Dogs & Ink Poisoning

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Oh no! Your dog ate pen ink! Aside from a big mess you probably have to clean, how harmful is that to your dog? What about other objects that contain ink, like printer ink cartridges? The crunchy plastic probably isn't great for your dog to chew, and the ink probably isn't healthy either, but how bad is ink poisoning for dogs anyway?

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My dog ate pen ink!

Writing ink from an ink pen is primarily composed of dyes, pigments, solvents, and water. Though writing ink is generally considered nonpoisonous, it does contain small amounts of alcohol and glycol (or glycol ether.) These chemicals are toxic to dogs in large amounts, but the amount contained in one pen is small and unlikely to poison a dog.

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That said, you don't want your dog thinking your ball point pens, permanent markers, or art markers are a tasty snack. Ingesting the ink and the plastic — which now may be chewed up and have sharp edges — can potentially cause gastrointestinal upset and even a GI obstruction.

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If your dog ate pen ink from an art marker, like Copic alcohol markers, the main ingredients are isopropanol and ethanol. Isopropanol is commonly known as rubbing alcohol. Ethanol is the same as the alcohol that is in alcoholic beverages.

Alcohol is also found in common household products, such as hand sanitizer, antifreeze, perfumes, mouthwash, windshield washer fluids, and glass cleaners. Due to the potential for toxicity with large quantities, it's important to keep these products and your pens or markers out of the reach of your pets.

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Symptoms of ink poisoning in dogs

Ink is not something you want your dog to drink. Ethanol poisoning or isopropanol poisoning both cause similar symptoms, which can include one or more of the following:

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  • Lethargy
  • Depression
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Disorientation
  • Incoordination
  • Trouble breathing
  • Hypothermia
  • Central nervous system depression
  • Low blood pressure
  • Low blood oxygen level
  • Seizures
  • Collapse
  • Shock
  • Coma

Isopropanol may also cause kidney damage or death due to respiratory failure. That said, it would likely take a lot of ethanol to cause a problem, particularly for a larger dog. It would take more than ink from a single pen to cause a serious health problem. Lethal doses of alcohol in dogs range from 4 to 8 ml/kg. This means for a 20-pound dog, a potentially lethal dose would be around 36 milliliters. To put that into perspective, a 22-ounce soda is around 650 milliliters.

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If you discover your dog has eaten a pen or marker, gather all the plastic bits to get an idea of how much they consumed. Rinse any ink out of your dog's mouth with water and thoroughly clean their lips and face. Also make sure to check their paws and wash off any remaining ink so they don't lick it off. For the next few days, observe your dog for any signs of mouth irritation (such as reluctance to eat, drooling, lack of appetite, or dropping food from their mouth), intestinal blockage, or ink poisoning.

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Treatment for ink poisoning in dogs

If your dog has consumed enough ink to cause poisoning, don't try to induce vomiting and take your pet to a veterinary hospital immediately. You can expect your pet to have bloodwork and to receive supportive care, such as intravenous fluids. Depending on your dog's condition, additional treatments, such as for arrhythmias, hypoglycemia, or seizures, may also be needed.

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Bowel obstruction from a pen's plastic casing

Often, the device containing the ink is more dangerous to your dog if it is eaten. Since a pen may break apart into plastic shards if your dog chews it, you'll need to closely observe your pet for any abnormalities after they've chewed up or eaten a pen.

The danger with the plastic bits is that they can damage your dog's intestines or stomach as they pass through. They may also cause inflammation or result in an obstruction, which is an emergency. It is possible that your dog may need some veterinary care as the pieces of plastic pass through. Keep a close eye on your pet and call your veterinarian if you see anything out of the ordinary, especially lethargy, abdominal pain, vomiting, or lack of appetite.

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Animal poison control centers

If you are worried that your pet consumed ink or anything else that can be toxic, there are two poison control centers that you or your veterinarian can call 24 hours a day. One is the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Poison Control Center. Its number is 888-426-4435. Another hotline is the Pet Poison Helpline. It provides services throughout the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean. Its number is 855-764-7661.

A consultation with either may require a credit card number, and you may be charged a fee. Talk with your veterinarian as soon as possible if you are worried about your dog's health.

The bottom line

Ink poisoning is probably not something you have to worry about because your dog would have to consume a lot of ink in order to feel an effect from it. But the plastic of the pen can pose problems for your pet's digestive system. If your dog ingests enough plastic, they can experience GI upset and inflammation or potentially a bowel obstruction. If your dog consumes part of a pen or a large amount of ink, call your veterinarian right away.

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