Dog Ate Hand Warmer: Will He Be OK? (Solved & Explained!)

If you’ve looked up “what to do if your dog ate a hand warmer,” you’ve likely come across the story of the Golden Retriever that died from consuming one of them. While that was a rare circumstance, there is still reason to be concerned if your dog manages to get a hand warmer down its gullet. 

The major problems with a hand warmer in your dog’s system is the possibility that it can activate and the toxicity of the iron content in the warmer. If none of those dangers come to pass, then you have to worry about an intestinal blockage. 

While iron toxicity isn’t a huge issue in very large dogs, there may be enough iron in a hand warmer to poison a smaller dog, depending on the makeup of the hand warmer and how large it is. There is a warning label that should come on all hand warmers that clearly states—”keep out of reach of children and pets.”

What is in a Hand Warmer

Most hand warmers are disposable, so the ingredients in them are small and last only a little while when the chemical reaction is activated. The heating process (or chemical reaction, if you will), is called an “exothermic” reaction. 

The heat that comes from a hand warmer is a reaction between oxygen and iron powder. The absorbent material is either a polymer, silicone or crushed wood. Salt and small amounts of water are also present. The polymer, crushed wood, and silicone are not likely to harm your dog, so long as they pass through the system. 

Iron powder is different. While there may not be enough iron powder to poison a large dog, it may still be enough to reduce your dog to somewhere below 100% for a day or two. 

If your dog happens to swallow a hand warmer, there are several symptoms that you should be on the lookout for. 

Symptoms of Poisoning from a Hand Warmer

Large dogs may get away with eating a hand warmer and passing it through their digestive system. However, if a large dog eats a lot of hand warmers, that may become a problem in a hurry. 

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Small dogs are much more susceptible to iron poisoning from a hand warmer but symptoms will look much the same in either a large dog or a small dog. 

  • Tender, painful abdomen
  • Blood in stool
  • Diarrhea (possibly accompanied by blood)
  • Vomiting
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Heart arrhythmia
  • Excessive panting 
  • Your dog will shake and tremor
  • Your dog will become uncharacteristically lethargic
  • Shock 

Hand warmers aren’t the only thing that your dog has to worry about when it comes to iron toxicity. Iron is also found in your multivitamins, fertilizers, oxygen absorbers for food, prenatal vitamins, and pesticides. 

How Does a Vet Diagnose Metal Poisoning in Dogs?

A vet will run a simple blood test because that’s all they need to do to determine if the iron levels in your dog’s system are far above normal. A blood test determines serum iron levels. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the testing ends there. 

A vet will also have to run a number of tests to determine the functionality of your dog’s organs. This is called a “biochemistry” profile, which will include a urinalysis. The primary organ of concern is the liver since it is responsible for filtering poisons from the food and liquid dogs consume. 

Radiographic imaging will give the vet an idea of the amount of metal in your dog’s stomach as well as the intestines. 

How Does a Vet Treat Your Dog?

There are three things that a vet might do to treat metal poisoning in your dog. It may be a matter of only doing one or two things or the vet might have to do all three. It just depends on how bad the poisoning is. 

Chelation Therapy

This kind of therapy is for dogs that have pretty extensive poisoning. Chelation Therapy is an introduction of what is called Deferoxamine Mesylate into your dog’s system, which will clump the iron up, contain it, and allow it to pass through your dog’s digestion system without causing more harm. 

IV Fluids

This doesn’t have much to do with the poisoning itself and more to do with keeping your canine friend hydrated. When it comes to metal toxicity, your dog will probably lose a lot of fluid through vomiting and diarrhea. Your vet will have to reverse that through IV.

Decontamination Procedures

As you would expect, the vet will induce vomiting in the dog. They will either use the old-school, hydrogen peroxide method or apomorphine hydrochloride. At the very least, it will get some of the metals out of your dog’s stomach and potentially the hand warmer itself. 

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It’s possible that your vet will have to put your dog under and vacuum its stomach contents out with a tube. That’s the worst-case scenario but it may be required nonetheless. The most important thing is to get it all out of your dog’s belly before it can cause more contamination. 

What Comes After Treatment?

According to most experts, your dog will need to be monitored for an entire month post-treatment. That doesn’t mean that your pet has to stay at the vet for a month but that you will have to keep a close eye on your dog and bring it back for routine blood tests.

If everything goes well at the vet, a few blood tests in the future should be all you have to worry about. Any symptoms that are out of the norm should immediately be reported to your vet so you can both work to keep track of any positive and negative symptoms in the coming weeks. 

Final Thoughts

If your dog swallows a hand warmer, whether you have a big dog or a small dog, you shouldn’t mess around and wait to see what happens. You should get it to the vet as soon as possible. It may be that it passes through without a problem. However, it’s better to be safe than wait for possible metal poisoning to come around.