foreign affairs: pets and foreign body ingestion

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french bulldog in room full of chewed up trash | foreign body ingestions in pets | Petplan
Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on Nov 14 2011

I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it many more times in my career: some pets will eat ANYTHING! To prove I’m not making it up, at the end of this post I’ll share with you the results of a contest put on by an industry magazine called Veterinary Practice News. They asked veterinarians to send in X-rays of some weird and wild cases of pets eating strange things, and the results are amazing!

The ingestion of “foreign bodies” (pretty much anything that isn’t food!) is a common occurrence by both dogs and cats. Sometimes, things are eaten out of curiosity. Other times, playtime turns dangerous when kitties accidentally swallow one end of a string of yarn and then keep swallowing until the entire string is eaten (one reason the holiday season is so dangerous for pets)!

Foreign bodies pose a great threat to your pet because they can cause intestinal obstruction. When the intestines are obstructed, they can no longer function normally. Defecation becomes impossible, as fluid and feces cannot get around the obstruction. Bowels become dilated and the risk of rupture is high due to compromised blood flow to the affected area. If bowel rupture occurs, fecal matter will leak directly into the abdomen, causing severe infection.

Cats are particularly susceptible to linear foreign bodies, which include strings, yarn, Easter grass and ribbons. These playthings are nearly irresistible to cats, and are often accidentally ingested. Once the long foreign body is ingested, one end can become lodged in the gastrointestinal tract. While the bowels try to move the obstruction along, the string acts like a saw, cutting its way through the bowel and allowing the contents of the bowels to leak into the abdomen.

Signs your pet swallowed something they shouldn't have

Clinical signs of foreign body obstruction include vomiting, straining to defecate, abdominal pain and anorexia. These animals can be very, very sick, and unfortunately, diagnosis is often confusing. Sometimes, foreign bodies show up very clearly on X-rays, but other times it is not that simple. An ultrasound may be needed to further assess the situation, and sometimes your veterinarian may just recommend an exploratory surgery to determine if an obstruction has occurred.

I’ve seen many unusual foreign bodies in my day, but the winner of 2011’s contest put on by Veterinary Practice News takes the cake! Without further ado, the grand prize “winner” was a naughty dog from Oregon who ate nine billiard balls! We will never understand what motivates a pet to do things like this, so it is important to remain vigilant and keep small objects away from curious canines and kitties. It also helps to have pet insurance that covers unlimited incidents of foreign body ingestion in case your pet develops an appetite for billiard balls or something else he shouldn't be eating!

Other entries to VPN’s contest included: a cat who ate a guitar string; a duck who ate nails; a dog who ate a tube of glue, and another dog who ate his owner’s false teeth!