First Aid Guide to Dogs Swallowed Objects
Swallowed objects kill pets every day. Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be around the corner, think about potential hazards to avoid. Eating foreign objects often causes only minor problems in dogs and cats. In the best cases, the swallowed cat toy or sock (yes, Bravo did that more than once!) gets vomited up or passes in the stool. However, it’s important to recognize swallowed objects’ symptoms, and how you can save your pet. Refer to this article on why dogs suck objects.
We had a scare last summer when the new pup, Shadow, became enamored of sticks. He enticed his big buddy Bravo (100+ pounds at the time) to play tug. While the little twigs Shadow tooth-pruned weren’t any problem, Bravo chomped a 1/2-inch stick, and got the piece lodged between his teeth across the roof of his mouth! Thankfully, he came to me and allowed me to open his mouth and pry it out. Ouch! and dangerous!
Dogs explore their world by mouthing, tasting, and chewing, and as a result, swallowed objects get them into trouble. Puppies may gulp some things accidentally when a piece of a toy breaks off. Other dangerous objects prove too tempting–used tampons, and even grease-smeared foil prove irresistible to puppies who troll the wastebaskets for scraps. Foreign body obstruction in puppies can be a medical emergency that costs you money and could cost your puppy his life.
Common Swallowed Objects
Veterinary pet insurance claims adjusters ranked the top ten most common items surgically removed from pets’ gastrointestinal tracts. The most common item is socks, followed by underwear, pantyhose, rocks, balls, chew toys, corn cobs, bones, hair ties/ribbons, and sticks. Most items tend to be owner-scented objects, but the list doesn’t stop there.
Whole toys or parts of toys, jewelry, coins, pins, erasers, and paper clips are often swallowed. String, thread (with or without the needle), fishing hooks and lines, Christmas tree tinsel, and yarn are extremely dangerous. String from turkey roasts is appealing so watch out for those holiday food hazards. And for puppies able to crunch up the object, pieces of wood or bone prove hazardous. Even too much of a rawhide chew can stop up his innards. Puppies may even eat rocks.
First Aid for Swallowed Objects
Within Two Hours
- If they swallowed the item within two hours, it’s probably still in the stomach. If the object isn’t sharp, feed your pet a small meal first, and then induce vomiting. The food helps cushion the object and protect the tummy. Also, pets vomit more easily if the stomach is full. If he doesn’t vomit, you’ll need to see a veterinarian.
- For sharp objects go to the vet immediately. It could cause as much damage coming back up if the puppy vomits.
AFTER Two Hours
- After two hours, the object will have passed into the intestines and vomiting won’t help. Most objects small enough to move through the digestive system pass with the feces and cause no problems. Feed a bulky meal of dry food to cushion stones or other heavy objects and help them move on out. Food also turns on the digestive juices, which can help soften wads of rawhide treats, so they pass more readily. As long as it is small enough, objects pass harmlessly through the body and end up on the lawn. Monitor your puppy’s productivity. Use a disposable popsicle stick or plastic knife to chop up and search through the puppy droppings for the object.
- The exception to allowing small objects to pass are swallowed metal objects like coins or batteries. DON’T WAIT, get your puppy seen immediately. Stomach acids interact with these metal objects and cause zinc or lead poisoning. String is another dangerous object that frequently affects cats and kittens, and when swallowed it requires you to seek professional help.
- If you’ve seen the pet swallow something he shouldn’t but it doesn’t pass, or the puppy begins vomiting, retching without result, won’t eat, looks or behaves distressed, or repeatedly coughs, seek help immediately. Any object, even tiny ones, potentially may lodge in and block the intestinal tract.
Symptoms Of Swallowed Objects
Diagnosis can be based on seeing the pet swallow something or based on symptoms. It’s confirmed by X-rays or other diagnostics like an endoscope to determine the exact location and size of the blockage, and sometimes to identify the object itself. Specific signs depend on where the blockage is located and the type of object.
- An object caught in the stomach or intestines causes vomiting, which may come and go for days or weeks if the blockage is not complete and food can pass around it.
- A complete blockage is a medical emergency that results in a bloated, painful stomach with sudden, constant vomiting. The dog refuses food and immediately throws up anything she drinks.
- Signs of zinc toxicity (from coins) include pale gums, bloody urine, jaundice—a yellow tinge to the whites of the eyes or inside the ears—along with vomiting, diarrhea, and refusal to eat.
- Lead poisoning from batteries can also cause teeth grinding, seizures and hyperactivity, loss of appetite and vomiting.
- Copper poisoning has similar signs plus a swollen tummy.
- String-type articles often catch between the teeth or wrap around the base of the tongue in the mouth, with the rest swallowed.
WARNING ABOUT SWALLOWED STRING!
Cats often become victims of swallowed string or thread after playing with it. Once they start swallowing, they can’t stop. Never pull on the visible end of the string–either out the mouth or hanging out the puppy’s rectum. String and thread are often attached to a needle or fishhook that’s embedded in tissue further down the digestive tract. Pulling the string at your end could further injure the intestines, and kill the cat or dog.
Intestines propel food using muscle contractions called peristalsis that move through the entire length of the intestine (kind of like an earthworm) to help push the contents through.
But when a foreign object like a string catches at one end, the intestine literally “gathers” itself like fabric on a thread, resulting in a kind of accordion formation. The result is sudden severe vomiting and diarrhea, and rapid dehydration. Your veterinarian should evaluate any blockage situation to determine the best course of treatment. Surgery is often necessary to remove the obstruction.
Veterinary Treatment for Swallowed Objects
The blockage results in irreparable damage if not quickly addressed. Sharp objects may slice or puncture the bowel. Obstruction may interfere with blood flow to the organs and cause bowel tissue to die. Peritonitis is the result in either case and usually kills the victim.
The doctor removes the object once located with an endoscope down the puppy’s throat or the other direction up through his rectum, or with surgery. Any internal damage is repaired. If surgery can correct the problem before peritonitis sets in, most puppies fully recover. Should tissue die, the damaged sections of the intestine may be removed, and the living portions of the bowel reattached; these puppies typically have a good prognosis.
Most puppies outgrow indiscriminate munching, but dogs and cats of all ages may be affected. The best course is preventing your dog from swallowing dangerous items. Choose pet-safe toys or dog chews like Bully Sticks that can’t be chewed into tiny pieces and supervise object play. Anything a child would put in his mouth is fair game for puppies. Puppy-proof your home by thinking like your dog, so that you won’t be caught off guard when your dog eats the rubber bumpers off the door stops.
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Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!