National Pet Suffocation Awareness Week is Nov 28 – Dec 4, 2021
Pets suffocate in chip and snack bags literally every day. It takes as few as 3–5 minutes for a dog or cat rummaging through a bag for crumbs to asphyxiate.
It can happen to any pet, regardless of their size, age, or strength; and it can, and has, happened even when the pet owners are in the same home, maybe even in the next room over.
This danger is not the result of neglect or carelessness — even experienced, loving pet owners have lost beloved pets.
The problem is that so few pet owners are aware there is a risk at all — it's easy to find videos of pets trying to remove bags from their heads that many people think are just cute or funny. (To be clear, this is never funny. Not only is it extremely dangerous — after all, these are animals in the early stages of asphyxiation — but it is highly distressing to the animals in these videos.)
For this reason, we began National Pet Suffocation Awareness Week in 2015 to help spread the word and save lives! Luckily, we are not the only ones trying to raise awareness. After losing her dog, Blue, Bonnie Harlan brought vital attention to this issue through her Prevent Pet Suffocation Facebook page.
After creating this pet suffocation survey, Preventive Vet continues to receive stories every week from pet owners who have shared their experiences with pet suffocation. In total, we received responses from almost 1,300 pet owners. The information has been invaluable, providing more insight into this tragically under-publicized topic. Even if this tragedy hasn’t happened to your pet, filling out the survey (a few anonymous questions) provides us with crucial data that we use to produce public service announcements and educational materials.
What Scares Us the Most About Pet Suffocation
Even amid truly heartbreaking stories of people who lost their pets to suffocation, the most alarming finding from our survey is how few people are aware of this common household danger.
73% of people who lost or almost lost a pet to suffocation were unaware of or had never realized the possibility that their pet could suffocate in a chip, snack, cereal, or other food bag until it happened!
That’s 7 out of every 10 cases where a lack of prior awareness contributed to the loss, or near loss, of a pet’s life! That's crushing, but it's also an opportunity! It means we can dramatically lower the danger and save thousands of pets’ lives by raising awareness.
The Biggest Suffocation Hazards to Pets
- Snack (e.g., cracker, popcorn, etc.) or chip bags (69%)
- Cereal bags (6%)
- Pet Food bags (6%)
- Pet Treat bags (5%)
Other common suffocation hazards included bread bags, cheese bags, and hard plastic and cardboard containers.
Where Pets are Finding These Bags
- In or near the home trash can or recycling (23%)
- Grabbed off a coffee table or side table (22%)
- Grabbed off a counter (15%)
- Outside, in the yard (5%)
Other bags were even found in the car or under a bed. Check out this free poster download to learn more about the journey of a chip bag.
How You Can Help Make a Difference
- Take a moment to read the stories people have shared with us
- Learn the simple tips that can help prevent pet suffocation, and spread this life-saving information to friends, family, and coworkers.
- Follow us on Facebook and Twitter and share the graphics, stories, and images about Pet Suffocation Awareness.
- Take a moment to sign (and share) Prevent Pet Suffocation’s org petition to get awareness and warnings on bags.
- If you’ve had the misfortune of losing or almost losing a pet to suffocation, or if you know someone who has, we hope you’ll share the story in the comments section below and take a few minutes to complete our brief pet suffocation survey and help us develop the body of knowledge about pet suffocation.
- If you are a journalist, please consider writing or producing an article or news segment about pet suffocation. We would be happy to put you in touch with people who have agreed to share their stories and pictures. Please contact us if you would like help with a story on this hugely important topic.
How Pet Suffocation Happens
Many people don't realize that pets, no matter their size or strength, can have a hard time getting bags off their head once they are stuck. Not only do cats and dogs lack thumbs to help them grab and remove the bag, but the bags quickly form a vacuum-like seal around their head as they breathe in and quickly deplete the air within the bag (see demonstration below). As this happens, the oxygen levels quickly decline and the carbon dioxide levels quickly rise. The entrapped pet panics from not being able to breathe normally and eventually dies from asphyxiation. These pets are often found in a very horrifying manner that haunts the families for life.
