Beach days with dogs: Exercising caution to prevent illness


A veterinarian shares insight on sand impaction in dogs, discussing signs, treatment, and prevention.

Sand impaction in dogs

Photo: Vera Reva/Adobe Stock

Pet owners with plans of bringing their canine friends to the beach this summer should be advised to exercise caution. Carly Fox, DVM, senior veterinarian in the emergency and critical care service at the Schwarzman Animal Medical Center (AMC), the world’s largest veterinary teaching hospital and New York City’s only Level 1 Veterinary Trauma Center, is urging dog owners to be cautious of sand impaction from trips to the beach.1

"Many beaches now allow dogs, and owners love to bring them along for some fun in the sun. However, a danger that is often overlooked is the risk of sand impaction," Fox said in a news release.1 "It may sound overly cautious, but I’ve seen many dogs come into the hospital with sand impaction after just a normal day of play at the beach."

Sand impaction ­­— an accumulation of ingested sand that causes a blockage in the intestines — can happen when dogs repeatedly ingest sand while retrieving balls, sticks, or other objects from on the beach. According to Fox, dogs can ingest a substantial amount of sand while playing fetch.1 Other scenarios that can lead to sand ingestion or impaction include digging in sand and flinging it, drinking beach water with sand in it, or licking or eating sand with palatable spills on it.2

With symptoms typically appearing 12 to 48 hours after time spent at the beach, sand impaction can quickly turn into a life-threatening emergency.1 Fox discussed some of the symptoms associated with sand impaction, such as vomiting, refusal to eat, and lethargy, stating how owners notice these signs but “don’t often make the association” between sand impaction and their dog’s symptoms. "When we take X-rays and see a sausage-like blockage of sand in the intestines causing a gastrointestinal obstruction…we ask, ‘have you been at the beach?’,” she said.

Unlike with other forms of obstruction, it is advisable to manage sand impaction through medical means rather than through surgical intervention."We don’t rush these dogs to surgery like we might with other types of obstructions, such as a swallowed sock," said Fox. "Medical management—meaning fluids, walking to stimulate gastrointestinal motility, and antinausea medications—tends to be very effective. We monitor the dogs closely and repeat x-rays to ensure the sand is moving through to the colon."

According to the AMC, there are major risks associated with surgery for sand impaction. "Surgical removal involves dealing with millions of particles of dirty sand, which greatly increases the risk of infection," Fox explained. "Fortunately, dogs usually respond very well to medical management."

To avoid sand ingestion, the AMC recommends that owners adopt preventive measures, such as rinsing off toys and refraining from playing fetch directly on the sand.1 These acts are easy to exercise and can largely contribute to the safety of dogs.


  1. AMC urges dog owners to be cautious of sand impaction from trips to the beach. News release. Schwarzman Animal Medical Center. Accessed May 23, 2024.
  2. Sand impaction in dogs: What happens when your dog eats too much sand. Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota. Accessed May 23, 2024.,a%20blockage%20in%20the%20intestines.

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