Starfish, or sea stars, are common creatures found in tidal pools and beaches around the world. Their unique anatomy and appearance often attract the curiosity of dogs, who may try to eat them if given the chance.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: While a starfish likely won’t seriously harm a dog if swallowed whole, the spiny exterior and odd texture can cause vomiting, diarrhea or obstruction. It’s best to avoid letting dogs eat starfishes.

In this approximately 3000 word article, we’ll explore in detail what happens when a dog manages to eat a starfish. We’ll look at the potential risks to dogs, how to tell if your dog ate one, what to do next, and how to prevent repeat incidents.

Anatomy and Defense Mechanisms of Starfish

Hard Exterior and Spines

Starfish have a tough, rigid exterior skeleton made up of calcium carbonate plates called ossicles (awesome natural armor!). These plates are lined up in a lattice pattern, providing a protective, porous shell.

Many species also have spines protruding from their body for extra defense against predators trying to eat them (no snacking here!). The spines can be quite sharp and venomous in some species like the crown-of-thorns starfish. Getting pierced by one of those would be a thorny situation!

In addition to physical defenses, starfish have amazing regeneration abilities. If attacked, they can disconnect and regrow arms that have been bitten off. Some species like the Linckia starfish can even grow an entirely new body out of just a single severed arm – incredible!

This helps starfish survive predator attacks from fish, sharks and even curious dogs who try to eat them.

Toxicity and Venom

Many starfish species have toxic or venomous defenses as well. The crown-of-thorns starfish is covered in venomous thorn-like spines that cause severe pain and swelling if stepped on – ouch! But even less threatening-looking species can be toxic, especially if eaten.Digestive organs contained within starfish arms contain saponins – compounds that are poisonous to many other organisms (so keep your dog away!


One of the most toxic species is the cookiecutter starfish. Although it looks small and cute like a little cookie, do not be deceived! This cunning predator latches onto fish with its strong suction-tube feet and uses venomous enzymes to literally digest chunks of flesh from living prey (gross!).

So starfish use their chemical weapons either for protection or to directly attack prey, making them dangerous for many marine organisms…and curious pups!

Risks to Dogs Who Eat Starfish

Gastrointestinal Issues

Consuming a starfish can wreak havoc on a dog’s digestive system. The starfish’s external skeleton contains calcium carbonate spines that are razor sharp and needle-like. These spines can scratch a dog’s esophagus and stomach lining, causing bleeding, irritation, inflammation, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Some dogs may even experience an obstruction if the spiny legs get lodged in the esophagus, stomach or intestines. This can quickly become a life-threatening emergency requiring endoscopic or surgical removal.

Aside from the spines, the starfish itself is difficult to digest and may cause an upset stomach. The starfish’s body is composed of calcium carbonate plates surrounded by tiny ossicles that connect the plates. This bony, armored exterior is not easily broken down by digestive enzymes.

Eating a whole starfish overwhelms the stomach and intestines, potentially causing gastroenteritis. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and abdominal pain.

Blocked Intestines or Choking

The starfish’s hard, woody arms can lodge in the esophagus, completely blocking off the airway. This causes severe breathing difficulty and requires emergency medical care to dislodge the obstruction. The spiny arms can also get stuck in the intestines, causing a potentially fatal intestinal blockage.

Surgery may be necessary to remove the impacted starfish legs if they do not pass on their own.

Small starfish species or starfish arms broken off from the central disk pose a choking risk. Dog owners should monitor their pets closely if they ingest starfish pieces. Choking signs include pawing at the mouth, retching, wheezing, coughing, drooling, and difficulty breathing.

If choking is suspected, perform first aid and get veterinary help right away.

Allergic Reactions

Some dogs may be allergic to starfish. The starfish’s shell and skeletal structure contain calcium carbonate, a known allergen for sensitive dogs. An allergic reaction causes the immune system to overreact, triggering symptoms like itchy skin, hives, swelling, vomiting, and diarrhea.

In rare cases, dogs can go into life-threatening anaphylactic shock characterized by dangerously low blood pressure, weak pulse, collapse and unconsciousness. If anaphylaxis is suspected, bring the dog to the emergency vet without delay.

Decontamination and medication may be necessary to manage an allergic response. Antihistamines, steroids, and epinephrine can counteract allergic reactions. Prevent future exposure by keeping starfish out of reach of dogs with known shellfish or calcium carbonate allergies.

Identifying If Your Dog Ate a Starfish

Watch for Vomiting or Change in Bowel Movements

If your dog ate a whole starfish or part of one, the first signs will likely appear in its digestive system. Keep an eye out for vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation, which are common symptoms if your dog swallowed sharp starfish spines or a large amount of the starfish.

Vomiting may begin within 6 hours of ingestion. Look for undigested pieces of the starfish in any vomit. Contact your vet immediately if you notice any of these signs of distress in your pup.

Check for Evidence Nearby Tidal Pools and Beaches

If you frequent beaches or tidal pools with your dog, inspect the areas closely after your walk. Look for starfish with missing arms or other signs that part of the starfish was eaten. Your dog may also show interest in smelling a certain area excessively or trying to root around a specific spot—this could indicate the location where they ate the starfish.

