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Yikes! My Dog Just Ate a Teabag! Are Teabags Toxic or Harmful To Dogs?

Dogs seem to eat the most random things, so it's no surprise that your canine companion may find their way into your teacup, chomping on a teabag from a leftover cup of Earl Gray. But are teabags harmful to dogs? Veterinarian Joanna Woodnutt walks through your next steps if your dog ate a teabag, and what you can expect.

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Last Updated: August 11, 2021 | 7 min read

Dog Ate Teabag

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

Some dogs like to eat silly things. This can be a constant worry for pet parents, as there is a risk that they can harm themselves when they do it. In rare, sad cases, it can even be fatal.

But what happens when your dog eats a teabag? Especially when it’s made with natural ingredients? Is this a cause for concern? If your pup just swiped a teabag off the counter while you weren’t looking, it wouldn’t be the first time it’s been the cause for a trip to the vet.

Many of us use teabags every day, so it is natural for our dogs to show an interest in them, especially if they are mixed with milk or sugar. If our dogs decide to try and swallow them, it can be serious, but the good news is that it is very rarely fatal. To find out what you should do, read on.

Are Teabags Bad for Dogs?

Mug With Bag of Tea
Though not all teabags are bad for dogs, it is best for dogs to avoid them for a number of reasons.

There are several different issues that we can see after a dog eats a teabag. The contents of the teabag can be poisonous in some cases, but we can also see the bag itself causing issues.

Toxicity

Some types of tea contain ingredients that can be toxic to dogs if eaten in large enough quantities. These toxins include caffeine, as well as other stimulants like theophylline and theobromine.

Teas that contain caffeine include:

  • Black tea, such as:
    • English Breakfast tea
    • Ordinary “Builder’s tea”
    • Earl Grey
  • Darjeeling
    • Green tea
    • Oolong tea
    • White tea

Common herbal teas are usually caffeine-free and are generally safe. Examples include:

  • Peppermint
  • Camomile
  • Rooibos (also called Red Bush tea)

Decaffeinated teas are also normally non-toxic.

Thermal Burns

If the teabag was still hot when your dog ate it, then it may burn their mouth, throat, or stomach. This can obviously be very painful and may also lead to infections.

Bowel Obstruction

Tea bags can cause blockages in the stomach or intestines in small dogs when swallowed whole. These kinds of blockages can be life-threatening.

How Much Tea is Toxic to Dogs?

Border Collie Drinking From Mug
A large number of teabags would need to be consumed for the caffeine to poison your pup.

Dogs are more sensitive to caffeine than humans, but they would still need to eat quite a few teabags before they were in danger of being poisoned.

On average, dogs need to eat around 140mg of caffeine per kg of body weight (that’s around 63mg per lb) to show signs of toxicity. However, not all dogs are the same—some may have symptoms with smaller doses, or others may eat larger doses and appear fine.

Teabags may also cause other issues—depending on the size of the dog, a single teabag may be enough to cause a blockage in the bowels. Burns can also happen from a single teabag.

What Should I Do If My Dog Eats a Teabag?

Glass Cup With Bag of Tea
It is best to ring your vet for advice if your pooch consumes a teabag.

If your pup eats something they shouldn’t, the first thing to remember is don’t panic! Follow these simple steps to make sure they stay healthy.

Step #1: Check To See What’s Been Ingested

Check to see if they have swallowed it. If your dog will allow it, open their mouth and gently check whether you can see the tea bag – they might just be holding it in their cheek. If so, you can gently remove it if as long as Fido allows it.

Step #2: Offer a Cool Drink of Water if the Teabag Was Hot

If the teabag was hot, offer them some cool water to drink. If your dog is at risk from burns from the teabag, then cooling their mouth may make them more comfortable and reduce the seriousness of the burns. However, you should not force your pup to drink – do not syringe water or place ice cubes in their mouth.

Step #3: Find the Tea Box the Tea Came With

Find the box that the tea came in. To find out whether the tea is likely to be toxic, we need to look at the list of ingredients. Your veterinarian will want to know exactly what kind of tea was eaten, so be sure to find the box.

Step #4: Call Your Veterinarian

Call your veterinarian. Whenever Fido swallows something unusual you should speak to your veterinarian for advice. This is particularly important if the tea contained caffeine or was an unusual sort of herbal tea (or if you are not sure about either of these things). Your vet will ask you about the type of tea, and how many bags were consumed, so be sure to have the box to hand so you can let them know.  

Step #5: Follow Your Vet’s Instructions

You may be able to find suggestions online on how to make dogs vomit, but we would not recommend that you try these, as they are unreliable and some can be dangerous. Trying these kinds of things will also delay getting any treatment they need from a vet.

My Dog Ate a Teabag: What Now?

Chihuahua Watching Teapot Pouring Liquid
It is very unlikely your dog will show signs of discomfort if it eats a teabag.

Many dogs who eat tea bags will show no symptoms afterward. However, for some dogs (particularly small ones) there is a risk of serious illness and even death if they are left untreated. These are some of the symptoms that act as warning signs that all may not be well.

