Dogs and the Dangers of Batteries
Any dog owner knows that dogs love to chew anything they can get their paws or mouth on. This includes batteries. And batteries are found in every home and in many places. They are in our remotes, keys, hearing aids, wireless mouses, and garage door openers. And dogs love to put all these things into their mouths!
Understanding why batteries are so dangerous, how to prevent your dog from eating one, as well as what to do if they do, is essential. And while all batteries have health risks associated with ingestion, the dangers associated with each battery are a bit different.
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Why Batteries are Dangerous for Dogs
Acid and Alkaline Batteries
The most common household batteries are the alkaline or acidic material types of battery, such as AA, AAA, 9-volt, C, and D batteries. These are corrosive and cause irritation when punctured (by a dog’s tooth, for example).
Most household batteries contain potassium or sodium hydroxide. These compounds will cause tissue necrosis (death of the tissue), leading to deep ulceration of the areas it comes into contact with. The most common areas for this to occur are the mouth, esophagus, and intestinal tract.
Button and Disc Batteries
These are found in alarm and key fobs, cameras, digital watches, children’s toys, hearing aids, and even some greeting cards. The size and shape of these batteries allow for them to get “stuck” and lodged wherever they encounter tissue. Disc and button batteries are especially dangerous because they allow an electric current to contact the delicate tissues of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. This can result in severe damage or perforation of the lining of the esophagus, stomach, or small intestine.
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!
These button-type batteries are the most dangerous kind because of how corrosive they can be in a short amount of time. Just one 3-volt lithium-ion battery can result in tissue necrosis of the GI tract or esophagus in less than 30 minutes of contact time.
This time-lapse video shows an example of what happens to tissue when in contact with a lithium battery:
Some batteries contain heavy metals like mercury, zinc, lead, or nickel. Heavy metal toxicity can occur if ingested, but the battery typically must stay in the intestinal tract for several days for this to happen.
Signs Your Dog Has Eaten or Chewed a Battery
Even if you are not sure if your dog swallowed a battery, the signs listed below are still concerning and warrant a trip to your veterinarian. If your pup has punctured or swallowed a battery, you may see:
- Drooling or refusal to eat
- Bad breath
- A gray or red area in the mouth where a corrosive burn has occurred
- Abdominal pain – standing with a hunched back, refusing to lay down or get comfortable, refusing to eat or drink
The last sign is the most concerning as it can signify that a burn has occurred in the stomach or esophagus or an intestinal obstruction has occurred. Surgery may be needed to alleviate the obstruction.
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What to Do If Your Dog Ate a Battery
If you know your dog has just ingested a battery and none of the symptoms above have started, you can offer your dog bland food, such as chicken and rice, plain cooked pasta, a small bowl of milk, or water. Then your dog needs to see a veterinarian immediately.
Burns of the mouth or the GI tract from battery ingestion may occur within 1 to 2 hours, but the most serious complications may not be seen for up to 24 hours.
The sooner a dog receives treatment for battery ingestion, the easier it is to treat, and the less severe the damage will be to your dog’s tissues.
DO NOT INDUCE VOMITING BEFORE TAKING YOUR DOG TO THE VET
There are several reasons for this:
- Punctured batteries leak acidic material into the digestive tract. If your pet vomits up a battery, the potential damage to their esophageal mucosa is doubled, leading to severe ulcers.
- A potential complication of the induction of vomiting is the contact of the vomit with the respiratory tract – called “aspiration pneumonia.” This is always dangerous, but in the case of corrosive material, it can be fatal.
- Hydrogen Peroxide is a common “at-home” remedy used to induce vomiting. This substance is a direct irritant to the lining of the stomach, which may already be compromised by the battery. Hydrogen peroxide increases the chances of gastrointestinal bleeding or perforation.
Once at the hospital, your veterinarian will examine your pet and look for signs a battery was ingested (oral ulcerations, burns, or black powdered material in the mouth). Just because ulcers are not seen does not mean a battery has not been ingested, so x-rays may be taken as batteries are easily seen since they are metal.
A battery may be removed by endoscopy or surgery. Your dog will also be put on anti-ulcer and pain medications and prescribed a bland diet.
Preventing Your Dog from Eating Batteries
To avoid a trip to the veterinary hospital with a battery-charged dog, consider the following steps and preventative measures:
- Do not leave remote controls of any type lying around where your pets can reach them. Storage boxes or hide-away coffee tables, like this one, can help keep them out of reach.
- Always remove and change batteries over an open drawer or sink – to prevent dropped batteries from rolling under objects, like a couch or desk – where they can get lost, but not from a dog’s curious nose or mouth
- Secure and store your spare batteries in a drawer or toolbox. Make sure dead batteries are stored well, as they could start a fire on top of still being a hazard for your pet.
- Talk to your children about the importance of putting away their toys, remote control toys, and video games
- If your dog forages for things to chew while you're away from home, use gates to block off areas where things like batteries are stored, use a puppy playpen, or crate train your dog to keep them safe while unsupervised
If you think your dog may have eaten a battery or chewed into a battery, call your veterinarian or Animal Poison Control immediately. There is nothing you can do at home to treat battery ingestion. Since the toxic effects of battery ingestion can be life-threatening, do not delay getting your pet the care they need to treat this emergency.