What Should You Do If Your Dog Ate Matches?

Curiosity killed the cat’ is a famous figure of speech, but whoever coined that phrase probably never had a dog. A dog’s curiosity is their best friend and their worst enemy because it leads them to eat anything that is left unsupervised.

Among the weird things dogs decide to feast on we find cardboard and wooden matchsticks. If your dog ate matches, you should look out for stomach discomfort, but unless your dog has eaten a great number of matches, it shouldn’t be worrying.

What should you do if your dog swallowed matches?

Matches are very small and usually come in packs of 20, which shouldn’t be enough to be harmful to the average-sized dog. You should nonetheless take into consideration both the size of your dog and the number of matches they ate.

Any amount over the average single packet should be a good enough reason to call your veterinarian right away. In small dogs, such amount could be enough to cause a gastrointestinal blockage.

Being extra-careful in this situation could be the wisest decision. If your dog ate matchsticks in small amounts, it would still be a good idea to call the Pet Poison Helpline at least.

Dogs that don’t show any painful symptoms after ingesting matches should be fine, but it’s unlikely they will digest them, so you can help them pass the matches by feeding them bulky food like white bread.

Your veterinarian will probably tell you to keep an eye on them and see if they pass the matches or if any worrying symptoms show up. This is because most dogs don’t experience discomfort after eating matches and usually pass them without problems.

What should you do if your dog ate burnt matches?

Many dogs eat matchsticks directly from the box, but if there are any burnt matches lying around, you can be sure your dog will be the first one to find them.

A dog that ate burnt match heads should be fine because it is unlikely they will find enough burnt matches at once to get sick. However, burnt matches could release dangerous chemicals inside the body, so play it safe and call your veterinarian.

What happens if a dog eats matches?

The main risk related to match ingestion is a gastrointestinal blockage. This is true for both paper and wooden matches because in both cases these materials don’t get digested so we need to hope they pass through the digestive tract without getting stuck.

Symptoms of gastrointestinal blockage in dogs include:

  • Stomach pain: your dog whines more than usual, lies in a strange position or feels pain when you touch their belly;
  • Diarrhea: it’s a common symptom of blockage in the intestines. Food doesn’t pass through and only liquids manage to reach the colon;
  • Vomiting: if your dog vomits after eating it means they are unable to keep the food down. With GI blockage, dogs may vomit even when they haven’t eaten anything;
  • Lack of appetite: if your dog is unable to process food, they are unlikely to look for it. Or they may feel too sick to have an appetite;
  • Weakness: this a common consequence of starvation, because your dog lacks the nutrients and the energy to do what they usually do. A weak dog won’t show interest in walks, playtime, or any of their usual favorite activities. They will also sleep a lot more than usual.

GI blockage can turn very dangerous and it’s unlikely to just pass on its own. Bring your dog to the veterinarian and have them examined as soon as possible.

Unfortunately, it is hard to see non-metal items through x-rays, but if it has been less than a couple of hours since the ingestion, the matches are still in the stomach and your veterinarian can proceed with endoscopy to find the object.

Depending on the result, they may remove the matches on the spot, but if the items have already passed through the intestines, your dog will need surgery to open the abdomen and remove the items.

Why do dogs eat matches?

Paper is a favorite snack for dogs, so it’s understandable why they would be attracted to paper matches. However, it’s very easy for paper to cause blockage in the stomach or intestines, despite being a manipulable material.

The relationship between dogs and sticks is a tale as old as time. If you consider that matches are just pocket size sticks, you immediately understand the charm they can have on dogs.

Wood is very tricky because it’s stiff and matches are linear objects that can easily get stuck as early as the esophagus, especially in small dogs. Luckily, most dogs will chew on matches before eating them, and this could help them pass more easily.

Pica

While a single occurrence shouldn’t worry you, recurrent ingestion of inedible materials could indicate that your dog suffers from pica.

Pica is a condition that affects the neurological system where dogs feel compelled to eat inedible items. It could be anything from paper to aluminum, from wood to leather, and even walls or insulation.

It’s easy to understand how dangerous this condition can be for your pet if they keep eating random things. Sometimes dogs suffer from pica because of an unbalanced diet, boredom, loneliness, or anxiety issues. However, this is to be established only after a thorough medical examination.

Are matches toxic to dogs?

In large amounts, matches will be toxic to dogs because the match heads contain potassium chlorate mixed with phosphorus sulfide, which is meant to help ignite the match easily and make them burn faster.

Intoxication by potassium chlorate is the cause of methemoglobinemia, which is a condition where there is a dangerous amount of a certain type of hemoglobin (methemoglobin).

This could cause blood cells to rupture, the pressure to drop, and inflammation of the central nervous system. If untreated, it can lead to organ failure and death.

The average packet of 20 wooden matches contains around 330mg of potassium and the average book of paper matches contains around 110mg, but the lowest lethal dose amounts to 1200mg per kilogram of body weight.

As you can see, it’s very hard for a dog to get intoxicated by eating matches because they would have to eat a lot of packs at once.

Symptoms of match poisoning in dogs.

In the unfortunate case, that your dog had access to an exaggerated amount of matches and decided to wipe them out, you should look out for the following symptoms apart from the common vomiting and diarrhea:

– Lethargy: your dog sleeps way more than usual and feels tired all day long. They are uninterested in the usual activities and may move very slowly;

– Blood in the stools: when there’s blood in the stools, these take on a very dark color, usually brown/black. However, as a pet parent, you know how your dog’s normal stools look like and if there’s something wrong, it should be reported to your veterinarian right away;

– Lack of coordination: your dog may appear ‘drunk’, be unable to walk or run properly, fall on their side and have problems carrying out normal daily activities;

– Seizures: seizures are not always visible, sometimes your dog doesn’t collapse with tremors, but may experience twitches in isolated parts of the body or roll their eyes back;

– Jaundice: body tissues take on a yellow shade, especially eyes, gums, and skin. It is caused by increased levels of bilirubin, which usually indicates liver problems;

– Shallow breathing: changes in the breathing of a dog can be the result of old age, or of many other causes like anxiety, heat, medications, pain, or respiratory problems.

Most often, the medication should be enough to make a full recovery if you treated your dog in time. In severe cases, your dog will need a blood transfusion in order to replace the damaged blood cells.

Wood Poisoning

Potassium chlorate isn’t the only enemy hidden in matches. Wooden matches can be dangerous for your dog for another reason: some types of wood are toxic to dogs.

As with potassium, the amount of wood ingested will play a key role. In fact, it’s unlikely that your dog will get wood poisoning from eating a few matches.

However, there is no saying how a specific dog can react when exposed to something potentially poisonous. Their size, breed, age, and medical history should be taken into consideration.

Unfortunately, it is hard to tell what type of wood matches could be made of, so when in doubt, call your veterinarian or the Pet Poison Helpline.

Can dogs eat matches? 

Dogs cannot eat matches and we trust that all pet parents know better than to leave inedible items where their pet can reach them.

Matches are harmful for many reasons, but it usually takes a large amount of them to cause life-threatening situations. However, even a small amount of matches can provoke gastrointestinal blockage, which is not to be underestimated.

If your dog has regular access to matches, they could be accumulating a worrying amount of chemicals inside their body, which may lead to the development of diseases and even cancer in the long run.

If you need to store a big amount of matches for whatever reason, make sure they are safely stored in a part of the home your dog can’t access, or at least locked them in containers your dog won’t be able to break.