man pulling things out of labrador's mouth because dog is choking

Accidental Ingestion Happens All Too Often: Find Out Why


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Dogs aren’t as picky as humans when it comes to what they’ll eat. Dog choking episodes, poisoning events, and allergic reactions can be caused by any number of things inside and outside our homes. Unfortunately, there are a lot of dangers lurking around our everyday world for our furry friends.

And we don’t just mean the usual suspects like chocolate and xylitol. In fact, accidental ingestion of harmful objects can range from items in your pantry through to your dog’s toys, and even on to poisonous sea creatures.

Is ingestion a common cause of dogs choking and being poisoned?

Over the last year, 8.4% of our total claims in NZ for dogs have been related to accidental ingestion. This covers all kinds of claims, from dogs who ate something poisonous and needed to be treated with drips or medication through to dogs who had an obstruction and were choking, and dogs who needed surgical removal of objects from their trachea or stomach.

We even had a recent claim for a Labrador who ate a pool cover and needed surgery to remove it. But more on that later!

It took our claims manager less than 10 seconds to list these non-food foreign object ingestion claims off the top of her head:

  • Fishing hook
  • Highlighter
  • Meat tray pad
  • Dishwashing cloth
  • Oxygen absorber
  • Nail
  • Tennis ball
  • Rocks
  • Kitchen twine
  • Tinsel
  • Shoe insole
  • Soooooo many socks

The reality is that accidental ingestion of foreign objects can have a wide variety of ramifications. This depends largely on what’s ingested. Dog and cat choking incidents are certainly one of the most common reasons a dog is rushed to the vet after eating something they shouldn’t, but poisoning/toxicity and obstructions further down the digestive system are common too.

Remember: if it fits in your dog’s mouth it can be a choking hazard.

this broken stuffed toy is a dog choking hazard

Blu’s story

Owner and PD Insurance member Mark Urlich had a close call with dog choking and ingestion when his cheeky Labrador Blu decided to snack on a pool cover.

Mark says, “from what I know of Labs, they like to chew stuff. I’m pretty sure for Blu, this incident was a combination of being bored and just being a typical Lab.  We knew something was wrong as he became very gassy and stopped going to the toilet despite the gas. He also went off his food but was eating grass like he was a cow.”

“One afternoon he threw up a lot of grass (as in kilos of grass!) that was fermenting in his gut. So we took him off to the vet for some X-rays and so on. Our vet is amazing – she emptied his stomach and removed the blockages. Fortunately for us he didn’t require surgery as she got it all out of him by inducing vomiting. After a few days he was pretty well back to normal thankfully.”

Another cute little PD pup named Hazelnut ate 30 human heart medication pills. Read ‘My dog ate my pills what should I do?‘ for more on her survival story.

Toys and dogs choking

Dog toys, when not chosen appropriately, can be dangerous for your pet. They are a leading cause of dog choking cases, and sometimes are swallowed and need to be surgically removed. Of course, some toys present greater risks than others.

The first one you need to be aware of are rawhide toys, which can splinter and cause dog choking episodes when they get stuck in the throat. This is because they can break apart in large chunks, instead of in tiny pieces. Plus, they can cause digestive problems and allergies due to the chemicals and flavourings used in rawhide chews.

Secondly, stuffed or braided toys can be dangerous too. For dogs who tend to chew and destroy things, the stuffing or materials are often too easily accessible. This leads to dogs tearing the toys or shredding them up and swallowing large amounts of the material. Of course, this can be a dog choking hazard. But they can also ingest the toy materials with seemingly no issues, until they need to be surgically removed because your dog can’t pass them.

Pssst.. are you currently experiencing the frenetic puppy chew mode? Here’s our teething puppy survival guide to help get you through.

naughty pug eating shoe on tiled floor - shoes can be a dog choking hazard

Toxic foods and plants

This is probably what most people think of when it comes to things that can poison your pet. We keep a lot of things in our home that could potentially be toxic to your pet, or set off a dog choking incident.

Be aware of some of the most common foods to avoid including:

  • Chocolate (toxicity is real!)
  • Xylitol
  • Raisins and sultanas
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Coffee

To cover your bases, read about poisonous plants as well as some common household items that are harmful to pets.

And make sure to keep any human medication or supplements well out of reach of your dogs and cats. Accidental ingestion of these could be fatal. That includes the essential oils!

a dog choking episode can result from this white dog eating this snail

Poisonous creatures

Ok, look. We’re not judging you for Googling “dogs who ate bees” to have a little giggle at the small misfortunes of some overly curious dogs. But in all seriousness, bees are the least of your worries as a dog owner when it comes to accidental ingestion of poisonous creatures.

It might sound far-fetched, but we promise it isn’t. Dogs often ingest animals that can cause serious harm to them. Aside from the risk of your dog choking if they wolf down a bird when they see you approaching, there are also quite a lot of poisonous creatures dogs have been known to ingest. This is particularly true of dogs who like to chase and hunt, like terriers, hounds, and some retrievers.

At the beach or river, for instance, poisonous animals include sea snakes, sea slugs, and jellyfish. In fact, the beach has quite a few hazards. Even sand can cause problems if your dog ingests too much. If you’re a regular beachgoer, read our tips on how to keep your dog safe at the beach so you can continue to enjoy many years of sand and sea without any vet trips to ruin the fun.

Dogs have also been known to eat rats, birds, mice and snails that were poisoned by humans, which can cause severe sickness and death. It’s also not unheard of for dogs (or cats) to catch lizards, frogs, or toads, and all can be toxic in varying degrees. In some cases they may even cause death.

Here are some of the more common poisonous creatures found in New Zealand.

Preventing dog choking and accidental ingestion

After Blu’s incident with the pool cover, owner Mark says prevention is key when it comes to choking, chewing, and ingestion incidents.

“Blu is now in daycare during the day when we’re at work. This keeps him active and busy and out of trouble. However even in daycare he has managed to turn on hose taps and flood their yards or eat the wooden panels on the kennels. He is getting better and less destructive as he gets older though.

“If you have a destructive dog or puppy make sure they’re safe when you’re not able to supervise. We also created a concreted dog run with a wire fence. It’s huge and he has plenty of room to move during the day when we’re not there plus we know he’s safe. I don’t think he’ll ever be a dog we can just leave outside on his own. Well, maybe not for a few more years!”

Insurance for dog choking, poisoning, and other emergencies

Even if you are a top-of-the-class parent, pets still sometimes get themselves into trouble. If you find your dog choking or walk in on them devouring something they shouldn’t, pet insurance can help greatly both financially and emotionally.

By taking out an online insurance policy via our quick and easy process, you’ll have protection for those times when things don’t go quite to plan.   

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