My Dog Ate a Pencil and Seems Fine – What Should I Do?

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Key Takeaways:

  • Modern-day pencils are made from non-toxic materials, but they can still be dangerous if your dog eats them.
  • The wood shaft of a pencil may splinter if your dog chews on it, and the sharp pieces can damage your pup’s gastrointestinal system.
  • The most common conditions dogs may develop after eating a pencil include choking, peritonitis, or obstruction.
  • You should inform your veterinarian any time your dog eats a pencil.

With no opposable thumbs, dogs often rely on their mouths to explore their world. So, if you or a younger family member leave pencils laying around the house, they’re likely to check them out. Some pups will find the wooden stick appealing and chomp it down. Should you be concerned?

Fortunately, modern-day pencils are made of non-toxic materials. They don’t contain lead. Instead, they have a graphite core. The eraser, paint, and metal band, likewise are not poisonous to dogs. 

When it comes to pencils, the most dangerous element is the wood shaft. That’s because it can splinter when your dog eats it. The sharp pieces may damage the gastrointestinal system or esophagus or lodge in the soft tissues and cause an obstruction.

Any time you know or think your dog has eaten one or more pencils, notify your veterinarian and set up an examination.

How Many Pencils Are Dangerous to Dogs?

The smallest splinters can cause significant damage to your dog’s gastrointestinal system. Because they have sharp ends, the points may injure or lodge in the esophagus and cause your pup to gag or choke. Lower down, the splinters can puncture the stomach and cause peritonitis.

Wood is not digestible for dogs. If your pup regularly chews on pencils or other wood, the materials can collect in the gut. A collection of pencil splinters can cause an intestinal obstruction.

With all these risks, it’s best to notify your veterinarian if your pooch ingests a pencil.

It only takes a small splinter to cause damage to your dog’s gut. Pencil splinters can injure or lodge in the soft tissues of the gastrointestinal system. Because dogs can’t digest wood, the pieces may also collect and cause obstructions.

What Should I Do If My Dog Ate a Pencil?

If you walk into the room and your dog is munching on a pencil 

  • Check the area for splinters and remove any pieces from your pup’s access. After that, 
  • Look in your dog’s mouth. 
  • If you see any loose pieces, remove them
  • If anything is lodged in the back of the throat, don’t attempt to extract it
  • Contact your veterinarian and report what happened

Your veterinarian will either have you bring your dog in for an exam or recommend you observe him for signs of trouble such as vomiting or diarrhea, a hunched appearance, or refusing to eat.

If your dog appears to be gagging or choking, take him to the veterinarian immediately. Signs of choking include:

  • Panting or wheezing
  • Drooling
  • Pawing at the face
  • Whining
  • Trembling

If you see your dog munching a pencil, remove any remaining pieces and check your dog’s mouth. Do not attempt to extract pieces lodged in the back of the throat. Once you assess the situation, notify your vet. Take your dog to the emergency room if you observe any signs of choking.

What’s the First Thing You Should Do if You Suspect Your Dog Ate a Pencil?

You walk into the room and see pieces of a pencil with teeth marks on the floor. Meanwhile, your dog is licking his lips. What should you do?

The first thing you should do is observe your dog for signs of distress. If you notice any symptoms of choking or other distress. If your dog appears normal, check his mouth for evidence. Sweep away any loose splinters but leave lodged pieces alone to prevent causing further injury. 

Once you remove all remaining pencil pieces from your dog’s access, contact your veterinarian and report the incident along with your observations.

If you think your dog ate a pencil, the first thing to do is observe him for signs of choking or distress. As long as your dog appears normal, you can check the area and his mouth for pencil splinters. Contact your veterinarian and tell him about your observations.

What if My Dog Ate a Package of Pencils But Seems Normal?

Unfortunately, sharp splinters from the pencil can injure the esophagus or gastrointestinal tract causing inflammation or infection. If shards puncture the stomach wall, digestive juices can seep into the abdomen leading to peritonitis. Symptoms of infection may not appear for about 48 hours.

Even if the pencil pieces don’t damage the stomach wall, they can still lodge in the intestines and cause an obstruction. Affected dogs will have sore abdomens and become bloated. Symptoms of intestinal obstruction may take 1-2 days to develop.

Because the symptoms of infection and obstruction aren’t immediate, you should contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. 

Pencil splinters can cause damage to your dog’s gut, and many times the symptoms aren’t immediate. Signs of peritoneal infection or intestinal obstruction can take 1-2 days to surface.

What Signs of Trouble Can I See if My Dog Eats a Pencil?

The signs of trouble that you see depend on how the pencil splinters affect your dog’s system.  Call your vet right away if you notice symptoms of any of the conditions below. The most common conditions caused when dogs eat one or more pencils include:


When pencil splinters lodge in the throat, they might obstruct the airway. This is an emergency because choking prevents oxygen from reaching your dog’s lungs. Signs of choking include:

  • heavy drooling 
  • gagging or choking sounds
  • pawing the face 
  • anxiety/nervousness
  • blue or pale gums
  • difficulty breathing
  • collapse

Perforated Gut/Peritonitis

Wood shards from chewed pencils can be sharp and may puncture the gastrointestinal tract. This causes digestive fluids to leak into the abdomen which leads to peritonitis. Signs of peritonitis include:

  • vomiting/diarrhea
  • refusal to eat
  • bloated/tender abdomen
  • fever
  • bloody stool
  • depression

Intestinal blockage 

Pieces of a pencil can lodge in the intestines and cause a blockage. Signs of an obstruction include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea in early stages
  • Constipation and straining to defecate later on
  • Abdominal pain
  • Hunched appearance
  • Flatulence
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dehydration
  • Restlessness/reluctance to lie down
  • Depression.

