Ask the Vet: What to Do if Your Dog Ate Corn Cobs?
Dr. Ivana Crnec
Help, my dog ate corn cobs! This is a common plead for help when owners leave corn cobs unattended on the table or Rover goes scavenging into the trash can in the night. What to do in such a case? Veterinarian Dr. Ivana shares information on what happens when dogs eat corn cobs and the best course of action.
Can Dogs Eat Corn Cobs?
Corn on the cob is definitely something you do not want your dog gnawing on. The corn itself cannot be properly digested, and therefore, usually passes with the poop almost intact, but the corn cob is more problematic as it poses a choking hazard, and if swallowed in large enough pieces, it can potentially cause a gastrointestinal obstruction (blockage).
Both choking and blockages are serious and potentially life-threatening conditions. Therefore, the old saying "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" definitely applies to dogs and corncobs.
The Dangers of Dogs Eating Corn Cobs
Why are corn cobs though so dangerous? What exactly makes them so risky for dogs? Many dog parents are confused by this question. After all, corn cobs are not toxic to dogs. Corn cobs are made of cellulose, lignin and hemicellulose – substances found in the walls of every plant cell. Dogs eat them all the time and they are an integral part of the healthy dietary fiber. Consumed in moderate amounts, they promote healthy digestion and adequate intestinal motility.
However, cellulose, lignin and hemicellulose are hard to digest especially if consumed in larger quantities in which cases they overwhelm the gastrointestinal tract and lead to digestive upsets. Corn cobs contain substantial amounts of these substances.
Another problem with corn cobs is that they are highly absorbent. It is worth mentioning that corn cobs are so remarkably absorbent that they have several industrial applications, including cleanup of oil spills in water and as environmentally friendly poison for rats (rather than being toxic it triggers deadly dehydration).
The same principle that applies to rats applies to dogs. Namely, when inside the intestines, the corn cob absorbs the water causing local dehydration. When the intestines are dehydrated they are more prone to blockages – which is another hazard with corn cobs
Last but not least, corn cobs are remarkably abrasive. This feature also has an industrial application – they are used in the production of industrial cleaners used for buildings. When ingested, they can scrape up and damage the inside of the gastrointestinal system.
All in all, corn cobs are dangerous because they are: Indigestible, Absorbent and Abrasive.
When Do Dogs Eat Corn Cobs?
There are two basic scenarios in which a dog can eat a corn cob: 1) A dog parents deliberately offers a corn cob, unaware of the potential dangers, and 2) A dog starts feasting on corn cobs he found on the counter top, table or in the trash.
Since many vets and online blogs frequently talk about the dangers associated with feeding corn cobs, the owners’ awareness has been raised. Therefore, nowadays, scenario number two is more likely to occur.
Not all corn cob ingestions though are created equally. There are less worrisome cases and more troublesome cases.
Dog Chewing Corn Cobs Versus Swallowing Corn Cobs
Whether the dog chewed and swallowed the cob determines if it is in the clear or it needs urgent veterinary care.
Namely, chewing the corn cob minimizes the risk of developing complications while swallowing the corn cob is usually accompanied with potentially life-threatening consequences. Swallowed corn cobs usually get stuck in the small intestines.
Unfortunately, when a dog steals a corn cob, the owners may not know whether the dog was careful enough to chew the cob or whether he gulped it down.
Should Vomiting Be Induced?
This is a complicated question with no right answer. Basically, whether or not vomiting should be induced depends on several factors.
If your dog eats a corn cob, call your trusted vet and consult. The vet will either advise you to induce or not to induce vomiting based on two important factors: the dog’s size and the time of the corn cob ingestion.
Sometimes bringing an item back up can be riskier than living it inside. On the flip side, in some cases, the benefits outweigh the risks. However, the decision between inducing and not inducing must be made by a vet based on individual factors.
Signs of a Blockage in Dogs
As mentioned, when a dog eats a corn cob and swallows it in big chunks, there are risks for a potential blockage. A dog with a blockage will manifest the following signs and symptoms:
- Recurrent vomiting
- Diarrhea followed by constipation
- Abdominal cramping
- Loss of appetite
- Pain and discomfort
- Lethargy and depression.
It should be noted that it may take between one and four days for the signs of a blockage to develop. It is highly advisable not to wait for the clinical manifestation to become obvious. If you are aware that your dog ate a corn cob, have him or her examined by a vet as soon as possible.
At the Vet's Office
What happens at the vet’s office when a dog presents with a history of eating a corn cob? Usually, the vet will start by performing a full and thorough physical examination and talk to you about your dog’s behavior and physical wellbeing since the corn cob accident occurred. Then, the vet will likely order x-rays.
How will the vet proceed from this point on depends on the amount of corn cob found and its location. If there are smaller pieces scattered through the digestive system, the vet will recommend waiting for the pieces to naturally transit the dog’s body while offering supportive care.
However, if there is a large piece likely to cause an obstruction or if the obstruction is already presenting itself, the vet will have to perform a surgery to remove the corn cob.
Tips to Prevent Future Mishaps
As previously stated, more often than not, dogs eat corn cobs when raiding trash cans on their quests for delicious leftovers. No matter how disgusting it may sound, dogs like the idea of going through the trash. That is why you need to make sure there are no hazardous items, like corn cobs, lurking in the trash.
There are several safe manners of disposing corn cobs. Following are some tips on keeping corn cobs out of a dog's reach.
- Wrap the corn cobs in a plastic bag before throwing them in the trash can will contain most of the smell and avoid triggering your dog’s curiosity.
- Throw the corn cobs in an outside dumpster out of your dog’s reach. This is imperative for proven trash bandits willing to go through plastic bags and everything just to gobble on something somewhat tasty.
- Use dog-proofed trash cans with locking lids to prevent overly-curious dogs from trash-related shenanigans. Alternatively, you can place the trash cans in a place that is out of the dog’s reach or use a baby gate that separates the can and the dog.
- Since dogs are quite creative and inventive, perhaps the safest option would be to put corn cobs in a plastic bag and toss the plastic bag into a dog-proofed dumpster right away.
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.