Care

My Dog Just Ate Cardboard! Will Cardboard Harm My Dog?

If your dog just ate cardboard, it's natural to be a little worried about your canine companion's health. Cardboard ingestion is common, due to the availability in most homes. Veterinarian Rebecca MacMillan walks through what you can expect and your next steps.

Rebecca MacMillan

Last Updated: March 26, 2021 | 6 min read

Dog Ate Cardboard

This article was written by a veterinarian, but it should not substitute as contact with a trained professional. If your dog ate cardboard and is reacting adversely, contact your local veterinarian immediately.

Dogs are always getting into mischief, and they will often eat things they shouldn’t! Puppies, in particular, will chew anything they can get hold of as they explore. Because dogs like to mouth things to explore their world, it’s quite common for dogs to lick, or ingest things that they shouldn’t.

Cardboard is one such thing some dogs simply can’t resist chewing on. Like other paper products, cardboard has a soft but chewy consistency, and this can leave some inquisitive pups more likely to taste and chew it. This is especially true if something tasty was on the cardboard before that your dog gets a sniff of.

But what happens if your dog actually swallows cardboard? Can dogs eat cardboard? You are probably wondering if it will cause him any damage and what you should do about it. Read on to find out your next steps with your canine companion.

Is Cardboard Toxic To Dogs?

Jack Russell Poking His Head Out of a Box
In most cases, small amounts of consumed cardboard will pass with ease.

No, cardboard is not usually toxic to dogs. Eaten in small quantities, it is unlikely to cause any problems to your pet. Most dogs will be fine after eating a small amount of cardboard or paper. 

Dogs can’t digest cardboard but, in most cases, they should be able to pass it without any issues. However, larger quantities of cardboard could cause an obstruction. The cardboard isn’t broken down by the normal process of digestion, so large pieces could become stuck together and cause a blockage in your dog’s stomach or guts. This blockage will require urgent veterinary attention. 

You should also be aware of any contents the cardboard might have contained before it was chewed up. Some packaging could contain products that are harmful to dogs, such as chocolate, medications, or raisins. If your your pup has eaten anything potentially harmful, as well as the cardboard, then you should call your veterinarian straight away.  

My Dog Ate Cardboard, What Now?  

Cute Guilty Gray Dog
If Fido consumed cardboard, first check to see if it also ate its contents.

If your pup accidentally ate cardboard while you weren’t looking, there are a few steps you are going to want to take. Follow the steps below to make sure you get proper care, and always contact your local veterinarian if you have any questions or concerns.

Step 1: Stop The Behavior & Secure Your Pup

Remove him from the area to stop him from eating any more while you clean up any remaining bits. You’ll likely want to put your pup in a secure location, like their dog crate or in a bedroom with a closed door. This will allow you to assess how much cardboard was eaten and prevent more from being ingested.

Step 2: Look For Evidence

Before throwing away the remaining cardboard, you should check what it might have contained. Has your dog eaten any of the contents? For example, if Fido has chewed a cardboard box containing chocolate, then this could cause harm to your pet. 

Step 3:  Look Over Your Dog

Is he well in himself, or is he showing any signs of distress? Do you see any signs of drooling or restlessness that are more frequent than normal? Do you notice any vomiting or diarrhea? Anything else that you notice out of behavior for your pup worth mentioning to your vet? Make sure to document all of the above before contacting your local vet. 

Step 4: Contact Your Veterinarian

Next, you’ll want to call your veterinarian if a large amount of cardboard has been consumed. This is especially true if any of the cardboard contained toxic contents, or if Fido is showing signs of ill health. 

Step 5: Follow Your Vet’s Advice

If your veterinarian wants to examine your pet, then you should bring them to the clinic as soon as possible. It may be possible that your vet just suggests that you watch over your dog and look for any potential warning signs that may indicate bigger problems.

What Happens If a Dog Eats Cardboard? 

Bulldog Making a Mess
It is most likely your pup will be a-OK after eating some cardboard, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t risky.

If only a small amount of cardboard was consumed, then they may not have any symptoms at all other than passing some of the undigested cardboard in his stools. However, if your dog eats it frequently or eats a large volume in one go, then he could be at higher risk of getting an intestinal blockage. You may see the following symptoms if there is a blockage:

  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhea or constipation 
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Nausea
  • Excessive drooling
  • Pain in the abdomen 
  • Fever 
  • Lethargy 

If you notice any of these symptoms, then you must get to a local veterinarian as soon as possible. 

What Will My Vet Do if There’s a Blockage? 

Cute Shaggy Dog at the Vet
If there is a cause for concern regarding a blockage, your vet will do some extra testing to determine if surgery is necessary.

