My Dog Ate a Toothpick: What Should I Do?

My Dog Ate a Toothpick. Photo of a dog with a toothpick container.

Did your dog accidentally swallow a toothpick? If so, there’s a lot that you need to know to help protect your dog’s health, safety, and, potentially, life!

Toothpicks are very dangerous for dogs, and you’ll need to call your vet immediately for an emergency appointment if your dog ate a toothpick — regardless of whether it was wood or plastic.

In most cases, your vet will need to perform an emergency procedure or surgery to remove the toothpick from your dog’s body before it causes damage. These procedures are done through endoscopic removal or surgical removal. A toothpick can kill a dog, so a vet’s professional exam is essential.

What to do if your dog ate a toothpick

If you’re here because your dog ate a toothpick and you need to know the proper steps to follow, here they are for you:

  1. Call your vet
  2. Determine the type (and number) of toothpicks he ate
  3. Watch for problem signs
  4. Follow your vet’s advice exactly
  5. Check their bowel movements for the toothpick

Call your vet

It doesn’t matter what the situation is; you must call your vet as soon as you realize what’s happened. Don’t wait until it opens next if it’s after hours or on a holiday or the weekend. Call the emergency line and get your dog in as soon as possible!

Determine the type (and number) of toothpicks he ate

Next, you’ll need to take some time to figure out what kind of toothpick he ate and how many. The more accurate you are, the better the vet can determine a treatment plan! When it comes to the type of toothpick, common examples (and their essential differences) include:

  • Classic wooden toothpicks
  • Painted wooden toothpicks
  • Blunted wooden toothpicks
  • Flavored/scented toothpicks
  • Classic plastic toothpicks
  • Flagged plastic toothpicks
  • Looped plastic toothpicks

As you can most likely imagine, some of these will be more dangerous than others. This is why your vet needs to know exactly what they’re facing for your dog’s best outlook and wellbeing.

Watch for problem signs

Below, we talk about the common signs of a complication as your dog is working on passing the toothpick. You’ll want to keep a very, very close eye on your dog to watch for any of them—the more that he has, the more that you need to take him in. These symptoms can quickly spiral into a life-ending combination that even the best vet in the world may not be able to stop. The earlier the intervention, the better. It’s better to bring him in just in case than to wait until any of these develop, too, unless your vet has said something otherwise.

Follow your vet’s advice exactly

Whether you go in for an exam or your vet gives you at-home instructions, follow them strictly. If they say to feed the bread, then do it. If they say NOT to induce vomiting at home, then follow this. Your vet is the professional who knows what your dog should or should not do, so follow their advice. Likewise, bring your dog in to see your vet if that’s what they recommend!

Check their bowel movements for the toothpick

If your vet makes the recommendation to wait for the dog to pass the toothpick at home (rare). In that case, you’ll need to closely monitor their bowel movements for that toothpick. This means getting your (gloved) hands in there, too, to search for it. Keep a close eye on your dog even after he’s passed it, however, as sometimes bacterial infections can manifest after they’ve actually passed the toothpick!

Can dogs digest toothpicks?

A dog’s stomach acid can’t break down and digest toothpicks. This includes both wooden and plastic ones. While dogs are more likely to chew and splinter wooden ones, both are equally dangerous because of their inevitable twisting and turning in the digestive tract as they are pushed through the system. Because they are pointy and have sharp edges, going the “wrong way” will not end well for your dog.

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While a dog’s stomach is strong and able to break down many things, wood is not among them. It can help blunt the wood, but it can’t break down wood entirely into something safe to pass.

Can a dog pass a toothpick?

Yes, technically, a dog is capable of passing a toothpick. However, it is rare for a dog to pass a toothpick without severe and potentially life-threatening injuries and damage. Most vets rarely offer this unless it is under their supervision or considered worth the risk compared to surgery.

It can take 24-48 hours for a dog to pass a toothpick, mainly depending on what your dog eats after the incident that will push the toothpick out of their system.

Can a toothpick kill a dog?

Unfortunately, yes, a toothpick can kill a dog. It happens a lot more than people realize because they seem so harmless. Without a vet’s assessment, at the very least, a toothpick can very easily kill a dog. The smaller they are, the more of a risk it poses.

My dog threw up a toothpick – Should I be worried?

Assuming you didn’t know that your dog ate a toothpick, yes! Dogs will often eat more than one, especially if they have food on them that, of course, smells delicious to dogs. If your dog has thrown up a toothpick seemingly out of nowhere, take him to a vet to see if there are any more lodged in their throat or elsewhere!

That being said, if you know your dog has eaten a toothpick and he threw it up, this is actually a good sign! It means that he’s pushed it back up so that it won’t go through the digestive tract. You’ll want to take a close look at it to make sure that it’s intact, though, and there isn’t part of it swill swimming around in your dog’s stomach. Still, take him to your vet or an emergency vet, though, just to be safe.

Symptoms to look for if your dog ate a toothpick

The problem signs can be subtle or very obvious, depending on your dog’s personality and the actual complication of the toothpick(s) that they ate. Common signs that it’s causing a problem in your dog’s digestive tract include:

  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Signs of an infection (mucus)
  • Signs of distress
  • Vomiting
  • Bloody stool

If you notice any of these symptoms, you must get your dog to your vet’s office as soon as possible so that they can intervene before a serious problem potentially becomes a life-or-death situation.

It can happen very quickly and quickly escalate to a point where your dog may not recover. This is often why most vets will immediately want your dog to be brought in for an exam.

How will the vet treat an eaten toothpick?

When your dog goes to the vet, and they recommend treatment, the two options you’ll have available are endoscopic procedures and surgical procedures.

Endoscopic procedures are used when the toothpick is something accessible for the dog. These tend to be safer than surgical ones, and they are certainly less invasive for those dogs who may not be able to withstand the surgery. However, they are not always successful. 

Surgery is often the only option if the toothpick itself is firmly lodged and perforating the intestines. The vet will need to get the toothpick out, repair the area around it, and check for damage around the intestines and other organs.

After either treatment, your dog will need to recover and will often be given an antibiotic treatment to help take care of any potential budding infection from the perforations in the intestines.

If your dog is considered too high-risk for a procedure. In that case, your vet may want to keep him overnight to monitor for complications right there while they watch and wait for the toothpick to pass. They rarely send the dog home for you to monitor since professionals best do this with formal training.

In a nutshell

No matter what type, or the number of toothpicks your dog ate, you must call your vet immediately for an exam and, more often, emergency surgery. You will need to know what type of toothpick he ate, how many, and what was on the toothpick (if applicable).

A toothpick can cause a lot of damage in a very short period of time. A lot of it is hard for us to see, too, since not all dogs show external symptoms. Untreated, a toothpick can easily kill a dog.

If your dog has eaten a toothpick, it is always an immediate and serious health problem that will require emergency vet care.

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Hi, I'm Andre and I'm the owner of Sula the Border Collie. I love writing about this amazing dog breed here. I joined the Council to be able to reach and educate more people on the joy of having a pet dog.