If your dog ate a battery, this is not surprising. When it comes to eating, dogs have only one rule – eat as much as possible and as fast as possible. Sadly, this rule applies to both edible and non-edible items.
Some non-edible items are benign and can only trigger a minor digestive upset, while others are more dangerous and can even result in poisoning.
Batteries are one of the non-edible items that can have serious consequences – from poisoning to intestinal obstructions.
Dogs do not eat batteries because they like their taste, but simply because they are curious and willing to chew on just about anything.
Batteries happen to be commonly present in all households being contained inside remotes, flashlights, smoke detectors, watches, toys, and even hearing aids.
This article will explain everything you need to know about dogs and batteries – from why they are dangerous to what to do and what not to do in case your dog eats a battery.
The Risks of Batteries to Dogs
Different types of batteries are dangerous because of different reasons. In general, there are three types of batteries and each triggers a different scenario.
Standard Alkaline Batteries
When swallowed, alkaline batteries can irritate the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, or depending on their size and the dog’s size, they can cause intestinal blockage.
If chewed, alkaline batteries are even more dangerous. Namely, alkaline batteries contain caustic substances like sodium hydroxide and potassium hydroxide.
When the battery is chewed, these toxic substances leak and can cause chemical burns in the dog’s mouth, esophagus, or stomach.
On the burnt places, the dog can develop penetrating ulcers or liquefaction necrosis. Both options can have lethal consequences.
Disc (Button) Batteries
Disc batteries are the round and button-sized, small batteries. Disc batteries pose another danger – they can get lodged somewhere within the digestive system and cause burns regardless of whether they are punctured or not.
This is because disc batteries can pass electric current and cause a so-called current-induced necrosis. The current-induced necrosis can be so severe that it causes perforations.
Lithium disc batteries are particularly hazardous. One 3-volt battery is enough to cause lethal necrosis in just 15 to 30 minutes.
The Battery Casing
The battery casing contains heavy metals, like lead, cobalt, lithium, silver, nickel, zinc, mercury, and cadmium. Ingesting one of these batteries can result in heavy metal toxicity.
However, it should be noted that the heavy metals from the battery casing start seeping out after two or three days.
In most cases, the battery will be removed (naturally or surgically) before the metals start leaking.
The above listed concerns were specific to batteries. The following hazards can develop from ingesting any foreign body:
Perforation – all batteries are smooth and not very likely to cause perforations. However, if chewed in pieces, the pieces may perforate the esophagus, stomach, or intestines.
Obstruction – if a small dogs ingests a larger battery, the battery can get stuck somewhere in the gastrointestinal tract, usually the intestines. In such cases, the risk of heavy metal intoxication is much higher. Plus, the blockage of the intestines poses a life-threatening concern.
Aspiration – some batteries are particularly small and the dog can easily inhale them. Inhaling foreign objects may result in aspiration pneumonia, a life-threatening inflammation of the lungs.
Choking – if the dog tries to swallow to battery, it can accidentally end up in the wrong pipe and cause choking. Choking is an emergency and requires first aid.
Help, My Dog Ate a Battery, What Should I Do?
If your dog ate a battery it is important to stay calm and evaluate the situation rationally. If you ever find yourself in the situation, follow these steps:
- Take away the leftovers of the battery and the gadget the battery was placed into.
- Try determining exactly what your dog ate and in which amount (count the missing batteries).
- Call your trusted veterinarian and explain the situation in a calm and rational manner. If your vet is not available at the moment, do not wait – call an emergency clinic.
- Follow the vet’s advices and recommendations as strictly as possible. In case of ingesting lithium batteries the vet will suggest forcing your dog to drink standard tap water. This is because a study showed that flushing with water decreases the risk of damage.
- If handling perforated batteries be extra careful – the acids are dangerous for you too. If you came into contact with battery liquid wash your hands thoroughly.
Help, My Dog Ate a Battery! What Not to Do
Knowing what not to do is just as important as knowing what to do. In those terms, if your dog ate a battery, you must not induce vomiting.
There are three main reasons why vomiting induction is prohibited in dogs that ingested batteries.
