Objects Commonly Swallowed by Dogs: What’s Risky and What’s Safe?

You might be surprised at what a dog can get down his gullet. You might be surprised at some of the items his gut can cope with.


Pantyhose, golf balls, socks, rocks, underwear, baby bottle nipples, peach pits, plastic gadgets, wood glue, magnets. No, it’s not leftover refuse found in a pile at the town dump. It’s just some of the items swallowed by dogs and then retrieved from their GI tracts by Tufts veterinarians — on a regular basis!

“Dogs will literally swallow almost anything,” says Cummings School surgeon John Berg, DVM. “I had one dog whose owners had decorative pea gravel rocks around their pool. The dog swallowed, like, 1,500 of them. We had to perform an operation to takethem out.

“Corn cobs are another one,” Dr. Berg says. “Usually it’s not a whole cob. It’s after someone has cut it into segments.

“Those dogs most inclined to swallow things are young,” notes Dr. Berg. “Be most alert to this possibility early in a dog’s life. They like playing with things, are curious about the world, and investigate with their mouths. That’s when they get into trouble.

“We do occasionally see older dogs swallow foreign objects, too,” Dr. Berg says. “And some dogs are chronic repeaters. Don’t think a dog will learn from his experience and not do it again. We’ve seen dogs go back to surgery multiple times for foreign object removal.”

Following, a list of objects that are dangerous to swallow, very dangerous, and — contrary to popular opinion — safe.

Items Dangerous for Dogs to Swallow

Cloth items. Dogs like the odor of their owners, so it’s no surprise that some end up mouthing dirty laundry that has people’s scent on it — socks, underwear, pantyhose, and the like. Some of those dogs then get carried away and swallow such undergarments whole, gulping them down and causing obstructions either in their stomach or intestines. “Owners of new puppies in particular should be very careful about leaving that stuff around the house until they know their dog doesn’t have the inclination to try to swallow everything he comes into contact with,” Dr. Berg says. In other words, use a hamper with a secure lid, or keep undone laundry locked away.

Plastic wrap that meat came in. “Dogs will fish this out of the trash,” Dr. Berg cautions. “It’s one of the biggies” in terms of what dogs swallow, and like cloth material, it can cause GI obstructions. “Don’t allow access to the garbage can,” he advises.

Discrete objects. These include everything from the aforementioned corn cob segments to the nipples on baby bottles, the pits of stone fruits, and plastic items such as little squeaky toys. Larger items, like a wad of fabric, tend to remain in the stomach. Smaller ones, like little rocks, often pass out of the stomach and then get stuck in the small intestine.

Very Dangerous Items to Dogs

String-like objects. Called linear foreign bodies by veterinarians, these include string that was used to wrap meat and was then discarded. “Strings tend to be more of a cat problem,” Dr. Berg points out. Cats like to play with string-like objects and will swallow cassette tape, ribbon, yarn, and the like whereas dogs tend to go for big pieces of fabric or toys. “But the rules for species are not hard and fast,” he says. Dogs do end up in string trouble, too. The reason it’s so bad is that one end of the piece of string often gets stuck under the tongue or inside the stomach, and the rest of the string passes into the intestine. Because one end of the string is anchored in place, the intestine can’t pass the string, so the “intestine crawls up the string instead” to try to digest it, Dr. Berg explains. “The string can then literally saw through the intestine and cause a perforation.”

String also comes attached to fabric. A wad of fabric will get stuck in the stomach, but a string of the fabric unraveling at the edge will make its way down into the intestine and can also cause slicing into the intestinal wall.

Wood glue. “Don’t freak if your dog licks up a little glue,” says Dr. Berg. “But if a dog swallows a large quantity of white-colored wood glue, it can swell in the stomach as it hardens, up to the size of a softball, or even a cantaloupe. At that point, surgery is required to remove it.”

Uncooked cous cous. This expands in the stomach “big time,” Dr. Berg says, causing painful gastric distention. Other types of uncooked food that are hydrated during the cooking process are not as dangerous, but keeping them out of paw’s reach is still a good idea.

Post-1982 pennies. In 1982, the federal government, to save money in minting costs, decided to stop making pennies purely out of copper and instead use a combination of copper and zinc. Now, pennies have a central core composed of zinc with a ring of copper on the outside and a copper coating all around. “But zinc corrodes in stomach acid,” Dr. Berg points out, “so a dog can get zinc toxicity. That can lead to gastric ulcer, not to mention kidney failure.”

Note: Because pennies are small, it would be reasonable to assume they pass from the stomach into the small intestine and then into the large one before being passed from the body. But because pennies are heavy and dense, they tend to float to the bottom of the stomach, as if they fell to the bottom of a pool, and stay there.

