Like some toddlers, dogs attempt to consume just about anything they find that may be potentially tasty. This includes things that aren't meant to be eaten. Silica gel packets, used in packaged products ranging from shoes to vitamins to pizza crusts, are just the type of nonedible item a dog will eat if given the chance. While the silica itself should cause no harm, the little packet may contain dye or substances absorbed from the item that contained it.
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What is silica gel?
Silica gel is a form of silicon dioxide, a compound that's common in nature. Sand is made mostly of silicon dioxide. Glass and quartz also contain this compound. Silicon dioxide is also used as an anti-caking agent in many food seasoning jars. In this case, the sandy substance is mixed right in with the salt, garlic powder, or other ingredients in the spice blend. Clean silica is nontoxic to humans and dogs.
Those little silica gel packets found in so many product packages are called desiccants, and they are used to keep nearby items dry when in a sealed environment. Packages of food items, like beef jerky or pizza crust; medicine; or even electronics may contain silica gel packets. Since the gel absorbs around 30 percent of its weight in water, it helps protect nearby products even in humid conditions.
What types of silica gel beads are toxic to dogs?
If your dog ate silica gel, there's no need to fret just yet. First, consider the origin of the granules. If the silica gel packet came from a food product that wouldn't harm a dog, such as a pizza crust, the silica on its own isn't toxic to your dog either. If the gel was packaged with pills, chemical fertilizers, or other materials that could make your dog sick, contact a local veterinarian or pet poison helpline right away, as the packet may have absorbed some of the surrounding substance.
What should I do if my dog ate silica gel?
If your dog is choking on the packet or can't breathe, do your best to dislodge the packet from the dog's throat. Pry their jaws open and use your fingers or a spoon handle to free the packet. If someone else is available to help, have them try to hold your dog's mouth open so you can get a better look. If necessary, perform the Heimlich maneuver by pressing their belly inward just below the rib cage as you would do on a human. Use gentle force, especially on a small dog.
If your dog ate silica gel in large quantities, this could also be an issue, as they could cause dehydration or a blockage in the gastrointestinal tract. Neither silica gel packets nor beads will expand in the body, but the dog may have an upset stomach, vomit, or have loose stools until the packets pass.
If your dog vomits repeatedly or is defecating less or not at all, there might be an intestinal blockage, which is a pet health emergency. Contact a veterinarian if your dog ate silica gel and is showing clinical signs of poisoning. Also contact poison control or your veterinarian if the gel inside the packet is blue or another color, as it could contain dyes or potential toxins, such as elemental iron, that are added to certain products as oxygen absorbers.
Prevent dogs from eating silica gel packets
A dog might go out of their way to eat those silica gel packets included with food items, largely because the little packet smells like food. Whenever you are opening any sort of packaging that might include desiccants, search for silica gel packs inside.
Place those safely out of your pet's reach, which means not throwing them away in a kitchen trash can if your dog searches there for snacks when you're away. Discard the little packets carefully in sealed trash bags kept in cans outdoors, especially if the silica gel packets may have absorbed materials harmful to pets or people. Packs of silica gel beads included with vitamins or foods can be reused once dried out. If you do decide to keep them, pack them in a sealed container out of the reach of pets and small children.
The average dog eats many things they shouldn't, including silica gel packets. Ingestion of these little packets does not always constitute an emergency, particularly if the silica gel beads were contained in food items, like beef jerky or pizza, suggesting they are nontoxic. But if the silica gel packet or its surroundings contained harmful substances, such as an oxygen absorber or chemical fertilizers, or your dog ate a large amount, it could be life-threatening. Contact a pet poison helpline or your veterinarian right away.