A picture of a small brown dog who ate a cotton ball

My Dog Ate a Cotton Ball! What Do I Do?

Dogs are curious creatures—sometimes to a fault. Occasionally they eat inedible objects, like cotton balls. Keep reading to learn what to do if your dog ate a cotton ball, especially one with nail polish remover or alcohol.

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Dogs are curious about the world around them. They love to explore scents and may eat non-food items that we shake our head at, but they find appealing. It’s fairly common for dog owners to find foreign objects in their dogs’ vomit or stool.

One example (of an apparently tempting snack) is cotton balls. If your dog has eaten a cotton ball, here’s what to do.

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In this guide:

My dog ate a cotton ball

Dogs eating cotton balls is quite a common complaint among pet owners. Maybe the dogs think it’s a gourmet amuse bouche, or it has a curious smell. Whatever they think, your dog is not unusual. But that doesn’t mean it’s good for them. Here’s what to consider if your dog ate a cotton ball.

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What to do if your dog ate a cotton ball

First, you’ll want to determine what exactly your dog ate.You’ll want to know what kind of cotton ball they ate, how many they ate, and if there was any chemical on the cotton, such as nail polish remover, acetone, or alcohol. The more information you can provide your vet the better treatment your vet can provide.

Natural cotton or synthetic fiber

Despite the name, cotton balls are not usually 100% cotton. If you have the package, determine if the cotton ball was made of 100% natural cotton fiber or bleached synthetic fibers, such as nylon and polyester. Synthetic cotton balls are potentially more dangerous, as these won’t break down in the digestive tract. However, there’s debate over whether natural cotton balls would break down, either.

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Toxic substances

If possible, determine whether there was any substance on the cotton ball. Typical chemicals used on cotton balls are nail polish remover, acetate, and alcohol, and all of these are toxic to dogs.

If there was a toxic chemical on the cotton, you’ll want to be sure to mention this to your veterinarian right away. The amount may be in such low dose that it does not produce much more than a stomach ache, but it’s best to play it safe and get a vet’s opinion.

If your dog only ate one cotton ball and there were no toxic chemicals on it, chances are your dog will be just fine. If your dog was able to swallow the cotton ball without choking or difficulty breathing, and if they do not show any signs of distress, the cotton ball will probably pass through the entire digestive tract without complication. This is more likely for larger dog breeds.

However, even if there are not any complications currently, you’ll want to monitor your dog for any signs of gastrointestinal blockage.

>> Read more: Why Do Dogs Eat Cat Poop? (And How to Stop It)

Symptoms that may occur

According to VCA, these are some signs that could occur when a pet eats a foreign body:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal tenderness or pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Straining to defecate or producing small amounts of feces
  • Lethargy
  • Changes in behavior such as biting or growling when picked up or handled around the abdomen

If your dog exhibits any of these symptoms, if your dog seems off, or if you are just unsure, call your veterinarian right away. Treat the situation as urgent, if not an emergency. Time is critical as an object easily retrieved from the stomach can quickly make its way into the intestinal tract, causing a dangerous intestinal obstruction and subsequently, needing emergency surgery.

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Gastrointestinal blockages: health risks and treatment

One cotton ball may travel through the digestive tract without any interference. It may even partially break down due to the various stomach acids it will encounter. However, if it does get lodged, it could block the dog’s intestines and prevent their digestive system from functioning properly. This can cause serious health problems and requires immediate attention.

Intestinal blockages can be fatal and often require emergency surgery.

>> Read more: Can Dogs Eat Fish Bones?


If your veterinarian suspects there may be a bowel obstruction, they will perform a physical examination and most likely an abdominal X-ray or ultrasound. They may obtain several views or perform a series of specialized X-rays, using barium or another radiographic dye, to get a good look at the object.

Your vet will use these tools to assess the severity of the gastrointestinal obstruction and the probability that the object will pass through the digestive system on its own. If the item is still in the stomach, your vet may be able to induce vomiting. Some of our team members have unfortunately had to pay for this to be done. While not cheap, it costs a lot less than surgery.

If the cotton ball is lodged in the esophagus, the vet may be able to remove the cotton ball with graspers and an endoscope. Additional tests (blood or urine) may be used to indicate if your dog’s health has been affected by the obstruction.

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How do I prevent my dog from eating cotton balls?

Dogs are naturally curious, and they explore the world with their mouths nearly as much as their noses. It’s impossible to remove all the temptation, but if you notice your dog loves cotton balls or the contents of your bathroom trashcan, keep these things out of their reach. You could also replace an open trash can with one that features a lockable lid.

It may be inconvenient to remove these things from your dog’s reach, but it will be worth the peace of mind, and it could save you a lot of money in vet bills in the end.

After the temptation is removed, work on training your dog to stay away from these forbidden objects in the first place. A good behavioral training course, such as the ones offered by K9 Training Institute or Masterclass, is a good place to start. Our team has gone through each of these courses and found them immensely helpful in improving our dogs’ behavior.

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Why do dogs eat foreign objects?

Dogs explore their world through taste and smell. Most likely, your dog ate something inedible because he or she was trying to determine if it was tasty or nourishing. This is, unfortunately, normal dog behavior.

However, if your dog continually eats inedible materials or shows compulsive behavior to eat foreign bodies, it’s worth having a conversation with your veterinarian. Something else could be going on that may be treatable. They may be bored, depressed, anxious, or they may have an unbalanced diet or another serious medical issue.

>> Read more: Can Dogs Eat Jalapenos?

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