Dog lovers know that dogs love to chew.
Dogs will chew on just about anything they can. One thing that dogs can and often will chew is a battery.
There are lots of opportunities for dogs to get into trouble with batteries.
There are batteries in the remote for your TV. There are batteries in toys, flashlights, beard and mustache trimmers, games, calculators, and portable radios.
There are batteries in watches, hearing aids, and even some greeting cards.
That’s a lot of opportunities for your pooch to suffer poisoning by eating a battery.
Why Is Swallowing a Battery Dangerous for a Dog?
There is one main reason that ingesting a battery is so extremely dangerous for dogs and other household pets:
When alkaline batteries are punctured or chewed, they can leak either sodium hydroxide or the chemically similar compound potassium hydroxide.You probably know sodium hydroxide by its common name, lye.
These caustic chemicals can burn and erode your dog’s mouth, throat, esophagus, stomach, and bowels.
Even if the seal of the battery remains intact, that is, if your dog swallows it whole, the battery can cause your dog serious health problems.
It can create a blockage or obstruction in the intestines. The smaller, round, button-sized batteries used to power hearing aids and watches can cause problems even if they are not punctured.
These smaller batteries can get lodged in your dog’s esophagus and cause burns even if they are intact.
Batteries Make a Painless, Poisonous Slurry in Your Dog’s Digestive Tract
Did your high school science teacher mention something about alkalis being slippery?
Whether you remember that lesson or not, the fact is, alkalis are slippery. They coat things.
Soap, for instance, is an alkali. The slippery coating action of the chemicals in batteries is the reason they easily overwhelm a dog’s digestive tract.
It’s easy to overlook their potency because they are so small.
Dry cell batteries contain a gel of potassium hydroxide or sodium hydroxide. Both of these chemicals are alkaline.
When alkaline chemicals get inside the body, they absorb water to form an alkaline solution in which there are more hydroxyl (OH–) ions than hydrogen (H+) ions.
Small numbers of OH– ions just cancel out the H+ ions in the stomach by forming HOH, better known as H2O, or water. Larger numbers of OH– ions, however, overwhelm the H+ ions and start a process called liquefaction.
Liquefaction dissolves proteins. It breaks down the collagen that holds the linings of the digestive tract together.
It turns fats into soaps. It breaks down cell membranes so their contents fall apart
During the process of liquefaction necrosis, the potassium hydroxide or sodium hydroxide released from the battery penetrates deeply into surrounding tissues.
Unlike acid exposure, alkali exposure doesn’t cause immediate pain.
For that reason, dogs don’t feel pain right away from biting into a battery and they keep on chewing and swallowing.
Even if the affected tissues exposed to the alkaline gel heal, they can form scar tissue. The scar tissue can permanently narrow the throat or digestive tract.
The accumulation of scar tissue can affect the dog’s bark, and permanently limit the amount of food they can eat.
If the dog swallows batteries whole without biting into them, it can still generate electricity. The electric current can cook the tissues around the locations where they are lodged.
Batteries can interfere with the flow of food or feces. When they break down, they can release toxic amounts of zinc or lead.
Button batteries leak alkaline gels and break down tissues even faster than AA and larger batteries.
What Are the Signs You Need to Take Your Dog to the Vet for Swallowing a Battery?
It takes up to 12 hours for battery ingestion to produce obvious symptoms.
If your dog swallows a battery, the symptoms may appear in roughly this order:
- Often the first sign of battery ingestion is lethargy. Your dog acts like something is wrong, but doesn’t give any clear symptoms.
- Redness and rawness of the tongue and cheeks occur before obvious signs of burns. Your dog’s mouth may look like it was somehow chewed, before it becomes ulcerated.
- As the alkali in the battery begins to dissolve tissues in the mouth and throat, your dog will drool.
- Your dog won’t be able to swallow food or drink. Your dog will lose interest in food.
- There may be vomiting, with or without blood. Petting your dog’s abdomen causes pain.
- There can be blood in the stool.
- Finally, nerve damage (not infection) causes fever.
Swallowing a battery isn’t something you can treat at home. It requires veterinary treatment. But there are things you can do to prevent your dogs from swallowing batteries.
Why Do Dogs Eat Batteries?
Veterinarians have made a number of observations about the reasons dogs chew on and eat batteries.
Sometimes dogs want to chew on batteries because of the smells associated with them. A battery from a children’s toy reminds the dog of the child.
The first few days a child goes to school during the day, a dog may be inclined to chew on anything associated with the child, including batteries from a toy.
Dogs develop odd appetites when they have metabolic diseases such as diabetes, underactive thyroid, overactive thyroid, and cancer.
A tendency to eat non-food items, including batteries, maybe a clue pointing to an undiagnosed metabolic condition.
Some breeds are more likely to eat batteries than others. Veterinarians report that they see more batteries in Labrador Retrievers than in other breeds.
