The short answer: CALL YOUR VETERINARY!
The long answer: It depends!
Let’s be honest – you will likely not want to call your veterinarian if this happens a Sunday at 10 PM the night.
Your dog ate a plastic bag – how bad could it be? Right?
The reality is, there are many things to consider. Your dog may have eaten a small plastic bag with no considerable consequences. But maybe he ate a big one, large enough to make you genuinely worry about his health.
What should you do in either case? We get into details below!
What Happens if a Dog Eats a Plastic Bag?
There are many possible consequences.
Just consider the size of the dog, for one. Then find out how big of a plastic big he ate. And lastly, how much of that plastic went into his stomach.
The consequences will differ exponentially depending on these factors. Either way, here are some conceivable scenarios:
- Dog Chokes – plastic bags are not easy to swallow and may get stuck in your dog’s throat
- Dog Doesn’t Want to Poop – if the bag reaches the intestines of your dog, there’s a chance it will prevent the animal from pooping by a blockage.
- Plastic Damages your Dog – your dog’s mouth, teeth, throat, intestines, stomach, rectum, or even teeth may get injured.
- Dog Vomits or Pukes Saliva – your dog may try to get rid of the bag instinctively by puking away, making him get rid of any food he may have previously eaten.
- Dog Gets Intoxicated – if the bag had any chemical or substances like chocolate that makes the dog sick, then you may have to deal with an intoxicated pet.
Apart from all these, it’s HARD to know what could happen with your dog after he eats a plastic bag. Because the possibilities are almost endless, it’s almost always ideal to not wait for anything to happen and call your vet right away (they will give you a valuable and credible path of action).
But in the best-case scenario, and hoping your dog didn’t eat anything more than just a piece of plastic bag, you can expect your dog to simply have trouble swallowing and go back to normal.
Also Read:- 18 Common Health Problems in Large Breed Dogs
Dangerous Symptoms to Look for After Dog Eats a Plastic Bag
The things above are possible scenarios you may experience. But what about things you should worry about?
What should make you instantly get your dog to the veterinary? Here are some to consider:
- Consistent Vomiting – if your dog vomits more than once or twice in the span of a few hours, don’t hesitate to take your dog to the vet
- Lack of Appetite – if your dog doesn’t want to eat, that’s a sign of an underlying condition, possibly causing damage directly in his stomach or intestines (may require surgery)
- Lethargy – sick dogs won’t want to move. This could also happen with your dog when there’s something internally causing damage or discomfort.
- Diarrhea – loose stools are pretty common when something is causing a blockage in the intestines.
- Whining – nothing worse than hearing your dog complain out of constipation or discomfort. You’ll know it’s time to go to the vet.
Whenever any of this happens for more time than you think it’s healthy, don’t hesitate to take your dog to the vet RIGHT AWAY.
What to Do After Dog Ate Plastic Bag?
Now let’s give you a more specific set of steps to take after you’ve confirmed your dog has indeed eaten that plastic bag:
#1. Check the Dog’s Condition
Start by gauging how bad your dog is feeling.
Things to look for are
- Difficulty to breathe
- Consistent gagging
- Straight up panic
- Bloated stomach
- Signs of pain or high discomfort
If your dog feels too uneasy, there’s something terrible happening with him, and medical attention is almost CRITICAL in that case.
Most likely, your dog has an internal obstruction which could cause severe issues if left unattended. You’ll know what to do (GO TO THE VET RIGHT AWAY).
Now, if your dog is not showing any of these signs – you can calm down. It’s probably not much of a problem.
#2. Remove the Plastic by Hand
Whether your dog is exhibiting worrying behavior or seems to be totally calm down – it’s vital to check his mouth right away.
If you spot any plastic – you may want to take it out right away. This is not easy, as dogs won’t feel like getting help in these situations (most dogs).
Apart from that, plastic tends to get stuck. This could be either in the palate, throat, or even teeth. You may want to consider using gauntlets if possible.
Regardless, make sure to get rid of the plastic. And as you’re removing the plastic, BE CAREFUL. Plastic can cause damage like cuts and severe injuries if you don’t pull it out carefully.
TO CONSIDER: The dog may get aggressive if he’s afraid. If that happens, call your vet instead and try to solve the problem with another person’s help instead. You don’t want to get your fingers bitten off.