When your dog eats a pencil, signs of trouble can vary depending on how the sharp slivers affect her system. You may notice symptoms of choking such as pawing the face and drooling or signs of an abdominal infection. Additionally, your dog might exhibit signs that indicate obstruction.

What Happens to Dogs That Eat a Pencil?

Pencils have a graphite center, a vinyl or rubber eraser, a metal band, and a wooden shaft. All the materials are non-toxic, and the eraser and metal band are usually too small to cause any trouble. However, as a dog chews on a pencil, the soft wooden shaft tends to splinter into small, sharp shards. 

Because canine enzymes and stomach acid can’t break down and digest wood, the splinters are the most significant threat to your dog. Not only can the slivers scratch or injure the esophagus, they can also damage the gut lining and may puncture the stomach wall. When the broken pencil pieces clear the stomach without incident, they can still lodge in the intestines. The embedded wooden ends put pressure on the mucosal lining causing tissue damage and necrosis. When a wood sliver partially blocks the narrow passageway, food can accumulate and create an obstruction. Food can’t safely pass through your dog’s digestive system, and this quickly becomes a life-threatening emergency as damaged tissues release toxins into the bloodstream.

The wooden shaft is the most dangerous part of a pencil for dogs because canines can’t digest wood. Chewed pencils tend to splinter, and the sharp pieces can damage the digestive system or lodge in the soft tissues thus creating a partial or total obstruction.

Why Are Pencils Dangerous to Dogs?

The problem with pencils is that they are made of softwood. When dogs chew on the shaft, it usually splinters to form sharp pieces that can skewer or injure tissues in the digestive tract. Shards can embed in the soft tissues of the throat causing inflammation and choking. 

When the pieces safely pass into the stomach, they may puncture the muscle wall allowing digestive slurry to seep into the abdomen. Bacteria and organic material irritate the abdominal cavity and cause infection and inflammation. Untreated, peritonitis causes severe illness and potential death.

Wood materials can also accumulate and block the digestive tract. When this happens, the bolus causes tissue damage and necrosis. The necrotic tissues release toxins into the bloodstream that can make your dog very sick.  

The sharp splinters from a chewed pencil can lodge in the throat or intestines causing choking or obstruction. Either result is life-threatening. Additionally, pieces can injure or puncture tissues allowing digestive materials to leak into the abdominal cavity. These conditions cause your dog pain or lead to a dangerous infection. 

How Will My Vet Treat My Dog After He Eats a Pencil?

Your veterinarian will examine your furbaby to determine a diagnosis. How he treats your pooch will depend on how ingested pencil pieces are affecting your pooch.

For choking

  • Oxygen therapy if needed 
  • Sedation
  • Attempting to safely remove lodged wood – If the fragment won’t move, the doctor will perform a tracheostomy to establish an airway.

For perforation/peritonitis

  • Antibiotics
  • IV fluids support
  • Anti-nausea medicine
  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Surgical repair of perforations if needed
  • Flushing the abdomen with antibiotics
  • Insertion of a drainage tube

For intestinal obstruction

  • Surgical removal of wood pieces
  • Fluid therapy 
  • Anti-inflammatory medicines
  • Painkillers

Once your veterinarian examines your pooch and diagnoses the effects of the pencil shards, he will treat your pooch accordingly. Treatment varies but may include supportive care such as antibiotics and IV fluids, medical management, and surgery. 

 How long is the recovery?

Your dog’s recovery period can vary depending on how the pencil impacts her system. In the case of choking, most dogs recover in a few days unless there are complications. Pups that develop peritonitis may need 4-6 weeks or more to fully recover depending on the severity of the infection. When your dog needs surgery to remove an obstruction, recovery will take at least 4-6 weeks. 

Recovery is variable depending on how the chewed pencil affects your dog. Choke patients usually recover in a few days. When obstruction or peritonitis is involved, it usually takes at least 4-6 weeks to recover.

The Final Woof

Pencils of today aren’t toxic, but they can still be dangerous for your dog. The problem is that canines can’t digest wood, and these writing tools are primarily made from softwood. When dogs chew on a pencil, it tends to splinter into sharp pieces that can cause significant damage.

The main ways pencil splinters can affect dogs are by causing choking, peritonitis, and obstructions. Any of these situations can be an emergency requiring veterinary care. The way your veterinarian treats your pooch will depend on the condition your dog develops after eating a pencil. Depending on how the pencil splinters affect your dog and the treatment he receives, recovery can vary from a few days to several weeks.

Photo of author
Dr. Libby Guise earned her DVM from the University of Minnesota in 1994. After working in private practice in Wisconsin for two years, she joined the USDA as a Veterinary Medical Officer. In 2011, Libby came home to focus on raising and teaching her adoptive daughter. She lives in Wisconsin with her daughter, husband, and two furbabies: Charis, a lab-mix rescue pup, and Chesed, a Springer Spaniel.

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