Why Alkaline Batteries Can Be Toxic To Pets

alkaline-batteries-toxic-to-pets-goodpetparent-1Did you know that common household alkaline batteries, such as those found in television remotes, electronic games, clocks, and flashlights, can pose a real danger to our pets?

Dry cell batteries (including AA, AAA, C, D, 9-volt, and watch batteries) contain an electrolyte solution of either potassium hydroxide or sodium hydroxide, both of which are alkaline. And alkaline materials can cause severe burns if they come into contact with tissue.

If a pet happens to chew on and puncture a battery, the alkaline material inside can leak and cause burns in the mouth and esophagus. The esophagus is most at risk for damage because it doesn’t produce protective secretions that help dilute toxins like the mouth and stomach do. Even worse, if a pet happens to swallow a leaking battery, it can cause ulceration (a condition where an area of tissue erodes away) of the stomach and intestines, as well as pose a risk for causing a blockage in the gastrointestinal tract.

Also, if a battery remains in the stomach long enough, heavy metals such as zinc or lead may also be released and cause toxicosis - a poisoning of the entire body.

Unlike exposure to an acid, exposure to an alkaline material initially causes no pain, so pets may be undeterred from continuing to chew on or swallowing a battery.

Symptoms of Alkaline Battery Poisoning

After a battery is chewed or ingested, irritation in and around a pet’s mouth can occur within just a few hours, and ulceration can develop up to 12 hours later.

Other symptoms of battery poisoning include:

  • Drooling
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Increased body temperature
  • Abdominal pain
  • Black, tarry stool from bleeding in the GI tract

Why Button/Disc Batteries Are Especially Dangerous

Button, or disc, batteries are found in watches, calculators, hearing aids, musical greeting cards, and electronic games. If one of these batteries is swallowed (which is easy to do since they are so small and compact), there are additional risks. Not only can alkaline liquid leak from the battery, but there’s additional risk of injury to tissues due to the current that flows between the battery’s cathode and anode.

Fortunately, if a button battery makes it safely into the pet’s stomach without leaking, sometimes it can make its way all the way through the digestive tract and be expelled in the stool. However, if the battery becomes stuck in the esophagus, it will need to be removed as quickly as possible, usually through the use of an endoscope.

Lithium button-type batteries are especially dangerous. Just one 3-volt lithium button battery can cause severe damage to the esophagus and GI tract within 15-30 minutes of exposure.

Treatment for Battery Exposure

If you suspect your pet has ingested a battery, you can immediately give a small amount of milk or water to help dilute the corrosive material. The recommended dose is up to 9 tablespoons for a 50-pound dog, and about 3 tablespoons for a smaller dog or cat. Under no circumstances should you induce vomiting. This can cause the corrosive chemicals to burn the esophagus again on the way back up.

After giving water or milk, take your pet immediately to your vet, or to the nearest veterinary emergency facility. Once at the hospital, the veterinarian can administer GI- protecting drugs and pain medication. Since the covering of batteries is metal, x-rays can be used to confirm if the battery was swallowed, and if so, exactly where it is in the GI tract. The vet may also administer antibiotics.

If the battery is an intact button battery, or if there are small pieces visible on the x-rays, your veterinarian may elect to give your pet bulking agents such as wheat bread or canned pumpkin to help move it through the GI tract. However, depending on where the battery is, it may need to be removed through endoscopy or surgery.

Prevention is Priceless

Alkaline batteries are in plentiful supply in most households. To be safe, please remember to keep all batteries far away from your pets, and store them in an area that your pet would never be able to access. This also means storing TV remotes, electronic games, musical greeting cards, and any other devices containing alkaline batteries well out of your pet’s reach.

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Positively Expert: Camille Schake

Camille Schake is a pet blogger, author, and former Registered Veterinary Technician. Through her blog Good Pet Parent, she shares information on pet health, veterinary terminology, and animal behavior and communication.


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