pains (hunched abdomen or groaning)
  • Lethargy

If you have any concerns about your dog’s health or that they have swallowed a large portion of the bully stick, phone your veterinary clinic for advice and to schedule an examination.

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Conclusion

In most cases, if your dog swallows a bully stick, nothing untoward will happen, especially if they are a large dog. Bully sticks are edible products for canines, made from beef pizzle and given as a treat to help clean their teeth. They are digestible but as they are a dehydrated beef product they can cause difficulties if swallowed in large portions.

In some cases, your dog may choke or develop a gastrointestinal blockage. This is why it is recommended that your dog be supervised when chewing on a bully stick and that they are not left alone with them. If your dog does not finish the bully stick in one sitting then clear it away rather than leaving it out for them to come back to later.


Featured Image Credit: Dmitriev Mikhail, Shutterstock

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