Dog looking through glass from outside at cat indoors

National Pet Suffocation Awareness Week

The photographs are heartbreaking, showing so many adorable and obviously adored pets—mostly dogs—who suffocated after getting their heads stuck in snack bags, cereal bags and other types of food bags and containers.

The week after Thanksgiving is National Pet Suffocation Awareness Week. 

In doing our part to make you aware of this often unrecognized and frighteningly common hazard, we visited several websites where we saw the many pictures of pets lost to suffocation. If you click some of the links in this post and browse the pages, you’ll see them, too.

We also found some sadly disturbing facts we want to bring to your attention so you’ll realize just how deadly snack and food bags can be.

Fortunately, once you’re aware of the danger, there are a number of relatively easy steps you can take to reduce the suffocation risks to your own cherished pet. 

After reading this post and making the suggested safety precautions a habit, you can join us in spreading the word among your family, friends and co-workers about the dangers of pet suffocation and how to mitigate them.

Documenting the Danger

According to Dr. Jason Nicholas, president and chief medical officer at Preventive Vet

  • A reported two to three pets die in the U.S. each week from suffocating in chip and other snack bags. We don’t know how many additional suffocation deaths go unreported and uncounted.
  • Many pet owners whose dogs suffocated in snack and food bags were gone from the house for only 20 to 30 minutes.
  • It can take as little as three to five minutes for a pet to suffocate in a snack or food bag.

Preventive Vet goes on to rank the greatest suffocation hazards to pets.

  • 68% are snack or chip bags
  • 6% are cereal bags
  • 6% are pet food bags
  • 5% are pet treat bags

Bread bags, cheese bags and hard plastic and cardboard containers are other common suffocation hazards.

Pets find 24% of these deadly bags in or near home trash cans or recycling bins, 20% were grabbed off a coffee table or side table, 15% were grabbed off a counter and 5% were found outside in the yard. Pets found other bags inside cars or under furniture.

On a web page titled, “Snack Safely—Keep Your Pets Safe from Snack Bag Suffocation,” the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) explains why the bags are so dangerous:

“Snack, cereal, food-storage, and other plastic bags are made from different types of plastic materials which are sometimes layered, particularly in the case of potato chip bags. These plastic materials include Mylar (polyethylene terephthalate, or PET), aluminum-laminated polypropylene, high-density polyethylene (HDPE), and linear low-density polyethylene (LLDPE). The materials make the bags light and flexible, which is perfect for storing food. However, it’s a bad combination for pets who put their head inside the bags. Bags containing food or that once contained tasty morsels are particularly dangerous because pets can smell the food and are more likely to find the bags when they’re left on the counter, the coffee table, the floor, or in the trash.”

The Need for Awareness

Preventive Vet has documented the need for greater awareness of suffocation hazards, noting on its comprehensive web page on pet suffocation, “73% of people who lost or almost lost a pet to suffocation were unaware of or had never realized the possibility that their pet could suffocate in a chip, snack, cereal, or other food bag until it happened!

“Many people don’t realize that a pet, no matter its size or strength, can have a hard time getting bags off its head once they are stuck. Not only do cats and dogs lack thumbs to help them grab and remove the bag, but the bags quickly form a vacuum-like seal around their head as they breathe in and quickly deplete the air within the bag. As this happens, the oxygen levels quickly decline, and the carbon dioxide levels quickly rise. The entrapped pet panics from not being able to breathe normally and eventually dies from asphyxiation.”

“Many people erroneously believe that a dog can simply remove a chip bag from his head with his front paws or tear through it with his claws. This is just not the case,” writes Bonnie Harlan, who founded Prevent Pet Suffocation, Inc., after her dog Blue suffocated in a chip bag. “Once the bag starts to seal around the dog’s neck, it’s extremely difficult to break the suction of the seal. ALL dogs are vulnerable to pet suffocation—no matter their size, breed, or age. No dog, from a tiny Teacup Poodle to a massive Great Dane, can win a fight with a chip bag or other plastic bag over his head once the bag seals and he starts to lose oxygen.”

Reducing the Risks to Your Pet

Once you’re aware of the dangers, there are a number of simple steps you can take to reduce your pet’s risk of suffocation. The following are selected safety precautions compiled directly from Preventive Vet, Prevent Pet Suffocation and the FDA:

  • Empty packaged snack, cereal and dry pet foods from bags into resealable hard containers immediately after bringing them home. Any foods left in the original packaging should be kept out of your pet’s reach until you’re ready to transfer the contents to safe containers.
  • Keep scissors handy so you can cut up all chip and food bags into pieces that can’t seal around your pet’s nose and mouth before discarding them into secure trash cans your pet can’t get into. If scissors are not readily available, tie the bags in knots or cut open one side and/or the bottom of the bag with a knife.
  • Serve snacks in bowls—not bags—and secure any bagged leftovers well out of your pet’s reach.
  • Don’t let cats play with plastic bags or food cartons, and don’t let them access bags stored on top of counters and appliances.
  • Put lids back on jars and containers before disposing of them.
  • Restrict your pet’s access to the kitchen, pantry or any area where you store snack and pet food bags.
  • Check your purse and briefcase for snack bags and food your pet could find.
  • Keep chip and snack bags and drink cups out of your vehicle, and don’t leave your dog alone in the car with fast food bags, snack bags or food and drink containers.
  • Beware of high-risk events—birthday parties, holiday celebrations, sports events, cook-outs and other gatherings—when snacks packaged in bags are likely to be served.
  • Do your part to increase awareness about pet suffocation among friends and family members of all ages.
  • Teach your children not to leave snack bags and food in their backpacks and bedrooms.
  • Educate dog walkers, pet sitters and baby sitters about the dangers of pet suffocation.
  • Remind overnight guests not to leave food bags and snacks in their handbags and luggage.
  • Follow these guidelines beyond your household to protect wildlife, stray dogs and feral cats.

From Awareness to Action

Now that you are aware of the grave dangers of suffocation posed by snack and food bags, we strongly encourage you to incorporate the simple safety precautions into your household routines—not only to protect your own pet but to honor the memory of the many beloved pets lost to suffocation.