What happens when a dog eats a plastic ball?

There were some scientists who wanted to find out what would happen when they fed dogs plastic balls. Why they did this is a long story. But anyway, they prepared a mixture of diced liver, some water with a bit of sugar, and small plastic balls. Next they fed this mixture to some dogs! (It all seems a bizarre and cruel but that’s apparently what they did – see Canine gastric emptying of solids and liquids ). Finally they tracked what happened to the plastic balls and the diced liver in the digestive tract.

The scientists found that that the dogs kept the indigestible plastic balls in their stomachs much longer than the diced liver. The stomach was able to separate the plastic from the food. The plastic balls were retained for a while to give the stomach a chance to break them down into smaller pieces. Meanwhile the stomach sent the liver on its way into the small intestine (duodenum).

Their conclusion was that solids are retained in the stomach for extra mixing and grinding until safe to pass through the body. The stomach is where acid breakdown occurs under intense grinding pressure. The stomach empties mushy food and liquids into the small intestine, and retains solids for more processing.

What does this mean for your dog?

When your dog eats something hard, like a bone, its stomach will usually work harder to crush and soften it. The bone pieces will become smaller and mushier until they can be digested further in the small intestine. Some people are horrified to see their dog chomp down a raw chicken wing or lamb shank. But most dogs’ stomachs are built to take it.

As for eating plastic, well your dog may possibly handle that too, as long as it is not large, or dangerously sharp, or an awkward shape.

When your dog eats a plastic or rubber ball the following may happen:

  • The stomach may hold it for a while until it is broken down further
    into safer pieces,
  • The stomach may hold it for a while then sent it through undigested
    (turns up in poo),
  • The stomach may reject it and your dog may vomit it up, or
  • There may be further complications, like a blockage.

Obstructions and perforations are not unheard of – so always seek the advice of your vet.

If you think that your dog ate a plastic ball then first you need to check whether it really did eat it. If it’s playing with a ball which suddenly goes missing then look under the sofa (that’s where we find most things in our house!).

References:

Symptoms and risks of swallows items:

http://www.peteducation.com/article_pdf.cfm?aid=437

Original research paper:

http://www.fisiologia.ufc.br/Ensino/Hinder.pdf

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