You'll find silica gel packets in a variety of consumer products. New shoes, clothes, electronics, over-the-counter medicines, certain brands of cat litters and even some dehydrated meat pet snacks contain the gel, which is designed to keep goods dry. If you fail to keep an eye on your dog while opening packaging, he could quickly eat the gel sacs, and you may need a trip to your veterinarian to prevent your pet from getting sick.
What is Silica Gel?
Silica gel, patented nearly a century ago for use in gas masks, is made from quartz sand, or silica dioxide. The gel is highly absorbent and capable of drawing water molecules without any chemical reaction, structural change or side effects. Even when saturated with water, silica gel keeps its dry surface. Today, chemical manufacturers make granules of silica gel and sew them into small plastic bags used to keep fabrics, leathers, pills and other new products dry during storage and shipping.
The Dangers of Silica Gel
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) notes that silica gel is nontoxic. That means it's incapable of causing serious poisoning in most dogs, though some animals will develop gastrointestinal upset, such as diarrhoea and gas, after eating the gel. And there are a few cases in which silica gel could cause bigger problems. If your dog is small, and she's consumed a substantial amount of silica gel, she could become very ill. Plus, the plastic satchel containing the silica gel could become lodged in the intestine and cause a bowel obstruction.
When to Visit the Vet
Consult your dog's veterinarian if your pet has eaten significant amounts of silica gel, or if he's a smaller breed who swallowed an entire packet whole. Otherwise, observe your dog for 24 hours, noting any vomiting, diarrhoea or observable discomfort. If your pet vomits quickly after eating, or if he has small or no bowel movements 12 to 24 hours after ingesting the packet, he could have a bowel obstruction, and he'll need immediate medical attention.
Poison Control Centers
Your local SPCA or municipal animal shelter often has medical experts on staff to take phone calls and answer questions on potential household toxins your dog might have consumed. The ASPCA also maintains its National Animal Poison Control Center at the University of Illinois to provide phone and Internet consultations for pet owners worried about toxins in the home. You'll need to be able to tell the centre how much silica gel your dog ate, and recount any symptoms he's experiencing. Providers of phone consultations may ask to charge your credit card for their services.