With increased awareness and an even better understanding of how, where, and when these preventable tragedies are happening we can start to reverse the trend and help bring about a day when no pets — or wildlife — lose their lives to suffocation in chip, snack, bread, cereal, pet food, and other bags. Thank you for taking a few minutes to learn about and spread awareness of the heartbreaking tragedy that is pet suffocation.
GRAPHICS TO SHARE – Awareness is the best defense against pet suffocation
The Pets Who've Left Us
A very special thank you to Bonnie Harlan, who first raised the alarm bells of pet suffocation by starting the Prevent Pet Suffocation Facebook page after losing her own dog, Blue (story shared below), to suffocation in a chip bag in December 2011. Thanks as well to the people and families who have completed our survey and had the strength to share their personal experiences with pet suffocation. Your losses will not be in vain and your efforts are already helping to protect others.
Be well and be safe everyone.
The Story That Started The Awareness – RIP Blue
"If it weren't for that seemingly harmless potato chip bag, Loki would still be here." — RIP Loki
"During the Chetek tornado of 2017, little Loki was born. After this lucky start to life, Loki went to live in southern Wisconsin where he spent most of his days at Slewfoot Signs. He became the shop dog and brought joy to anyone who stopped by. Everyone ended up loving that happy-go-lucky pup.
When he wasn't at work, Loki did some of his other favorite activities. This included running through the woods, playing in the park, and chasing cats.
On May 6th of 2018, a few days before his first birthday, Loki's natural curiosity got the better of him. While running outside, he found a potato chip bag and put his head in to get the last crumbs. Unfortunately, the bag stuck just right and poor Loki couldn't get it off.
If it weren't for that seemingly harmless potato chip bag, Loki would still be here. So now Loki wants to make sure all the other animals in the world do not get hurt. He hopes when you see a piece of trash outside, you think of his story. "Pick up that litter," says Loki. Properly disposing of that one little piece could save a life. — Jeff H.
"You were the best boy in the whole world." — RIP Petey
"I kissed my baby boy goodbye on my way out for work. But I had no idea it would be for the last time. Although I still can’t even wrap my head around what happened ... we have an obligation to share what happened to Petey to hopefully prevent it from happening to any of your babies. ... Christian beat me home from work by about 10 min & was surprised when Petey didn’t greet him at the door like usual. As he walked in further he saw our sweet boy laying lifeless with a stupid chip bag over his head. He was able to get them off the counter that we will forever blame ourselves for leaving out. He ate every chip out but of course went back for crumbs... with there being nothing left inside every time he would go for more he would inhale making the bag tighter & tighter around his head.. ultimately resulting in suffocation. Petey was SMART so I didn’t understand why he couldn’t get it off with his paws. ... With this happening so often we were so surprised by the lack of awareness on this topic out there. Especially bc I was a very overprotective dog mama. ... So I just ask that in honor of my boy Petey that you be extra careful, warn other dog owners & give your fur babies some extra love today and everyday after this. I pray none of you ever have to experience your heart breaking this way. We love you papas you were the best boy in the whole world & we will remember our good times forever 🐶😇" — Christina Y.
"Rocco and Milo are siblings... they always slept together. Tonight Milo sleeps alone." — RIP Rocco
"I don't think I'll ever buy chips again" — RIP Harley
"The pain due to this loss has been greater than I could have imagined" — RIP Clifford
"We were extremely lucky to have Clifford and he was one of the family, even though our luck lasted only two months. He was an amazing and very, very smart dog. I do not understand how he didn't manage to pull the bag off his head with his paws, since he was very good at manipulating objects with them. I guess he totally panicked because... we weren't home. I didn't crate him that day to prevent anxiety. We'd only gone to church but had a battery problem with the car and therefore stayed away longer than usual.
We loved him so much. I hate having found him like this in our kitchen, I can't bear the thought of him struggling there. I wish I would have done things differently and known about the crazy danger a Cheetos (my favorite snack — past tense) bag can pose. He had overthrown the recycling bin. The pain due to this loss has been greater than I could have imagined, because we had found our perfect dog. I still have a hard time coming home and entering the area of the 'scene' (he was still warm but CPR did not work) and he had been in obvious distress (pooped on the floor — we found him hanging on a low footstool, the floor was a mess). There's an odor left behind where it all happened, even after a deep cleaning. I have a hard time forgetting. I think of him constantly and we all miss him terribly. He was four months old, but already so wise, obedient, so loving, so fun, always growing, always gorgeous, so cute." — Tamara M.
