Dogs and cats, especially the young ones are naturally curious and playful and tend to chew and swallow various objects.
The foreign object may lodge in any part of the gastrointestinal system—the esophagus, the stomach or the intestine.
Dogs have been known to swallow bones, balls, corncobs, toys, sticks, stones, pins, needles, wood splinters, cloth, rawhide, leather, string, fruit pits and many other objects. The most common foreign body found in cats is string.
Any household object your pet chews on can become a problem. Although some smaller objects can get through the gut without getting stuck, the larger pieces can result in serious gastrointestinal complications.
The presence of the foreign body can lead, not only to either a partial or complete obstruction but also a tear of the gastrointestinal tract. Ingestion can also lead to intoxication, such as with coins or batteries.
Partial obstruction allows limited passage of fluids and gas through the gastrointestinal tract, whereas complete obstruction does not allow any passage.
A complete obstruction is a very severe condition, usually with a rapid progression and poses potential severe consequences if not treated right away.
Gastrointestinal blockage can lead to impairment of the blood flow and often to a permanent damage to the area of the blockage, infection due to bacterial overgrowth and severe dehydration.
The most common symptom associated gastrointestinal foreign body ingestion is vomiting. With a complete obstruction, the vomiting will be profound and frequently will be accompanied by lethargy, loss of appetite and depression.
A pet with an untreated obstruction will probably die within three to four days.
With a partial obstruction, the symptoms will be less severe and may be intermittent. The animal will lose weight, but as long as it keeps drinking, it may live for three to four weeks.
Foreign bodies are usually diagnosed by imaging. Some objects can be seen on a plain x-ray, in other cases the object itself can not be seen but the shape of the intestine reveals typical pattern that highly suggests the presence of a foreign body in side.
Sometimes a contrast x-ray is required. In this type of test, the animal is fed by a special dyeing material that helps determining if there is obstruction and its nature. Some foreign bodies can also be diagnosed by ultrasound or an endoscopic exam.
Once the diagnosis is made, treatment depends on the location of the object and the pet’s medical condition.
In many cases a surgical intervention is required. In simple cases the surgery involves only removing the object. In more complicated cases, where the blockage has caused permanent damage, the surgery is more involved and may include a partial removal of the damaged intestinal segment.
Most animals will require hospitalization, with intravenous supply of fluids until the animal gets back on track and is able to drink and eat on its own. The treatment usually also involves medication such as antibiotics and electrolytes supplementation.
Prevention is key when it comes to stopping animals from swallowing the wrong things. It is important to pet-proof your home. Keep any object your pet might ingest away from them. Make sure that the toys you give to your pets are large enough so they can not be swallowed. Also make sure that the toys are made of good quality and can not be broken into pieces easily. Some dogs tend to chew on objects more then others, I would keep away toys from these kind of dogs, better be safe than sorry.
Moshe Oz operates the Rose Valley Veterinary Hospital in West Kelowna.