About 12% of dogs develop cravings for non-food items because of untreated pain. An unknown number of dogs eat batteries and other non-food items because of separation anxiety.
Dogs that cannot deal with their owners being gone during the day may look for stimulation in ways their owners find destructive.
But the motivation for eating batteries and other potentially harmful items may grow out of fear their owners are gone forever.
Preventing Problems with Batteries
There are two sides to preventing your dog from swallowing batteries.
One is simply to keep batteries where your dogs can’t find them. Don’t leave button batteries for watches and hearing aids on nightstands or dressers.
Don’t leave out part of a package of AA batteries after you replace old batteries in flashlights, games, or remotes for your TV.
The other side of preventing problems with batteries and dogs is treating the underlying cause of this self-destructive behavior.
Nutritional issues are the easiest to address. Sometimes, as obvious as it sounds, dogs that eat batteries are suffering mineral deficiencies.
Simple changes in diet, like adding more meat (especially the liver most dogs love) and offering fewer grains, address this issue.
Non-food cravings can also be a sign that your dog has intestinal parasites. Most intestinal parasites are relatively easy for your veterinarian to treat.
Dogs that eat batteries may have been suffering digestive issues before any damage from leaking alkali.
These dogs will almost certainly benefit from being fed three or four smaller meals every day instead of one big meal a day.
Some dogs benefit from canine digestive enzyme supplements. (Don’t give your dog your own digestive enzyme supplements. Human-size doses of digestive enzymes can cause problems in dogs.)
When nutritional needs are the cause of cravings for non-food items, treatment is straightforward. But behavior issues are harder to fix.
Boredom can drive abnormal eating habits. The dog’s prescription for treating boredom may be having you around 24/7. That’s not likely to be possible.
But you can provide your dog with toys, preferably marked with your scent or your family member’s scents, that remind them of you all day.
Separation anxiety can be treated with medication. There is a canine Prozac, a dog-appropriate dose of fluoxetine, the same drug sometimes used to treat separation anxiety in humans. When eating non-food objects becomes a severe problem, this may be necessary.
But in milder cases, better treatment for separation anxiety is counterconditioning. Teach your dog that good things happen when you leave.
Put out puzzle toys with your dog’s favorite food treat for him to solve when you are gone, and only when you are gone.
Give your dog access to favorite toys to keep your mind off you while you are away from home.
Or consider introducing your dog to a canine companion, bringing a second dog into your home.
But make the introduction gradual, starting with scent (giving your dog one of the new dog’s blankets or toys to sniff for a day or two before the formal introduction). Bringing a companion dog into your home too quickly can backfire
But before you try anything else, provided you have all your batteries locked away in safe places, try this: Give your dog lots of safe things to chew.
Quick action can save your dog’s life after she swallows a battery. Patient action can help your dog achieve the healthy behaviors that keep them safe.
How a Typical Case of Battery Ingestion Plays Out
A website for veterinarians called DVM 360 published a case study of a dog that got treatment quickly after seeing her chew on two AA batteries.
Getty was a one-year-old, 26-pound Australian shepherd. Her pet parents got two batteries out of her mouth before she could swallow them.
The batteries had puncture marks from Getty’s teeth.
When Getty got to the clinic, she was alert, bright, and responsive. The vet noticed an abrasion on the inside of her cheek alongside her tongue.
Getty’s humans had intervened before there was a more serious injury. But that didn’t mean that Getty was out of the woods.
Even biting into a battery can cause serious damage to a dog’s gastrointestinal tract. The injury to the throat, stomach, or intestines may not be obvious for 12 hours.
Getty’s vet gave her two medications to protect the lining of her digestive tract. One of them is a powder that is mixed with water to form a slurry, called sucralfate.
Getty was expected to drink 2 cups (500 ml) of this mixture three times a day for five days. Getty was also started on a pill called famotidine (it’s the same medication as Pepcid, only in a dog-sized dose) that she would have to receive once a day for five days.
The vet sent Getty home with instructions to give her the two medications and to be on the lookout for drooling, drowsiness, vomiting, and loss of appetite.
It was just 18 hours before Getty’s pet parents had to take her back to the vet.
Getty had started drooling, She lost her appetite. She wanted to curl up into a ball and hide.
This time the vet noticed that the redness and abrasion along the side of Getty’s tongue had become an ulcer. Fortunately, she did not have any swelling in her abdomen.
The vet gave her tramadol for pain and amoxicillin to prevent infection and admitted her to the animal hospital.
After about four hours of treatment for pain, Getty was ready to eat some dog food specially formulated for dogs in ICU. Getty was ready to go home again after 12 hours in the animal hospital.
Her owners were told to continue all of her medications and to feed her only wet, canned dog food until her mouth sores healed.
Getty completely recovered in a week. But it’s important to understand that this much care was needed just for biting into two AA batteries. Swallowing a battery produces much worse symptoms.
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