"No one should have to experience this, ever" — RIP Buster
"Truly had no idea this could ever happen" — RIP Bulldozer
"I heard a shuffle that lasted so briefly..." — RIP Emma
"My heart goes out to all that have lost a pet this way" — RIP Chico
"I have lost a very big part of myself when I lost her" — RIP Jetta
"We never expected this to happen" — RIP Teddy
"We had Teddy for almost five years and knew that he wouldn’t give any trouble. We would sometimes leave for work for eight hours and come back to find Teddy snoozing on the couch, so we knew we could trust him.
I remember holding my son and feeding him on the couch when my husband shouted from the room that Teddy wasn’t breathing. He said that he found a Doritos bag over his head, and that he must’ve dug it out from the trash. It all felt so surreal. I didn’t know what to do…I was shaking. My husband was performing CPR when I told him that we should rush him to the emergency room. We all got into the truck and drove off as fast as we could. We finally got to the emergency room, and the nurses took him right away no questions asked. We were then placed into a room, and waited no longer than five minutes before the vet came back with the most devastating news we could possibly get.
Teddy was so brave and always happy…he was strong and playful…we never expected this to happen and wish we knew the dangers of bags." — Bianca B.
"I’m so thankful you came into my life." — RIP Eleanor
"Eleanor got into the chips, and somehow her head got stuck in the bag. Unfortunately, I did not wake up in time to save her. My poor, sweet, sassy, mischievous, loving Eleanor went to puppy heaven. I know about plastic bags, etc. but never dreamed of a chip bag. I know this was a freak accident, but wanted to share so other pet lovers/fur babies never have to experience something like this.
In memory of Eleanor, give your pets extra hugs and kisses today. She would love that! Eleanor was my buddy and my best friend. She could make me laugh on the worst of days. Poo-poo bear you will always be in my heart and I’m so thankful you came into my life. I just wish you had stayed longer. Rest in peace my sweet Eleanor." — Lila L.
"There are no words to adequately describe our grief" — RIP Angus
“Angus was constantly on the hunt for anything and everything edible. Knowing this, we were vigilant about putting food away. But that was because of him getting into something that disagreed with his tummy and then throwing up on the carpet, NOT because of the possibility of suffocation -– we NEVER realized suffocation was possible. A box of crackers was mistakenly left on the counter, and Angus found it. We are devastated by his loss and feel such anguish that we let him down when he most needed us. We cannot come to terms with the fear and pain he must have experienced in his final moments. There are no words to adequately describe our grief.” – Patricia M.
Danger Inside A Cereal Box – RIP Ripken
"My dear Ripken had gotten into cereal boxes in the past as he had a bit of a mischievous side. Even though we found shredded boxes we never saw the risk of suffocation associated to this. On June 14th, 2014 I was with my sons at a soccer game and my wife and daughter ran out for about an hour. When they returned they found Ripken lifeless with a box and the cereal liner squeezed onto his head. We were shocked and the sadness will never leave us completely. We used to keep our cereal boxes on the bottom floor of our pantry. We must have left the doors open that day allowing him to get in - I will always blame myself for not protecting him from this risk. If we had only shut the pantry door, or kept the cereal boxes on a shelf he would still be with us today." – Geoff M.
"The guilt that I feel is almost unbearable." — RIP Jaxon
“Jaxon was my entire world! I am proud that I rescued him, but the truth is he rescued me. He was with me through so much and Tuesday April 22, after grabbing a bite to eat with friends, I came home to find my beloved Jaxon gone.
His head was still stuck in the Holistic Select cat food bag. It is made out of the same mylar-like material that potato chip bags are made from. I was only gone an hour. I am completely devastated. I never thought anything like this could happen. When I tell people what happened they cannot believe it.
