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  1. Animal Health Literacy

Snack Safely—Keep Your Pets Safe from Snack Bag Suffocation


Greyhound with snout stuck in chip bag.

You stepped away to put a load of laundry into the washer. On the way back from the laundry room, you notice that your dog, Rex, isn’t sleeping in his usual spot. As you walk into the kitchen, you see why--Rex is laying on the floor with his head stuck inside the bag of potato chips you opened at lunch. You forgot to put the bag back into the pantry. Rex, eyeing that tasty treat, grabbed it off the counter while you were busy. You only stepped away for a minute, but that’s all it took for him to get into trouble. Luckily for Rex, you arrived in time to pull him free from the bag and save his life. 

Although this may seem like an odd scenario, it plays out more commonly than you realize. Suffocation from snack, cereal, food-storage, and other plastic bags is a real threat for pets, but it’s one that can be easily prevented. 

What makes the bags so dangerous?

Snack, cereal, food-storage, and other plastic bags are made from different types of plastic materials which are sometimes layered, particularly in the case of potato chip bags. These plastic materials include Mylar (polyethylene terephthalate, or PET), aluminum-laminated polypropylene, high-density polyethylene (HDPE), and linear low-density polyethylene (LLDPE). The materials make the bags light and flexible, which is perfect for storing food. However, it’s a bad combination for pets who put their head inside the bags. Bags containing food or that once contained tasty morsels are particularly dangerous because pets can smell the food and are more likely to find the bags when they’re left on the counter, the coffee table, the floor, or in the trash. 

What happens to pets that get into these bags?

Bags are everywhere in our homes. Pets can suffocate in less than five minutes when their heads become stuck in a bag. Videos of pets with bags around their heads are popular on social media. Although the videos make light of the situations, the animals in those videos are scared and in danger. 

Pomeranian with head stuck in plastic bag.

A pet may panic when she can’t figure out how to get her head out of a bag. She starts breathing faster, causing the bag to collapse and shrink-wrap itself around her nose and mouth. The suction effect is so strong that she can’t paw the bag off. The faster she breathes and the more she paws at the bag, the tighter it gets around her head. The vicious cycle continues until someone finds and frees her from the bag or she suffocates. Think of a party balloon--when you blow-up the balloon, the material expands and the balloon gets bigger. But, when you suck the air from the balloon, the balloon collapses and the material is held tightly together such that you can’t pull it apart. That suction effect is what happens to a pet’s head in a plastic bag. 

What should you do if you find your pet with his head stuck inside a bag?

Carefully remove the bag from your pet’s head and contact your veterinarian or emergency veterinary clinic immediately. Your veterinarian will give you medical advice on what you should do.

What can you do to prevent this from happening?

Here are some ways you can help prevent your pet from suffocating inside a plastic bag:

  • Throw snack, cereal, or other plastic bags into the trash immediately after finishing your snack.
  • Before tossing the bag into the trash, cut the sides of the bag open or cut it into pieces, like you would for an old credit card. A bag with its sides cut open can’t seal around a pet’s nose and mouth.
  • Make sure your pet can’t get into the trash! Put your trash can into a cabinet or in a secure location that your pet can’t find or get into. Make sure your trash can has a secure lid that your pet can’t open.
  • Pour your snack into a bowl and remember to store your snack bag afterward in a closed cabinet or pantry that your pet can’t open.
  • Teach your family members, friends, and neighbors about the dangers of snack, cereal, and plastic bags to pets and how they can keep their pets safe.
  • Keep an eye on young children when they eat from snack bags. They may forget and leave the bags behind or drop them on the floor or ground where your pet can reach them.
  • Picnics, parties, and car-travel are especially dangerous because snack and food bags are often left in places that your pet can easily reach. Be sure to keep your pet away from these bags during the event. When the party, picnic, or snack break is over, safely dispose of the empty bags in the trash and properly store the leftovers where your pet can’t get them. 

These simple tips could make the difference in a pet’s life. With just a little planning and caution, you, your family members, and your friends can still eat tasty snacks while protecting Rex, and his canine friends from potential harm. Snacking safely saves pets’ lives. 

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