2 August 2020
Styrofoam is a trademarked brand name for a type of polystyrene foam. It has a variety of uses thanks to its lightweight construction and excellent insulation properties. Is Styrofoam bad for dogs? As you can imagine, it’s not something you should eat!
The trouble is, many dogs end up chewing through and swallowing Styrofoam. We all like to think that such a scenario would never happen to our pet dogs. However, it’s worth educating yourself on the subject in case it’s a problem that requires your urgent attention.
What exactly is Styrofoam?
These days there are many different types or brands of extruded polystyrene foam on the market. One of the best-known ones is Styrofoam, a foam developed by the Dow Chemical Company back in the latter part of the 1940s.
Extruded polystyrene materials like Styrofoam get manufactured from solid beads of polystyrene - a type of plastic.
Styrofoam has many uses, such as building and pipe insulation. It’s sometimes also used under roads to prevent soil movement from freezing and thawing conditions. Styrofoam’s composition is 98% air, making it one of the lights forms of foam insulation on the market.
Other uses for Styrofoam include food and beverage packaging, craft products, and the protective packaging around new products stored in boxes and crates. Styrofoam is available as flat boards but also in the form of plastic beads for toy and furniture stuffing.
An easy way to tell if you’re dealing with Styrofoam is the distinctive ‘crunch’ sound it makes when it’s cut or split.
Why is Styrofoam bad for dogs?
Many dog owners like to assume that they do their best to keep their canine companions out of harm’s way. That includes disposing of any packaging material whenever they buy new goods and unbox them in their homes.
As you know, Styrofoam is a material noted for its excellent insulation properties and also gets used as protective packaging inside boxes and crates. The thing is, Styrofoam is a material that you’ll find inside items like bean bags and dog beds.
Is Styrofoam bad for dogs? In short, the answer is yes. Styrofoam is poisonous to dogs because of their inability to digest plastics. Large pieces of Styrofoam can also be a choking hazard to dogs.
If your dog consumed a small amount of Styrofoam, that one-time ingestion of plastic shouldn’t cause any permanent damage. The issue you’ll have is if your dog consumed a large quantity.
In either case, you must contact your veterinarian and inform them of what happened. They may give you some advice over the phone. But, they’ll likely want you to bring your dog in for an emergency appointment in extreme cases.
What happens if a dog eats Styrofoam?
If you find yourself in the unenviable position of catching your dog in the act of eating Styrofoam, what is likely to happen to them? And just how is Styrofoam bad for dogs exactly?
As you already know, Styrofoam gets made from plastic. Dogs should never consume anything made from plastic! The one thing you should know about any material derived from plastic is that dogs cannot digest it.
It doesn’t matter if a dog consumes a small amount of Styrofoam, a large quantity, or secretly eats Styrofoam regularly. The sad truth is that a dog’s liver and kidneys cannot digest and process Styrofoam at all.
The liver and kidneys will try to process Styrofoam, but all that will happen is those vital organs become overworked. In extreme cases, especially where urgent medical attention does not get sought, the liver and kidneys may eventually collapse.
Styrofoam doesn’t just stop at causing multiple organ failure. It’s likely to cause damage to a dog’s intestines and even other organs due to pieces of the rigid plastic getting stuck in the digestive system.
Sadly, it gets worse. The Styrofoam is still in the dog’s digestive system and is releasing toxins. As you’ve probably gathered, Styrofoam gets manufactured from plastic and other chemicals. Those chemicals cause long-term diseases and even cancer in a dog’s body.
Is Styrofoam bad for dogs of all ages and breeds?
In short, yes. Styrofoam can be potentially life-threatening for dogs of all ages from puppies through to seniors. It doesn’t even matter whether a dog is from a specific breed, is active or leads a sedentary lifestyle. Styrofoam doesn’t discriminate.
In many cases, excessive Styrofoam consumption can affect puppies and older dogs with underlying medical conditions the most. For puppies, large chunks of Styrofoam are most likely to cause a choking hazard.
Styrofoam consumption can also have an increased negative effect on older dogs with weak immune systems. That’s because organs such as their kidneys may already have trouble processing food and drink, or they may already have liver damage.
Regardless of age or breed, if a dog has ingested lots of Styrofoam, the intestinal blockages that can ensue will only get resolved through surgery.
What to do if your dog has eaten Styrofoam?
It doesn’t matter whether you suspect your dog of eating Styrofoam or have caught your canine companion in the act. What you need to do next is to seek urgent medical assistance from your veterinarian.
The first step would be to contact your local veterinarian by telephone. They will usually recommend that you bring your dog into their office immediately. Once that happens, the veterinarian will ask you some questions, such as:
- What time you discovered that your dog consumed Styrofoam;
- How much you believe was consumed;
- Whether your dog has eaten anything else at the same time;
- If your dog has experienced any symptoms of gastrointestinal blockage;
- If they vomited any of the Styrofoam ingested.
You must remain calm and answer the veterinarian’s questions to the best of your knowledge. Doing so will ensure they can conduct an accurate assessment of your dog before taking any further steps for treatment.
