Danielle Huval, DVM
We have all heard the stories about dogs eating inedible objects or making something that may have been edible a big problem by swallowing it whole. There are funny stories about dogs ingesting toys, rubber duckies, squeakers, underwear, feminine products, glass, bedding, and more. In the veterinary world, we call these items gastrointestinal foreign bodies. Sometimes the ingestion of a foreign body can lead to a surgical emergency, while other times it turns into a 3 am wake up call with vomit on the carpet. It is not always possible to prevent a foreign body ingestion, but finding your dog’s weaknesses and avoiding temptation can go a long way.
Some dogs just love to chew on hard plastic, while others destroy and eat plastic objects to deal with boredom or anxiety. I used to joke about my own dog’s rainbow colored poop in the backyard, from the colorful plastic she ate. Yes, sometimes your dog will pass the seemingly impassible. Speaking from experience though, every time your dog ingests plastic, it becomes a gamble for a potential foreign body obstruction.
Another concern is dog chews, hard teething-type, compressed food “bones”, actual bones, and rawhides. In general, these objects are digestible, but how your dog chews on them, if he or she chews at all, can have a great impact. These digestible foreign bodies can become lodged in your dog’s esophagus, stomach, or small intestines. It is possible for a dog that has never had an issue ingesting these treats to suddenly develop an obstruction. The best advice is to avoid these products. If you must give them to your pet because he or she has to chew to keep busy, make sure to closely supervise them and be aware there is always a risk.
There are a lot of other potential foreign bodies out there that one day a dog may find particularly enjoyable. In the case of an accidental ingestion of something inedible, make sure you call your veterinarian immediately. If the object is soft, like a sock, the recommendation may be to induce vomiting. If it is hard, like a bone, and it does not become lodged in the esophagus, the recommendation may be to wait it out. An esophageal foreign body is best treated as quickly as possible with endoscopy.
A pet with a stomach and/or intestinal obstruction tends to vomit frequently. They may try to eat or drink, but generally cannot keep it down. Many people think because their dog is drinking, they are staying hydrated. This is often not the case. Most pets with a foreign body obstruction are dehydrated, painful, and in need of hospitalization and IV fluids when they come into the emergency clinic. X-rays to look for the obstruction are the next step. Unfortunately, not all objects are visible with x-rays and a partial obstruction will not give us the obstructive signs we are looking for. This does not mean the problem does not exist. For a suspected foreign body, we recommend IV fluids, repeat x-rays, and often an abdominal ultrasound. In some cases, the first x-rays alone are enough for us to recommend surgery.
A foreign body can cause damage to the intestinal wall as the intestines will repeatedly try to move the object along. If the object becomes lodged, an abdominal exploratory surgery is often necessary. Best-case scenario, the object is removed with a simple incision into the stomach or intestines. Worst-case scenario, the object has perforated the bowel and caused intestinal contents to leak into the abdomen. This creates a severe abdominal infection, which can lead to sepsis (a blood infection) and death.
After surgery for a foreign body obstruction, the next 3-5 days are critical. As the intestines heal, they are weaker and leakage may occur at the incision site. Fortunately, most dogs recover quickly and are eating normally by the time they leave the hospital. Other possible complications include strictures at the surgery site, abdominal adhesions, and even chronic diarrhea.
When our pets consume foreign objects, a lot can happen. In the event of your dog eating an inedible object, call your veterinarian, so you know the potential risks and can seek prompt medical treatment if any symptoms appear.