He was loved by so many. He went to doggie daycare at his veterinarian's office everyday and it is so overwhelming to see how many lives he touched. I just wanted to let people know how much I loved him and to let people know that these bags are dangerous! Every month, I email and write the company that makes the cat food. I have had no response, but I write every month. My heart shattered that night. It has been 223 days since I lost him. I have cried every one of those days. The guilt that I feel is almost unbearable. Had I known about the dangers of this material, I would have disposed of it differently.” – Sherry W.
This Happens To Cats Too! — RIP Waldo
"Christmas Eve, we lost a dear family member. Waldo Chester was the most intelligent and curious cat. He was just over 2 years old. He was loving toward everyone, even our large dog. He knew how to open latched doors and containers. When we arrived home after our morning Christmas activities. Waldo normally would have greeted us at the door happily. He wasn't around. Thinking he was just exploring the rest of the house, we began to open our dog's food container to feed them and there we found dear Waldo curled up in a ball laying on top of all the dog food. Beware of having plastic containers that could easily swing shut in your home. Curious cats will go wherever they can get, not thinking about how to get back out. Rest easy baby Waldo. You will always be my precious little man." – Janalee T.
The Pig Ears Were OUTSIDE Of The Bag! — RIP Jaxon
“I still remember this day like it was yesterday. I came home from work and instead of the normal excited greeting I get, there was silence. I found Jaxon outside in the corner of our backyard. The thing that gets me every time I think about it is the pig ears were OUT OF THE BAG! He had already gotten them out and they were right next to him, but for some reason he thought he needed to check one last time.
I had no idea that something like this could happen. Unfortunately, I still blame myself because it is something that could have easily been avoided. He had just had knee surgery and he was just starting to get back to his normal self. I have another lab that surely does not replace Jaxon, but is our new family member. It took me until he was over 2 years old to leave him home alone not crated...and even still my anxiety gets the best of me and I go check on him. All the bottom of my bags are cut off, including chips, cereal, treats, etc. I even find myself putting bags up high, hidden away when I am at others’ house who have pets. I would not wish this upon anyone and constantly remind people of the dangers! Dog proof your home just like you were child proofing!!!” – Nikole D.
A Bread Bag Almost Killed This PTSD Dog
“Jinx got into a King's Hawaiian bread (which is sold in an orange and clear plastic bag) while we were asleep. My amazing Heeler made her way from the kitchen to the bedroom (unable to see through the bag covering her head) near where I was sleeping and her labored attempt to breath woke me up. If she had not come to me for help she would have been dead when I woke up. This scared me to death and I have never thought of plastic the same again!
Jinx is not only my sweet everything but she is also my PTSD therapy dog. I got her as a puppy after my tour in Afghanistan. I have had animals (dogs and horses) my whole life and this was a first for me!! Awareness is a must for this potential killer!!”
– Mary A.
"The image of finding him will forever be burned in my head." — RIP Chino
"On Friday July 18th 2014, I came home from a lunch date with my best friend. I found my sweet Chino dead on the living room floor with a Rold Gold Pretzel Thin bag on his head. He had got in the trash can and pulled the bag out. I had no idea he could even open a closed lid trash can. He was still warm-so I did chest compressions on him but it was too late.
To make matters worse I had my 9 week old with me and my husband was on plane flying home from a business trip. My poor other dog Rolen was huddled in the corner shaking. This was the most traumatic thing I have ever been through. My grief for my sweet Chino is so overwhelming. The image of finding him will forever be burned in my head. The countless "what ifs" happen almost daily. My house is so different without him.
Had I known this could even happen – every bag would be shredded. With therapy, I can now look at pictures or videos without having a break down. It's still hard because Chino loved our newborn son, as our son is hitting milestones, I think about Chino and how he would be with him." – Catie O.
Their Routine Had Been The Same For Years – RIP Skeeter
“Skeeter was one of a kind. He showed up at our door one day, we let him in and he never left. We opened more then just our door that day, we opened our hearts. We posted signs but no one claimed him. At first Skeeter was a fear biter and we knew if we took him to any rescue and or shelter there would be a good chance he would be unable to be placed.