After your veterinarian has ascertained the circumstances, they will then conduct thorough medical examinations of your canine companion. They’ll use an x-ray or ultrasound (or both) to determine the severity of the Styrofoam ingestion.
Veterinarians can also give your dog a mild sedative and use a device called an endoscope to get an inside view of their digestive system. Once your veterinarian conducts those examinations, they can then proceed with the next course of action.
So What's Next?
If your veterinarian feels only a minute quantity of Styrofoam got ingested, they may prescribe medicine that produces a laxative effect. It will ensure that the Styrofoam can get ‘evacuated’ from your dog’s body naturally - and quickly.
What happens if your veterinarian has determined there’s a significant amount of ingested Styrofoam? In those cases, emergency surgery is typically the only option to remedy the problem, especially if some Styrofoam has punctured the intestines or any organs.
In some cases, your veterinarian can carry out endoscopic removal of the Styrofoam. The process involves your veterinarian inserting an endoscope through the mouth of your dog and into their stomach.
What is an endoscope? An endoscope is a thin tube that has a powerful light and tiny camera at the end of it. Endoscopes can also get used with small yet powerful tools such as forceps and brushes.
As you can appreciate, an endoscopy (the medical term for the use of an endoscope) is something that can only get carried out while the dog is under a general anaesthetic.
Because of the time it takes to carry out an endoscopy or surgery, your veterinarian will ask you to leave your dog with them for a few days. The procedure to remove Styrofoam from your dog doesn’t take long, but they’ll want to keep your pet in for observation afterwards.
How much will veterinarian treatment cost?
Veterinarian practices have different prices for what they charge. Ultimately, it will depend on what treatment a dog will need to have the Styrofoam removed. Dog owners that have valid insurance cover for their pets can usually claim against their policies.
In those cases, the only fee they’d need to pay is the excess - the amount an owner has to pay before the insurance company pays for the rest. For best-case scenarios, dog owners would only need to pay for medicine to help their dogs evacuate the Styrofoam naturally.
Problems can arise, of course, if dog owners have no valid insurance cover for their canine friends. In those situations, the veterinarian will require payment upfront in the form of a debit or credit card payment or cash.
If the cost is too expensive for the dog owner to bear, they might, unfortunately, need to decide to have their pet put to sleep. Otherwise, they could make a payment arrangement with their veterinarian or borrow the money to cover the treatment costs.
How to prevent your dog from eating Styrofoam?
As you can imagine, the stress, anxiety, and costs associated with your dog eating Styrofoam can get avoided. While it’s not possible to keep an eye on your canine companion 24/7, there are some steps you can take to lessen the risk.
The first thing you can do is ensure there is no Styrofoam or other plastics in your home that your dog can easily access. When you buy a new product and bring it into your home, for example, you should immediately dispose of the packaging.
If it’s not possible to get rid of any plastic packaging straight away, the next best thing is to keep it out of your dog’s sight. Usually, that means storing it in a locked room, or in an elevated location that your dog cannot access.
The next thing you can do to prevent your dog from eating Styrofoam or similar materials is to carry out a risk assessment. What that means is checking what materials are accessible to your dog each day.
If your dog’s bed contains Styrofoam beads or other plastics, ensure that it hasn’t got any holes in it. Otherwise, that loose-fill material can spill out, and your dog will start to chew and swallow it!
One thing you can do is lessen the temptation for your dog to chew his or her bed. Arguably the easiest way to do that is by distracting your dog with chewable toys. They will turn their attention to chewing them rather than their bed.
If you’re not convinced that your dog won’t randomly chew their bed
when you’re not there, all is not lost. You could replace the Styrofoam loose-fill material with something else that is less likely to have severe consequences.
Why would your dog want to eat Styrofoam?
There isn’t anything particularly enticing about Styrofoam from a scent or taste point of view. With that in mind, why would your dog want to eat Styrofoam anyway? One hypothesis is to do with the scent of food on the material.
For example, if your dog’s bed has a Styrofoam filling, they might want to chew their bed if there are remnants of food on it. A dog’s logic might be that if they chew through the outer fabric covering, they can get to the food inside of it.
Of course, there is no food inside of your dog’s bed. So instead, your dog will chew and potentially swallow the Styrofoam filling until they can find that food. Regular washing of your dog’s bed will ensure there is little to no food scents on it.
Another reason why your dog may want to eat Styrofoam is simply due to their nature. Dogs are playful animals, and inanimate objects like Styrofoam insulation, packaging, or loose-fill will stimulate their curiosity.
Is Styrofoam bad for dogs? Absolutely! All plastics, including Styrofoam, should never get consumed by dogs under any circumstances. The best-case scenario is that your dog will vomit the Styrofoam if they ate it.
But, the worst-case scenario will involve a trip to your veterinarian and paying for some expensive treatment for your canine companion.
Thankfully, there are steps you can take to lessen the risk of your dog consuming Styrofoam in your home.