Toxicity

If your dog has eaten teabags containing caffeine, then you may see signs of caffeine toxicity. You will usually see these signs within an hour or two of them eating the teabag.

Early, milder signs include:

If they have ingested enough caffeine, then they may show more serious symptoms. The more advanced signs of caffeine toxicity include:

Muscle Tremors

You may notice twitching, trembling, or shaking. They may not be able to stand properly or seem wobbly when they try to walk.

Fast and Irregular Heart Rhythms

This may not cause any obvious signs from the outside, but irregular heart rhythms can cause sudden death if left untreated. They may also cause weakness, wobbliness, or sudden collapse.

You can count your pup’s heart rate by placing your hand on the left side of their chest, just behind their elbow. If you can feel more than 160 beats per minute, then your canine companion needs to see a veterinarian urgently.

Seizures

Dogs who are having generalized seizures will lose consciousness and fall on their side. They will move their legs backward and forward in jerky, uncontrolled movements (sometimes called “paddling”) and often lose control of their bladder or bowels. This may only last a few seconds or may go on for much longer.

Dogs who have just had a seizure are very disorientated and will not behave as they normally would. There is a risk of them becoming aggressive and biting you, even if this is something that they would never normally do. If Fido is having a seizure, turn the lights off and keep quiet, but do not physically restrain them, and speak to them soothingly from a distance.

If your pup is showing any of these signs, then they need to see a veterinarian urgently. Even the milder signs may develop into the more serious ones, so always seek advice from your vet.

Thermal Burns

If Fido burned their mouth from licking or swallowing a teabag, the first sign is usually increased drooling. They may be quieter than normal and may paw at their face.

As time goes on, you may notice other signs, including:

  • An odor coming from their mouth
  • Reluctance to eat or drink anything
  • Areas inside your pup’s mouth that appear bright pink or red
  • Blood in their saliva

Burns affecting the throat or stomach may also cause vomiting or regurgitation.

Bowel Obstruction

If the teabag swallwed causes a bowel obstruction, this will not become obvious immediately. The first sign of obstruction is usually vomiting, but this may not start for a day or two after they have swallowed the bag. Dogs will normally vomit their food back up, either straight after eating, or a few hours later.

Other signs of a bowel obstruction include:

  • Lethargy (quietness)
  • Lack of appetite
  • A sore abdomen

Treating Caffeine Poisoning in Dogs

Jack Russell at the Vet
Your vet may give your pup medicine to make it vomit up the teabag and its contents.

Caffeine poisoning is a potentially life-threatening condition and needs urgent treatment by a veterinarian. If your canine companion has consumed the caffeine in the last 1-2 hours, then your vet may give them an injection to make them vomit, in the hope that they will bring the teabags back up. However, you cannot completely empty the stomach with vomiting, so unless the teabag is intact you may not be able to get it all out in this way.

If your dog ate a lot of tea or is showing milder symptoms, your vet may recommend hospitalizing them for intravenous fluids (“a drip”) and monitoring them closely – for example, to make sure they do not develop an irregular heartbeat.

They may also use activated charcoal to bind to any caffeine that is left in their gut. This is normally given as a liquid, either through a stomach tube or mixed into their food. If your dog is showing severe symptoms then your veterinarian will treat these individually – for example, medication to treat an irregular heartbeat or stop seizures.

Will My Dog Be OK?

Beagle Looking Up at Camera
The quicker you respond to your pooch eating a teabag, the faster it will recover.

Most dogs who eat teabags suffer no long-term effects, especially if they get prompt medical treatment. However, in rare cases where a large amount of caffeine is eaten, dogs can pass away despite treatment because of the effect of high doses of caffeine on the heart or brain.

Bowel obstructions are life-threatening and often require surgery to treat. There is a risk of complications with the anesthetic or surgery, but most dogs do very well in the long term.

Thermal burns in the mouth are very sore and can need strong painkillers to relieve this. Sometimes it is necessary to place a stomach tube to allow the mouth to heal. However, mouths usually heal quickly, and it is unusual to see long-term complications. Burns involving the food pipe or stomach are more serious, but thankfully very rare.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can teabags kill dogs? 

    It is possible for teabags to kill dogs, either through caffeine poisoning or bowel obstruction. However, this is very rare, and most dogs who eat teabags will be fine with appropriate veterinary treatment.

  • Is decaffeinated tea toxic to dogs? 

    Caffeine is the main toxic ingredient for dogs in tea, so decaffeinated tea is generally not poisonous to dogs. However, teabags may still lead to a bowel blockage.

  • Can dogs have a lick of tea? 

    A lick or two of tea does not contain enough caffeine to be poisonous and is generally fine, though you should be careful that your pup does not burn their mouth.

Final Thoughts

If your dog ingested a Teabag, you should call your veterinarian if you have any concerns. How a dog reacts to eating a foreign body will depend on its age, weight, breed, size, and other factors.

Depending on the teabag that was consumed, your canine companion may or may not have to worry about caffeine toxicity. Overall, the best course of action is to contact your local veterinarian, and in most cases, your pup should make a full recovery with proper action & treatment.

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