Small magnets. “There’s a particularly notorious kind for dogs called Bucky Balls,” Dr. Berg says. They’re little round magnets that people will use as a desk ornament, stacking them into a pyramid shape or something like that. Another culrprit is children’s toys that have little magnets in them. If a dog swallows multiple magnets, which does happen, they can attract one another across intestinal wall sections, pinching pieces of the intestinal wall between them. That may then cause the wall to perforate. It’s rare, but we have seen it.

Teriyaki sticks. This one can be truly life-threatening. A dog can swallow a teriyaki stick whole (dogs really like them since they tend to have the odor of meat on them.) It will often pass through the esophagus just fine but end up crosswise in the stomach. “From there it pokes its way through the stomach wall and can then migrate through the body,” Dr. Berg says. “We’ve seen dogs with nasty infections in the chest cavity or abdomen. We’ve seen teriyaki sticks perforate the liver, too, and cause infections in the area of the kidneys.”

Sticks in general. A dog can easily crush a stick, which then breaks off into little splinters. And sometimes, one or more splinters can make it into the lining of the mouth and migrate from there into the neck or somewhere else in the head or face and cause an infection serious enough to require surgery. “The splinter dissolves,” Dr. Berg says, “but leaves behind an infection with an abscess — literally, a ‘pool’ of infection that becomes trapped in the tissues. We have to open up the abscess, drain it, and then put the dog on antibiotics. Most often the abscesses occur in the neck.”

Granted, Dr. Berg concedes, “many dogs can chew sticks their whole lives and never have a problem, but we see dogs here in New England pretty commonly who get infections from stick chewing. This is not just a puppy thing. Some older dogs never lose the desire to chew sticks.”

Generally Safe to Swallow

Dog owners are often told never to let their pet eat chicken bones. The fear is that a dog can easily crush a chicken bone with his teeth, causing it to splinter and then perforate the intestine. “But it’s largely an urban myth,” Dr. Berg says. “Chicken bone will almost inevitably dissolve in the stomach.

“Still, I would not make a point of letting a dog chew chicken bones,” he says. “I have had maybe two dogs in my career who swallowed pieces of chicken bone that then perforated the lining of their mouth or esophagus. So why take a chance? But don’t get hysterical if your dog gets some chicken bone before you have a chance to take it out of reach. Probably nothing’s going to happen.”

That said, there are bones that can cause dogs serious GI problems. See the box at the top right of this page.

Treatment Protocol for Risky Swallowed Objects

The classic sign that your dog may have swallowed something he shouldn’t have — besides the fact that it’s missing — is persistent vomiting. “But also,” Dr. Berg says, “if the dog just doesn’t feel very good, becomes inactive, loses interest in food, or drools more than usual,” he may have swallowed something untoward.

At the vet’s office, x-rays will be taken to see if a foreign object can be located anywhere along the GI tract. Three hard-and-fast rules apply.

If the object has made it down the esophagus, into the stomach, from there to the small intestine and finally to the large intestine, “a dog will pass it with his stools,” Dr. Berg says. “We never remove a foreign body from the large intestine.”

If the object is a linear foreign body like a piece of string that has gotten into the small intestine, surgery is automatically required. “If you try to pull out the stringy object with an endoscope,” Dr. Berg points out, “you will cause the sawing action in the intestine that you’re trying to prevent.”

In any case in which the foreign body has caused perforation — which is most commonly an issue with esophageal or intestinal foreign bodies — surgery is automatically indicated.

Other scenarios may have more than one possible treatment solution, depending on the situation. For instance, if an object is in the esophagus or stomach, choice number 1 is removal with a flexible endoscope. “Ninety percent of objects in those locations can be removed that way,” Dr. Berg notes. But even that approach is not completely fail-safe. Sometimes the foreign body causes inflammation of the lining of the stomach or the esophagus, or even an ulcer, which is an area of the lining that has thinned or has a hole in it. These may require medical treatment after the foreign body has been removed endoscopically.

Sometimes a decision is made to perform surgery simply because it is determined with the scope that the object is wedged in too tightly to be pulled up through the esophagus. Or it’s too smooth and slippery to be grasped by the scope’s pincers. A hard, round ball is a good example. “A surgeon is always on standby at Tufts if a veterinarian can’t retrieve the object with a scope,” Dr. Berg says.

