One day I was out with my dog, Rex, out on the porch of my favorite hamburger spot. We were enjoying the beautiful day. Obviously I ordered my favorite bacon BBQ cheeseburger and fries, you know, the kind where the use a toothpick to hold the bun, lettuce, and all the fixings together.
As I began eating I heard something fall to the ground. I thought it was from my sandwich but when I looked, there on the floor next to Rex’s chew toy was a toothpick. “Rex! No!” I yelled as he ran over and gobbled it up – a small piece of cheese that was attached to the toothpick.
After much worrying and research I figured out what I needed to do and that’s what I’ll share with you next.
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Check for These Signs
As strange as it might sound, you want to check your dog’s temperature often after they ate a toothpick. Dogs should usually have a temperature that’s around 101-102°F, but if it’s much higher than there’s a chance that they’ve developed an infection.
Toothpicks can splinter inside of a dog’s digestive tract and create ulcerative cuts that allow bacteria to grow. You’ll also want to pay close attention to your dog’s gums to see if they’ve gone pale, which is another sign of a serious infection.
Pay attention to their posture as well. If a dog is walking differently than normal after eating a toothpick, then there’s a good chance that this is due to abdominal pain.
Blood in your dog’s feces or vomit is a sign that the degree to which they’ve cut themselves internally is starting to approach a serious level. When you see something like this, it’s time to drop everything and get your dog to the emergency animal hospital.
Smaller dogs may have difficulty defecating after they’ve swallowed a toothpick, which is another sign that it’s become stuck. Some larger dogs may pass toothpicks in pieces, which will be visible in their stool.
In general, dogs are mostly in danger of developing an internal injury as a result of swallowing a toothpick. You’ll want to keep an eye out for these developments as well, however:
- Projectile Vomiting: Any dog with severe abdominal discomfort may start to throw up uncontrollably
- Low Energy: Infections caused by internal bleeding will zap a dog’s energy levels
- Elevated Body Temperature: Your dog’s nose might start to become dry and warm
- Gastrointestinal Inflammation: Some dogs may be unable to pass the toothpick, which would cause inflammation
- Loss of Appetite: A dog who feels any sort of discomfort in their digestive tract won’t eat
- Poisoning: Plastic toothpicks or painted wood ones may contain chemicals that are toxic to dogs
- Inability to Stand: A toothpick that becomes lodged sideways in a dog’s intestine will eventually inhibit their movement
Wooden toothpicks are ever so slightly less of a problem than plastic ones are. Dogs have a tendency to chew on wood, so they might have broken the toothpick down somewhat before swallowing it.
See if you can figure out what kind of toothpick your dog swallowed before going any further. Dogs will sometimes accidentally swallow one when trying to eat a piece of human food, which is often more of a concern than if they started to play with one on purpose.
What to Do
Some pet owners have had good results with giving their dog a piece of dry white bread with a generous amount of peanut butter on it right after they ate a toothpick. The soft bread and fatty spread can coat the sharp ends of the toothpick, which may help to reduce the risk of serious internal injury.
Others have recommended using a soft mix of sauerkraut, but you have to be careful because some preparations include vinegar and other ingredients that are bad for dogs. The cabbage in sauerkraut can wrap itself around the sharp stick, which might also help it to pass.
Peanut butter is usually a much better option if you have it on hand. Make sure to only ever use plain bread, because onion loaves can actually poison dogs.
While it might sound uncomfortable, it’s recommended that you put on medical gloves and search through their stool to make sure that your dog has actually passed as much of the toothpick as possible. If it’s in one piece and got coated in peanut butter, then you should be able to find it.
Do I Need to See the Vet or Go to the Emergency Animal Hospital?
Pet owners who attempt to treat this at home won’t want to write off the possibility of taking their dog to a vet or an emergency animal center until they’ve collected all of the shards that make up a toothpick.
Not everyone agrees that this is a condition that you can treat at home, however. Noted veterinarian Joanna Woodnutt has opined that any dog who has swallowed a toothpick should be taken to an animal hospital or vet’s office as soon as possible.
It might be a good idea to call your vet as soon as you’ve noticed that your dog has eaten a toothpick, since there’s a good chance that it will become lodged into their abdomen and then start to fester. Vets might recommend endoscopic removal or, alternatively, they may authorize use of a surgical procedure to pick the toothpick out of their intestines.
At times, a vet might also advocate what’s known as a wait and watch approach. This isn’t much different from observing your dog at home, but since your animal would be watched inside of a hospital there would be immediate care on hand in case anything happens.
Safe Alternatives to Play With
Any purpose-made dog toy would prove to be far safer than a toothpick, but in general dogs don’t usually try to play with them anyway. If your dog ever swallows a toothpick, then there’s a good chance that he or she didn’t actively try to.
Dogs normally swallow toothpicks because they stole a piece of human food that happened to be held together by one. That’s why it’s important to keep any food meant for people safely out of the reach of your dog.
Most dogs won’t try to mess with toothpicks on a table, but if your dog does consider giving him or her a hard chew toy that’s actually designed for animals. When dogs play with things like this, they’re usually fascinated by the container they’re in and not the objects themselves.
That’s why a good strong chew toy is such an effective diversion. You’ll want to keep all kitchen implements, not just toothpicks, well outside of your dog’s grasp to prevent these kinds of problems in the future.