Paintball is a fun outdoor game where you get the opportunity to shoot your opponent with soft capsules that splatter with paint upon impact. While there are ways to participate in competitive paintball, this sport is also a popular group activity and even utilized in training exercises for law enforcement or military personnel. Many paintball facilities allow you to rent equipment on site, but regular participants may elect to purchase their own equipment and store it at home. Those who engage in this sport should be aware of the danger paintballs can pose to our furry friends, because a surprise incidence of paintball toxicity is not how you want to add color to your day!
Out of all the equipment required for paintball, the paintballs themselves are the most concerning to pets if consumed. This colorful ammunition is stored in bulk and ranges in size from dime to quarter-sized, lending them small enough to be easily swallowed by pets, dogs overrepresented. Although the paintballs are gelatinous and relatively non-toxic, they typically contain one or more osmotically active ingredients such as PEG (polyethylene glycol), sorbitol, glycerol (glycerin), DPG (dipropylene glycol), and propylene glycol. Osmotically active substances pull water from inside the body into the intestines, leading to soft to liquid stools, dehydration, and a concerning rise in sodium levels. If left untreated, water could also be pulled from the brain cells, causing neurological dysfunction and possibly death.
Signs typically show within an hour of eating paintball contents; however, it may take up to four hours between ingestion and onset of signs. Earliest signs commonly include gastrointestinal upset such as vomiting and diarrhea, but brightly colored paint residue in the feces or vomitus may not always be seen. Other signs such as a loss of balance (ataxia), tremors, increased thirst, and increased urination are also commonly seen. In severe, untreated cases, paintball toxicity can lead to seizures, blindness, and death.
To help reduce the risk of paintball toxicity, keep all paintball supplies stored in a secure location and out of reach from curious animals. Keeping track of the brand, size, and quantity of the paintballs you own can be extremely helpful in calculating dosages in case your pet finds them. After playing, remember to also empty your pockets so you do not accidentally drop extra paintballs in your home or vehicle. If you suspect that your pet has ingested paintballs, take immediate action and contact a veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline® at 1-800-213-6680.
Cecelia Harmon, PPH DVM student extern, Virginia Tech, Class of 2023
Kathy Wolsieffer, CVT, Veterinary Information Specialist II