Maltese ate a butane lighter

Our question this week was:

My dog ate part of a butane lighter, what should I do?


Janice Graves


Hi – thanks for your email. Goodness, what dogs don't get into. There are a couple of concerns about eating a lighter.

First, is the eating the physical plastic which can have the risk of becoming a gastrointestinal foreign body, that is the plastic could get caught in the intestines or stomachs that requires surgery.

The second problem is the butane. Butane is a highly flammable, colorless, gas that is easily liquefied. Butane gas commonly sold bottled for cooking fuel or as fuel for cigarette lighters. It is also a common propellant in aerosol sprays.

When dogs chew on the lighters, they have the risk of ingesting the liquid or inhaling the butane as it is discharged from the lighter. Butane inhalation has been associated with several problems including death.

A common problem associated with ingestion is burning of the mouth, throat, esophagus and stomach. This burning sensation can cause vomiting in some animals. As the animal vomits some of the petroleum can be inhaled into the airways, resulting in aspiration pneumonia. For this reason, inducing vomiting at home is not recommended.

Animals that vomit on their own should be monitored closely for breathing problems. A few animals may develop serious neurologic signs including seizures, coma and death. It is possible that some of the hydrocarbons can be absorbed from the stomach into the airways, causing serious lung damage.

Will your dog have problems? It depends.

If a small amount of petroleum is ingested, no treatment is needed. The animal should be kept calm and quiet to prevent vomiting. To treat your dog, take away the bits of lighter that is left. I'd recommend rinsing your dog's mouth out well with water. How is he acting? If he is having any vomiting or trouble breathing, drooling, coughing, acting lethargic or he is having any other abnormalities, I'd recommend calling your veterinarian or local emergency clinic and taking him in now.

If a significant amount of petroleum was recently ingested (within the past 2 to 4 hours), activated charcoal or gastric lavage is recommended. Gastric lavage is performed by passing a tube through the mouth into the stomach and introducing an irrigating fluid into the stomach. Then the stomach is emptied of the solution and the rest of the contents. This prevents the animal from vomiting and reduces the risk of aspiration pneumonia. Stomach protectants such as sucralfate (Carafate) and famotidine (Pepcid) may be recommended.

Animals that develop mild aspiration pneumonia need hospitalization, intravenous fluids, antibiotics, oxygen therapy and cage rest. Most affected animals recover quickly, but it may take 3 to 10 days for the breathing to return to normal. Some animals may experience a rapid onset of significant breathing problems. These animals have a guarded to poor prognosis and some may not survive the damage to the lungs.
Problem to monitor for at home include: drooling, pawing at the mouth, coughing, gagging, not eating, tremors, loss of balance or staggering, or trouble breathing.

If you have time, write back and tell us what happened with your dog as a result of chewing on the lighter. Tell us how much he weighs, how much he ate and any problems he had. I'd like to add your story to our site so other pet owners can learn from your situation.
Best of luck!

Dr. Debra

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