You've been playing fetch with your dog's favorite toy, but suddenly, they don't come bounding back with it in their mouth. When you investigate, they're gnawing on it. Suddenly, it disappears from their mouth and goes down their throat. Depending on what kind of toy it is, this situation can cause serious problems and might be a medical emergency.
No matter what, if your dog ate a toy, it requires a call to the veterinarian to get advice or an appointment for X-rays, an ultrasound, or an endoscopy to get an image of where the toy is and what kind of hazard it presents.
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Dog toys that pose choking hazards
Big dogs and small dog toys don't work well together because tiny toys can slip beyond your dog's teeth and lodge in their throat, possibly impeding breathing. If your dog swallows a toy or another foreign object and appears to be choking on it, first gently feel around in the dog's mouth to see if you can easily pull it out. Do not try to reach down their throat because you may push it down farther, possibly making a bad situation even worse.
It's also advisable to avoid certain foods that can get caught anywhere in their digestive system, from their throat down to their intestinal tract. These foods include things like cooked bones that can splinter and corn cobs, which dogs can't chew through well enough, leading to them getting stuck in their digestive tract. Also, unattended dogs with dog chews often suffer from choking and obstruction incidents.
Immediate dog care for swallowed objects
You can try to give your dog the Heimlich maneuver. If you have a small dog, make sure they are on their back. Using your palm, push in and forward in the area just below the rib cage. For larger dogs, the maneuver can be done if they're standing or lying on their side. If standing, wrap your arms around their belly from above.
With your fist, push up and forward. For a dog lying on their side, squeeze their abdomen upward with one hand while the other is placed on their back. After doing the Heimlich, check their mouth to see if the toy has popped up from their throat. If you are unable to dislodge it, this requires an emergency trip to the veterinarian.
Dog toys with strings
Another peril is if your dog swallowed a stuffed animal or ate a soft toy that is made of rope or string. You may see part of the string, but the rest has gone down their throat. Resist the urge to pull on the string to try to pull up the rest of the toy. This could injure their throat or esophagus and possibly internal organs depending how far down the string has descended.
Dog toys in the dog’s stomach
Some toys that are small or that have been chewed up can end up in your dog's digestive system. Do not give your dog anything to induce vomiting, as the toy could get stuck on its way back out. If your dog swallowed a stuffed animal or other toy, it create blockages that can obstruct digestion, possibly not allowing food to pass from the stomach or through the intestinal tract. In this case, surgery may be required.
If they chewed up a plastic toy, shards of it could perforate the intestines. This could lead to an infection of the lining of the abdomen called peritonitis, a potentially fatal condition.
If you suspect ingestion of a toy, call your veterinarian immediately to see if an appointment is necessary to get the dog to vomit up the toy while at the veterinary clinic. Time is critical, and if something small is swallowed, it's best to get them to an emergency vet immediately because in order to be safely vomited, it must be done between 30 minutes and two hours after being ingested.
Preventing future swallowed object accidents
Some dogs have large, powerful mouths so they can be destructive to chew toys. Other dogs are just more aggressive chewers. It's important for pet owners to be present while the dog is chewing on something or playing with their toys so you can make sure they're not chewing it into pieces or have the whole thing in their mouth. Buy toys that are too large to fit completely in their mouth and keep an eye on them to ensure pieces haven't been chewed off.
Before allowing your dog to enjoy a new toy, take off any pieces that they could loosen while chewing, like strings or eyes. Dogs may particularly like attacking and destroying a squeaker in a chew toy, and if this piece becomes loose, it could pose a choking or swallowing hazard.
The bottom line
Prevention is always a dog owner's best bet when avoiding any life-threatening incident. Your first lines of protection are making sure a toy isn't small enough to be swallowed by your dog and that it doesn't have small pieces that can come off easily and cause choking hazards. If your dog does ingest a toy, call your veterinarian immediately and see if the foreign body needs to be taken out by the DVM by inducing vomiting or performing surgery.