My Dog Ate Cotton Balls! What Should I Do?

If there’s one thing you need to know about dogs, it’s that they’re infinitely curious. That’s why they end up in the strangest of places and can even eat things they shouldn’t. Believe it or not, dogs have been known to eat random things like pillow stuffing and remotes. So if you find out that your dog ate cotton balls, you shouldn’t be surprised.

At this point, these cute pets will eat anything. However, it’s normal to wonder why your dog would want to eat something as plain as a cotton ball. More importantly, it’s okay to wonder if they can pass it in their poop and what you can do to help them.

You may also wonder if things become worse if the cotton ball contains alcohol. Fortunately, we intend to address all these concerns in today’s post. By the time you’re done reading this, you will know all about the risks ingested cotton balls pose to your dog. 

Why Would a Dog Eat Cotton Balls?

Your dog’s decision to eat cotton balls can be a one-time occurrence fuelled by curiosity and the availability of these products. This is particularly common among puppies since they are still exploring and learning what is food and what isn’t. But if it keeps happening, your dog could have Pica, especially if it keeps eating other inedible items like paper and pieces of cloth as well. Pica is a condition whose major characteristic is the compulsive eating of non-food items. 

It usually affects adult and adolescent dogs. Dogs with this condition can either focus on eating one type of item, or they can just eat anything they find. Pica can be caused by an underlying medical issue or be purely psychological/behavioral. Some of the medical causes of Pica include liver disease, diabetes, anemia, thyroid disease, and gastrointestinal parasites. 

Even medication like steroids can cause Pica. On the other hand, psychological/behavioral Pica can be caused by stress, anxiety, or boredom. Separation anxiety has particularly been known to be a driver of this condition and other forms of destructive behavior. So if you suspect that your dog has Pica, take them to the vet immediately so that they can get properly diagnosed. 

Can a Dog Pass a Cotton Ball?

Yes, dogs can easily pass cotton balls – even puppies can do it. This is particularly common when a dog eats a single small cotton ball. After all, these balls are usually soft and easy to crumple. Also, the acids in a dog’s stomach can easily break down natural cotton, dissolving it and letting it seamlessly pass through the rest of the digestive tract. 

However, you should still monitor your dog if you know it’s eaten several cotton balls. In some cases, cotton balls can choke your dog or cause breathing problems. Beyond that, they can accumulate in your dog’s stomach and intestines. 

This can cause gastrointestinal obstruction. While such obstructions can resolve on their own, they can sometimes be lethal. Some symptoms of gastrointestinal obstruction in dogs include diarrhea, vomiting, swollen stomach, lack of appetite, dehydration, and lethargy. 

What Should I Do if My Dog Ate a Cotton Ball?

If your dog eats a cotton ball but doesn’t choke or show any signs of discomfort, it will probably pass the ball in its poop and be okay. However, it’s still important to monitor your dog’s poop to see if the cotton actually comes out with it. Keep in mind, though – the cotton won’t look the way it did originally. For proper guidance on what to look for, you can even contact your vet and explain the situation. 

Another thing to keep a lookout for is symptoms of gastrointestinal upset or obstruction. If you notice any, take the dog to the vet immediately. Once you get there, the vet can use several methods to get the cotton ball out of your dog’s gastrointestinal tract. If it’s been less than two hours since your dog ate the cotton ball, your vet will most likely try to induce vomiting to get it out. 

But if it’s been more than two hours, this won’t be possible because the cotton ball would have passed through the intestines already. As such, your vet will have to use an endoscopy to locate it and even remove it. Alternatively, they could choose to perform surgery on your dog. Since puppies and small dogs are more likely to get obstructions and eventually end up having surgeries, the safest thing to do is to take them to the vet immediately if they eat a cotton ball. 

What if The Cotton Ball Had Alcohol on It?

When your dog eats a cotton ball with alcohol, it puts them at risk for alcohol poisoning. However, the severity of the poisoning depends on the amount of alcohol in the cotton ball – the more the alcohol, the worse the effects. Whatever the case, though, keep in mind that your dog’s body quickly absorbs alcohol, especially if it’s isopropanol-based. Within 30 minutes of ingestion, such alcohol can cause life-threatening symptoms.

These include diarrhea, vomiting, weakness, disorientation, excessive salivation, difficulty breathing, seizures, heart rhythm problems, and unconsciousness. Isopropanol-based alcohols cause these symptoms by depressing your dog’s nervous system. Ultimately, isopropanol-based alcohols are twice as toxic to your dog as ethanol-based ones. To make matters worse, your dog doesn’t have to ingest them to get poisoned – they can effectively get into the body through vapor inhalation and topical application as well. 

As such, it’s important to be mindful of what type of alcohol you have in your house when you have a dog – reading the ingredient lists on products you buy is a good place to start. You’ll soon realize that isopropanol-based alcohol is commonly found in cleaning products, lotions, and sanitizers. On the other hand, ethanol is usually found in human cough syrups, beer, and spirits while methanol, another popular alcohol, is found in antifreeze. Whatever type of alcohol your dog is exposed to, though, you should take them to the vet as soon as you find out about it.


Most times, when a dog eats cotton balls, they come out unscathed, especially if the balls are clean and small. If your dog eats a cotton ball with alcohol or any other toxic chemical, though, they will get poisoned and need to be taken to the vet immediately. Otherwise, your dog will have to eat a lot of cotton balls or have a tiny digestive tract to get a gastrointestinal obstruction. So in as much as we advise that you remain alert and monitor your dog after ingestion, don’t worry too much about it – instead, just keep your vet in the loop.


  • Brad

    Hi I'm Brad, the founder of Having been a vet of 6 years I work alongside our team to provide valuable insight into your dog's health. I have a frenchie myself named Senzu who is my pride and joy!