If an object ends up in the small intestine — not a stringy object but something with more bulk — the first choice is often simply to wait and see if it will pass into the large intestine on its own. Sometimes, if a dog is not feeling too poorly and x-rays show that a foreign object has not caused a complete obstruction, a veterinarian will give a dog IV fluids to improve intestinal motility and wait to see if the object moves along to be passed by the dog naturally. This may require repeat x-rays or ultrasounds to monitor the foreign body’s progress — or lack of it.

dog survived eating gravel

Unfortunately, that was not an option for the dog who swallowed 1,500 pieces of pea gravel that ended up in her stomach — no amount of fluids would have moved them down into the large intestine.

Fortuntaely, Dr. Berg was able to remove them via surgery. She is fine now, as the photo above indicates.


  1. How incredibly timely this article is for me. I have a 15 year old golden, yes 15, who decided that TWO tube socks would be delicious and apparently swallowed them. I noticed he wasn’t feeling well and was drooling thick goopy drool and in trying to lay down was so ginger about his movement, he wasn’t eating-something was clearly wrong- I took him to the vet – $9,000 later he had the socks removed from his stomach and one that was starting to move into his intestines. It’s been a hard road of recovery for him, and me – since it’s so difficult to see his discomfort – not to mention he is as senior as senior gets for such a big dog. I would encourage anyone with a dog who has a penchant for getting into naughty things, especially deliciously dirty socks and underwear – to make sure your laundry hamper is secure and no items are left on the floor ever. If I could have prevented boy do I wish I had. Never, ever in his entire life has be actually swallowed anything, but clearly there’s always a first. Oh, and I HIGHLY recommend insurance. I’ve been paying it his entire life and it certainly just paid off now!

    • I found that the insurance people won’t insure dogs after a certain age except for things like a broken limb, i.e., an accident. No diseases, which tend to manifest in later years and can be costly to treat, e.g., cancer, diabetes, cataracts, and much more. Perhaps they would cover the swallowed sock as an accident, but you’d best check carefully with them before buying, if your dog isn’t a puppy. (Well, you should check thoroughly as to coverage, anyway, no matter what age your pup.)

  2. A while back, my mastiff became ill, vomited, didn’t pass stool, and appeared to be bloating. The vet suspected a torsion or a stomach blockage. She kept him under observation and his symptoms slowly subsided. When I brought him back home, he vomited a huge mass of unidentifiable black material. Unbeknownst to me, a neighbor had butchered a cow and had given my dog a foreleg. The black material my dog vomited was a compacted wad of hair off that foreleg and it had blocked the exit from his stomach.

  3. Sorry to not mind my business but i think you neighbor was wrong to give your dog anything without asking you. my dog loves socks and my daughter/wives under wear. However she has not had any serious problem although she has thrown up waded remnants of the material and passed them. This time she got into our garbage in the kitchen several hours after dinner. There was about 10-12 large chicken wings/small attached legs in the garbage. She is only 40 pounds. She gulped then all down i’m sure in about 30 seconds. She is not feeling well today. He belly is way extended. They told us to give her bread and rice to help soften when it passes. She ate the bread and rice and 2 hours later thru-up a big wad of mush but no chicken bones. i think some are stuck in her throat. i’m hoping that her stomach acids are able to break down about 11/2 pounds of cooked wings that i’m sure she swallowed whole because she would have been in a rush before one of us caught her. She is sneaky like that but we love her very much.
    she is 8 years old. Cute as cute gets…. Labradoodle. We are all very worried!

    • Hi Michael,
      Has anything happened yet? Our 2 year old German Sheppard ate about 8 cooked chicken thighs on the counter last night. He seems fine, and I see they say the bones should dissolve in the stomach. Just wondering if you have anything additional to report, hope she is okay.

  4. My 5 year old mix dog she is rotwiler and a mix. She ate a small metal paper clip that slipped off the counter and as far as she was concerned it was hers as th clip had been on a bag of lettuce. She is not foreign body eater but she thinks there is food involved it another story. So that wed i gave her food and some peroxide but nothing happened A few months ago she swallowed a sm tangerine that slipped out of the bag That came back to me.!! after the peroxide She is now not allowed in the kitchen So So the clip was wed and it is now sat am. She has eaten, and done her usual potty’s but no clip. She is playing and acting normal. I am checking her poops extremely carefully Any suggestions when it might come out pam thanks

  5. Hi Michael,
    Has anything happened yet? Our 2 year old German Sheppard ate about 8 cooked chicken thighs on the counter last night. He seems fine, and I see they say the bones should dissolve in the stomach. Just wondering if you have anything additional to report, hope she is okay.

  6. Yesterday my 5.5 month old Maltipoo puppy, 9 lbs, ate a long strip of Duct tape. He seems ok other than a lot of diarrhea. I’m waiting until tomorrow to see if any Duct tape comes thru before heading to the vet.

