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Preventing Pet Suffocation

open plastic bags are pet suffocation risks

A bag of chips isn’t just unhealthy for you…it can be potentially life-threatening for your dog or cat.

It’s not the contents that could kill your pet—although I think all vets would agree that dogs and cats should not be eating chips and other human junk food. It’s the actual bag that’s so dangerous, because it’s a serious suffocation danger.

Statistics show that every week, two to three pets die due to suffocation from chip bags. In fact, these types of soft food bags are the leading cause of pet suffocation. Yet according to a survey of pet owners conducted by the American Veterinary Medical Association, nearly 90% were unaware of the threat that these bags pose.

It’s not just chip or snack food bags either. Pet food and treat bags, bread bags, cereal box liners, grocery bags, and plastic containers can all be suffocation hazards too.

It may seem unlikely that these things could possibly cause so much trauma. Many people believe that dogs or cats can remove a bag by using their paws or claws to rip the bag open. But here’s what usually happens…

These chip bags are made from a strong material that resembles Mylar (like the balloons), which helps keep snack foods fresh for longer. When animals shove their heads into this type of bag, it creates a vacuum-like seal as they breathe and the air inside depletes. As the oxygen levels go down, carbon dioxide levels go up. Panic often sets in as the animal realizes the bag is stuck. Asphyxiation can happen in as little as 3 minutes.

All dogs and cats are vulnerable, regardless of size, breed, or temperament. Just because your pet is well-behaved or has never taken an interest in bags or containers before, does not mean he/she won’t get tempted at some point. There’s a first time for everything!

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Pet Suffocation Prevention Tips

As with all things in health and wellness, prevention is the best course of action. Here are some practical tips to keep your pet safe from suffocation.

  • Always keep pet’s food and treats out of their reach. If possible, put the bags inside plastic containers or bins that pets can’t get into.
  • Alternately, transfer snacks and pet treats into reusable glass or plastic containers that have openings too small for your pet’s head to fit into. As an added bonus, these types of containers keep your and your pet’s food fresher for longer.
  • Before disposing of any bags, cut the bottoms off completely. Alternatively, you can tie bags into several tight knots before throwing them away.
  • When eating snacks, transfer the food into a bowl instead of bringing the storage container or bag to your couch, table, etc.
  • Make sure your pet can’t get into the trash can or your cabinets or pantry. Keep your trash can stowed away or buy one that has a cover.
  • Even better, restrict your pet’s access to the kitchen. Easier said than done with cats, I know. But a simple gate can keep your dog out of your kitchen, where a lot of these offending hazards exist.
  • Avoid giving human snack foods to your dog or cat. If they don’t know what they’re missing out on in that shiny silver bag, they may not be as tempted to dig in when you’re not looking.
  • Before leaving your house or retiring for the night, do a sweep of your house to make sure there’s nothing potentially harmful lying around or in your pet’s reach. Young kids are especially likely to leave bags and wrappers lying around, so be sure to check every crease and crevice of rooms your pet is allowed to be in. Even better, elicit your children’s/grandchildren’s help in cleaning up so they understand the dangers bags and other trash can pose to beloved pets.

The same survey I mentioned earlier found that nearly 40% of respondents whose pets died via suffocation were home when the pet suffocated. Of those who were not home, 18% were gone for less than 15 minutes.

These stats are heartbreaking and highlight the importance of taking suffocation hazards seriously. Fortunately, some very simple modifications, like the ones listed above, can protect your pet and could quite literally be the difference between life or death.

*This blog was developed with Veterinarian Dana Wilhite, DVM to help educate pet owners.


©Vervana LLC and Stephen Sinatra, MD. All rights reserved.

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