Sand ingestion and impaction in dogs

Sunny, summer days are perfect for spending quality time with your pooch at the beach!

After a long, cold winter and relentlessly rainy spring, there’s nothing more relaxing than watching your dog bounce happily along the beach, as you sink your toes into warm sand and listen to the calming slosh of distant waves. 

We need to think about the risks of taking our dogs to the beach, too. Sand ingestion (taking something into the body by mouth) can be a serious health hazard. But there’s no need to panic! We’ve created a useful guide, in partnership with Joii Pet Care, with everything you need to know about the dangers of sand ingestion and how to prevent your dog from eating sand.

What is sand impaction?

When dogs swallow too much sand, it compacts to form a blockage. Grains of sand become heavy when wet. As sand particles pass through your dog’s intestines, they clump together and make it difficult for your dog to get rid of them.

How does sand impaction happen to dogs?

There are many ways dogs can swallow sand by mistake:

  • Picking up tennis balls, or other toys, covered in sand.
  • Chewing or eating sand as they dig or play.
  • Licking sand off their paws.
  • Drinking sandy, salty seawater.

The signs of sand impaction

The signs of sand impaction can vary but often include:

  • Restlessness (e.g. panting, pacing, unsettled).
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Vomiting. 
  • Diarrhoea. 
  • Swollen tummy.
  • Painful tummy.
  • Straining while toileting.

The signs of sand impaction can take a few days to appear but you should contact your vet immediately if you notice any of the symptoms.

Ways to prevent sand ingestion

Luckily, there are lots of ways to prevent sand ingestion!


  • Always keep an eye on your dog.
  • Carry plenty of clean, fresh water for them to drink.
  • Take it easy and enjoy a leisurely stroll, instead of letting your dog race around the beach in over-excitement.
  • Stop your dog from eating sand.
  • Choose smooth toys that won’t collect sand (e.g. a frisbee instead of a tennis ball), and regularly wash your dog’s toys with freshwater.
  • Wash your dog’s coat and paws thoroughly, with freshwater, before leaving the beach.


  • Let your dog dig holes in the sand.
  • Let them drink sea water.

Treatment for sand impaction in dogs

Whether your dog is dealing with mild tummy irritation caused by sand ingestion, or they’re suffering from a more serious problem, like intestinal sand impaction, there are many treatment options.

The first steps the vet will take include checking your dog’s current condition and asking you for more details.

Then, your dog will need a blood test and an x-ray, so the vet can decide whether the case is mild, moderate, or severe.

For a mild case of sand impaction, the vet might give your dog medicine to ease discomfort and recommend a short stay at the vet practice for monitoring.

In moderate cases of sand impaction, the vet will likely treat your dog using fluids and stronger medicines, which would require your dog to stay at the vet’s overnight.

Severe cases of sand impaction, that don’t respond well to treatment, might lead to your dog needing surgery to remove the impacted sand.

Other risks for dogs at the beach

Heatstroke is a big risk when the weather is warm. So, it’s important your dog has constant access to clean, cool drinking water, plenty of shade, and protection from getting burnt by avoiding the beach at the hottest time of day.

Drinking from the sea can make your dog very ill due to the salt content and bacteria in seawater. Avoid letting your dog drink from rock pools or puddles, and make sure they have plenty of clean, fresh water available to drink instead. It is essential that you wash saltwater off your dog after a visit to the beach, because saltwater can be irritating and washing it off can prevent infections.   

Dogs often love swimming in the sea. However, secondary drowning is a serious risk if dogs are allowed to swim unsupervised. Secondary drowning happens when a dog inhales water into their lungs and symptoms can appear up to 48 hours after swimming. The symptoms of secondary drowning in dogs are coughing, vomiting, and lethargy.

As always, if you have concerns about your dog, please contact your vet.

Beach days are best when enjoyed with your dog!

We want you and your dog to enjoy the summer safely. So, we recommend reading the dog owner’s guide to beaches, for which we teamed up with Dog First Aid Training to bring you the latest advice on staying safe in the sun.

Visit our dog blog for more ways to keep your pooch safe this summer.

Looking for more dog advice?

Find the information you need as we support you through every step of your journey with your canine companion.


Need dog insurance?

Dog insurance can help cover the cost of veterinary treatment if your dog gets injured or falls ill.


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