Vets warning to pet owners as battery sales soar

Pet owners are being warned about the risk posed to dogs and cats by button batteries.

Emergency and critical care vets at Vets Now say all forms of the hazard are highly dangerous if swallowed or chewed — and can even kill.

However, they have highlighted the increasing use of button batteries in toys, remote controls and other gadgets as a particular concern.

The warning comes in the wake of a study which revealed 6% of dogs who swallowed batteries needed emergency surgery while almost one in 100 died.

Laura Playforth, Vets Now’s professional standards director, said: “Pet owners should be aware that all batteries pose a risk to pets.

“However, the increasing popularity of ‘button’ batteries, particularly lithium versions, has added to the threat.

“These are often smaller than a two pence piece and very shiny so can be appealing to inquisitive animals.

“If the battery is chewed and pierced it can cause chemical burns and serious damage to the oesophagus and other vital structures within the neck, within 15 to 30 minutes of ingestion.

“These injuries are often severe and may prove fatal.”

Studies have shown a significant increase in children being hospitalised after swallowing button batteries.

Surgeons at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London said they rarely treated button battery injuries a decade ago, but there had been a huge rise recently, and now they’re seeing about one child a month.

Similar concerns about small animals have been raised by emergency and critical care vets.

Experts at the Veterinary Poisons Information Service carried out a study into battery ingestion in dogs.

In a review of 271 cases, 53% showed no symptoms, 27% were sick, and 17% suffered mouth ulcers or inflammation.

Of the cases involving ingestion, 10% involved button batteries, 32% AA batteries and 19% AAA batteries — with the remaining 39% unknown.

There were two fatal cases among the unknowns, with both dogs showing signs of stomach ulcers.

Emergency surgery took place in 13 cases while the average time it took for a battery to pass through the body was 51 hours.

In a letter to Vet Record, the authors of the study, Nicola Bates, Tiffany Blackett and Nick Edwards, said: “Although many dogs remain well after ingestion of batteries, and in most cases conservative management is all that’s required, there is the potential for severe local tissue injury.

“Each case should be individually assessed and managed appropriately.”

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Across Europe, sales of button batteries overall, including alkaline and lithium versions, rose by 250% between 2004 and 2012.

The total number of alkaline batteries sold, including AA and AAA versions, went up by 8% over the same period.

Button batteries now represent a quarter of all single-use battery sales.

In 2014, engineers in the US designed a button battery which only produces electricity when squeezed, but the technology has yet to be incorporated by manufacturers.

In the same year, the NHS put out an urgent health alert to doctors, warning of the potentially fatal risk of delays in recognising and treating ingestion of button batteries.

Vet's View

By Laura Playforth

Professional Standards Director at Vets Now

Homes these days are full of electrical items — from remote control toys to mobile phones.
Many of these move and have flashing lights which are highly attractive to pets and stimulate their instincts to chase and investigate using their mouths.
In some cases, particularly in younger pets, this can lead to chewing and swallowing.
Ingestion of any inappropriate items poses a risk.
But batteries are a particular concern because severe tissue damage can occur from the build up of sodium hydroxide (caustic soda) as a result of the electrical current discharged from the battery.
When buying new electrical items, please ensure battery compartments are secure — preferably requiring a screwdriver to open — and that toys and gadgets are robustly made and will not crack easily to release the batteries.

How to protect your pet from batteries

Ensure there are no batteries loose within the packaging of toys or gadgets, and if there are remove them from reach or fit them immediately.
If you’re buying a battery-powered item as a gift for a child it’s always a good idea to open the packaging beforehand and install batteries in advance.
This has the added advantage of ensuring the item is working and safe before your loved one opens it.
It also saves children from inevitable frustration while you work out how to extricate the toy from its complicated web of tie wraps and packaging.
Never leave pets unattended with battery-operated items within reach.
Birthdays and Christmas can be a busy and stressful time for pets with an influx of people and noise levels.
It’s a good idea to give them a dedicated quiet area where they can retreat at busy and high-risk times such as opening presents and eating dinner.
Many people choose to buy their pets a suitable toy of their own to play with to distract them from things which are unsuitable and might be dangerous.