Sand Impaction in Dogs

Last Reviewed: 5/11/24


Goldendoodle running on beach

Sand impaction is a life-threatening condition that occurs when a dog ingests too much sand, often accidentally, while playing on the beach. Activities like digging in the sand or repeatedly picking up sandy balls or toys can lead to a sausage-shaped intestinal blockage, as shown in the circled area of the X-ray below.

X-ray showing sand impaction in a dog.


Signs can develop anywhere from a few hours to a few days later and typically include:

  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Restlessness

If you see these signs following a trip to the beach, seek veterinary care immediately.


Sand impaction is diagnosed through a combination of physical examinations and diagnostic tests. Your veterinarian may start with abdominal palpation to detect any discomfort or blockages. Imaging techniques, such as X-rays and ultrasounds, are crucial for identifying the presence of sand in the digestive tract. Blood tests also may be conducted to assess the dog’s overall health and check for dehydration or electrolyte imbalances.

Informing your veterinarian about recent beach visits can help guide them in the right direction and simplify the diagnostic process.


Treatment will depend on how much sand is impacted and how sick your dog is. Most dogs require hospitalization for intravenous fluids, anti-nausea medications, and repeated X-rays to ensure the sand is moving through to the colon. Surgery should be avoided due to the infection risk that comes with removing millions of grains of dirty sand. Fortunately, most dogs respond well to medical management.


Preventing sand impaction is better than treating it. Supervise your dog closely when at the beach or in sandy environments. Avoid playing fetch directly on the sand and discourage digging in sandy areas. Always provide fresh water to reduce the temptation for your dog to drink from sandy water sources.

Playing fetch with dog on beach Watch our Video


In this video, Dr. Carly Fox, Senior Veterinarian in AMC’s Emergency & Critical Care Service discusses this life-threatening emergency.

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Emergency & Critical Care

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