#3. Make the Dog Throw Up
It’s rarely the best solution given throwing up makes a dog feel uneasy and, even worse, may cause more severe damage.
Luckily, it doesn’t have to be like that. While not encouraged, call your vet before doing this.
The most common reason to do this is that your dog ate the plastic bag in pieces instead of whole. When it is pieces of plastic bag inside your dog’s stomach, the chances of damaging the throat and inners by throwing up are lesser.
EVEN THEN: Only do this if you have the green light from a professional. Trying this by yourself could not only scare the dog further but also cause unintended damage.
#4. Check How Much Plastic Has Been Eaten
Even after checking on your dog and making sure there’s no more plastic in his mouth – there’s probably some he may have eaten in his stomach.
This is where you should gauge how much is that. But more importantly, what type of plastic.
Most plastic bags are thin and easily breakable. These may not cause much trouble, given your dog doesn’t eat an entire bag at once. But if the dog ate a thick plastic bag – then you may want to worry a bit.
This is primarily true for dogs that ate black garbage bags. These bags are less biodegradable, so they take a lot of time to break down. Even worse, they’re thick and difficult to break – so they may cause trouble in your dogs’ interior.
As long as you’re sure the bag is not dangerous and your dog didn’t eat more than he can process, then no worries. Otherwise, don’t hesitate to take your dog to the vet.
BY THE WAY: If your dog eats more than a plastic bag (like chemicals or metals), it would be CRITICAL to get to a vet as soon as possible.
#5. Contact your Vet
There’s nothing more helpful at the moment of such an accident than contacting a professional. Right away.
Most likely, you will call the vet after making sure your dog is not in immediate danger (choking or whining). The advice you’ll get will be invaluable.
A veterinary is not only more experienced and knows how to handle the situation, but they may also know EXACTLY how to proceed. If they’ve gone through similar situations before, for example, they’ll tell you the best course of action, so your dog doesn’t have to suffer in any way.
Here are some possible scenarios going forward:
- Dog to the Vet – your veterinary will ask you to bring the dog to the clinic so they can search for pieces of plastic that could cause serious damage (and get rid of doubts)
- Manual Removal – after taking the dog to the vet, there’s a chance they will have to remove pieces of plastic by hand or using special tools.
- Surgery – in case the vet finds something blocking the intestines or any part of the dog’s digestive system, there’s a chance they will recommend an operation.
- Antibiotics and Other Medications – your vet may recommend taking specific medication to prevent infections and other issues after your dog has eaten a plastic bag.
- Diet Changes – if the dog seems unfazed by the situation, he will likely only suffer a bit of trouble pooping (for which the vet will recommend a particular diet for a certain amount of time)
Apart from these, it will depend on your specific situation, dog’s breed, and vet experience. But these are the possible scenarios (sometimes multiple of these situations at once) that you may need to consider.
Can Dogs Digest Plastic?
You may think that plastic breaks down in their acidic stomach. But it doesn’t.
Even the thinnest of plastic bags will take a while to break down completely. In fact, your dog is more likely to defecate the plastic than he is to digest it.
Given the dog doesn’t have any underlying condition that may affect his digestive or intestinal system, the plastic bag should come out of their organism within 10 hours of eating it.
5 Common Reasons a Dog Eats Plastic Bags
No one can tell you why a dog eats a plastic bag EXACTLY. But we can go over the most prevalent reasons this happens so you can have a better idea (and likely find the actual reason why your dog did so). Check them up:
#1. Hunger and Dissatisfaction
Dogs are hungry animals. Even those well-fed and kept satisfied dogs will try to eat almost anything in their path as long as it’s tasty. And well, that includes plastic bags.
If a dog is looking for food and finds something wrapped in a bag – he will not hesitate to eat it away too. This is especially true for garbage bags that contain food residues. But it may also happen with stored food or recently-bought food from the supermarket (like meats or dog food still in their package).
If your dog has the habit of digging through garbage bags, you may need to buy a dog-proof trash can to avoid it. Plus, don’t hesitate to put your work into training mode to prevent that from happening again.
WORTH KNOWING: Your dog may also have parasites that make him dissatisfied with the food you’re giving him. In that case, a visit to the vet would be the perfect thing to do.
#2. Boredom and Curiosity
Dogs may also get bored from time to time. This happens when they haven’t been taken out on a walk or they’ve spent too much time in the same limited space for weeks.
