Dogs and Batteries — Yes, Really!
You might already know by now that dogs are experimenters and their mouth is the laboratory. What you might not be aware of though is that one thing dogs often like to "test out" are batteries. (Don't forget, they also readily gobble up cat poop, fishing hooks, and rocks... so are batteries really that big of a surprise?!?!)
Another thing you might not yet know is that while all batteries can pose serious dangers to dogs when chewed or eaten, there's one type of battery that carries an even greater risk for dogs (and kids) – the disc or "button" type batteries.
All Batteries Are Not Equal — Special Dangers of Disc Batteries!
Standard alkaline type batteries – e.g., AA, AAA, 9-volt, and others – can cause irritation or even obstruction of a dog's digestive tract if swallowed. They can even cause some chemical burns in their mouth if chewed. The smaller, coin-shaped, disc batteries though have this extra "special" danger of sticking to and burning a hole in a dog's esophagus!
Not only is this painful, but given that the esophagus is the muscular tube of tissue that connects their mouth to their stomach, it can also lead to the spillage of saliva and food out of their esophagus and into the surrounding tissues of the neck or into their chest. As you might imagine, both of these are areas where you do NOT want saliva and/or food chunks!
Swallowed button batteries need to be removed, and ideally before they cause their nasty burn. Sometimes disc battery removal can be done with endoscopy, but sometimes surgery is necessary. Things get much more complicated once a burn has happened. Because of their location, and depending on their size and severity, sometimes these esophageal burns can't be surgically fixed. And even when they can be surgically repaired, there is a very real risk of stricture development when doing esophageal surgery. As you can see, disc batteries are particularly nasty and devastating when swallowed by a dog or cat.
Disc Batteries — They're Everywhere in Your Home!
Button batteries are truly everywhere – alarm and car key fobs, digital watches, cameras, children’s toys, flashing holiday ornaments, "musical" greeting cards, and even hearing aids (which are covered in tasty-to-dogs earwax)! They're no doubt all around your home, and some are likely also in your bag or purse, too!
If Your Dog Swallowed A Battery — Know The Signs
Battery ingestion can cause a lot of problems. All batteries can cause mouth burns, digestive upset or even obstruction. As you've now seen though, button or disc type batteries pose an additional serious danger (burnt holes in their esophagus or intestines). These signs below are ones you may see if your dog has chewed or swallowed a battery. Note that they're not exclusive to battery ingestion, but even when not related to battery ingestion, these are concerning signs that warrant a trip to your vet anyway.
- Increased drooling, refusal to eat, bad breath: Whether it be the caustic material contained within a battery or the electrical current generated across the two terminals, batteries can cause burns and ulcerations within a dog's mouth and/or esophagus. The burns are painful and can become infected or even leak "digestive juices" into the surrounding tissues.
- Vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and a refusal to eat: An ingested battery can irritate a dog's digestive tract or even obstruct the normal passage of food through the digestive tract (becoming a 'foreign body obstruction'). Surgery is necessary to remove digestive foreign body obstructions, and will also be necessary to evaluate and repair any damage done to the affected intestinal segments. Burns and irritation of the esophagus are particularly difficult to do surgery on.
If Your Dog Swallowed A Battery – What You Should Do
The best first step you can take is to feed your dog a bland diet (boiled chicken and rice, plain cooked pasta) and offer some milk or water – feeding a mixture of cottage cheese and rice can cover both bases at once. Then, bring them for veterinary evaluation ASAP. Batteries are one type of foreign body that usually quite readily shows up on x-rays, and this is a good thing. This makes it easier to diagnose and to initiate appropriate treatment sooner.
Do NOT induce vomiting before going to the vet, there are three very important reasons why:
- Punctured batteries leak caustic material which causes ulcers within the digestive tract. If you cause your pet to vomit up a punctured battery, you double the exposure of their esophageal mucosa to the leaking caustic material. This, of course, increases the chances that your pet will suffer from ulcers.
- Induction of vomiting is never without its potential complications, and doing so after battery ingestion is particularly dangerous. When a pet vomits there is always the risk of the vomited material gaining access to their respiratory tract and lungs (“being aspirated"). In all situations this can be problematic, but in the case of corrosive alkaline materials, this will be even more dangerous. The damage that can occur within the lungs can easily prove fatal.
- The most common 'at-home' remedy used to induce vomiting in pets is hydrogen peroxide. The way hydrogen peroxide works to cause vomiting is by direct irritant action on the lining of the stomach. If your pet has just chewed on or ingested a battery, they have already just sustained a significant irritation to their stomach and esophageal lining. By administering hydrogen peroxide, you add insult to injury and increase the likelihood of gastrointestinal bleeding and/or perforation.
Although you can likely find a few stories on the Internet of pets who passed batteries without incident, in the vast majority of cases pets do far better when such foreign bodies are surgically removed. And if nothing else, the attending veterinarian can get your pet started on an appropriate medication regime that can alleviate the pain and infection potential of the resulting ulcers.
This quick timelapse video simulates how these batteries would react to the lining in a dog's or cat's (or even a child's) esophagus, stomach, and intestines. It happens fast!
Toys, watches, hearing aids...As you might imagine, children's toys, watches, and hearing aids aren't the only sources from which your pets might find batteries to ingest. Keep these other sources in mind too as you try to avoid this preventable pet emergency...
- Remote controls (TV, VCR/DVD, gaming consoles, car alarms, etc)
- Wireless computer devices (mouse, keyboard, etc)
- Garage door openers
To avoid winding up at the Animal ER with a battery-charged dog, consider the following steps...
- Don't leave remote controls, of any type, lying around where your pets can easily get them.
- If they're old enough, be sure to talk with your children about the dangers of battery ingestion in pets and the importance of them putting their toys away after they are done playing with them. (If your kids aren't old enough to understand this discussion, then you also likely need to be careful about their potential to ingest batteries themselves - this is one of those emergencies that isn't restricted to pets.
- To prevent dropped batteries from rolling under the couch or desk where they are likely to remain 'lost' until they turn up in your pet's stomach, always remove and change batteries over a bowl or sink.
- Appropriately and securely store your spare batteries in a drawer or toolbox.
- At Christmas be aware that batteries are common stocking stuffers, so be sure to hang your stockings high and keep your pets well away from them (for a variety of reasons).