My husband has recently taken up the delicious hobby of artisan bread baking. Although this is a pursuit my belly fully supports, it has reminded me of the dangers that raw bread dough poses for our dogs. Most dog owners don’t realize the risk of rising bread dough. The risks for dogs eating raw dough are twofold.
The first problem with dogs eating dough is that dough rapidly rises after ingestion and can cause life-threatening stomach distention and obstruction. The second—and potentially more serious—risk comes from the fermentation of the yeast, which can lead to alcohol poisoning.
Any species can be susceptible to these problems, but dogs are most commonly involved due to their often indiscriminate eating habits. Given the opportunity, many dogs will readily ingest bread dough during the process of rising, and because they snarf all that is available, they usually consume a lot and quickly. They could eat 1 to 2 loaves, a pan of rolls or enough dough for a large pizza in a matter of moments. They don’t think, “Hmm, I’ll just save this one loaf for later,” so they generally show up at the vet with large amounts in their stomachs.
A common scenario is that the soon-to-be bread is placed on a counter to rise overnight, and the next morning the owner wakes to find missing dough and a symptomatic dog. I treated a Labrador for alcohol poisoning just this past weekend after he ate two pizza dough rounds. He stumbled into the hospital with his worried parents but went on to make a full recovery with treatment.
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What happens when Dogs Eat Dough?
The warm, moist environment of the dog’s stomach serves as an efficient incubator for the replication of yeast within the dough. The expanding dough mass causes distention of the dog’s stomach, which compromises blood circulation in the body. The continued distention of the stomach can also make breathing more difficult.
Yeast fermentation also produces ethanol (alcohol) as a byproduct, which is absorbed into the dog’s bloodstream, resulting in inebriation and potentially life-threatening disturbances to a pet’s system.
signs of Dough Ingestion
Early signs can include unproductive attempts at vomiting, visible belly distention and increasing depression. As ethanol intoxication develops, the dog can stagger and become disoriented. Eventually, after consuming dough a dog may show profound neurological depression, weakness, coma, low body temperature and/or seizures can be seen. Death is usually due to the effects of alcohol rather than from the stomach distention, however, the potential for the dough to trigger life-threatening Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (GDV or “bloat”) or intestinal obstruction should not be overlooked. [See: Bloat, the Mother of All Emergencies]
Blood alcohol levels can be obtained through a laboratory, but are generally not used in a veterinary setting; a presumptive diagnosis is usually made based on history of exposure (you know the dog ate dough) and presenting with symptoms. Other disease processes that can present in a similar way include GDV, other intestinal foreign bodies, ethylene glycol ingestion (antifreeze) and ingestion of antidepressants.
Vomiting may be induced with recent ingestion in dogs not showing clinical signs, although the glutinous nature of bread dough may make removal by this method difficult.
In dogs where vomiting has been unsuccessful, gastric lavage may be attempted. This is where a veterinarian “flushes” the dog’s stomach with water while he is under anesthesia. Cold water introduced into the stomach through a stomach tube during lavage may slow the rate of yeast fermentation and aid in removal of the dough.
Surgical removal of the dough mass may also be required if a large enough amount has been ingested.
Treatment for Alchohol Toxicity in Dogs
Dogs that show additional signs of alcohol toxicity first need to be stabilized and have any life-threatening conditions corrected before attempts are made to remove the dough. Alcohol toxicity is managed by correcting metabolic problems, managing heart abnormalities and helping the pet maintain his normal body temperature. Fluid therapy is administered to help enhance elimination of the alcohol from the blood stream.
Luckily, the dog I treated this past weekend did not require surgery. We supported him with IV fluids and took serial X-rays to monitor the passage of the dough, ensuring no complications developed. Aside from a pizza dough hangover, he made a full recovery in 36 hours.
As always, prevention is the best treatment: If you have a fabulous baker in your home, be extra conscientious during the rise! Be sure to safely store baking goods away from dogs and watch out for counter surfing pups.