Help, My Dog Ate a Battery! - Simply For Dogs
Dog Ate Battery

Help, My Dog Ate a Battery!

THIS POST MAY CONTAIN AFFILIATE LINKS. PLEASE READ MY DISCLOSURE FOR MORE INFO.

I’ve often talked about things that dog should never ingest (see Your Dog is Not a Human, So Don’t Feed Him Like One and No Pot for Your Pup, to name a couple), but somehow I never expected to end up blogging about the dangers of dogs eating batteries. So, how did this come about? You can blame Leroy.

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Last update on 2018-06-18 at 06:35 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night…

…And I was relaxing on the sofa, binge-watching Supernatural on Netflix. Outside, the rain was pounding down and the wind was high, but I had a nice little fire on in my wood stove, so I was comfy and cozy, and would continue to be even if the power went out, as it frequently does in my neck of the woods.

I wasn’t really paying too much attention to what the dogs were doing, so even though on some level I heard chewing, somehow I just mentally filtered it out – not a good idea, but I’m just as susceptible to brain glitches as the next person. Anyway, Leroy wandered into my line of vision, and my usually fine brain clicked back on.

“What have you got there, buddy?” I asked, and cooperative boy that Leroy is, he came over, wiggling his little stub of a tail. I held out my hand, and to my horror, Leroy presented me with a D-cell battery. Well, actually, it was more like about two-thirds of a battery. I’ve heard of people going cold with fear, but I never actually knew that it was meant literally until it happened to me.

It was after hours, so when I called the veterinary clinic I got the answering service. I explained the situation, and was told that the vet on call would get back to me. I waited for the longest ten minutes of my life, and grabbed the phone the instant it rang. I was beyond relieved that Stephen was on call that night, although of course I would have settled for anyone given the circumstances.

“Has he vomited?” Stephen asked

“No, but he’s drooling, and – oh, no, wait, I think he’s about to hurl.” Which he did, all over my brand-new slippers. It was pretty obvious from what came up that Leroy had enjoyed a hearty meal before deciding to have the battery for dessert, as he deposited a good deal of undigested dog food on my foot. The color of the vomit alarmed me, though – it was black.

“You’d better bring him in,” Stephen said. “I’ll meet you at the clinic.”

An x-ray and several hundred dollars later, since emergency calls cost considerably more than regular visits, Leroy was able to come home with me (in the dark, in the driving rain, over flooded areas and around downed trees). Fortunately, he hadn’t ingested any metal, and the battery was not of the sort that contains mercury. A little medicine for his upset tummy, and he was good to go – my big sweet doofus got a pass on something that could very well have killed him.

Why Do Dogs Eat Batteries?

Because they’re perverse. Because they just sit around and wait for the worst possible time and the worst possible weather to do the worst possible thing. Because they love scaring the living daylights out of us and costing us money.

Okay, that’s how I felt at the time, but the truth is, they do it because they’re curious. They see something with a shiny, bright surface, and they wonder if it would be fun to chew. And they do it because idiots like me leave batteries laying around instead of putting them in a drawer where they belong.

Why Is Ingesting Batteries So Dangerous?

It actually isn’t always that dangerous. A small battery, if swallowed, is probably going to just pass through the intestine, and you won’t even know what happened until you see an intact battery in your dog’s feces. The danger occurs when the battery is chewed. Then, toxic compounds are released, and metal fragments can also cause harm.

There are two main types of batteries used in household devices – alkaline (dry cell) and lithium. Lithium batteries are usually those little round discs that you use in small items like cameras, watches and small electronics. This type of battery is far more likely to be swallowed whole than chewed. Alkaline batteries, on the other hand, are usually bigger and used to power flashlights, toys and other large items, although there are small types of alkaline batteries that are used for hearing aids.

When an alkaline battery (the type that Leroy ate) is chewed, corrosive material leaks out, and can cause burning in the mouth and throughout the intestinal tract. It can even cause tissue necrosis that can lead to death. Lithium batteries, on the other hand, don’t contain corrosive compounds, but if they become lodged in the dog’s esophagus, electrochemical effects can also lead to tissue necrosisand even perforation of the esophagus. It can happen very rapidly, too – just 15 minutes of contact with the esophagus from a lithium battery as small as 3 volts can be life-threatening.

The other danger comes from the battery casing. It can contain heavy metals like silver, lithium, zinc and lead, and can also fragment and lodge in the intestinal tract. When this happens, the threat comes from the toxicity of heavy metals as well as the possibility of perforation from the metal shards. It’s generally a safe bet that if the metal fragments haven’t moved in 24-48 hours, they’re not going to, and that’s when surgery is warranted.

If Leroy’s x-ray had come back showing metal in his digestive tract, I would have been in for a heck of a lot more than the hundreds of dollars his little escapade cost me. Of course I would never put a price on Leroy’s life, and would have had the surgery done no matter the cost (in the thousands, according to Stephen), but I’m definitely relieved that it didn’t come to that – not just for Leroy’s sake, but because we humble writers aren’t exactly made of money.

Diagnosing Battery Toxicity

Diagnosing the problem is generally not all that tricky. Usually, it plays out pretty much as it did with Leroy – the dog is found with a damaged battery, or a device that has been chewed and is missing its battery. However, if you don’t actually see a damaged battery or a mangled device sans battery, you should also suspect battery toxicity if your dog has grayish or black material on his teeth and/or gums, or if, as Leroy did, he yaks up a quantity of black material.

