It’s summer, and that means it’s time to hit the beach! For many dog parents, Fido comes along for some fun in the sun. But before you start packing your beach bag, it’s important to be aware of the risks that come with visiting sandy beaches and outdoor play areas. While many dog owners know the dangers of overheating, as well as water dangers such as blue-green algae, water intoxication, and other toxic plants and infectious diseases – many often don’t consider this common risk on land: sand impaction, which happens when dogs eat a large amount of sand or rocks.
While playing on the beach, your dog may accidentally (or intentionally) swallow sand. Common sand ingestion scenarios include:
- Using mouth to pick up a toy covered in sand
- Digging in sand and flinging the sand everywhere
- Licking up or eating sand after something tasty spills on it
- Drinking water from the lake (or other water sources) and consuming the sand in the water
Small amounts of sand will likely pass through the GI tract without issue. However, when dogs swallow a large amount of sand, it can cause an impaction – when the material compresses and forms a blockage in the intestines. Common symptoms of sand impaction include vomiting, seeming constipated, pain in the abdomen, loss of appetite, or becoming lethargic after visiting the beach or playground with sand. Signs can develop anywhere from a few hours after exposure to a few days later.
If your pet feels sick after a beach day, they should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible – whether you know they ate sand or if you just suspect they did. Your family veterinarian or your local animal emergency hospital’s veterinarian will start by taking x-rays. Treatment will vary depending on how sick your dog is and how much sand is impacted. Some dogs will only need outpatient care with supportive fluids under the skin and nausea control. Other dogs may require hospitalization for intravenous fluids and more intensive medical interventions. In some cases, surgery will be needed to remove the sand from the pet’s intestines if it is impacted beyond the ability to move with medical management. The good news is that with prompt and appropriate treatment, your dog has an excellent chance of recovering from sand impaction.
The next time you take your pup to the beach, monitor them closely while playing in the sand. The best way to avoid sand impaction is to prevent your pet from swallowing the sand – so if you catch them deliberately eating it, be sure to intervene! Reduce your pet’s sand consumption by helping rinse off toys and by not throwing any treats for your dog directly into the sand – use a dish or clean towel instead. We hope you and your pets have a fun, yet safe, summer, and remember to take a few extra precautions during your next dog-friendly beach day!
Written by Nikki Scherrer, DVM