Made an appointment for him to be neutered and chip, he was ours now and was going to part of the family. Before he became Skeeter we tried calling him different names but nothing stuck. I was watching tv one afternoon and a boat commercial came on of my interest, Skeeter bass boats. I yelled out, that's what I want a skeeter! About that time he came and jumped in my lap to share the excitement and I asked if he wanted a skeeter also and his excitement grew! It was like he understood and from that point on he was Skeeter.
The routine in Skeeter’s home had been the same for days, months, years….but that day something unfortunate happened. The wind might have blown the treat bag off the shelf outside, where they had always been stored. Noone will ever really know.
“On Mothers Day May 10, 2015 we lost our Skeeter. He suffocated from a bag, but it was not a chip bag, it was a treat bag. He tried his best to chew through the bag, it was heart breaking. I work in the Vet field and had no idea that this could happen. We feel so responsible for what happened. And we are so devastated. Losing him the way we did will never be understood. We lost him and part of our hearts that day as well. Not a day goes by that I still don't think of him, growing old with the rest of us. The image of him with the bag stuck on his head as his lifeless body lying still in the yard where he ran full of life was no more. Awareness is needed for all, not just pet owners. Simple oversight we took for granted and now all suffer. Thank you for your mission and fighting for those who no longer have a voice. RIP Skeeter, my lover boy..........you are so loved and missed!!” – Gemma S.
Share Skeeter's story on Facebook
Found Inside A Plastic Food Container – RIP Max
"I miss him so much. He was always with me. He slept with me every night and would be the first to wake me in the morning by pulling the covers down from my face and staring at me. That was when he wasn't knocking things off of my dresser to try and wake me up. He greeted me when I came home, was always on my lap when I sat down, kneaded my stomach, and had to be on my shoulders when I was brushing my teeth. He rarely left my side. He was my oldest and my favorite and I will never forget him.
I would like everyone to be aware of the dangers of plastic pet food containers. Max, as clever as he was, opened the container I kept cat food in and jumped in. And either by momentum or by another one of my cats jumping on top of the container, the top closed and he suffocated inside. When he was missing I thought he had gotten outside and went to get some cat food to put out for him, but instead found him inside the container. I still can't believe he is gone and I still have trouble sleeping. I miss him more than I can say." – Darlene D.
They Didn't Think Chloe Would Make It
"I was gone 1 hour and came home to find my 5 lb Chloe with a bag (mint patties) over her head barely breathing her own air ... passed out. I gave CPR and ran her to the closest vet 10 minutes away. Her jaw was locked shut from shock. She stayed in a coma for many hours and was placed in an oxygen tank with fluids, for 2 days.
It was so traumatizing and I feel so BLESSED to have her with us still. She is a little slower and weaker but considering I thought she was dead when I found her and the doctors initial - "probably won't make it and if she does will probably have major issues" (they thought she had lost sight for first 24 hours) - she is doing AMAZING!" – Tamera A.
Close Call With A Chip Bag For Henri
My dog was about 8 months old when I found him with a chip bag stuck on his head. I laughed and even took a pic! Thankfully he had plenty of air getting in. However I had no idea of the danger and that he could have suffocated! I shudder to think how differently it could have turned out! I now know how dangerous it is and I do warn other pet owners as well! ” – Ruth B.Henri turned 10 years young last month and is still going strong!
"My family had no idea this could happen." – RIP Tink
"We lost our beloved Tink to suffocation. She had only been out of our sight for 15 minutes. We thought she was on the couch as she frequently went out to lay down or play with her toys. We were right in the bedroom watching a show. I asked my husband where she was because I found it odd that we hadn't seen her in awhile. He went in looking for her and yelled for me. He found her with a dog treat bag over her head. All the treats were gone. We tried CPR for 10 minutes begging and pleading for her to come back to us. We understood later that she was gone before we found her and there was nothing we could do. I have had so much guilt and confusion since this happened. Tink was a happy, healthy girl. She was such a huge part of our family and our home seems empty now. Our other two dogs have been lost without Tink and have acted very strange and sad. My family had no idea that this could happen. We always thought we were all safe in our home. Our family is devastated and in in a constant state of grief since this tragic event. Thank you for your website and for sharing Tinky's story to help prevent this agony from happening to another family." – Kimberly B.