Skip to main content

How to Save a Dog That Has Swallowed a Fish Hook, Without Surgery

Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He works mostly with dogs and exotic animals.

Some dogs do enjoy raw fish.

Some dogs do enjoy raw fish.

Why Would a Dog Eat a Fish Hook?

Recently we had a fishing tournament along the beach in front of my house. The contestants left a lot of trash, and unfortunately, I took my dogs for their afternoon walk before the high tide had swept it all away.

My small dog stopped her run, swallowed a fish head before I could reach her, and immediately started pawing at her mouth. When I opened it, I found a nylon fishing line already deep in her throat. She has swallowed a fish hook along with the fish head it was attached to.

I went ahead and tried to pull it out. An old fishhook might scrape her esophagus on its way out—better to deal with esophageal strictures than a perforated intestine or a linear foreign body (from the nylon fishing line).

Unfortunately, the line broke, and the hook was lost in her stomach.

If a hook is caught in the mouth, the dog will probably need to be sedated to have the tips cut before being removed. If the hook is swallowed, however, the situation is even more dangerous.

Some times hooks are not removed and dogs will eat them with the fish head.

Some times hooks are not removed and dogs will eat them with the fish head.

Options for a Fish Hook

Even if you do not see what your dog has swallowed, assume the worst. The fish head will dissolve in the stomach, and the barbs of a fish hook will damage the intestinal lining as they are being passed.

The lacerations will probably heal up, but if the intestinal lining is perforated bacteria will leak into the abdomen. The dog will then most likely die from peritonitis, an infection of the abdominal cavity.

Almost all dogs should have the hook removed by endoscopy or surgery. There are a few cases where this might not happen:

  • No surgical facilities available (isolated area)
  • Dog not able to survive surgery because of poor health
  • The dog has a disease (like protein-losing nephropathy) that will make surgery fail later (If available, endoscopy may be able to keep your dog from undergoing traumatic surgery. This is definitely the best option for that dog!)
Pumpkin is one of the methods to help your dog pass swallowed objects.

Pumpkin is one of the methods to help your dog pass swallowed objects.

Helping the Fishing Gear Pass

No X-ray machines or surgical facilities are available where I live. The first thing to do in this situation is to take the dog back to your house or fishing lodge.

Some people have recommended feeding cotton balls to grab the end of the hook, but I do not feel this method alone will take care of this problem. Since this therapy has never been tested in a lab, there is no dose available. Give a small dog a few cotton balls, a larger dog more.

Cook some pumpkin. I usually have fresh pumpkin in my house, but the canned product is just as good. (You can also use some squash varieties if you do not have access to pumpkin.) Pumpkin is a high-fiber food that will give your dog the best chance of passing a bulky stool. The bulky stool might surround the fish hook as it is being passed down the intestine and make damage to the intestinal wall less likely.

Let your dog eat as much pumpkin as she wants. To make the pumpkin taste better, you can add hamburger, hamburger grease, or sprinkle on some parmesan cheese. I keep dried shrimp in my kitchen, so I also added that to make the pumpkin more palatable.

You should also give Metamucil (psyllium), a fiber that will add more water to the stool, help bulk it up even more, and will aid the hook to pass. Give one teaspoon for each 10 kilos (22 pounds).

Finally, I always have lentils on hand, and since my dogs like the taste I made up their meal with this high-fiber legume.

Here are my recommendations if you cannot have the hook removed correctly:

  • Give cotton balls to coat the tips of the hook.
  • Feed cooked pumpkin to increase stool volume.
  • Administer metamucil to increase stool volume.
  • Feed lentils to add more fiber to the diet and further increase stool volume.

Even if your dog is vomiting, do not administer an antacid. The metal and string might irritate the stomach but the best chance of it being destroyed, or at least blunted, is in the acidic environment of the stomach.

Back on the beach, this Schnauzer is looking for more things to eat.

Back on the beach, this Schnauzer is looking for more things to eat.

Does This Always Work?

Unfortunately, it does not always work. If the fish hook is too new, the barbs may still be sharp after passing through the stomach, and no amount of padding is going to protect your dog. If there is too much line, or the sinker is made out of a dangerous material, the dog is going to have other problems.

For those of you that live in an area where endoscopy is an option, that will give your dog the best chance to survive. His stomach will need to be x-rayed first but if the hook can be reached, it can be removed with the least chance of trauma.

If there are surgical facilities available nearby, I recommend taking your dog into your local vet immediately for observation, x-ray, and surgery. Your veterinarian will decide how to proceed with the problem based on the x-ray.

If you are reading this article because you cannot afford surgery, call around, and see if you can find any veterinary clinic willing to help. There are certain costs that cannot be avoided during surgery, which is why it is so expensive, but no veterinarian wants you to lose your dog, and most of us will do whatever we can to help.

If you live somewhere that does not have surgical facilities for dogs, this procedure may help, and although he may survive your dog can still have a lot of problems. If your dog has damage to the intestinal wall and secondary infection, he will need to be on antibiotics to pull through.

I have been reluctant about publishing this article since I do not want dog owners to ignore the seriousness of this problem. In some cases, however, fish hooks do need to be removed without surgery.