  7. Hi my sisters dog we think ate a TON of sticks and his belly is hard. We hope it will just pass through… but reading this my hopes aren’t very high. Do you have any advice for her poor little puppy pitty?

  8. ****** Hope no one else posts an urgent question here. Doesn’t seem like this is the place for an answer. Most of the previous questions here should have been asked of their veterinarians! Wonder how many of these dogs are still alive!

  9. Maybe someone is an expert, or has opinions, or is a vet with an opinion. Is there a certain size or shape that a dog cant swallow? Not exactly sure how to approach this. I am making a very shallow container, maybe metal or more likely a hard plastic. I am going to put product in it and I don’t want a dog or kitty to have any chance of eating it or swallowing it.
    Any comments on shape or size. This will probably be only a 1/4″ – 1/2″ tall.

  10. 40 lb 8 month old puppy just swallowed a foos ball yesterday. No vomiting. Eating and drinking and eliminating ok so far.

    Is 1 1/4” smooth able to get through?

    • Can I ask how your puppy is? Did it pass ok?
      Mine did the same nearly 2 weeks ago and is eating, drinking, pooping fine but I’m besides myself with worry.

  11. Is it possible for my mastiff to swallow a 2 inch sewing push pin, with no knowledge of where he got it since I have none in the house. He acted weird for two days, very off for his normal schedule but just picked up a pile of dog doo with this large needle barely bent right next to it

  12. My pup was acting odd, did a really good overall body search, with poking and prodding. Made him as comfortable as possible and just found a 2 inch sewing needle with a ball on the end next to a pile of poop. Is it possible that he swallowed test and passed it on his own?

  13. Vets around here said xray or ultrasound won’t show scrunchie my 25 lb goldendoodle ate 3 1/2 days ago. They just want to do surgery without even knowing where it is. He has been eating pooping and playing normally ever since he swallowed it. Suggestions?

  14. My dog has had diarrhea for about 4 days now. There was blood in it last night and this morning it is jelly like. She seems to only have issues at night. I have an appointment at the vet in 2 days. She is behaving normally and eating

  15. For the first time , I left my 1/12 old border collie alone for 3 hours at night . And I stupidly somehow forgot to remove his harness. When I came home the harness was broken and the buckle was gone . I can’t believe I did this. I gave him some yams and two tablespoons of olive oil. He ate while I was gone his kibble dinner without the meat I usually put into his kibble. He was full of energy and wanted to play when I came home. I am beside myself in grief that I left his harness on and the buckle is missing. He must have chewed it. Do you think it will pass on its own and what should I watch for . I am grief stricken. I live him with all my heart. What should I do ?

  16. If anyone can help me, I left to run some errands and my dog was at my friends house and was completely fine before I left. All of a sudden they call me and say my dogs been acting strange and hadn’t moved from one spot in over an hour. Couldn’t move or walk. I’m scared he ate something. There are these 1.5cm maybe 2cm metal beads that came from the couch on the carpet and I’m concerned he could have eaten one as when he does walk it’s kind of a “drunk walk” and he’s very sluggish which is a symptom. However they also sometimes have marijuana around the house so if he ate that then that would also explain his behaviour. He also threw up dark greenish brown black vomit. I took him to the emergency vet hospital, and his vitals are fine except his temperature is a little bit low. The vet said that it could just be that he’s high but I’m still very concerned.

  17. If you are seriously concerned about dogs for God’s sake take them to a Vet. Don’t go online asking if your dog will be fine by people who are not vets. If I would have done this my dog would have been dead. She had a blockage thay had to be surgically removed and it was a wad of different stuff that had accumulated over time. I have only had her for 4 months and she started having diarrhea and vomited on occasion which I thought she just had an upset stomach until this weekend she started to profusely vomit. I took her to the emergency vet and theu found a blockage and said If she didn’t have it removed by the next day she would turn septic and her organs would start shutting down and she would slowly die. The next day which was 2 days ago she had it surgically removed and is recovering now.
    If your dog had a tendency to chew stuff or eat stuff heed my warning that stuff can accumulate in their stomach and cause a major blockage! Take your dog to the vet and get an xray to be sure instead if looking online. No 2 dogs are alike so don’t compare your situation to someone elses!

  18. Hi my dogs just eaten the string off meat and normally I would ring the vets to get advice but it’s a Sunday and for now she seems ok am keeping close eye on her is this right thing to do I did try to get it off her but she was so fast so much so at first I didn’t think she ate it but there’s no sign of it anywhere so she must of done. 😮😮😮

  19. My car had no radio and i really dont want to put $500 600 into it for a system, would this be good for just sitting in the passenger set.


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