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X-ray dog's stomach
X-ray of dog's abdomen with fishhook

One of the most common presentations at an animal ER is a pet who is vomiting for an unknown reason. While infectious diseases, parasites, or even food intolerances are reasons for vomiting, emergency veterinarians are often faced with a pet who has some sort of unknown, foreign object lodged in their gastric tract. In fact, at one of our Noah’s emergency hospitals, one doctor performed 10 foreign body surgeries in just 15 days! When all was said and done, the hospital had a nice collection of dog toys, bones, shredded towels, feminine products, and even chewed up socks and underwear!

What would prompt any one of our pets to ingest some of these things? Veterinarians have

Various items dogs have eaten
Various items dogs have eaten

been trying to get those answers for years and the attempts have led to an annual contest where veterinarians submit x-rays showing a wide variety of items eaten by our pets. You can see a video of a past contest here. Make sure you watch for the 5” paring knife or the lady’s diamond ring!!

The reasons behind this behavior are quite variable and often depend on the personality of our pets. It’s not hard to imagine why a bone, or even a pet’s favored toy would end up in the stomach, but why a knife or a rock or a diamond ring?

One important concept to remember is that our pets, both dogs and cats, will explore the world around them with their mouths. Picture an over-exuberant Labrador puppy playing with a stick or a rock in the backyard…see how he’s tossing it around, catching it and tossing it to himself again? It’s that kind of behavior that can cause an accidental ingestion.

We also need to remember that our pets are often bonded to us and playing with items that have our scent is a way of staying close to us. Unfortunately, small objects with the owner’s smell can find their way over the lips, through the gums…look out stomach, here it comes! Maybe the diamond ring had a faint smell of food from when the owner was preparing dinner or maybe the rock was splashed with grease from the grill.

Cat with head in glass
Cat trying to drink water from glass

Sometimes, the offending object mimics natural prey in some way. Cats are often attracted to items that glitter and move in a breeze, reminiscent of birds or insects, so tinsel or garland is often swallowed from the Christmas tree. String, ribbon, or even sewing thread can fascinate our feline friends and these items are far too easy to swallow. The results, however, are often far from benign.

Thankfully, with good observation from our pet owners and amazing diagnostic testing, we can often find these objects in the GI tract quickly and make a plan for removing them. In some cases, if the item is still in the stomach, an endoscope can be used to retrieve the object, avoiding the need for an exploratory surgery. In other cases, if the foreign body is close to the colon, hospitalization and fluids can help move it along where it can be either defecated out or it can be grasped via a rectal exam. Sometimes surgery is the only option, especially if the object might be adhered to the gastro-intestinal tract or if allowing it to stay could cause further damage to the pet. The patient’s prognosis is often very good with surgery, but it is important to understand that between the procedure and the follow up hospitalization and recovery time, you could look at an overall cost of $1500 - $3000. If you are the owner of a new puppy or kitten, you might look into a pet insurance policy for him or her, just in case!

Dog and chocolate
Dog sneaking chocolate off of table

Of course, like so many things in life, prevention is a LOT cheaper than the cure! "Pet-proof" your home just like you would do for a new infant. Pick up small objects that are easily swallowed, keep the trash can behind secure doors, and be observant of your pets when playing so that they aren't taking the opportunity to sneak off with a tasty (in their mind) treat! That treat could be an expensive lesson...or even deadly!

If you are faced with a pet experiencing vomiting and you have a suspicion something is missing from the trash or your bathroom, give your veterinarian a call. Plan for an examination and x-rays. While surgery is not always indicated, having a veterinarian examine and provide advice is always the better option when compared to well-intentioned, but often unknowledgeable social media “friends”.

Any stories of the weird things that your pets have decided to eat?


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