Canine Paintball Poisoning and The Technicolor Vomit

Probably the third-most-asked question, behind how’d it happen and how is Lilly now, is the funny / macabre curiosity about the colorful result. You ask. We answer. Consider it Lilly’s way of adding a little holiday color into your day.

Yes, Vomit Pictures

Because I know levels of squeamishness vary, I’m not posting the technicolor vomit photo openly, but if you want to see it, click through here. It’s really something. Episode #1 and #2 (at home) were big … about 1/2 the size and much lumpier than this BIG #3 courtesy of the “magic vomiting shot” the ER docs gave Lilly. Episode #4 was much smaller, so they then began working at it from the other end.

For those who’d rather not see the graphic details that the ER team so kindly documented for us, let me just say that the paintball shells were blue. The paint inside them was yellow, so we saw blue, yellow, and the combined green coming our of our silly, silly girl.

Non-Toxic My Ass

If you’re the kind of reader who looks at blog post tags and keywords, you may have noticed I’m using a tag called “non-toxic my ass.”

You see … we’d always believed the industry hype/propaganda that says paintballs are non-toxic. While that might be the case if a little paint splashed into your mouth on impact or something like that, but as with all substances … even those used therapeutically … it’s all dose dependent.

For example, veterinarians often use activated charcoal (which contains sorbitol) to help dogs who have ingested some sort of toxin. In that instance, the way sorbitol pulls fluid out of the body and into the intestines can actually help protect organs and aid in flushing the toxin out the back end. (In our case, that’s the last thing we wanted to happen since Lilly already had too much sorbitol from the paintballs in her system.)

In the most commonly cited documented case, a Lab weighing MUCH more than Lilly showed clinical signs of paintball poisoning from just 15 paintballs.

And, as you’ll recall from our earlier reports (links below), we estimate Lilly ate about 130 of them. Lilly flat-out, no-doubt-about-it OVERDOSED in a big, big way.

Dr. Katherine (Katie) Tucker-Mohl from the 24/7 ER team at Wheat Ridge Animal Hospital sent me a detailed PDF on Paintball Toxicity. It’s written for veterinarians, so the content is pretty technical, but it’s very interesting if you want to know all the medical details about the cascade of emergencies paintball ingestion causes inside a dog.

We were simply lucky that Lilly throwing up at home alerted us to the emergency so that we could spring into action and race her to a ER/critical care animal hospital, where treatment prevented the worse.

Paintball Ingredients

So, what on earth is inside these things? The handout reports the following:

Paintball ingredients vary depending on the manufacturer and may include polyethylene glycol, glycerol (glycerin), gelatin, sorbitol, dipropylene glycol, mineral oil, dye, ground pig skin, and water.

We’re fairly certain the ones we had (there are no longer any paintballs whatsoever in our house) contained fish oil, which could have attracted Lilly to them … because she takes fish oil capsules every day, loves fish-based treats and foods, etc.

But, it looks like our regular veterinarian was right, there could also have been some ground up pork skin in there.

So, while it seems completely weird to us that Lilly ate paintballs, they must have smelled like treats or food to her. She really is NOT the kind of dog that just eats any non-food thing.

Help Protect Other Dogs from Paintball Poisoning

So this holiday season, or any time, if you know of a family with paintballs and DOGS in the house, please pass along our cautionary tale.

I’m told it’s less common here in Colorado, but quite common for dogs to eat paintballs in the Midwest.

I didn’t know and didn’t do a good job protecting Lilly from this danger. I hope others will learn from my mistake.

12 thoughts on “Canine Paintball Poisoning and The Technicolor Vomit

  1. April 26, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    WOWZA. I had no idea. My nephews used to be really into paint ball. Luckily their dog (a Golden who would eat anything you handed to her. “Oh, you’re handing me this? It must be food!”) never got into them!

    Of course I had to click through to the picture. All I can say again is Wowza.

  2. KB
    January 6, 2011 at 8:06 pm

    You even have to be careful on the trails. There’s a spot nearby my house where people like to play paintball games. They leave piles (literally hundreds) of paintballs in piles all over the ground (unexploded, completely intact). I know for a fact that the coyotes eat them because I’ve seen the technicolored poop on the trails 5 miles from there. I called the forest service about this abomination, and they informed me that paintballs are non-toxic. I’ll be pushier the next time it happens. I feel sure that some dogs have gotten into the paintballs left at trailheads.

    I’m so glad that Lilly is OK!

  3. December 24, 2010 at 3:59 am

    Boy, Roxanne. You really know how to give your readers what they want! Who’d have thought I could see green vomit on Christmas Eve morning?

    But kidding aside, propylene glycol is antifreeze–can we assume dipropylene glycol is a slightly modified chemical form of the same product? It sounds like several of these ingredients would be attractive to dogs.

    And these are also common ingredients used in our cosmetics and toiletries.

    Lilly must be part cat–this appears to be her 4th life! She’s a lucky, lucky girl!

    1. December 24, 2010 at 8:53 am

      Snort. I know, Pamela. I know. I actually posted it on Dec 23 in a lame attempt NOT to be gross on xmas eve. Plus, I DID put it on a page you had to click through to … :o)

      You are very right. There could be all kinds of nasty combinations of poisonous ingredients in there. Ick, ick, ick

    2. March 7, 2013 at 10:42 pm

      As a veterinarian for 20 years, I’ve seen a few cases of paint ball toxicity and it’s not fun to deal with at all. As for propylene glycol being in antifreeze, that is true but it’s in the ones that are considered “pet friendly.” It’s ETHYLENE GLYCOL that causes the kidney failure when ingested. The ingredients in paint balls are all osmotic agents: they pull fluid out of the tissues causing the cellular sodium levels to rise. If the levels rise fast enough, as in the case of eating a lot of the paint balls or ingesting multiple doses of the activated charcoal that contains sorbitol, the result can be catastrophic. The brain can shrink, cerebral vessels rupture causing bleeding in the brain leading to some severe signs. Seizures, coma and death can occur if the pets are not treated promptly.

      1. March 8, 2013 at 10:23 am

        Yep. That’s what our ER doctor told us too. I mean, you know it isn’t good when your dog throw up colored goo, but that water shift is so scary.

  4. December 23, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    Holy cow, that picture is… disturbing? Amazing? Mesmerizing? Unbelievable.

  5. December 23, 2010 at 10:08 am

    Thx 4 the warning, paintballs are more toxic then one would think.

    Don’t feel bad, you are taking excellent care of Lilly, unfortunately somebody has to be the first one to find out of something new 🙁

    1. December 23, 2010 at 12:01 pm

      Well, I’m sure we are not the first to learn this lesson about poisonous paintballs, but perhaps we’re the first with such an electronic soapbox upon which to stand.

  6. December 23, 2010 at 8:15 am

    I am so so so glad Lilly is on the road to recovery and this lesson in toxicity ended as well as it did.

    I will never forget what happened to your poor girl and will be very careful around paintballs and anything like them from now on. When in doubt, assume it’s toxic, is probably not a bad mantra!

    Thank you for talking about this so publicly. Hopefully this won’t have to happen to anyone else.

  7. Keeping_Awake
    December 23, 2010 at 7:00 am

    Very glad this all ended well, and thanks again for all the detailed information!

    I honestly would not have thought paintballs would be attractive to dogs in any way other than the fact that they’re balls! But it makes sense that Lilly ate so many because they somehow smelled attractive to her.

    Again, so glad that you were home and able to respond immediately so that recovery was possible!