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What Should You Do If Your Dog Ate Plastic?

Plastic is everywhere, from our everyday items to the wrapping of the food we eat and it’s almost a given that sooner or later, your dog will eat plastic and you should know what to do when the time comes.

If your dog ate a small piece of plastic, they will probably be fine if the object wasn’t sharp. However, ingesting large quantities of plastic or specific types of plastic items can be very dangerous and can be considered a medical emergency.

What should you do if your dog eats plastic?

When a dog ate a piece of plastic, the situation is usually really clear: either it’s a medical emergency, or it’s a “wait and see” situation.

In the first case, maybe your dog ate hard plastic and is choking. The first thing you want to do if your dog struggles to breathe is to try the Heimlich Maneuver on them, because it may be too late by the time you reach the animal hospital.

As soon as your dog is in a condition that allows them to go through a short trip, bring them to the veterinarian immediately.

If your dog is showing symptoms of abdominal discomfort, like vomiting, whining, and lying in abnormal positions, head straight to the vet because they are experiencing a gastrointestinal blockage that may require surgery.

If your dog is alright and you can rule out suffocation and GI obstruction, maybe your dog ate a plastic wrapper or something that is likely to pass on its own.

At this point, you should try to understand what happened before calling your veterinarian, because they will want to know what exactly your dog ate and how much of it.

Usually, it’s not hard to tell how a dog got into the plastic because there will be pieces of it scattered on the floor. Also, dog parents usually know exactly what was eaten.

That sandwich wrapped in plastic left on the counter or the pieces of Lego left on the floor are great temptations for your dog. Remember that many dogs chew on plastic like they would on their chew toys. It’s a pass time and entertainment for them.

Once you assess the situation, call the vet to see what can be done. If your dog ate a plastic bag or something as thin and soft, your dog may not be required to go to the hospital. These are some questions you will be asked:

  • What plastic item did your dog eat?
  • What was wrapped/contained in the plastic?
  • How much of it was chewed/eaten?
  • How long ago did they eat it?
  • How old is your dog and what breed are they?
  • How much do they weigh?
  • Are they experiencing pain or discomfort after eating the plastic?
  • Are they eating and drinking normally?
  • Did they vomit or pass stools? Was there any plastic in it?
  • Are they showing any abnormal behavior?

Be prepared to have an answer for all of these questions, because they will help your veterinarian understand the situation.

If your dog ate a plastic bottle or a wrapper that contained food or liquids potentially dangerous for them, you will be asked to come in immediately.

Sometimes dogs can even go through the plastic bags in the trash bin, where they often found dangerous foods like corn cobs, coffee grounds, or banana peels. Or they could chew on containers for detergents or hygiene products like toothpaste.

These should be considered medical emergencies because your pet risks intoxication and poisoning along with GI tract obstruction.

Unless your dog ate sharp plastic or harmful foods like those mentioned, your veterinarian might suggest to simply monitor your pet and see when the plastic comes out with the stools.

It may take a few days and you should check the stools regularly to see when the plastic comes out. If the plastic doesn’t come out and the condition of your dog gets worse, bring them to the veterinarian.

In fact, sometimes symptoms of gastrointestinal blockage do not show up immediately and if the plastic caused some inner damage, it may take a few days for your dog to develop clear signs of illness.

What you should NOT do when your dog eats plastic? 

One thing you want to avoid when your dog eats plastic is to induce vomiting at home. This procedure is commonly used by veterinarians when it comes to dangerous ingestions, however, it comes with some risks.

If your dog ate sharp plastic or hard plastic, there’s a chance the pieces will hurt the stomach and esophagus coming up with the vomit, so it’s better NOT to induce vomiting in your dog unless you’re instructed to do so by your veterinarian.

What happens if a dog eats plastic? 

The dangers of plastic for dogs are several and as with many other dangerous ingestions, different circumstances provoke different consequences.

Your dog may experience mild to severe symptoms when ingesting plastic. Sometimes, what was contained inside the plastic is more dangerous than the plastic itself.

Although the material itself is not toxic, when a dog eats plastic there may be several issues, such as:

Suffocation: your dog might suffocate when they try to swallow a big piece of plastic, or when they vomit it up. Complete obstruction of the throat could quickly be lethal, therefore prompt intervention will be fundamental.

Gastrointestinal obstruction: it is a fairly common condition in dogs, but it’s not to be underestimated, because it’s one of those conditions that can be very easy to treat or become deadly. Sometimes, obstruction caused by plastic requires invasive surgery to remove the object, and post-treatment may be heavy on your pet.

Pancreatitis: when the plastic is wrapped around oily and fatty foods like pizza, there’s a risk for the pancreas of your dog to become inflamed. In fact, dogs do not digest oils and fats very well and pancreatitis can be a devastating condition in dogs that in severe cases may lead to other life-long diseases like diabetes mellitus. Oils and fats can also make your dog overweight, leading the way for more debilitating medical conditions and affecting the quality of life of your pet.

Peritonitis: the inflammation of the membrane that lines the abdominal cavity (peritoneum) is extremely dangerous and often fatal in dogs. It is usually caused by the injuring or perforation of the membrane by a foreign object, in this case, a piece of plastic. Symptoms of peritonitis are often confused at first with those of GI blockage. This is a medical emergency because the sooner your dog starts treatment, the better chances they have to survive and recover from peritonitis.

