Dog Ate Steel Wool – Now What?

As a pet parent, you are well-familiar that many common household cleaning products pose a danger to dogs. Such products include chlorine bleaches, machine detergents, and soaps. But did you know that the steel wool SOS pad from the sink is dangerous too?   

Help, my dog ate steel wool! It may be hard to fathom, but there are cases of dogs eating steel wool. The consequences of this scenario can be fatal – from damage to the intestinal lining to obstructions. Therefore, if your dog ate steel wool, an emergency veterinary visit is warranted. 

In this article, we will talk about dogs eating steel wool – the reasons and the consequences. Finally, we will give some tips on how to prevent your dog from eating steel wool and the most common steel wool made household product – the SOS pad. 

WHAT IS STEEL WOOL?

Steel wool is a bundle of flexible and sharp-edged but fine steel filaments. It is also known as wire wool, iron wool, wire sponge, and steel wire. 

Steel wool is used to make various products. In common households, the most frequently present and accessible steel wool product is the SOS pad. 

SOS pads, in addition to steel wool, may contain materials like biodegradable detergents, soaps, rust inhibitors, preservatives, and colors. 

WHY WOULD DOGS EAT STEEL WOOL? 

Dogs are notorious for their tendency to eat just about anything – from plastic squeakers and dirt to chicken poop and steel wool. Some dogs eat non-edible items simply because they are readily available. In contrast, others do this because of an underlying health issue – pica. 

Pica (also known as allotriophagia) is a condition in which the dog eats non-edible items. It can stem from behavioral or physical problems. The most common behavioral issue is stress-eating, while the group of physical issues includes nutritional deficiencies, worm infestations, and other GI imbalances.  


CAN THE DOG’S STOMACH DIGEST STEEL WOOL? 

No, the dog’s stomach cannot digest steel wool. Although extremely strong (over a hundred times stronger than the human’s) and capable of digesting bones, the dog’s stomach acid cannot dissolve steel wool.  

MY DOG ATE AN SOS PAD – WHAT TO EXPECT?

First things first, we should note that the chemicals found in most SOS pads are not toxic. While it is true that they can cause mild digestive upsets, their danger ends there. With the toxic component eliminated, let’s take a closer look at the real dangers of SOS pads for dogs.

Consequence number 1: Digestive upset 

This is the best-case scenario because eating any non-edible item is likely to result in a digestive upset. Digestive upsets are transient and self-limiting and often manifest with issues like vomiting, diarrhea, appetite loss, abdominal pain, and lethargy. 

Plus, most digestive upsets can be managed at home following the vet’s professional instructions and recommendations. However, if the symptoms are more severe, it is a good idea to have your dog stabilized by a veterinarian. 

Consequence number 2: Intestinal lining damage

If the dog shredded the SOS pad, the bundled sharp steel filaments would start to unravel while traveling through the digestive tract. Once unraveled, they are more likely to damage the lining. If these damages and cuts are minor, the dog may present bloody vomiting and diarrhea. 

However, in more severe cases, if the damage is profound, it can result in perforations, leading to leaking of the GI content into the abdomen. This situation can culminate in fatal peritonitis. 

Consequence number 3: Gastrointestinal obstruction 

Swallowing the SOS pad as a whole is more likely to end up causing a gastrointestinal obstruction. Namely, the pad will probably lodge itself at certain narrow points within the digestive tract and block the food and water from passing through. 

A dog with gastrointestinal obstruction will exhibit signs like vomiting, excessive drooling, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, hunching, diarrhea followed by inability to defecate, burping, and gassiness. The dog will also refuse to lie down and seem distressed. 

WHAT SHOULD I DO IF MY DOG ATE AN SOS PAD?

If your dog ate an SOS pad, call your vet and explain the problem. Based on the overall situation and your dog’s condition, the veterinarian will decide whether to take the wait-and-see approach or be proactive and rush the dog to the office. 

Option number 1: Home management and careful monitoring 

The vet may suggest giving your dog bread. Bread is used as a first-aid in cases of ingesting sharp objects. The concept is pretty simple – the soft bread is expected to coat the sharp edges of the steel wool and prevent it from damaging the digestive tract lining. In addition, the vet will instruct you to give your dog Pepcid (Famotidine) every 12 to 24 hours to protect the stomach and feed a bland diet (plain boiled chicken and white rice). 

These instructions apply for the following 48 hours. If the dog develops signs or symptoms within this timeframe, the danger is considered to be over. On the other hand, if the dog develops vomiting, appetite changes, diarrhea, or abdominal pain, you should stop the home management and immediately take your dog to the vet’s office. 

Option number 2: Going to the vet’s office 

The vet will start with a full-body physical examination to assess its overall health status. Then the vet will order abdominal x-rays. These images are critical as they give an insight into the SOS pad’s integrity (whole or shredded) and position within the digestive tract.

Depending on the exact circumstances, the vet will probably perform additional tests such as abdominal ultrasounds and blood analysis (complete blood count and biochemistry panels). 

The results from the blood analysis are helpful when determining whether the dog can be anesthetized. This is because most dogs with an SOS pad as a foreign body will require surgical removal.  


HOW CAN I PREVENT MY DOG FROM EATING STEEL WOOL?

No matter how careful you are, accidents can happen, and your dog can eat something it is not supposed to. Although you cannot control every aspect of your dog’s life, there are certain things you can do to prevent your dog from eating steel wool. 

Prevention tip number 1: Keep the SOS pad out of reach

It goes without saying that all potentially dangerous products should be kept out of your dog’s reach. Keep in mind that dogs can find a way to climb on high counters, and some dogs can even learn how to open cupboards. 

Prevention tip number 2: Use biodegradable sponges 

Some biodegradable sponges can be almost as effective as SOS pads. Plus, they are perfectly safe for dogs because they are made of coconut and palm fiber, recycled fiber, wood cellulose, and walnuts. 

SUMMING UP: DOGS EATING STEEL WOOL

All in all, in theory, it is possible for a dog to eat steel wool and go consequence-free. However, it would take a special set of circumstances – extra-large dog, an extra-small chunk of steel wool, and tons of luck. 

In practice, most dogs that ate steel wool require immediate veterinary attention and sometimes even a life-saving surgical procedure for removing the steel wool. 

Considering the severity of the steel wool eating situation, we suggest focusing on prevention – keeping steel wool products (usually the SOS pad) out of your dog’s reach or using a dog-friendly alternative. 

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