Dogs are naturally curious, but sometimes their curiosity gets the best of them. This is especially true for dogs with mouths like vacuum cleaners – they tend to eat a lot of strange things. As connoisseurs of life, many dogs don’t hesitate to sample all sorts of objects from toilet paper to rocks, shoes to sticks, clothing, and even garbage. While many of these things somehow pass through the intestinal tract without incident – and at a dog-owner’s dismay – sometimes a dog’s appetite for life can cause problems. This is also true for cats – be sure to read about the dangers of foreign object ingestion to your kitty, especially the potentially dangerous habit of eating thread.
If you know your dog has ingested something he or she shouldn't have, call your veterinarian immediately.The most common problem with this is foreign body obstruction. A potentially life-threatening condition, foreign body obstruction occurs when one of the many strange objects (foreign bodies) ingested by your dog is unable to make it successfully through the intestinal tract. When the object becomes “stuck,” it can cause a lot of discomfort and be very dangerous.
Causes and Symptoms
When something is ingested by your dog, it usually takes between 10-24 hours to move through the entire digestive tract. Some objects, however, can take much longer – even months!
Sometimes, objects are too big to progress through the digestive tract, and when this is the case, they cause an obstruction. If the foreign body has made it to the colon, it’s likely to pass – however, there’s still the possibility that it will be painful, especially if it is sharp (like a stick). In cases like this, you might need veterinary assistance. It is important to follow this rule: never pull a foreign object that is protruding from your pet’s rectum! If still lodged inside, this can cause damage to the internal tissues.
If you happen to watch half of a football disappear down your dog’s gullet, watch for these common symptoms to determine whether you need to seek veterinary attention:
- Abdominal tenderness or pain
- Lack of appetite; anorexia
- Straining to defecate; constipation
- Behavioral changes such as biting or growling when picked up
If a foreign body blockage is suspected, x-rays will be used to confirm the diagnosis. Often, several x-rays will be needed using contrast material (dyes) to locate the object. Additionally, your veterinarian may want to run blood and urine tests to determine whether your dog’s overall health has been negatively impacted by the obstruction and also to rule out other possible causes of vomiting such as enteritis, pancreatitis, infections, or hormonal diseases like Addison’s disease.
If your dog did eat a foreign body – stick, rock, or shoe – there are a few possible treatment options depending on the condition of your dog.
If your dog has been profusely vomiting, writhing in pain, and generally miserable the first thing your veterinarian will do is provide intravenous fluids and pain control.
If your dog still has the foreign body in his or her stomach, inducing vomiting may allow the dog to rid itself of the object. The object also may be removed through endoscopy, in which a long tube is inserted through the mouth of your dog and is used to pull the object from the stomach. Your veterinarian will make recommendations, and if this is the case, may also suggest hospitalization of your pooch for close observation and follow-up x-rays to track the progress of the item.
If the object has made it into the intestine, surgery is imminent. Time is absolutely of the essence because, as mentioned before, blockage in the intestine or stomach can cut blood supply to the stomach and intestinal tissue. After a few hours, it is possible for the tissue to become necrotic, or “die.”
Most of the time, especially in uncomplicated cases, prognosis for pets that have gastrointestinal blockage is very good. However, overall prognosis depends on several factors:
- The location of the object
- The duration of obstruction caused by the object
- The size, shape, and characteristics of the object – essentially, it depends on what the object is
- Whether or not the object causes secondary illness
- The overall health of the pet prior to ingestion of the object
Your veterinarian will provide you with a detailed treatment plan and prognosis based on these factors.
One way to keep your dog from eating things he or she shouldn’t is to limit access to tempting items. When it comes to dog toys, it’s important to provide toys that are the right size and made of material that won’t easily break down into smaller, potentially dangerous pieces.
If you’re not sure, ask your veterinarian – he or she will be your best resource in determining which toys and objects are safe for your pooch and can also give you advice on how to prevent your dog from eating strange objects.