Internal wounds: sharp pieces of plastic may cause all kinds of internal damage once they’re inside your dog’s system. If they provoke the rupture of the intestines, gut bacteria could enter the bloodstream and reach the major organs, causing infections and, in severe cases, organ failure. If you’re not sure of what kind of plastic your dog ate or what shape was the piece they ate, it’s always safer to have them examined as soon as possible.

Damage to the mouth and teeth: the first victims of plastic ingestion are your dog’s mouth, teeth, gums, and throat. Sharp pieces may open wounds in the soft parts of the mouth, and very small pieces could get stuck between the teeth or between the gums and the teeth, causing bleeding, swelling, and a lot of pain for your pooch. Sometimes, plastic gets stuck in the mouth of the earliest part of the throat, so make sure to check your dog’s mouth and remove the pieces by hand if necessary, before they are swallowed.

Intoxication/poisoning: plastic is used for many types of packages, bottles, and wrapping. Sometimes your dog will be attracted by the smell of the package, but it doesn’t mean the plastic contains something good for them. When chewing through the plastic a dog might get into pills, medications, detergents, food, and more. Signs of poisoning are usually very clear starting from the hours immediately after the ingestion, so if you see any do not hesitate and bring your dog to the veterinarian.

Plastic is not a green material and can stay dozens of years in the ground without decomposing, so you can guess how hard it would be for your dog’s digestive system to break it down, and in fact, they can’t.

This is the very reason why plastic is so dangerous for dogs. However, there are so many types of plastic and so many different products made of plastic that it is hard to say what could happen under specific circumstances, which is why asking for professional advice should always be the first thing to do.

Why do dogs eat plastic? 

Dogs are usually attracted by smell and texture, so it can be that the plastic contained something with an alluring scent for them, or the container itself was somewhat intriguing to chew.

Sometimes, a dog eating plastic is a subtle plea for help. In fact, there are some conditions that could push dogs to eat plastic or other inedible materials for various reasons.

Pica 

Pica is a psychological condition that makes dogs unable to resist the impulse to eat non-edible items like wood, paper, rubber, or even odd materials like insulation.

Dogs affected by this condition might focus on one single type of material or they may just eat whatever they find.

There is no single cause behind pica and every case is different. Sometimes these weird cravings may be due to a deficit in your dog’s diet that you’re not aware of, sometimes it may be the consequence of a psychological condition.

In fact, dogs can suffer from depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders just like us, and pica is sometimes the most evident symptom of your dog’s suffering.

Pica is dangerous because there are non-edible items that could greatly harm your dog and compromise their health, like plastic. Moreover, a dog affected by pica may eat a lot of material in a short time, which increases the chances of obstruction.

Symptoms of pica are the same as you would see in a dog that has a gastrointestinal blockage, including:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain/swelling
  • Lethargy
  • Lack of appetite
  • Weakness

The only difference is that if a dog has a pica, you will notice how often they eat the most random things because it becomes a dangerous habit.

Treatment of pica is possible if the underlying cause behind the issue is found.

OCD 

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders (OCD) in dogs are usually exaggerations of normal dog’s behaviors. They aren’t born from intrusive thoughts (or they could be, but we have no way of knowing what a dog thinks) but rather from stressful situations.

Many dogs suffer from separation anxiety or trauma, sometimes due to abuses, they suffered in the past or accidents that happened when they were puppies and left a psychological impact on them.

During these episodes, the brain releases neurotransmitters as a response to stress. The dog tries to do something to deal with the stressful situation, for example eating plastic.

If this action reduces the number of neurotransmitters, your dog relaxes and they’re likely to repeat the behavior the next time they’re stressed.

In a way, pica belongs to this category and can be considered an oral compulsive behavior, but OCD could be anything from chasing their tails, barking, or sucking on their toes.

Treatment for OCD in dogs usually includes medications to reduce the impulse. Chronic cases might need to be under treatment for the rest of their life.

Chewing habits 

If your dog ate a plastic toy, maybe it wasn’t in their intentions. Maybe they were just chewing on it profusely and accidentally ingested a part of it.

Some dogs like Labradors are big chewers, others are less interested in this activity but all dogs like to chew on things and plastic may be just another thing they like to sink their teeth in.

However, your dog shouldn’t just be allowed to chew whatever. Make sure to provide your dog with the right chew toy that fits their needs.

Teething 

Chewing is particularly important for puppies, because as their teeth start to grow, they may feel discomfort and try to ease the pain by chewing on things, which may be why your puppy swallowed plastic.

Puppies use their mouths to explore the world because everything is new to them, so they might ingest a lot of things that they shouldn’t and it’s your responsibility to make sure they’re only surrounded by safe items and toys.

Besides, you shouldn’t let your puppy just chew on random things, because not everything is the right size or material for their teeth and jaw, and it may lead to bone deformities.

If your puppy ate plastic, it can be considered a medical emergency right away because they’re very small and it doesn’t take a big piece of plastic to cause problems.

Can dogs digest plastic? 

No, they can’t. The acids in a dog’s stomach are very strong, but plastic is impossible to break down and even if your dog manages to expel it, it will come out exactly as it went in.

Given that there are many different types of plastic materials and plastic products, it’s hard to say what could happen when your dog eats plastic. Oftentimes, a dog may suffer from gastrointestinal discomfort, but sometimes it may be worse than that.

Plastic can be very dangerous for dogs, so you need to make sure to keep it away from your pet. However, accidents can happen, so if your dog ate plastic or even if you just suspect that your dog ate plastic, consult your veterinarian.

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