Why pets, wildlife and balloons do not mix

by | General Pet Care Wildlife Fact Sheets |

Now that all the snow has finally melted, it is time to celebrate! Spring and summer bring baby showers, graduations, wedding season and many outdoor celebrations in abundance. These events also bring a plethora of balloons, which can pose potential threats to your pets and wildlife, according to Dave Wilson, Senior Director of Shelter Health and Wellness at the Ontario SPCA and Humane Society.

Why are balloons dangerous for pets?

In the age of social media, balloons help us to mark special occasions like gender reveals, birthdays, anniversaries and more, to which Wilson says, “Balloons are great when confined in a home or building, but not as something that is going to be released outdoors.”

When balloons are released into the air, it may create a beautiful memory or photo, but it could be fatal for an animal. Wilson cautions, “What goes up, must come down,” adding, “Helium balloons, especially Mylar balloons, can travel a long way, kilometers even. If you let balloons go in a city, they could end up in a different county, countryside, or even cottage country.”

This results in litter and a potential choking hazard or obstruction for pets.

Besides choking on a deflated balloon, the biggest concern is that pets will chew and swallow pieces of burst balloons that may float into your yard. As the balloon pieces travel down through your pet’s food pipe, stomach, and intestinal tract, the pieces will open up and become flat, which can form a very effective blockage. In most cases, blockages will require surgical intervention by a vet to remove and repair any damage caused by the balloon pieces, says Wilson, a retired vet.

One common misconception is that opting for biodegradable balloons, made of biodegradable latex, is a responsible way to enjoy balloons and not have to worry about where they end up.
Wilson says biodegradable balloons still take one or more years to break down, and all balloons (nylon, latex or Mylar) will not break down in animals’ stomachs.

How can you protect your pets from ingesting balloons?

Typically, pet owners don’t even see their pets ingest balloons, because when balloons are released, helium leaks out, they deflate and eventually burst, and then may enter your yard, while your pet is unattended.

Shiny balloons may attract dogs and cats, like a ball or toy. Pets can burst the balloon while playing and curiously sneak a taste. Wilson says to keep your pet safe you must, “Watch for any sort of blockage – if your dog or cat suddenly stops eating, starts vomiting, has loose stool, or seems depressed – you should call your vet.”

Help keep wildlife balloon-free

Balloons are also hazardous to wildlife, because balloons can float into their habitats. When wildlife are scavenging for food, balloons (especially Mylar) can resemble other food sources, such as fruits, berries or bright flowers. “A little bird might not recognize a small red piece of balloon is not a small red berry until it’s too late,” says Wilson.

Rodents and rabbits can be browsing for dandelions or greenery and consume bits of balloon wrapped up in their regular food source, and eat it accidently.

The string or ribbon tied on a balloon also presents a risk to wildlife. An animal can get its legs or wings caught, essentially trapping the animal and making it unable to get back to its nest or safe place.

According to Wilson, people have reported seeing balloons rupture and burst as far as Algonquin Park.

“The saddest thing is that these balloons come from a very happy event – a birthday, a birth, a wedding – and then to have it end up killing wildlife or hurting animals, that just strikes me as being incredibly sad.”

Sometimes we need to make sacrifices and change our behavior in order to protect pets and wildlife, Wilson says, “It wasn’t that long ago that we were throwing rice at weddings and then we realized how dangerous it was to pigeons, doves and other birds in the area and how it can kill them so easily, so we stopped doing that.”

While you enjoy spring celebrations, remember to use balloons indoors and never release balloons outside to keep critters safe.