Usually, you’ll see signs very early on, although sometimes they can be delayed for 12 or more hours. Even if you don’t see unusual material in your dog’s mouth, that doesn’t mean that he hasn’t ingested the battery. It might just mean that he had a good drink of water and washed down all, or most, of the material. Additional signs could include retching, coughing or gagging. As the condition progresses, the dog might vomit up something that looks like coffee grounds, pass bloody stools and run a fever.

Treatment

The most important thing I can tell you about treatment is, seek it immediately. Your dog’s life could be at stake. If you need after-hours treatment, get it. If you have to wait for a ride to the veterinary clinic, irrigate your dog’s mouth and the surrounding skin with warm water. Try to find as much of the battery as you can – you might be able to sort of piece it together like a jigsaw puzzle, and determine that way if your dog has ingested any of the metal parts. Do not try to make the dog vomit – the stomach isn’t the best place for corrosive compounds, but it’s better-equipped to handle them than the esophagus.

When you get to the clinic, if you can’t account for all the fragments, the vet will take x-rays to determine where the battery fragments are located. If they’re in the esophagus, the vet will likely use a tool called an endoscope to remove them if it can be done safely. Otherwise, he or she will use the endoscope to push the fragments down into the stomach where they can be more safely removed surgically. This is also the preferred treatment if a lithium battery has been swallowed whole, and has become lodged in the esophageal folds. As I’ve mentioned, the big problem with a lithium battery is that it takes very little time for it to kill the esophageal tissue, so time is of the essence, and the battery needs either to be extracted, or sent to the stomach to be removed.

An intact alkaline battery that is already in the stomach is less of a problem, and can be treated less aggressively. Most of the time, the battery will pass, so your vet will recommend a high-fiber diet to help the process along. You will have to examine your dog’s stool to make sure that it does pass within three or four days. If it doesn’t, then more x-rays will be needed in order to determine exactly where the battery is located. Then, surgery will be necessary to remove thebattery before the case begins to deteriorate and places your dog at risk for heavy metal toxicity.

The Final Word

If your dog eats a battery, don’t panic. Although there is the potential for harm, most dogs who ingest batteries suffer few or no consequences. It’s not something that you want to take chances with, though, because there are so many variables involved.

I was very lucky with Leroy. He hadn’t ingested any metal, and even though he did consume a fair quantity of corrosive material, he’d eaten beforehand, so the dog food probably absorbed a fair bit of it, and when he vomited it all came up. I ended up out a huge chunk of change and my slippers were ruined, but I guess I can make more money if I take on more work, and I can replace my slippers. I could never replace Leroy. As Stephen pointed out, “It could have been a hell of a lot worse.”

So, although you shouldn’t panic if your dog “pulls a Leroy,” you also shouldn’t sit around and wait for the signs of battery toxicity to appear. The symptoms might not be present right away, and once they do appear it might not take long for what can be a manageable situation to become life-threatening. Get your dog to the vet.

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Nulo Grain Free Small Breed Dry Dog Food with BC30 Probiotic (Salmon and Red Lentils Recipe, 11b Bag)
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Instinct Raw Boost Healthy Weight Grain Free Recipe with Real Chicken Natural Dry Dog Food by Nature's Variety, 4 lb. Bag
Purina Pro Plan SAVOR Adult Shredded Blend Lamb & Rice Formula Dry Dog Food - (1) 35 lb. Bag
Nutro WHOLESOME ESSENTIALS Healthy Weight Small Breed Adult Farm-Raised Chicken, Brown Rice & Sweet Potato Recipe Dry Dog Food Plus Vitamins, Minerals & Other Nutrients; (1) 5-lb. bag
Iams ProActive Health Minichunks Dry Dog Food for All Dogs – Chicken, 7 Pound Bag
Nulo Grain Free Small Breed Dry Dog Food with BC30 Probiotic (Salmon and Red Lentils Recipe, 11b Bag)
Earthborn Holistic Coastal Catch, 28 Pound Bag
$19.02
$45.78
$9.96
$9.94
$33.99
$55.96
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Instinct Raw Boost Healthy Weight Grain Free Recipe with Real Chicken Natural Dry Dog Food by Nature's Variety, 4 lb. Bag
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$19.02
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Purina Pro Plan SAVOR Adult Shredded Blend Lamb & Rice Formula Dry Dog Food - (1) 35 lb. Bag
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$45.78
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Nutro WHOLESOME ESSENTIALS Healthy Weight Small Breed Adult Farm-Raised Chicken, Brown Rice & Sweet Potato Recipe Dry Dog Food Plus Vitamins, Minerals & Other Nutrients; (1) 5-lb. bag
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Iams ProActive Health Minichunks Dry Dog Food for All Dogs – Chicken, 7 Pound Bag
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Nulo Grain Free Small Breed Dry Dog Food with BC30 Probiotic (Salmon and Red Lentils Recipe, 11b Bag)
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Last update on 2018-06-18 at 06:35 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Of course batteries aren’t the only harmful things dogs can chew up, so if your dog eats a non-food item and you’re worried, your vet will know whether or not there’s cause for concern. If the situation occurs after hours, you can also get information from the Pet Poison Helpline. Their website is http://www.petpoisonhelpline.com/, and you can also reach them by phone 24/7 at 855-764-7661.

About the Author Ash