Ask the Vet: My Dog Ate Aluminum (Tin) Foil

Dr. Ivana Crnec

If your dog ate aluminum foil also known as tin foil, you may be worried about what will happen to him. Is aluminum foil toxic to dogs? Can the tin foil get stuck and cause a dog a blockage? Should your dog see the vet if he ingested aluminum foil? Most likely all these questions are bombarding your mind. Veterinarian Dr. Ivana provides information of what to do if your dog ate aluminum foil.

So your dog ate aluminum foil and now you're worried about it. Here's the thing: dogs simply love human food. Even when the food is wrapped in something inedible, they do not seem to mind. They will eat the wrapping first and then what was inside of it. In a nutshell, a simple wrapping is not enough to stop our dogs from eating what they are not supposed to!

Help, My Dog Ate Aluminum Foil!

If the wrapping is made of paper, the consequences are not serious. However, dogs eat wrappings made of aluminum foil or tinfoil too. In such cases, the consequences can be much more serious. 

If your dog ate aluminum foil it is highly advisable to contact your trusted vet as soon as possible for guidance. Although aluminum foil is a benign material (after all we wrap our food in it), eating it is not such a benign situation.

In the past, the terms aluminum and tin foil meant completely different things. However, today, these two terms are used interchangeably. Since it is pliable and it does not alter the flavor of the food, aluminum foil has now a widespread use. 

Many commercially available products (such as Hershey chocolates) are wrapped in aluminum foil. If you take out food from a restaurant, chances are the meal will be packed in aluminum. 

We all have the habit of wrapping leftovers in aluminum foil. All in all, the chances of having your dog ingest aluminum foil are particularly high.

4 Dangers of Dogs Eating Aluminum Foil 

Why does a dog eating aluminum foil warrant a trip to the vet’s office? What are the risks associated with it? Generally speaking, there are four main reasons why dogs that ate aluminum foil should be examined by a vet.

1) Aluminum Foil is a Choking Hazard

As the dog eats the aluminum, is it possible for them to choke on it. This is true with many foreign items ingested, but it is worthy of pointing out because choking can be life-threatening.

2) Aluminum Foil May Cause an Intestinal Blockage

In most cases, this is the most acute issue. Luckily, this can only occur if the dog ate a substantial amount of aluminum foil. In most cases, dogs will bite the foil into fragments and it will just pass straight through.

Fortunately, therefore, more often than not, ingesting tiny pieces is not dangerous (they will be just pooped out). Tiny pieces of aluminum foil can cause intestinal blockage only if the dog is particularly small.

3) The Food Inside the Aluminum Foil Wrapping Can be Toxic

Under normal circumstances, it is highly unlikely for a dog to eat unused aluminum foil (mostly dogs suffering from a behavioral eating disorder called pica can crave unused aluminum foil). 

Dogs instead eat aluminum foil because it had or it still has something delicious-smelling inside. If that something was a human food dogs are allowed to eat (for example unsalted boiled rice), there is not much to worry about. On the flip side, if that something was dark chocolate or some super greasy food, such as roasted ribs smothered in butter, chances are that the dog will become sick.

If the content inside the foil was something fatty, the consequences are relatively self-limited and include signs of gastrointestinal upset (vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite), although some predisposed dogs may suffer from a bout of pancreatitis which may require hospitalization.

 If the content was something that can cause toxicity in dogs, the consequences are much more serious, and in some cases, even lethal. Foods that can be toxic in dogs include chocolate, coffee, garlic, raisins, grapes, onions, baked goods made with xylitol. 

4) The Aluminum Foil is Toxic if Eaten in Large Amounts

Although the chances of the aluminum foil passing out of the dog's system before causing toxicity are particularly high, the risk of aluminum foil poisoning is worth mentioning. 

This issue is often underestimated by many vets, after all, many feral dogs as opportunistic feeders will be eating human leftovers wrapped in aluminum foil on a daily basis, but this does not mean nothing cannot happen.

Aluminum foil toxicity mostly occurs when the ingested piece is too large or if it gets stuck. In such cases, the aluminum foil would have to be surgically removed once the dog is stable enough to undergo general anesthesia and surgery.

10 Signs of Trouble to Watch For if Your Dog Ate Aluminum Foil

The consequences of eating aluminum foil are not visible immediately after the incident. It is important to closely monitor your dog over the next several days and watch for the following signs and symptoms:

  • Panicked behavior
  • Repeated vomiting
  • Refusal of food
  • Severe bloating
  • Diarrhea 
  • Constipation
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Lethargy
  • Depression
  • Pain/discomfort

What Happens at the Vet's Office

When the vet is taking your dog’s history, it is of paramount importance to mention the following information:

  • How much aluminum foil your dog may have eaten
  • Whether the aluminum foil was unused or had some food wrapped inside
  • If any aluminum foil has already passed through the poop (generally passes around 48 hours but this can be vary) or if some was vomited back up.

Once the above listed aspects are considered, the vet will perform a thorough physical examination. This often includes complete blood work (to determine the dog’s overall condition), abdominal radiographs (to check whether there is residual aluminum foil inside the stomach and intestines) and endoscopy (to determine the current location of the aluminum foil).

Treating Dogs Who Ate Aluminum Foil

The course of the treatment depends on the exact issue the aluminum foil has caused. If the vet suspects aluminum foil intoxication he will prescribe activated charcoal to prevent the toxins from being absorbed. 

Depending on the dog’s general condition, the vet may recommend intravenous fluids and appropriate supportive therapy. Additionally, laxatives may be given to help the aluminum foil pass along the intestinal tract.

If the aluminum foil caused gastrointestinal blockage, the only treatment option is surgical removal of the foreign body. This type of surgery is relatively risky and the recovery period is definitely challenging.

 Before submitting the patient to a surgical procedure, the vet will make sure the patient is stable and strong enough to endure the process.

Should You Induce Vomiting if a Dog Ate Aluminum Foil?

While inducing vomiting in a dog who recently ate aluminum foil may sound like a good idea, there may be some risks in doing so at home. One big concern would be the aluminum foil getting stuck in the dog's esophagus when it's brought back up. 

It would be far safer taking the dog to the emergency clinic, where vet staff can induce vomiting if the foil was ingested within the first two hours, and standby to help should any of it happen to get stuck in the dog's esophagus.

Preventing Dogs From Eating Aluminum Foil

It goes without saying that you must be extra careful in leaving food wrapped in aluminum foil in places your dog can easily access. The unused aluminum foil should also be kept out of reach.

 It is also advisable to invest in a dog-proof trash can (when it comes to finding food dogs can be very creative and can even dig through trash). Store it behind a cabinet  under the sink so it's out of reach. Keep in mind that dogs are guided by instincts and it is our job to protect them and keep them safe.

About the Author

Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia.

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