The Dangers of Dogs Playing with Balloons

If a dog swallows a balloon, or even a piece of a balloon it can result in intestinal blockage which requires emergency surgery.

Many years ago, I took a St. John’s Ambulance Infant CPR course.  The instructor spoke to us about the dangers of children choking on small pieces of food and small toys, but one of the things that stood out for me was the information about the dangers of balloons.  These concerns do not just apply to humans. The dangers of dogs playing with balloons are just as serious. 

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Balloons are bright and shiny.  They bounce and wiggle.  These are very enticing attributes to any doggo.  The urge to chase and bite are overwhelming.  But balloons burst and break into small pieces.  The repercussions of the popped balloon can be very dangerous to your dog’s health. The damage can be permanent or even fatal. Here are some dangers to consider when deciding whether or not to decorate with balloons when you have a dog:

Eye Damage or Blindness

When your dog bites a balloon or holds it in his mouth, it puts pressure on the rubber, causing it to expand to full capacity.  Eventually it bursts and the pieces fly around your dog’s face.  It snaps with enough force to cause a whipping reaction.  If a piece lands in your dog’s eye(s) or whips the eyeball as it flies by, the eye can be damaged.  If it strikes a specific part of the eye it can cause permanent blindness.

Intestinal Blockage
If a dog swallows a balloon, or even a piece of a balloon it can result in intestinal blockage which requires emergency surgery.

Another one of the dangers of dogs playing with balloons or finding a piece of broken balloon, is that they are likely to swallow it. The piece can make its way down to various levels of the intestinal tract.  Although sometimes it makes its way through (and out), it can also expand and block food from passing.  This intestinal obstruction will have to be surgically removed.  Symptoms of blockage include vomiting and diarrhea. Symptoms can take days or weeks to appear as the blockage can take this long to occur. 

I have witnessed this delayed blockage with one of my dog walking clients.  Although it was not a balloon that he swallowed, the progression of the blockage was similar. At some point he had swallowed a piece of corn cob and it was about 6 weeks before the symptoms developed. Emergency surgery was required.  The vet determined the time frame from ingestion to surgery based on the condition of the cob piece once it was removed.  Until the vomiting and diarrhea started, he was acting like his normal, fun loving puppy self.

Extreme Choking Hazzard

A small piece of a balloon can cause one of the most dangerous of choking hazards.  The balloon, or piece of balloon, can get caught in the throat, blocking the windpipe (trachea).  The dog cannot breathe in.  Should you see this happening and attempt the Heimlich Maneuver, it may not work.  

The Heimlich Maneuver uses the force of air pressure from the abdomen and lungs to push an item that is lodged in the throat out through the mouth.  When the object is a balloon, the forced air from the abdomen blows upward and instead of forcing the balloon out of the way, the rubber/latex expands, just as if you were blowing the balloon up.  There is no way for the air pressure to dislodge the balloon. In fact, this procedure can make it worse by moving the offending piece to a more dangerous position.

The length of time it takes to remove an obstructed object determines how much permanent damage is done.  The longer the body goes without oxygen, the worse the level of damage will be. 

When you have pets, it is wise to decorate without balloons.  Yes, they are bright and cheery and fun to play with, but is it worth your dog’s safety?

Alternative Decorating Ideas

There are a number of alternative ideas for decorating that are equally as bright and cheery that are safe for dogs and children.

  • Bubbles: Dogs love to chase the moving bubbles and they are fun to have floating around during a party. Bonus: They are very affordable.
  • Streamers:  Brightly colored paper streamers are very festive.  They can be placed higher up so that pets cannot get to them.  Bonus:  They are reusable.
  • Pinwheels: These brightly colored wheels move and spin for outdoor parties.  They provide the bright and shiny attributes of balloons and can be placed in a variety of out of reach places or bunched like a floral arrangement.  Bonus: You can make your own and they are reusable.
  • Paper Flowers or Pom Poms: Both are round and full. They come in any color and can be hung from the streamers, just like balloons.  Bonus:  Making your own can be a lot of fun and they are reusable.
  • Honeycomb Balls:  These carved paper balls look just like balloons and can be hung from streamers, in bunches or placed on sticks or straws to appear the same as balloons on a string.  Bonus:  Reusable and flatten for easy storage.
Summary

As you can see, there are many ways to decorate and a number of bonus reasons to choose any or all of the listed alternatives to balloons when decorating around pets or children.  The biggest bonus is that everyone will be much safer without the risk of suffocating on a balloon. Having said that, any item that a dog can rip up or shred has the potential to get stuck in your dog’s digestive tract.  It is important to keep all decorations out of reach.

One last note:

Even if you do not have a pet or children, your balloons can float off and land somewhere that does.  They can land in oceans and forests.  The fish, sea creatures and animals who live in these areas can be harmed without the option of veterinary surgery to help them. 

Please choose wisely.

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