It Doubles the Risk of Chemical Burns
As mentioned, punctured batteries leak dangerous caustics. When the dog ingested the perforated battery, these caustics caused damage.
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If you induce vomiting, you are making the caustic materials come back via the same way they entered. This means vomiting doubles the caustics’ chances of causing chemical burns.
Basically, if they did not cause damage on their way from the mouth to the stomach, they can cause damage on their way back – from the stomach to the mouth.
Vomiting Induction is Risky
Inducing vomiting has several complications and side effects. One of the biggest complications is the dog accidentally aspirating part of its vomit.
This can be particularly dangerous if the vomit contains corrosive or caustic substances. If these substances find their way into the lungs they will trigger fatal effects.
Hydrogen Peroxide is Irritating
The most common “at home” vomiting induction agent is hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide triggers vomiting by irritating the stomach's lining.
A dog that ingested a battery already sustained a significant stomach irritation. If you add hydrogen peroxide you are aggravating the situation.
How to Tell If Your Dog Ate a Battery
In practice, you should never wait for the clinical signs and symptoms to develop. Instead you need to take your dog to the vet immediately if you suspect your dog ate a battery.
However, sometimes, your dog can get into batteries without you knowing. Therefore, it is important to recognize the red flags so you can seek veterinary attention.
Simply put, a dog that ate a battery will likely to show the following signs and symptoms:
- Drooling (grayish coloration of the saliva)
- Vomiting (coffee grounds texture)
- Intensely red lips and gums
- Lack of appetite
- Difficulty swallowing
- Shortness of breath and gasping for air
- Wheezing and whistling
- Oral pain
- Coughing, retching, and gagging
- Pawing at the mouth
- Abdominal pain
- Blood in the stool
What Happens At the Vet's Office
The vet will start with a full body examination and will pay extra attention on the mouth and throat – check for ulcers, burns, and presence of black powder (if the battery was punctured).
Not all ulcers develop immediately which is why the vet will proceed with an x-ray. The x-ray will help establish the presence of a battery – its location and status (punctured or not).
The vet will probably order blood work and urinalysis to evaluate the dog’s overall health.
The exact treatment depends on several factors including:
- Time since the battery ingestion
- Type of ingested battery
- The battery’s location within the digestive system
- Whether the battery is intact or punctured.
In general, the vet will recommend diluting the battery acids by flushing the dog with water and applying intravenous fluid to rinse the circulation and avoid systemic effects.
The vet will give activated charcoal and gastro-protectants to layer the stomach and prevent further damage.
If there is a risk of obstruction or the battery is perforated and leaking, it will have to be surgically removed. The removal can be done classically or with an endoscope based on the specific case.
During the recovery period, dogs that ate batteries should be deprived from food for at least 12 to 24 hours. Then, for the next few days, they should eat a bland, high-fiber diet. The vet will prescribe a full course of antibiotics and pain killers.
Usually, hospitalization is recommended for couple of days after the battery removal. This period is critical and dogs need to be monitored for signs of heavy metal poisoning.
Why Are Batteries So Dangerous to Dogs?
In general, there are three reasons why batteries are particularly dangerous.
Batteries are literally everywhere – almost every gadget you use works on batteries. The list of gadgets includes remotes, flashlights, cameras, calculators, wireless mouse and keyboards, car alarms, and gaming consoles.
Batteries come in packages attractive to dogs – batteries are often in the inside of glittery decorations, squeaky and fluffy toys or in simple words, things your dog would love to devour.
Batteries have a unique toxicity – many household items are dangerous and toxic to dogs, but batteries are unique because of the array of issues they can trigger and because different batteries are associated with different problems.
Eating a battery is a hazardous situation – best case scenario the battery will go through the digestive tract intact and the dog will eliminate via its poop and worst-case scenario the dog will undergo a surgery to remove the battery and prevent heavy metal poisoning.
If your dog ate a battery the most important thing to do is call your vet and follow his/her recommendations.
If your dog ate a battery or you suspect it did so, the most important thing not to do is induce vomiting. So do not induce vomiting if your dog ate a battery.