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My dog ate a toothpick. What should I do?

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My dog ate a toothpick about 12 hours ago. She''s eating and drinking like normal. Should I just watch her? Can her stomach digest it enough to pass it?

Submitted: 7 years ago.
Category: Dog Veterinary
Expert:  miacarter replied 7 years ago.

Hello there!

It's very possible that your dog may pass the toothpick without incident, providing it was wooden. Fortunately, toothpicks are so thin that they're easily softened by the fluids in the dog's digestive tract. So in theory, the toothpick should absorb fluids and become soft to the point where it would be capable of causing only limited damage, if any. Since it's made of organic materials, the body should also be able to break it down partially, though I wouldn't expect it to be digested entirely by any means. A plastic toothpick would be a different case, and I would be a bit more concerned, but in either case, I would recommend close observation for the next couple of days. I would also check her stools to see if you can find it - beware that it may only be remnants that you find and it will likely look very different from what it did when it went in!

There's a couple of problems that could occur. One scenario is that the toothpick jabs a hole or tear in the dog's digestive tract. This can lead to many problems since the digestive enzymes and acids may be released into the body cavity, literally resulting in the dog digesting its body cavity and infection.
Another scenario is that the toothpick could become lodged, causing a partial obstruction in the dog's digestive tract.

So, in both cases, you will need to look for any symptoms that could suggest a problem. Monitor her temperature, which should be at 101-102 (an infection raises the body temperature). I would also monitor her eating and drinking to ensure that this remains normal. You should also look at her feces. Look for blood (or dark, ruddy colored feces, which can be indicative of blood). I would also become concerned if she's not passing bowel movements on her normal schedule, as this can indicate an obstruction. I would also look for symptoms such as a tender abdomen, vomiting (especially projectile vomiting or vomit with blood), diarrhea, pale gums. Even a general off-colorness could indicate the start of a problem, so just trust your instincts and get her checked out if there's any question.

Here's some links on some of the things I've discussed:
http://www.thepetcenter.com/sur/io.html
http://dogs.about.com/cs/disableddogs/p/bowel_obstruct.htm

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