Do the best you can for your dog!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Questions & Answers

Question: Can I feed my dog squash instead of pumpkin?

Answer: Yes, that will also bulk up the stool.

© 2015 Mark dos Anjos DVM


MelC13 on February 05, 2020:

We're in Sardinia, Italy in the middle of nowhere and our puppy swallowed a fish hook with a long line attached. We were pretty desperate (definitely no near chance of an x-ray or endoscopy) and I followed the advice given here. Cotton with a bit of flavor, we didn't have pumpkin but we had lentils and a local vet suggested mashed potatoes. Lots and lots of mashed potatoes. A day and a half later, the hook and the line came out, wrapped in the cotton. I seriously can't thank you enough for this.

Lyn on August 18, 2019:

This was so helpful as I wasn't sure if my dog had swallowed a hook I gave him some pumpkin and about a handful of cotton wool 2 days later he had passed the Cotten wool and inside was the fishing hook if I had not of got this information I believe it would have been a much different story I'm forever grateful.

jeannette metzger on August 15, 2018:

I recently had my minature poodle eat a fishing hook which was inside the catfish doughball bait. I immediately checked her mouth...nothing. I pulled the fishing line and it broke. Hook was inside her so I immediately went to this website and tried the cotton balls, using pieces rubbed from an old steak. She ate them willingly. After 48 hrs of checking fetus, she puked up the hook wrapped in cottonballs. I was so thankful and grateful to you for sharing this. Just an outstanding method and of course prayers too!

Mark dos Anjos DVM (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on May 24, 2018:

Corinb, is this a life threatening condition? Your vet is offering the best medical care available, which is his ethical duty, but unfortunately not everyone can pay for that care all of the time.

If the hook cannot be removed by endoscopy, and you are not able to pay for that invasive surgery, another option is to leave the hook in the lining of the stomach. If the hook goes through the full width of the tissue your dog may develop peritonitis, but if it does not a fbrous scar may develop and it may never cause the dog any problems.

For this to have the best chance of success, the longer part of the hook that extends into the stomach should be cut off with an endoscope.

This is not the best option, but this is a realistic option.

corinb on May 23, 2018:

unfortunately endoscopy did not work for small hook with tiny barb embedded fairly deep in cardia region of stomach. Really concerned about risk of invasive full on surgery and being able to afford costs creeping up to 11-13K (includes endoscoping costs). Seems rescoping may not make sense and other less invasive surgery options not available.

Mark dos Anjos DVM (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on January 04, 2018:

Kellie, I am so glad to hear your BC is doing okay. Surgery is not always a good option anyway, especially at his age, so that is great that it passed.

Kellie on January 03, 2018:

Thank you so much you may have just saved my dogs life.

Two days ago my 13 year old

Border collies swallowed a prawn on a hook, we rushed to the vet who proceeded us that $2500 for surgery was the only option.

We as a family cried because that was out of our budget so we as a family decided euthanasia would be the likely option.

The vet sent us home with our dog.

I was beside myself with guilt just waiting an watching and o found this, This quite possibly saved my dogs life.

I followed steps given and 30 hours later one fish hook and small amount of line pooped out.

No damage evident 50 hours layer.

This is not recommended obviously but this present a real chance to a dog otherwise given a

Death sentence .

Thank you so

Very much

Mark dos Anjos DVM (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on December 27, 2017:

Michael, that is great to hear. I am glad she is doing okay now.

Michael Scott McAda on December 26, 2017:

Our 12 year old dog swallowed a fish hook the size of a quarter. We followed the instructions here (including the cotton balls dipped in Bacon grease). We fed her pumpkin and lentils 3 times and it took two large poops to produce the hook and line. The large hook and line was delivered to us without injury to our dog in 26 hours. Thanks so much. It worked great!

Mark dos Anjos DVM (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on April 09, 2015:

Thanks Bob! She strained out that extra bulk and is fine now. (She did not like cotton balls--should have tried them with a nice red table wine.) No, I don't think that fisherman would even care if he did read this, since cutting and tossing the head and old hook and line just seems normal around here. When I wrote this I was thinking about people up in Suhail´s part of the world too, but I guess if a Lab puppy in the Candian wilderness does eat a hook they might not have a vet or internet available.

Thanks for reading, Suhail. This is one of those things I hope K2 never needs. Stay safe up there.

Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent from Mississauga, ON on April 09, 2015:

Awesome article! Very informative indeed! I know if that happens to my dog, I will be half-dead myself.

I have to be very careful during my long distance hikes now. A small mistake can kill him.

Thanks for sharing.

Bob Bamberg on April 09, 2015:

The chances of the person who left the fish head on the beach reading this hub are pretty slim, I'd guess, so there's no way for him/her to know the problem it caused. I'm sorry that happened to your dog and hope that she heals without incident.

She's lucky that fur-daddy is a veterinarian! It could have had a different ending. A lay person would probably not handle the situation as calmly, and that would be problematic.

I've never heard of giving cotton balls. Not ever having done so, I wouldn't think they'd be very easy to swallow. By the way, what wine does one serve with cotton balls?

Very interesting and helpful hub. And cautionary, too. Note to fishermen...don't be so careless and thoughtless. Voted up, interesting and useful.