Basset Hound dog looking up with a guilty expression

My Dog Ate a Q-tip: What to do Next

Dog owners around the world live with the reality that life with their pet will be 98% fun and frolic and 2% fear and panic.

Starting with the bundle of fur brought home from the breeder until the day they close their eyes the last time, dog owners can count on at least one truth: dogs will eat just about anything they find. One common household item that can be a problem for dogs is a Q-tip.

What should I do if my dog swallowed a q-tip? If your dog swallowed a q-tip, you need to monitor the dog’s behavior to determine your next step. If the dog is in pain, take them to the vet. If the dog is acting strangely, its appetite is off, or it becomes lethargic, you will need to help the dog pass the Q-tip.

What to Do When Your Dog Eats a Q-Tip

What to Do When Your Dog Eats a Q-Tip

I have a friend who has two 75-pound dark German Shepherd puppies. They eat like horses.  Some of what they eat is actual dogfood in the prescribed quantities.

The rest of what they eat boggles the imagination and, in some cases, turns the stomach. They understand “NO,” but that’s usually after they have swallowed half the cat litter or something as equally unappetizing. 

Fortunately, we haven’t had to contend with something that endangers their health, or worse.

You can’t plan for every contingency or for everything your dog is going to eat throughout its life, but it’s not a bad idea to just sit down with everyone in the house and talk about possibilities and what you need to do if you see Duke or Maggie wolfing down something they shouldn’t. 

In an ideal situation, you catch Maggie chewing on the Q-tip before it gets really bad. In a case like this, you can try to pry her jaws open and grab the applicator before it goes any further.

So, what if your dog actually swallows the Q-tip?

What steps should you take? Well, first if you are worried at all you should call your vet and get their input.

Otherwise, there are several general steps that can be followed:

  1. If swallowed, do NOT induce vomiting. It could get lodged in the esophagus or pierce the throat coming back out.
  2. Monitor the dog’s behavior:
    • If the dog appears to be in pain, call the vet immediately. The dog may need specialized attention and treatment.
    • If the dog becomes lethargic or the appetite slows, helping the Q-tip pass through the digestive system will become the next step:
      1. Feed the dog a high fiber diet, e.g., pumpkin. This will regulate the digestive system
      2. Combine with bland food, e.g., white rice and boiled meat. This will “encase” the Q-tip as it passes through the intestines
  3. If the dog’s behavior doesn’t change, it’s still a good idea to follow the procedures above. Even if it doesn’t bother the dog, it still will take 2-3 days to digest and pass the Q-tip and this will help reduce the risk of complications.

The plan may need to be altered based on several variables that are specific to the pet. 

What is a Q-tip Made of?

what is a q tip made of

The most common Q-tip on the market today is a cotton swab with 100% pure cotton on each end of a 3” applicator (source).

The applicator is made of bonded paper. This combination makes the common Q-tip both biodegradable and digestible if necessary.

There are other brands of cotton swabs as long as 6” long and some utilize plastic applicators. Obviously, the plastic material doesn’t decompose, and the 6”, if it’s swallowed, you may to immediately call the vet.

The steps listed above for treating a dog, however, apply with these other models as well as the “standard” cotton swab found in most houses.

Possible Dangers Posed When a Dog Eats a Q-Tip

The good news is that with most Q-tips if the dog swallows it, chances are very good she will digest the Q-tip without mishap.

Q-tips, unless you’re referring to a less common brand, are digestible.

The dog’s stomach will break down the cotton and the paper, and the mass will pass unobstructed through the digestive tract and out. 

You may still have to contend with various symptoms that will slow the pet down. Here are some things to consider:

Did the dog swallow a “standard” Q-tip? 

If the applicator was plastic, it won’t break down in the stomach and will come out the tail end undigested.

This can irritate the stomach or intestines, and your pet will slow down, lose appetite, and possibly develop diarrhea.

Worst case? The applicator could puncture something inside your pet and you will need to immediately see the vet.  Monitor your pet’s behavior and its stool for blood.

Were there toxic substances on the Q-tip?

