A foreign body is anything ingested by your pet that is not digestible. Sometimes these foreign objects will pass through the gastrointestinal tract with little complication but many times a foreign body will become lodged somewhere along the way causing a dangerous medical condition. Learn what you can do to keep your pet safe and what to watch for if you think your pet has eaten something they shouldn’t have.
Dogs and cats have a knack for getting into places they shouldn’t and finding “toys” to chew on. Even toys made for pets can be dangerous if they are not the appropriate size. To guarantee your pet’s safety you should do your best to keep small objects, or items that your pets like to chew on, out of reach. If your pet enjoys the occasional dumpster dive, make sure your garbage is secured. Children should know that leaving their toys lying around can not only be dangerous to a pet that eats it, but also to a toy that can get chewed up. Make sure guests are aware of what they are and are not allowed to feed your pets. And finally, keep an eye on your pet while they are playing with toys and chew treats. Even things that are meant to be ingested, like rawhide treats, can cause problems if your dog swallows too big a piece.
Foreign body obstructions can occur in different parts of the gastrointestinal tract depending on their size. Large objects such as corn cobs cannot pass through the stomach; smaller objects like gravel are able to pass through the stomach but may still become stuck in the small intestine.
Objects such as string can be the most dangerous because they can become tangled in the many twists and turns of the small intestine. This can lead to a condition known as a linear foreign body where the small intestine becomes bunched up around the length of string. Sections of the small intestine may lose blood flow, causing the tissue to die. The bunch may even become so tight that the string slices through the wall of the small intestine.
If you suspect your pet has eaten a foreign object seek veterinary attention immediately. The sooner the problem is addressed the fewer complications will be encountered in treating the condition. Signs of a foreign body can vary depending on where in the GI tract the obstruction has occurred, but general symptoms include:
• Depressed attitude/lethargy
• Decreased appetite
• Abnormal stools (diarrhea, constipation, strange color)
• Tense abdomen
• Pale gums
When you bring your pet in to be examined the doctor will take x-rays to determine where the object is in the GI tract and determine the best way to treat. Your doctor may perform a procedure known as a barium series. This involves feeding your pet barium, a liquid that is radio-opaque (meaning it can be seen on x-ray), and taking several x-rays over the course of a few hours to see how the barium is moving or where it seems to stop.
Sometimes the object is far enough along the GI tract that your doctor may opt to see if it passes, other times the doctor may induce vomiting in order to produce the object (if the object is small enough and still in the stomach), but most cases will require removal. Foreign body removal may be performed by endoscope or surgery.
Endoscopic removal is an option for small objects still in the stomach. With this procedure a fiber optic tube is ran from the mouth into the stomach, it will have a grabbing instrument attached at the end to retrieve the object. While this procedure is considerably less invasive than surgery it does have limitations; it can only be used on smaller and lighter foreign objects and only on blockages in the stomach.
Surgery is required for most foreign body removals. In the case of a small intestine blockage the foreign object will be removed as well as the damaged section of intestine. The pet will usually stay in the hospital post surgically for a day to ensure they are recovering well.
The most common objects to require surgical removal are:
• Chew toys
• Corn cobs
• Hair ties and ribbons