Your veterinarian will examine your pup to assess him for signs of dehydration or pain in his tummy. If they are concerned about your pet, they might advise some additional tests for him. Blood tests are useful as a general health check to assess his organ function and look for signs of dehydration.  

Abdominal imaging may be required, such as X-rays or ultrasound scans of their stomach. This precaution will help to determine if an obstruction is likely.

Cardboard doesn’t show up well on imaging, compared to other materials such as bone or metal, but your vet will look for signs of increased volumes of gas, which could indicate a blockage is present. Sometimes exploratory surgery is required to assess things further and remove the blockage.  

Your dog may need to stay in the hospital for a few days if he is very sick or has an operation. Following surgery, he may also require a course of painkillers or antibiotics which he might have to continue with once he’s allowed home again. 

Will My Dog Be OK?  

Most dogs are absolutely fine after eating cardboard, particularly if only a small amount was consumed. If a large amount of cardboard was eaten, or if the contents of a cardboard box were as well, then this could cause issues, particularly if the contents were toxic. 

If you see signs of a possible blockage, then getting it seen by a vet promptly will increase the chances of a good outcome. Don’t ignore any signs of illness. Get your pup checked out if he’s not his normal, happy self. 

How Do I Stop My Dog From Eating Cardboard?  

Smiling Pug in a Box
Do your best to keep all cardboard safely locked away by using secure recycling bins or trash cans.

You should try and keep things out of your dog’s reach where possible, particularly when they have been left unattended, as many dogs will destroy and chew things out of boredom or if they suffer from separation anxiety. Consider investing in secure trash cans to keep your cardboard and paper recycling safe if you have noticed an escalation in trash can raiding incidents.

Don’t make a habit out of allowing playtime with cardbord, as this will only encourage them. Chewing is a natural behavior, but give dog-safe toys and treats to him instead. If your canine companion does pick up cardboard to play with, swap it for a toy or a treat.

You should also teach commands such as ‘drop it’ or ‘leave’ to help in this situation. Many puppies will grow out of the chewing phase in time, and positive training will help. 

Make sure your dog is getting plenty of mental stimulation with lots of exercise, interesting toys, and positive interaction to reduce destructive behaviors. A good-quality and complete diet will ensure he is getting all the nutrients he needs as well, so he shouldn’t need to seek them out elsewhere. 

If you notice a sudden and obsessive interest in cardboard, it may have an underlying health complaint. Some dogs will start chewing and eating non-food items, known as pica.

If you notice a sudden change in appetite or any other signs of ill health such as changes in weight, thirst, and energy, then you should contact your veterinarian. A dog behaviorist may be needed for his new cardboard obsession if your veterinarian rules out any medical conditions.  

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do I know if my dog has pica? 

    Pica means eating non-food items. Puppies will do it a lot as they explore the world through their mouths, chewing on lots of different things. Some animals will do this out of boredom, frustration, or other mental issues. Others may do it due to underlying health complaints that might be causing a change to their appetite. If your dog has suddenly started eating non-food items, then you should speak to your veterinarian.  

  • Is it safe for dogs to eat toilet paper rolls?

    You shouldn’t encourage your dog to eat paper or cardboard of any kind, but if he does chew a toilet paper roll, he probably won’t come to harm if he’s eaten a small amount of it. If, however, he has consumed a whole roll of toilet paper as well then this may have the potential to cause a blockage, particularly if he is a small breed of dog. 

  • What does it mean when your dog eats cardboard? 

    Many dogs just enjoy chewing, so find it pleasurable to chew on cardboard. You should try and discourage it and tempt him to chew his toys or other safe treats instead. Some dogs eat cardboard due to underlying health complaints so speak to your veterinarian if you are seeing a sudden obsession with cardboard or any signs of illness. 

  • How can I tell if my dog has a blockage? 

    Dogs with a blockage in their stomach or intestines will not be able to digest food and water as normal. They will often show signs of ill health such as vomiting, constipation or diarrhea, changes in appetite, and lethargy. Some dogs may also have a painful tummy with a blockage. If you are worried, then speak to your veterinarian. 

  • How long does it take a dog to pass an object? 

    The time it takes from eating food to passing it as feces is known as the ‘gut transit time’ and it varies between different dogs. Things that affect this time may include your dog's size, exercise levels, and fluid intake. Objects that can pass freely will move through the guts along with any digested food, but if an obstruction occurs you may see the dog start to show signs of ill health. 

Final Thoughts 

In most cases, dogs will be fine after eating cardboard, particularly if it was only a small amount and didn’t contain anything harmful. If your pup ate a large amount or is showing any signs of ill health though, then you should contact your veterinarian.

Try and discourage cardboard chewing where possible, and avoid temptation by keeping items well out of reach, particularly from young puppies that love chewing!

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