What to Do if Your Dog Ate Q-Tips – A Guide for Pet Owners

Dogs are curious and playful creatures. They love finding new things and putting them in their mouths. But what would happen if your dog ate Q-tips?

When a dog ingests Q-tips, it poses a serious health risk. The cotton and plastic can obstruct the digestive tract, leading to discomfort, vomiting, or worse. If your dog has consumed Q-tips, contact a vet immediately to ensure their safety and well-being. There are a few other things you can do.

What is a Q-tip made of?

Usually, a Q-tip is a cotton swab made of a plastic stick, with pure cotton at each end. Sometimes, manufacturers will use biodegradable paper instead of plastic to make it healthier for the environment. Then, some companies use bamboo as silicone as replacements. The average length of this is around 3 inches.

What are the dangers of dogs eating Q-tips?

If your dog inhales cotton swabs by accident, it will start choking. The Mooresville Animal Hospital describes the symptoms as such:

Coughing is probably going to be one of the first signs that your dog is choking. If there is something stuck in your dog’s throat or mouth they will usually start coughing in an attempt to expel the item. You might see your dog having a hard time inhaling as the result of an obstructed airway.
Pawing at their mouth or head, and/or appearing panicked or frantic are also signs that your dog may be choking. In severe cases, a choking dog may become unconscious.

These symptoms occur instantly after inhaling and should be treated accordingly. Dog owners should know how to do the Heimlich maneuver on their dogs to save them on time. If the dog eats the Q-tip, then other symptoms will occur.

Obstruction of the intestines

The severity of this complication depends on the type of Q-tip your dog ingested. If made of a biodegradable material, it may break down with the help of stomach acid and not cause problems.

If the handle is made out of plastic, or other hard undegradable material, it will get stuck along the intestines. In this case, a bowel obstruction occurs and the dog starts feeling abdominal pain. It might also vomit or drool while feeling lethargic. Sometimes, the handle may break and perforate the intestines. “When perforation occurs bacteria from the bowels can spill into the abdominal cavity causing septic peritonitis.”, says the Cerbat Cliffs Animal Hospital. This is an even more serious problem and requires medical intervention.

Poisoning the dog

It is dangerous if a dog eats Q-tips that have something on them. If you are using the cotton swab to apply nail polish or remover, your dog may ingest it and experience some digestive issues. The good thing is that these swabs can’t have too much toxic material on them so they won’t do as much damage.

Ingesting instant or gorilla glue also poses a danger to the dog’s intestines. Dr. Sarah Friday et al., in a study for the American Animal Hospital Association say that:

Gorilla Glue contains methylene diphenyl diisocyanate that expands significantly and hardens once exposed to moisture. Case reports of methylene diphenyl diisocyanate glue ingestion in dogs document gastrointestinal foreign body formation and mechanical obstruction.

Other household chemicals like bleach and hydrogen peroxide can irritate the gastrointestinal system and cause vomiting.

Identifying symptoms: How can you tell if your dog ate a Q-tip?

Once your dog does something that causes it pain, it will start acting unusually. Behavioral changes like isolation and reduced movement are common for dogs with bad abdominal pain. The behavior can change from 1-3 days after the dog has ingested some cotton swabs.

Besides acting weird, these dogs will experience digestive issues like vomiting and diarrhea. They will avoid eating due to a loss of appetite. Other symptoms of Q-tip ingestion in dogs include lethargy, constipation, and drooling.

Immediate actions to take: What steps should you follow?

Once you see your dog ingesting foreign objects or you suspect that it did, you should not panic. Stay calm and assess the situation as best as you can. Try to notice how many of them it ingested and what they are made of. While doing that, remove the box away from the dog so it doesn’t ingest even more. 

Do not induce vomiting, even though some people would suggest this. “Diarrhea and vomiting can quickly lead to serious fluid loss and electrolyte imbalance, especially in very young and very old animals.” according to the Animal Emergency Hospital. Monitor the dog for 2-3 for any additional symptoms that could be connected with this situation. If none appear, you can change up its diet. Give pumpkin to the dog to fix its diarrhea problems. Other easily digestible food should also be given in smaller portions more times in the day. Keep an eye on the dog’s poop and expect to see the Q-tip anywhere during the next few days.

Veterinary care and treatment: What can you expect?

To be safe and not let your dog suffer, contact your vet for advice. Be prepared to share details about your dog’s size, the number of Q-tips consumed, and any observed symptoms.

What diagnostic procedures might be necessary?

The emergency care for dogs that ate Q-tips includes diagnostics and treatment. X-rays or endoscopy might be employed to see if any Q-tip remnants are hanging around in your dog’s system. They might also order labs and any additional testing that helps them in the process. This step helps your vet understand the extent of the situation and decide on the best course of action.

Once the vet has an idea of what happened, they will inform you of the next steps. If needed, they will decide to hospitalize the dog and keep an eye on it for a few days. Sometimes, surgery might also be required to fix any blockage. If such a thing is the case, you can expect to have your dog back in a few days.

Preventive measures: How can you avoid future incidents?

Because Q-tips can harm dogs, you need to know how to prevent them from ingesting more in the future.

How can you keep your dog safe from Q-tips?

If your dog doesn’t listen to you and keeps eating all kinds of things, you need to train it properly. Start with obedience training from a very early age. Some dogs will be harder to train as they might be more stubborn. Use positive reinforcement and offer treats and praise for every good action.

Invest in a dog-proof trash can. Throw any dangerous materials for your dog in it. Otherwise, dog-proofing your home include keeping your cotton swabs and other sensitive objects on high surfaces unreachable for your pup. If you keep all your stuff in a certain room, prevent your dog from entering it.

What are some alternatives for redirecting oral stimulation?

Swallowing Q-tips can harm dogs so you need to find appropriate substitutes for it to chew on. There are some great chew toys on the market that can catch your dog’s attention. But be aware of the toys’ quality as some can harm dogs. For example, if your dog eats a string from a rope toy, it may experience similar symptoms to Q-tip ingestion.

You can also find an alternative for the type of cotton swabs you use. Invest in ones made from biodegradable materials like paper and throw out the plastic ones. Paper-based cotton swabs can dissolve in the dog’s stomach if eaten by accident.

So should you worry if your dog ate Q-tips?

Our furry friends will do things that we don’t appreciate and worry us. But it’s all a part of being a dog parent. If this ever happens, the best thing you can do is to stay calm and monitor the situation. Your dog will certainly show some signs that something is wrong and that it needs help.

Because you won’t be able to help too much in this situation, you will need help from a vet. They will carry you through the whole process and prevent anything bad from happening to your dog. Even if they have to keep your pup in the hospital for a few days. To prevent these things from happening in the future, and ensure pet safety, you have to commit some time and train your dog out of this behavior.


Why do dogs ingest non-food items?

Dogs, being the inquisitive creatures they are, explore the world through their mouths. It’s their way of understanding their surroundings, even if it involves munching on something as peculiar as a Q-tip.

Does the size of the dog matter?

Yes, the smaller the dog, the worse the outcome. Larger breeds might have luck and pass the cotton swabs during their normal bowel movements. If a smaller dog ate Q-tips, it would be at a higher risk of developing an obstruction.

What are some alternatives for cleaning dog ears?

Instead of Q-tips, you can try getting some vet-approved ear-cleaning solutions and wipes. These products are specifically designed to maintain your dog’s ear hygiene without the risk of ingestion.

More dog health resources

Here are a few other resources talking about dog health.

You can find a lot more information on how to keep your dog healthy on our site Dogisa!

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