The most dangerous potential danger has to do with what substance may have been on the swabs. 

For example, what if your dog ate a Q-tip with nail polish remover on it?

Most likely, there won’t be a large amount of any substance on the swabs since they are so small, however, there are some very toxic substances in the home that Q-tips are occasionally used to clean up with.

You should consult with your vet if you have any doubts.

The Size of the Dog Matters

Size of the Dog

There’s nothing scientific to refer to or weight/mass ratio to cite, but common sense says the dog’s size will have a bearing on whether swallowing a Q-tip will be a cause for immediate concern or something that you need to watch once a day to determine if anything is different. 

If you call your vet, one of the questions you’ll be asked is the size of the dog.

If you tell him your dog is a 75 lb. larger breed, chances are the vet will chuckle, tell you not to worry about it, and call him if any new symptoms develop.

If you tell him about a 20 lb. Yorkie, the vet will caution you to watch the pet regularly and call him immediately if there are any changes (source).

The size of the digestive tract and associated capacity will directly relate to how well the pet will handle swallowing something like a Q-tip.  

The short video below will help you train your dog to stop eating things of the ground:

Symptoms to Look for After Your Dog Eats a Q-Tip

Once the Q-tip is ingested, there’s not going to be much you can do until it’s discharged.  The owner’s primary role at this point is to comfort the pet and monitor its behavior. 

Something like a Q-tip may have absolutely no effect on the dog all the way to producing a crippling internal pain.  Note that the pet can be fine one minute and change the next. 

Symptoms to watch for include:

  1. Abdominal pain: See a vet immediately
  2. Vomiting: Monitor for choking
  3. Diarrhea: Look for blood
  4. Lethargy
  5. Loss of appetite

Treatment for your Dog After Eating a Q-Tip

Treatment for your Dog After Eating a Q-Tip

The point of the treatment once the Q-tip is swallowed is to get it out the tail end without mishap.  Suggested treatment steps include:

  1. Do NOT induce vomiting.  This is worth repeating.
  2. Once you have monitored the pet’s symptoms and called the vet, you will want to make the next 2-3 days as event-free as possible. This is done mainly by changing the diet.
    • The Q-tip may cause indigestion or upset the stomach.  Diarrhea may result, so you will want to regulate the digestion (source). This is accomplished by feeding your dog a high fiber diet. 

      Canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie) can be mixed in with the dog’s food.  It’s something that can be found in most pet stores (source).
    • During the period when the digestive system is processing the Q-tip, your pet will need to eat, even if it doesn’t seem hungry.  It’s important to fill the digestive system with soft, easily digestible food.

      Keeping the portions small, it’s recommended to start off with a small Vaseline half-sandwich, feeding several bites at a time and getting the food into the stomach. 
    • As described above, feeding the dog a bland diet of soft food like soft white rice mixed with boiled hamburger. 

      Basically, you’ll be providing the dog with a soft, lubricated mix that will push the Q-tip through the intestines. 

      Once the dog has defecated the Q-tip, it should return to normal, and you can return to the standard food you’ve been using.   
  3. Other than keeping the dog quiet, monitoring its behavior, and feeding it as suggested above, there’s not much else you can do. 

    If its behavior does become more extreme, you need to take it to the vet because you do not have the training or the equipment to handle anything more than that (source).

**Did you happen to hit your dog out of anger? Find out what you can do from that point in this guide here!**

Final Thoughts

Have a plan.  At least have an idea in your mind of what you are going to do.  Dogs will eat just about anything. 

Always keep the vet’s phone number handy. Q-tips are more benign than many things your dog will devour, so chances are good that you won’t need to do anything other than keeping the dog quiet and feeding it. 

You will need to monitor its behavior because something can change in an instant. 

If you can train your dog to gnaw on specific chew toys and keep the house clean, that will reduce the panic situations, but dogs will get into anything.  It’s one of the reasons they’re both so frustrating and so loveable. 

And if you do use Q-tips, don’t use the plastic kind, and try to stay with the 3” size.