What To Do If Your Dog Swallowed Something They Shouldn’t Have

By PetMD Editorial. Reviewed by Jennifer Coates, DVM on Jun. 26, 2023
australian shepherd puppy chewing on a burgundy sock

If your dog swallowed something toxic or potentially toxic, such as antifreeze, chocolate, medications, supplements, rat poisons, or drugs in any form, contact your veterinarian or ASPCA Animal Poison Control (888-426-4435) immediately. If your dog is having trouble breathing or has any other serious symptoms, contact your veterinarian right away.

Dogs frequently swallow things they shouldn’t, especially inquisitive pups, but also dogs whose chewing drive is high (such as Labrador RetrieversPit Bulls, etc.).

Although some objects may be small enough to swallow and pass through the digestive tract with minor consequences, others may be toxic, get stuck, or do damage at some point—in the mouth, throat, esophagus, stomach, or intestines. 

If you’re unsure whether your dog could have ingested something, it’s best to be cautious and visit your veterinarian. Left untreated, swallowed objects can be fatal.

Any sudden onset of choking that affects respiration must be dealt with immediately.

Immediate Care for Swallowed Objects

The specific steps to take will depend on what your dog ingested, how long ago it happened, and your dog’s symptoms. Here is a general guide for dealing with swallowed objects:

1. If you know your dog swallowed an object, call your veterinarian immediately and take your dog to the vet’s office as soon as possible. The doctor may be able to induce vomiting or retrieve the object from the stomach before serious problems set in.

  • Never induce vomiting yourself without first speaking to a veterinarian. Many objects and chemicals are more dangerous if vomited. See “Poisons (Swallowed)” for guidelines.

  • If your dog swallowed something that might be poisonous, call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control at 888-426-4435 for guidance.

2. If the dog is choking, check their mouth for foreign objects that may be lodged there.

  • If there is something lodged deep in the dog’s throat, do not try to pull it out. You will need to take your dog to the vet immediately to have them sedated so the object can be removed safely.

  • If you can see thread, string, or another form of cord hanging from the dog’s mouth, do not pull it or cut it. Pulling on the string may cause serious injury to the digestive tract.

  • If the swallowed object is sharp, do not try to remove it yourself.

  • If the dog is choking and you can’t see anything in the mouth, especially if the dog has become unconscious, skip to the dog Heimlich maneuver instructions.

3. If you can see the object in your dog’s mouth, try to remove it only if it’s very easily accomplished without injury to yourself.

4. Even with one hand on the upper jaw and the other on the lower, any dog can bite, so use every precaution. If you are working by yourself, keep an index finger on your lower hand free to perform step 5.

5. Look inside the mouth and sweep your finger from the back of the mouth forward to try to remove the obstruction.

6. Talk to your veterinarian or an after-hours veterinarian regarding follow-up care, even if you were able to remove the object.

Heimlich Maneuver for Dogs

Here are the steps for performing the Heimlich maneuver for dogs:

Small Dogs

Hold your dog vertically so their back is pressed against your abdomen. Place your closed fist just under their ribcage with your other hand on top. Pull up and in several times. 

Large Dogs

Do not try to pick up a large dog; you may do further damage due to the animal's size. Instead, follow these steps:

  1. If the dog is standing, put your arms around their belly just behind their ribcage and clasp your hands. Make a fist and quickly pull up and forward, just behind the sternum. Repeat several times.

  2. If the dog is lying down on their side, place one hand on their back for support and use the other hand just below the sternum to quickly push the abdomen up and forward several times in a row

After performing the Heimlich maneuver, check the dog's mouth and remove any objects that may have been dislodged using the steps described above. If the dog is not breathing, provide two rescue breaths (giving air through the nose and mouth), and immediately contact a veterinarian.

For dogs who have swallowed a ball or similar object and are unconscious, the eXternal eXtraction Technique (XXT) can be performed. With the dog on their back, extend the neck forward so the top of the head is on the ground. Straddle the dog, identify the trachea (windpipe), the stuck ball, and the "V"-shaped jaw. Grasp the jaw with both hands and use your thumbs in a swooping J-like motion to get under the ball and push it forward for removal. Once retrieved, give two rescue breaths and seek veterinary care immediately.

Commonly Swallowed Objects

Here are some objects that dogs commonly swallow and the damage they could cause: 

Item

Choking

Hazard

Poisonous/

Toxic

Puncture

Risk

Intestinal 

Blockage

Ballons

X

  

X

Batteries

X

X

X

X

Bones

X

 

X

X

Chapstick/

Lipstick

X

 

X

X

Cigarette

 

X

  

Cough Drop

X

X (some)

  

Food Wrappers

(aluminum, plastic)

X

 

X

X

Fruit Seeds/Pits

X

X (some)

 

X

Gum

X

X (some)

 

X

Pencils/Pens

X

 

X

X

Plastic

X

 

X

X

Rocks

X

 

X

X

Rubber Bands/

Hair Ties

X

  

X

Silica Gel Packet

X

X (mild)

 

X

Socks

X

  

X

String

X

 

X

X

Tampons

X

 

X

X

Toys and/or squeakers

(especially tennis balls

and rope toys that dogs

enjoy chewing)

X

 

X

X

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Will Happen at the Veterinarian’s Office?

Treating a dog that has accidentally swallowed an object can vary from simply sedating the dog so the object can be safely removed from the mouth or throat to performing gastrointestinal surgery that may require the removal of large portions of bowel. The potential severity of a swallowed corn cob or sock cannot be underestimated.

A veterinarian will be able to perform a physical examination and use X-rays, an ultrasound, or an endoscope to determine if your dog swallowed something and what it might be. Based on what it is and where it is in your pet’s body, your veterinarian may recommend surgery, endoscopic removal, or other forms of treatment.

Tips for Preventing Your Dog From Eating Dangerous Household Objects

If you’re worried about your dog swallowing something dangerous, here are some preventive measures you can take:

  • Always supervise your dog while they’re chewing on toys or treats.

  • Avoid keeping moisture-swollen (well-chewed) dog chews around your home that can break apart easily.

  • Be diligent in picking up items such as socks and underwear.

  • Remove large pits from fruit and dispose of them safely.

  • Take away chew toys and natural chews before they reach a size small enough to fit fully inside your dog’s mouth.

  • Don’t leave dog toys lying around when you are not home to supervise.

  • Place garbage cans, medications, and other dangerous substances behind closed (and locked, if necessary!) doors.

  • Keep your dog in a crate or other safe environment when they can’t be supervised.

And for those times when you know your dog will be surrounded by temptation, a basket muzzle can be a lifesaver. Dogs must always be supervised when wearing any type of muzzle, but this type allows your dog to breathe freely, pant, and even drink water—all while preventing them from eating anything they shouldn’t.

Featured Image: iStock/cpjanes


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