This happens mostly with high-energy dog breeds that struggle to stay put, like border collies and huskies. Their way to destress and get rid of boredom is to CHEW stuff. This may obviously include plastic bags and everything in-between.
Your furniture and kitchen are in danger. Plus, they may eat stuff they find around JUST BECAUSE when they’re bored and non-stimulated.
IMPORTANT FACT: Dogs also get a bit rebellious when they don’t get love and attention. Don’t leave your dog unattended for too long. Like humans, they require a company to feel good. And don’t forget TO PLAY WITH THE DOG.
#3. Teething and Chewing
Dogs like to chew on stuff. There’s no way to prevent that. There’s no doubt about this, from babies with their fluffy toys to adults who like to chew on their big bones.
To prevent the puppy from teething on plastic bags and other similar stuff, you need to keep a chewing toy around. Otherwise, you will spot the dog trying to play around with everything because they need to CHEW ON SOMETHING.
BE CAUTIOUS: Always give your dog toys to chew on, but make them large enough to be impossible to swallow. You don’t want your dog to choke.
#4. Anxiety and Aggression
Dogs also tend to suffer from anxiety (due to external stressors or separation), sometimes to the point of causing severe physical conditions like shaking or uncontrollable fear.
The consequences of anxiety are broad. Chewing stuff around is a typical side-effect. And this may be the innocent plastic bag in your kitchen – ending up in a dog choking.
Sometimes it happens because they don’t feel well for other reasons. Their way to cope with anxiety or pain could be chewing on stuff or getting aggressive.
And lastly, dogs don’t like when they’re left alone. The separation anxiety makes them do weird stuff like chewing on stuff that smells like their owners.
You can solve your dog’s anxiety trouble by training and getting company, like a cat or another dog.
USEFUL FACT: Dogs tend to eat stuff around your house to relax. It’s not something they’re doing to make you mad for leaving him alone.
Dogs may also suffer from a condition known as “pica.” It is an eating disorder that makes dogs eat all kinds of stuff, typically not considered food.
For example, dogs with pica may end up eating grass, twigs, rocks, fabrics, or even plastic bags. They aren’t doing that because they feel especially attracted to the object but because an underlying nutrient deficiency or similar problem makes them eat whatever they find.
The way to treat the condition will depend on what’s exactly happening with the dog. Most veterinaries will recommend changing g your dog’s diet. Other solutions could be to increase the physical condition of the dog. In reality, it’s a complicated condition but nothing unsolvable.
OTHER FACTORS: Pica is related to anxiety but around their eating. Dogs with pica may try to eat stuff even if they’ve already eaten dog food and feel satisfied, for example.
How to Prevent a Dog from Eating Plastic Bags?
You can do all sorts of stuff to keep your dog from eating plastic bags. The reasons why the dog is doing it will give you the perfect idea of what to try.
But because you’re looking for more practical advice – here are some tips to consider:
- Buy Toys – get something your dog can chew and bite off when he feels like it
- Get company – don’t leave your dog alone for more than 8-10 hours as it may produce anxiety
- Feed your dog Well – don’t let your dog get any nutrient deficiency or hunger
- Walk your Dog – getting dogs out tends to solve many of their problems as it relaxes and makes them happy
- Check your Dog’s Health – don’t forget that dogs also get sick from time to time which may be causing trouble. Take your dog to the vet every few months or so (especially if there are clear changes in your dog’s behavior)
In the end, it is about giving your dog the best life possible. We know you are REALLY TRYING – so don’t fret! Follow our advice above, and it will be a lot easier.
So, did you learn how to proceed when a dog ate a plastic bag? We hope so!
The key takeaway is this: there are many consequences from a dog eating a plastic bag, just as there are many reasons. But regardless of what’s happening, you can always avoid escalating problems by calling a veterinarian and taking your dog to get medical attention ASAP!
What are you doing then? Helping your dog after eating a plastic bag won’t be much of a problem. Even better, don’t let your dog eat that bag in the first place.
Dr. Lillian is a D.V.M. passionate about promoting awareness of dogs. She shares her expertise through her blogs on canineweekly.com and provides animal care services, including internal medicine, dermatology, and emergency care. Dr. Lillian is committed to contributing to animal welfare.