Telltale sandy paw prints in the area can also point to a curious dog’s snacking activity.

Look for Starfish Spines Caught in Mouth or Throat

Some starfish have tiny spines covering their upper bodies that help them move along the ocean floor. If your dog munched on one of these spiny starfish varieties, check their mouth carefully for any caught spines.

Use a small flashlight to peer at the gums, under the tongue, and at the back of the throat. You may need to gently pull back the lips to inspect between the teeth. Any embedded spines can cause pain, swelling, and infection. If you find any, contact your vet right away for safe spine removal.

What To Do If Your Dog Eats a Starfish

Prevent Choking and Monitor Breathing

If you see your dog swallow a starfish or starfish part, immediately check if they are choking or having trouble breathing. Gently open their mouth to try to remove any remaining pieces lodged in their throat. It’s crucial to monitor their breathing closely in the minutes following ingestion.

Difficulty breathing is a medical emergency requiring swift action. If the airway is blocked, follow first aid guidelines for choking to dislodge the obstruction. Calling emergency services quickly can save your dog’s life if breathing problems persist.

Contact Your Vet Immediately

Whether or not your dog shows signs of choking or distress, contact your veterinarian promptly after a starfish ingestion incident. Explain what happened and describe any symptoms you’re observing.

Your vet will advise you on next steps, which may include inducing vomiting, administering medications, and scheduling follow-up lab work or imaging to check for internal injury from starfish spines. Don’t try home remedies without consulting your vet first.

Bring Starfish Remains to The Vet If Possible

If possible, collect any starfish parts or vomit containing starfish remains and bring them with you to the vet clinic. This helps the vet identify species and toxicity level and recommend proper treatment.

For instance, a Crown-of-Thorns starfish carries higher venom risk than a common Pacific starfish. Identifying which variety your furry friend ate provides useful context for diagnosis and care.

If bringing physical remains isn’t feasible, snap some photos to show your vet the appearance and size of the starfish involved. Providing images offers visual clues to support accurate analysis of what happened and determine next medical steps.

Preventing Repeat Starfish Eating Incidents

Train Your Dog To Avoid Starfish and Marine Life

Dogs that live near beaches or visit them often should be properly trained to avoid eating starfish and other marine life. Here are some great tips for training your pup:

  • Use positive reinforcement – Reward your dog with treats when he ignores or avoids starfish on the beach. This will reinforce good behavior.
  • Provide alternatives – Bring your dog’s favorite chew toys or balls to the beach so he’s less inclined to go after starfish.
  • Keep your dog leashed – This allows you to control your dog and prevent him from grabbing starfish before you can intervene.
  • Use verbal cues – Teach commands like “leave it” or “drop it” so you can tell your dog to stop if he does pick up a starfish.
  • Be vigilant – Keep a close eye on your dog and be ready to intervene if he gets too curious about starfish and other marine creatures.

With time and consistency, you can train your dog to steer clear of starfish when on beach outings. This will help prevent any repeats of starfish eating incidents.

Leash Dogs Near Beaches and Tidal Areas

In addition to training, keeping your dog leashed near beaches and tidal areas is crucial for preventing starfish consumption. Even well-trained dogs can get tempted, so leashes give you that extra layer of control.

Some tips for leashing dogs around starfish hotspots:

  • Use a 6 foot or shorter leash for maximum control.
  • Choose a sturdy leash and collar or harness that your dog can’t slip out of.
  • Keep the leash tight when walking along the water’s edge where starfish congregate.
  • If your dog tries to grab a starfish, pull him back with the leash right away.
  • Leash laws often require dogs to be leashed on beaches anyway for safety.

Leashing dogs prevents chasing starfish too far into the water. It also lets you pull them away from large groups before the temptation becomes too great. This simple act goes a long way in avoiding those emergency vet visits.

Fence Off Nearby Tidal Pools If Possible

Fencing is the best preventative measure for dogs with yards bordering tidal areas frequented by starfish. A proper fence with a locking gate will physically block your dog’s access to starfish-filled tidal pools.

If installing a permanent fence isn’t feasible, temporary fencing or barrier options include:

  • Plastic safety fencing or corrugated sheets placed around the perimeter of tidal pools.
  • Rolled snow fencing attached to posts creating a barrier your dog can’t jump over or dig under.
  • Thick thorny shrubs like blackberry bushes planted along your property’s tidal zone.

Fencing just 3-4 feet around the tidal pools provides a buffer zone that prevents your dog from gobbling up starfish and other tempting critters. For homes abutting large tidal areas, even partial fencing can be helpful by limiting access points.

With some creativity and diligence, fencing off sections of tidal pools is an effective deterrent. Your dog gets to safely enjoy the view without you worrying about starfish snacking incidents!


While starfish don’t appear threatening, their anatomy and defenses can cause quite a stomach ache for curious pups. By understanding the risks starfish pose, taking quick action if your dog eats one, and preventing repeat incidents, you can keep your beach loving pooch safe and healthy.

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