Don’t Eat That! When Your Dog Swallows a Foreign Object
Rocks, socks, hair bands, skewers–dogs will swallow just about anything, including items that may really surprise you. At Oakland Veterinary Referral Services, our 24-hour emergency team has seen a parade of common (and not so common) items come in for removal.
If your dog swallows a foreign object, how would you know? What should you do? And what happens when you suspect that your dog swallowed something and bring your dog to the veterinary hospital?
What Foreign Objects Is My Dog Likely to Swallow?
Dogs, cats, and other pets don’t always recognize danger, especially younger pets. To them, if an object looks interesting, why not swallow it? Some of the more commonly ingested items include:
- Toys – If the toy is small enough to fit in your pet’s mouth, it can be a hazard.
- Jewelry – Common pieces swallowed are earrings and necklaces. Rough edges and backs of stud earrings can also cause tearing or piercing of the gastrointestinal tract.
- Bones and meat skewers – Bones can get lodged in the esophagus or splinter and cause severe damage. Meat skewers can puncture the GI tract, as well as become lodged.
- String – Christmas tinsel, gift wrapping, yarn, and other string-like objects are particularly appealing to cats, and can create a dangerous obstruction.
- Clothing – Is your pet a panty raider? Items like socks and underwear are frequent offenders.
- Feminine products – These, unfortunately, are commonly ingested by pets and can cause a blockage.
- Rawhide – Small pieces of rawhide can cause choking or an obstruction.
- Small objects – Anything small enough for your pet’s mouth, but large enough to get stuck in their throat, esophagus, stomach, or intestines, is a risk. This includes batteries, rocks, sticks, golf balls, leather items, and coins.
Signs When a Dog Swallows a Foreign Object
You may or may not witness your dog eating something they shouldn’t. Sometimes there are obvious signs, but many times there aren’t. What clues and symptoms can warn you that your dog may have ingested a foreign object?
- Pawing at mouth
- Choking or gagging
- Licking the lips repeatedly
- Refusal to eat
- Lethargy or restlessness
- Distended or painful abdomen
- Inability to defecate
Sometimes your pet may just display changes in disposition, as if something is off. Always follow up if you suspect your pet is ill or something is wrong. Treat the ingestion of a foreign item as an urgent, if not emergency, situation. And time is important. An object easily retrieved from the stomach will often move into the intestinal tract, causing a dangerous blockage and requiring surgery.
What Do I Do if My Dog Swallows a Foreign Object?
Call OVRS or your veterinarian right away. We will typically begin with a digital x-ray to diagnose what and where the foreign object is and whether it is causing a blockage. In some cases, it may be necessary to perform an abdominal ultrasound to get a clearer picture. We will then assess the severity of the obstruction and the likelihood of it moving through the digestive tract on its own.
If the item is still in the stomach, we may be able to induce vomiting (never do this at home). Items that are small enough to snare with graspers can be brought back through the esophagus using an endoscope without causing harm to the esophagus. An endoscope is also used to get a closer look at where the object is in the body and the level of damage.
If you’re not aware that your dog has swallowed a foreign object, it may make its way into the intestinal tract and become lodged. This can cause severe lacerations, bacterial infection (peritonitis), or kill the surrounding tissue (necrosis). Or it can completely block the movement of food through your dog’s intestines.
Larger objects and objects in the intestinal tract are surgically removed. In the photo, a dog swallowed Gorilla Glue that had to be surgically removed. In another photo are pieces of a leash that had to be located and removed one at a time.
Prevention Is the Solution
To avoid any foreign object emergencies, the best option is prevention. Dogs can and do eat a range of inedible things as they explore the world with their mouths. Because they are willing to eat such a variety of objects, it may be impossible to remove all temptation. If you notice that your dog loves socks and undies, be extra diligent about keeping these off the floor and out of reach. Keep meat on skewers out of reach since you’d be amazed how often they will devour these, skewer and all. Supervise your pet with new toys, rawhide, and dental chews, making sure the toy is too large for your pet to ingest.
If your dog swallows a foreign object, or you suspect your pet ingested something they shouldn’t have, call your veterinarian or call us. Oakland Veterinary Referral Services offers 24-hour Emergency Services for just these types of pet emergencies.