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Paint Ball Toxicity and Dangers to Dogs

By: Dr. Debra Primovic

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Paintballing is a relatively new pastime for adults and kids that consist of a "cowboy and Indian" type game where opponents try to "shoot" each other with paint balls. Paintballs are little bullets of paint used for shooting games. They are round, hard and come in a variety of colors. They are fired by special paintball guns. The bullets hurt (actually they hurt quite a lot as I recently found out) and are calibrated to fly at 280 feet per second. Tiger Woods hits golf balls at 280 feet per second. Can you imagine getting hit by one of those if you were...10 feet, 20 feet away? People and animals shot with paintballs in the face have been disfigured and lost their eyes and bruising is a common "normal" sequela from being shot.

The danger of paintballs lies in two primary areas. First is damage from the physical impact of the paintball bullets and the second is from toxicity from ingestion.

Physical damage from paintballs can vary from mild to severe bruising to skin damage. Severe damage can occur causing loss of eye, bone fractures, or even internal bleeding or organ damage. The degree and severity of the damage is dependent upon the distance from which the target is shot, the size of the pet, and the area to which the pet is shot. For example, small puppies shot at close range in the eye will do doubt loose that eye. If shot in the leg, it could cause a fracture of the bone hit. Impact to the chest or abdomen to a small dog could also cause substantial damage and pain.

Ingestion of large amounts of paintballs can result in toxicity and even death. Depending on the ingredients in the paintballs, the size of the pet and the amount eaten, various problems can occur. Common symptoms include vomiting and possibly diarrhea. Signs can progress to weakness, coma and seizures. Once toxic levels are reached in the body, the effect becomes apparent at which time you may notice restlessness, hyperactivity, muscle twitching, increased urination and possibly excessive panting. Heart rate levels may also be increased. Seizure activity may occur in severe cases. These signs can occur within a few hours of ingestion. Prompt veterinary care is recommended.

It is unknown for sure the amount of paintballs that need to be ingested to cause toxicity. Some data suggests that a couple can even cause mild signs.

Diagnosis

Diagnosing paintball toxicity or damage is generally based on the owner's witnessing or suspecting ingestion and on physical exam findings. The signs are consistent with the physical injury includes a round type bruise that can be associated with paint on the pet. Ingestion of paintballs can cause a variety of symptoms depending on the type and amount eaten. Symptoms of ingestion may include:

  • Vomiting (you may see the paintballs or paint)
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty walking/stumbling
  • Tremors
  • Hyperactivity
  • Panting
  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Weakness
  • Depression
  • Tachycardia (high heart rate)
  • Blindness
  • Seizures
  • Coma

    Signs may begin within one hour after ingestion. Dehydration may also occur if there has been significant vomiting and diarrhea. Ingestion can also cause changes in the bodies electrolytes. The most severe changes are a dangerously high sodium level, increase in pH, elevations in chloride levels and lowered potassium levels.

    Treatment

    Treatment depends on the severity of the clinical signs and may include continuous intravenous fluid therapy and medications to help control vomiting. Occasionally enemas may be used to facilitate movement of paintballs through the GI track. Also, medications may be used to reduce heart rate and/or treat seizures. Blood work may be monitor to observe electrolyte changes.

    Most pets treated for paintball toxicity recover and return to normal within 24-48 hours of treatment.

    Home Care and Prevention

    Never shoot a pet with a paintball gun and keep paintballs out of the reach of your pet.

    If you suspect your dog has been shot or consumed a toxic amount, remove your dog from the source and call your veterinarian immediately. Your veterinarian may recommend that you induce vomiting by oral administration of hydrogen peroxide. Transport your pet to your veterinarian immediately.

    Home care for pets that have ingested paintballs is primarily aimed at reducing gastrointestinal upset and treating symptoms. Once the nausea is gone, your veterinarian may recommend a bland diet for a couple of days.

    Watch for tremors, hyperactivity or seizures. If your pet is not eating and drinking, continues to vomit, has persistent diarrhea or still seems hyperactive, consult your veterinarian for additional recommendations.

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