What Should You Do If Your Dog Ate A Cotton Ball?

Dog’s philosophy in life seems to be “if I see it, I eat it” because they’re capable of eating anything and everything that stands in their way and veterinarians have stories for days about all the strange things they found in dogs stomachs.

Cotton balls are not safe from dogs’ endless curiosity either. If your dog ate a cotton ball, there should be nothing to worry about.

It would take a large number of cotton balls or a very small dog to cause gastrointestinal blockage, in which case you should bring them to the vet.

What Should You Do If Your Dog Eats a Cotton Ball?

If your dog is eating cotton balls under your nose, you can use the “leave it” or “drop it” command to make them spit the cotton balls.

Teaching these basic commands to dogs comes very useful because dogs will often eat things that are not good for them.

If your dog ate cotton balls while you weren’t there and the damage is done when you eventually find them, try to make an estimate of how many cotton balls they ate and check to see if it was natural cotton or polyester.

You should call your veterinarian to make them aware of the situation and get some advice.

Most often, if the amount ingested is small, the situation can be handled from home and you’ll be advised to keep an eye on your dog.

Signs of discomfort you should look out for include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Drooling
  • Coughing
  • Abdominal pain
  • Inability to defecate
  • Lack of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Dehydration

Any of these symptoms could mean your dog is not passing the cotton balls and is experiencing a blockage in the intestines.

They will require a thorough medical examination and prompt intervention to remove the cotton balls from the body.

What Happens If a Dog Eats a Cotton Ball?

Most often, a dog that swallowed a cotton ball will be fine.

Natural cotton balls are actually recommended sometimes from pet parent to pet parent when your dog eats sharp things because they can wrap around the foreign object to prevent internal wounds and bleeding in the intestines.

Be careful: this doesn’t mean you should feed your dog cotton balls when they ingest inedible items.

A veterinarian will not likely recommend this method, because cotton is still a foreign object in itself.

The acids in your dog’s stomach will break down natural cotton, so it should be dissolved and pass without problems.

However, if your dog ingested polyester-cotton or a large amount of natural cotton, there is a risk for gastrointestinal blockage.

Gastrointestinal blockage 

When an object or a big amount of inedible material gets lodged in the stomach or intestines, your dog will experience gastrointestinal obstruction.

This condition is unpredictable because sometimes it may pass on its own, and other times it may become serious enough to be lethal.

That is why gastrointestinal blockage should not be underestimated.

Symptoms of gastrointestinal blockage in dogs include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Lack of appetite
  • Swelling of the stomach
  • Painful abdomen
  • Lying in strange positions
  • Abnormal behavior
  • Loud whining
  • Obsessive barking
  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Dehydration
  • Pale gums

Your dog will need medical assistance as soon as possible. If it has not been 2 hours since the ingestion, the veterinarian may try to induce vomiting in your dog to get the cotton out.

After two hours, the cotton balls have already passed through the intestines, so your veterinarian may try to remove them during the endoscopy to locate them, or decide that it is necessary for your dog to undergo a medical surgery.

A gastrointestinal blockage is way more common in small dogs and puppies, so if your puppy ate cotton balls, it would be safer to bring them to the veterinarian right away.

Why Do Dogs Eat Cotton Balls?

As with many other inedible ingestions, there is no apparent reason that would push dogs to eat cotton balls.

Dogs use their mouth and nose to explore the world, but cotton balls don’t give off any particular smell either.

Maybe dogs chew on cotton balls out of curiosity and might end up liking the texture. Maybe they smelled something intriguing on the cotton balls because of what they were used for.

However, dogs don’t seem to need a reason to eat the weirdest things they can find lying around, but sometimes eating inedible items can be the symptom of a more serious condition.


Pica is a psychological condition that can affect dogs of all breeds and ages, but it is slightly more common in female dogs.

Dogs affected by this condition feel the urge to feast on inedible items. It can be anything: plastic, paper, leather, or even the walls of your house.

Pica pushes your dog to acquire a compulsive behavior and is very dangerous because they may end up eating something that is highly toxic or even lethal to them.

If this is not the first time your dog has eaten something particularly strange, consider the possibility that your dog may be affected by pica and bring them to the veterinarian.

Pica could be a symptom or a consequence of:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety and specifically separation anxiety
  • Metabolic diseases like diabetes mellitus
  • Attention-seeking behavior
  • Unbalanced diet
  • Boredom (lack of stimuli)

There are treatments available for pica, depending on the cause.

Some dogs may just need a change in their diet because they may be lacking fundamental nutrients; others may need behavioral training.

Pica is to be taken seriously, not only for all the damages that your dog will cause if this condition is left untreated but also for the health risks related to ingesting inedible items and materials.

How To Prevent Your Dog From Eating Cotton Balls Again

Cotton balls are often harmless for dogs, but it would still be better to prevent your dog from eating whatever they fancy because often they are completely unaware of the risks (except, apparently, with glass.

Dogs don’t seem to like that).

If you have pets in your house, make sure to turn your house pet-proof by taking these simple but fundamental precautions:

  • Do not leave items around where your dog can find them. Your dog will eat most of what they see, without questions. The floor and all the surfaces your dog can easily reach should always be clean and empty.
  • Throw away cotton balls as soon as you finish using them. Make sure not to forget them on the counter or on the bathroom floor. Your dog will find them and eat them without a doubt.
  • Make your trash can pet-proof. Some dogs can get really smart when they wish to get what they want and some of them learn to open trash cans. There are many trash cans on the market that are completely pet-proof and you should invest in those if you want to gain peace of mind.
  • Make sure your dog is well-fed and that their diet is complete. Dogs may eat other things because they’re hungry or their body is lacking nutrients. A dog that eats well is a dog that doesn’t go around looking for unlikely snacks. If you’re not sure about what’s wrong with your dog’s diet, consult your veterinarian or an animal nutritionist.

Can Dogs Eat Cotton Balls?

Natural cotton balls are mostly harmless for dogs, while polyester-cotton balls may cause blockage more easily, especially in small dogs.

However, ingesting a big amount of cotton balls will be risky even if it’s of the natural kind. Make sure to keep your dog well-hydrated as a way to help them pass the cotton.

Sometimes dogs will eat weird things without a reason, but other times it may be the symptom of a psychological condition called pica.

Pica is very dangerous because it pushes dogs to eat inedible things on purpose, and they could end up in a life-threatening situation because of it.

You can prevent your dog from eating unhealthy snacks by making sure all of your items are always safely stored away where your dog can’t reach them.

Make sure all the reachable surfaces are always clean and that your trash can is pet-proof.

When you’re in doubt, rather than trusting what you find online, remember that consulting your veterinarian is always the wisest choice because nothing can replace professional advice.

Other articles you may also find useful: