Candles aren’t edible- at least they’re not supposed to be.
However, your precious pup, being the smart dog that it is, decides that it really likes the look of the little tea light candle sitting on the bench, just within its reach.
So down it goes, wick and all.
Luckily, most candles are not toxic to dogs. If your dog only ate a small amount of plain paraffin or beeswax and isn’t acting strangely, monitor it closely over the next few days for any signs of discomfort.
Your dog isn’t in the clear just yet- you still need to establish what kind of danger it might find itself in.
If your dog ate a scented candle, you need to check what essential oils or chemicals were added in there to make it smell so nice. Some, such as tea tree oil, cinnamon and pine, will have a poisonous effect on your dog.
Another big risk is if the dog swallows a large chunk of candle all at once. The candle can become lodged in the throat or digestive tract, causing choking or a blockage.
Finally, many candle holders are made of glass or metal, so if your dog swallowed one along with the candle there could be a chance of sharp edges cutting the GI tract lining. Be ready to visit your vet on short notice, as the complications that arise from this can be life-threatening.
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Why do dogs eat anything that they shouldn’t? That truly is the million dollar question for dog owners all over the world.
Potential reasons include:
- Your dog was bored and decided to chew on the first thing that it could get its paws on
- Your dog was hungry and the candle smelled particularly appetizing
- It was the first time that your dog ever saw a candle and wanted to explore it with its mouth
- Your dog has nutritional deficiencies that it is trying to address subconsciously (also known as ‘pica’)
Curiosity killed the cat, but dogs aren’t much better themselves when it comes to trying things that they shouldn’t. Sometimes they just don’t know any better, and how would they?
Dogs have no way of distinguishing between things they should be biting, such as their squeaky toys, from everyday human objects such as cushions, shoes, carpets- or candles.
The only way for them to find out on their own is to try them out with their mouths, which in many cases is not a great idea. It doesn’t help that most dogs have voracious appetites and love to eat as much of anything as they can.
If you leave your dog to its own devices and it becomes bored, it may also try to liven things up by chewing on objects that it hasn’t played with before. Candles, which are often scented with aromas that it might like, can offer an enticing outlet to boredom.
Finally, pica is another possible explanation as to why it took a fancy to your bedside candle.
Pica makes dogs crave inedible substances, such as rocks, metal, charcoal, and in this case, candle wax. Though it is difficult to pinpoint what causes pica, it has been linked to vitamin deficiencies, parasites, hormonal imbalances and obsessive compulsive tendencies.
Candles can be made of wax, paraffin, beeswax or soy. Paraffin candles are the most common, and they are generally harmless as an ingredient that raises melting point.
These materials are often found in food-grade products such as babybel wax which won’t cause toxic or poisonous issues upon consumption.
Though they are all non-toxic to dogs, they can be tough for the dog’s digestive system to break down. Soy is the softest of the bunch and the least likely to block a canine’s throat or digestive system.
Candles also consist of wicks and sometimes metal or glass elements. These can be one of the most dangerous aspects of candle ingestion.
A crucial element of what makes candles so great is the flame. Hopefully the candle wasn’t burning when your dog decided to have a go at it. If it was, the fire can cause burns to the mouth and face.
Unfortunately, not all candles are plain. Many contain essential oils, chemicals, or perfumes that can cause allergic reactions or other health problems in dogs.
A common preservative that is used in scented candles is benzyl benzoate, which enhances fragrance and ensures clean burning. Mint, tea tree, cinnamon, and ylang-ylang are all very popular candle flavors that are also harmful to dogs.
Luckily, there usually isn’t a large concentration of chemicals or essential oils inside scented candles. Unless a dog eats a lot of candles in one go, it is unlikely to get too sick. Still, it is important to be prepared and know what to watch out for if your dog has munched on a candle, scented or not.
When a dog eats a plain candle, most of the time it will harmlessly pass through the GI tract and come out the other end.
While it will soften as it travels through the intestine, wax is a hard material to digest so it could cause diarrhea or constipation.
However, this problem will resolve itself as long as the candle is excreted successfully. Wax will usually be passed within 2 days. The thankless task of monitoring your dog’s bowel movements once again falls to you, selfless owner.
Plain candles are most dangerous when a large amount has been eaten. This is because they can choke the dog or cause an internal blockage. It is a major problem if wax gets stuck on the way in or out.
If your dog ate a candle whole including the wick and metal base, this could pose a major health risk.
Long wicks pose a particular danger since they can become wrapped around the intestines.
They are usually made of braided cotton which is tough to tear. Metal or glass parts that are swallowed can puncture the insides of the dog. Both elements, like a large piece of wax, can obstruct the airway and stop your dog from being able to breathe.
If your dog has eaten scented candles, it brings another set of possible issues into the mix. These could be in the form of allergic reactions or neurological symptoms, which will be explored in the following section.
Even though it would take a lot of scented candles to cause these effects, the ingestion of chemicals may change the way the situation is treated.
Symptoms to look for when your dog has eaten an unscented candle include:
- Stomach pain or bloating
- Heavy panting, trouble breathing, or choking
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Bloody stools
- Burns if candle flame eaten
- Refusal to eat or drink
- Visible distress, such as pacing or whining
Additional neural symptoms to look for when your dog has eaten a scented candle include:
- Dilated pupils
- Uneven or vacant stare
- Problems with balance and or walking
- Trouble concentrating
- Tremors or shaking
If your dog is showing any of the above symptoms, take it to your vet immediately as its life may be in serious danger.
Sadly, candles can kill dogs.
Even though it is non-toxic, large chunks of candle or metal bases can become stuck in the dog’s throat or GI tract. Linear objects like wicks can make intestines bunch together and stop anything from passing through.
Choking prevents any oxygen from being taken in through the airway, and can result in the dog losing consciousness. Eventually, the lack of oxygen will cause organ and brain damage, and ultimately result in death.
Bowel obstruction will stop the blood flow to the bowels and deteriorate parts of the digestive system. It can also cause toxic substances to be absorbed into the body more readily.
The first step is always to find out what kind of candle and how much of it your dog ate.
If the dog ate a candle that was small and plain, it is unlikely to have any problems and the wax will probably make its way safely through to the other side. In this situation, all you have to do for the next few days is to monitor your dog’s condition (and poop).
Look out for signs of discomfort or if it vomits or has watery stools. To help things along inside your dog, you can give it a few teaspoons of plain canned pumpkin with its regular meals. This will help to lubricate the stomach and intestines to allow for an easier exit.
If the dog is currently choking, you need to drop everything and help it to remove the candle from its throat. If you can see the chunk in its throat, use your fingers to pull it out.
Don’t use tools like pliers or scissors to try to reach it, as you can very easily cut your dog’s larynx in its panicked state. A cut in the throat will bleed profusely and be near impossible to stop, which will endanger your dog’s life even more.
If you can’t see the candle, don’t try to find it with your fingers by going as deep as you can. If you do this, you could push the object even further in.
Instead, lift your dog onto its feet, clench your hands together into a fist, and place it under your dog in the solar plexus or belly region below its ribs. Firmly apply short bursts of pumping action up into its belly.
If it is a smaller dog, use your palms and try to be more gentle since rib bones can easily snap.
After every five pumps, check to see if the piece of candle becomes visible in the throat or if your dog has spit it out.
Hopefully it is dislodged successfully and you are able to remove the mass. Afterwards, take it to the vet as there may still be some invisible damage which has occurred while performing the Heimlich.
If your dog ate a very large amount of candles but doesn’t seem to be choking, you still need to take him to the vet immediately. This is because the chunks are now sitting in your dog’s digestive tract and could soon cause a pyloric obstruction.
If the pyloric sphincter becomes obstructed with foreign material, your dog will soon begin to vomit and show restlessness. If you take your dog to the vet quickly, he will be able to monitor the situation and take prompt action as required.
If only a short amount of time has passed, your vet may induce your dog to vomit. This could be the best course of action if the dog did not ingest anything sharp that could cut the upper GI tract or airway as it comes back up.
Do not induce vomiting on your own as you cannot be sure there are no sharp objects without an X-ray.
If too much time has passed or if there are sharp things present, your vet may elect to perform an endoscopy to pull the pieces out. In the worst case scenario, surgery will be necessary to remove the pieces safely from your dog’s stomach and intestines.
When you go to the vet, make sure you take with you any remaining pieces of the candle as well as the packaging or ingredients list. This will allow the vet to make a more accurate diagnosis and create the best treatment plan for your dog according to its situation.
The only foolproof way to prevent your dog from trying out candles is to remove them from places that are easy for it to reach.
Even the most well-trained dog is not guaranteed to be able to resist its natural urges to eat and explore. This is especially true if it is left alone for long periods of time with nothing to do, or if the candle smells delicious to the dog.
Did you know that you can buy bacon-scented(!) candles? (This is an affiliate link just by the way, just in case you wanted to buy a bacon-scented candle. You may be the first… 😉 and thank you if you actually do!)
Even humans will have a hard time not devouring something like that. Keep those candles on high shelves and tables, people.
As you might have discovered by now, candles are not among the best things that a dog should eat. However, just because it did eat a candle doesn’t mean you should be in full on panic-mode.
Next time you’re caught in a situation where you have to think, “My dog ate a candle, what should I do?”– you’ll know exactly what to do.
One single, small candle is unlikely to do any damage to your dog even if it is scented. It will most likely just pass through the digestive tract safely with no adverse long-term effects.
When your dog has eaten a large amount of candles and is in danger of choking or intestinal blockage, you need to take it to the vet immediately. This will give it the best chance of survival through proper treatment and recovery.
Heather Abraham is an owner of two dogs, one cat, a leopard gecko, and a parrot (who her dad still cannot teach bad words to), and an avid blogger. From the time she was a young girl, she always felt a connection with pets. She brings her love of every type of pet to you, with information on animal nutrition, medication, toys, beds, and everything else in between. Along with newly-on-board veterinarian DVM editor Elena, she puts pups first while offering other various fun tidbits along the way.